An Essay about Dark Souls

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    PhlyingDutchman
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    An Essay about Dark Souls

    Post by PhlyingDutchman on Fri Mar 30, 2012 12:48 am

    Grab a coffee. This one is long.

    I just platinumed Dark Souls.

    Dark Souls is the first game that I have ever platinumed, and the first game that I have ever really cared to. Creating the cursed Greatsword of Artorias and turning in Gwyn's Soul for the Sunlight Spear made the last three trophies pop up this evening. (I had the ludicrously good fortune of obtaining the elusive Channeler's Trident on NG from the Channeler in the Undead Parish. At the time, I assumed it was a 100% drop from the miniboss, and wondered why you got a weapon with such high stat requirements so early.)

    I'm sure I'll be speaking to the choir here, but I wanted to share my analysis of why this game is so gripping, and why so many of us can't seem to switch out the disc in our systems for another game for longer than a couple hours without quickly returning to Lordran. I hope that From realizes that they have struck a winning formula here, and that we will see more entries in the series.

    For me, it is the combination of genres that make Dark Souls special. It's not just a fantasy action game, though everyone will slay hordes of rank-and-file enemies, tough-as-nails minibosses, and larger-than-life monstrosities. It's not even just an action-RPG, although it is rife with stats to pour over, levels to gain, and equipment to upgrade. What sets it apart are its combat, its understated story, and its thrilling level design. Enough has been said about its innovative multiplayer that I'll leave that out.

    In terms of combat, Dark souls is, in a way, a 3D tournament fighter, like a simple Soulcalibur. Even the lowliest enemy is capable of killing you if you are careless and you are well advised to take them on one at a time if posisble. Once you've locked on to your foe, the game turns into familiar circling, poking, blocking, and countering, all fighting game mechanics. There is the inherent rock-paper-scissors between attacks, blocks, kicks, rolls, and parries, not to mention fast, weak attacks as opposed to slower, stronger ones. In a way, every single weapon in the game turns you into a different fighter, because the moveset is associated with the weapon, not with your character. Each weapon has 12 attacks, counting right, left and two-handed. Equip burden and the stamina gauge keep the heavy and powerful weapons in check, forcing the user to sacrifice mobility or number of swings for the extra power or range. It works brilliantly, although it's so close to an actual fighting game that many of us treat it as such. When everyone plays by agreed upon rules, it is extremely fun and satisfying. However, some of the tradeoffs for the main game aren't factors when we know that we are going to fight each other (durability, limited inventory of consumables, the need for other magical rings than just Havel's and the dark wood grain ring etc.), which does result in hit-or-miss PvP when playing with strangers, though I am thankful that I don't have to hear other players taunting me over their microphones.

    As far as the story is concerned, Dark Souls is bare bones at first. There seems to be little indication of what you are doing, who these characters you meet are, or even what you are trying to accomplish. The prologue gives you a preview of some of the bosses you'll face, and then sets you to it. What I've noticed, as I play through each time, is that there is so much more to the story that it is up to the player to discover. The whole Archives section of this wiki is still turning up new connections and trying to decipher who some of these characters are. From tells much of its story through its placement of items and enemies, teasing us with the meaning of a Channeler in the Parish, a chest full of sunlight medals in Anor Londo, or the Sunlight Blade on Gwyn's tomb. As a gamer, it's easy to rush past these details, to find a new weapon and read it's stats but not it's description, and miss the richness of Lordran. The NPCs can actually be a wealth of knowledge, and direct you to many of the sidequests that are easy to miss. I'm still pondering a number of items, and trying to find clues about the fate of Gwyn's knights and his family.

    Thirdly, and the last that I'll talk about here, is the level design. When we first try to find our way through Lordran, it is easy to become frustrated by the lack of walls. I don't mean walls in a literal sense (though we are prone to fall off cliffs), but in a game design sense. Many games require you have a certain weapon or item before you can tackle the next area. Zelda and Metroid are famous for this. In Dark Souls, it is certainly a good idea to bring a divine weapon into the Catacombs or the Rusted Iron Ring to blighttown, but never a requirement. Dark Souls doesn't erect walls, it erects hills. You can take some extremely dangerous and circuitous routes early on in the game to acquire some powerful gear, though this isn't likely to be something you discover until you know the levels inside and out. And you will. The way enemies are hiding around corners and the fact that they respawn with each bonfire rest means that you get to know every turn of every level, because when you forgot a detail, it usually costs you. Interestingly, with many of the hidden spots of Lordran, which I discovered from the wiki and not simply through my own adventuring, have clues that should be obvious to the patient observer. Anor Londo's hidden dungeon with Havel's armor is actually quite visible from the adjacent hallway- a small window looks directly into the stairwell, though I've only recently noticed this. I wish I had stayed off the wiki for longer and had the joy of finding these things on my own.

    For me, it's these three things that really stand out, along with the much-celebrated multiplayer. Demon's souls had many of them, but Dark Souls pushed them all so much farther. It's too bad that it takes so long to really appreciate the game, as I'm sure many gamers and reviewers were put off by the relatively steep learning curve. I'm eagerly looking forward to exploring the next beautiful and terrifying world that From creates for us, but have really enjoyed my time in Lordran and wanted to write down my thoughts on why this game pulled me in more than any other has.

    I hope you enjoyed my little essay, and now I'm off to try to solo the Four Kings on NG++ so that I can rejoin the Darkwraiths. The real Dark Souls starts here.
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    Tolvo
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    Re: An Essay about Dark Souls

    Post by Tolvo on Fri Mar 30, 2012 1:00 am

    I agree with your love letter to From, actually some of the level designs still amazes me. Each shortcut you open is always something stunning to me, as well as the fact that from high parts you can easily see other parts of the game, and that even deep in the world you can see some of the higher level zones.
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    NedroidPrime
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    Re: An Essay about Dark Souls

    Post by NedroidPrime on Fri Mar 30, 2012 3:42 am

    I can't stop with this game. Though I am trying to finish a couple others right now, I can't stop thinking about DkS.

    It is such a perfect example of what games SHOULD be. Not many developers can give a consistent experience so deep and satisfying in almost every regard.

    @Tolvo- Seriously!!! I only just saw the lower Undead Burg from upper, specifically the bonfire at the bottom of the staircase (and it registered that I had been there). The level/world design is so amazingly done, words are not enough...
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    JY4answer
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    Re: An Essay about Dark Souls

    Post by JY4answer on Fri Mar 30, 2012 9:43 am

    The beauty of From Software's story telling is that if you're not interested, you won't know its there. But if you are, boy are you in for a treasure hunt.
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    Re: An Essay about Dark Souls

    Post by Rin on Fri Mar 30, 2012 10:40 am

    tolvo change your avatar the old on looked better on u winking


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    Re: An Essay about Dark Souls

    Post by User on Fri Mar 30, 2012 12:29 pm

    Still looking for the whole as of today. Great post by the way

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