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Veteran Member - Level 12
Few games in recent years have
garnered the amount of attention from the hardcore gaming crowd as
the Dark Souls franchise. With it's zero tolerance for hand-holding
and bone crushing difficulty, the franchise has won many a fan.
The first game initially
passed me by, but after continually hearing good things about Dark Souls II, I decided to
give it a try. After spending about 11 hours with the game I've come
to a conclusion - Dark Souls isn't for me.
Dark Souls isn't fun in the
same way less difficult games are. The game is renowned for
repeatedly handing players their collective butts over and over
again, forcing you to improve. The fun of Dark Souls comes from
learning how to play a game that gives you nearly zero help, as well
as those triumphant moments when you finally defeat a challenging foe
after numerous attempts. I did actually experience this. I
experienced all the moments of self-paced discovery, brutal
difficulty, and eventual victory that causes so many gamers to hold
Dark Souls upon high. I can easily see why people enjoy the
franchise. But I don't.
Before we go into my problems
with Dark Souls, let me go ahead and lead with this statement: I love
a challenge. Nearly every shooter I play I crank up the difficulty to
the max. I balked at the idea that many gamers declared Witcher 2 too
difficult. I'm about as stubborn as they come, especially when it
comes to losing. I will try over and over again to come out on top. I
play League of Legends in unhealthy amounts, and if you know anything
about LoL then you know it's a game with steep learning curve that is
It's not the difficulty of
Dark Souls that turns me off (I actually really enjoy the combat).
Rather, it's the core gameplay mechanic that for the purposes of this
article I will call "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back" that makes
enjoying the game difficult for me. Improving the stats of your
character and purchasing items is done with souls. Souls are acquired
from defeating the game's various enemies. Sounds simple enough, but
once you die (which is almost constantly) you drop all the souls you
were carrying on your person, requiring you to run back to your
corpse and pray you are not killed again before you pick them back
up. If you die in route to picking up your soul stash, the souls are
gone forever. It's all very stressful, which I guess is by design.
My main problem with this
mechanic is that the entire point of the game is to trial and error
your way through increasingly difficult battles. Many battles require
way more than two attempts, and more often than not instead of
focusing on strategy or tactics, you are instead primarily concerned
with recollecting your souls and running far enough out of harms way
so when you die again your souls will be easier to recover. The
entire point of the game is to try, die, try again, but doing so puts
your primary means of improving your characters ability at constant
risk. This encourages you to spend your souls and upgrade your
character whenever possible, but stats can only be improved while
sitting at a bonfire, which are of course few and far between.
The result is I would
regularly lose thousands of souls, especially during boss fights when
I have no means of retreating and usually die over and over again.
For every step forward I would make, I would take two steps back
after messing up and losing thousands of souls, putting me back
another lengthy gameplay session before I could get back to the
amount I had before. Dark Souls isn't a game where a less than
stellar player can grind their way to eventual victory. It instead
forces you to improve your skills, and if you can't, it wants nothing
to do with you.
From what I've read, Dark
Souls II takes the idea of kicking the player while their down up
another notch by knocking off a portion of your characters health bar
after death in addition to losing souls, up to a maximum of 50
percent reduced max health. The more you die, the more difficult the
game becomes, despite the entire point of the game being to die.
If dying simply meant I sucked
and needed to rethink my strategy, I wouldn't have a problem with
Dark Souls. I do, however, have a problem with a game that
artificially creates length by robbing players of progress, punishing
them time and time again for failing by inhibiting character growth.
I can appreciate the game's
zero tolerance policy towards hand-holding and tutorials. In theory.
In actuality, I find myself constantly suffering from a feeling of
inadequacy. What stats should I be improving? What gear should I be
using? How do I improve items? What the heck does this thing do? You
kind of figure it out as you go, but when I talk to friends who love
the game they just tell me "Look up a guide online, that's what I
did and it became much more fun." I don't want to have to look up a
guide online just to be able to play the game. This, coupled with
constantly losing progress, to me does not a fun game make. But to
each their own.
A game does not necessarily
have to be fun for me to enjoy it. The Last of Us, for example, isn't
a fun game. It's a stressful, violent, and intense ride from start to
finish. Its gameplay isn't "fun." I finished and enjoyed The Last
of Us not because of its difficulty or its gameplay, but because of
the game's story. The scarcity of resources and violence found in the
gameplay reinforced the themes of the narrative, making me care about
its characters and crafting a compelling experience that I had to see
finished. I played through The Last of Us to see how the tale of Joel
and Ellie concluded, and fought through each encounter to see what
developments would happen next.
Dark Souls has none of that. I
can't tell you anything about the world of Dark Souls, the
characters, the story, any of it. You are a zombie, trying to not
become a zombie, and you die a lot. Occasionally you encounter
strange side characters who you have very little interaction with and
whose purpose is entirely unknown to me. The story of Dark Souls is
your personal story of overcoming adversity and reaching salvation.
That doesn't captivate me in
the same way a great story does. If I'm going to play a game that is
distinctly not fun, one that punishes me at every turn, I need a good
reason. As the classic saying goes, "What is my motivation?" Dark
Souls doesn't really provide one. It doesn't care if you make it to
the end or not. If you want to bite the bullet and fight your way
through just for the sake of doing so, go for it. Dark Souls will be
there for you, kicking you every step of the way. Me on other hand,
I'm perfectly fine not participating, and I don't feel like I'm
missing anything essential.
(Side note: The above are my
thoughts from playing 11 hours of the game and internet research. If
I am missing some essential part of the game or a pivotal story
moment, be sure to let me know. Maybe I'll give it another chance.)