Dark Souls: Predictable at Unpredictability

Articles Aug 28, 2019

Memorization and Trial & Error. That is Dark Souls and all “soulslike” games to a T. There is nothing fun about doing something over and over again until you memorize something, but even worse is when you are expected to memorize something but the enemies have unpredictable patterns and mannerisms. You can’t have both. The reason I don’t like these games isn’t because they are hard, they aren’t, they have a very easy formula of “Agro the character, fall back, wait for animation to happen, run up and hit. Rinse and Repeat.” The reason I hate these games, is because of the game not allowing you to understand what the game will actually be. It wants to be both a game of memorization, but the characters will never behave exactly the same each time. I remember going through the first part of Dark Souls 1 for the third time and I beat the first boar and it didn’t drop anything because a skeleton hit it with an arrow and dealt the final blow. It was just another nail in a frustrating experience. Frustration because the game won’t play by its own rules. For the normal player (not the ones beating the game with no clothes and a DDR pad) you need certain items and drops to really play the game. The game is random at points and just expects you to either chose 1 of 2 ways to play it. Either you go in blind and spend 400 hours playing the game that won’t tell you anything and dying over and over and over again expecting different results because you spent half a second longer in a sewer, or you look up everything online and play the game like a linear story based game.

Neither of these options are fun. It doesn’t respect your time, It assumes you are a 19 year old college drop out with zero responsibilities and unlimited time to devote to it. I am one of the more unique cases when it comes to games. I don’t have much other hobbies so I spend most of my free time playing games. Even then I barely have the time to devote to solely playing one game for dozens of hours just to uncover it’s mysteries. That, and I also don’t care. It’s just not compelling enough to really dig deeper than what the game gives you, which is zero information. The gameplay itself is fun, the design of the world and monsters are intriguing, but this game wants you to hate it and it wants to suck out all the fun and your time. I’d rather play 7 other fun games instead of banging my head against a wall, dying over and over again to get that “gamers high and sense of accomplishment” from beating something hard. Hard is good, challenging is great, but when a game does everything to actively make you hate it and be difficult for difficult’s sake, then that is where I draw the line and stop caring.

If it stopped there, I’d be ok with just ignoring those games, but with the release of another From Software game (Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice...which is a really stupid name) it’s being brought back into the limelight. I got into an argument with someone because I said that Sekiro was a souls game and several people got really upset saying it couldn’t be further from a souls game. So, I ask, what makes a...ugh, and I can’t believe I’m going to use this term… a “souls like” game? A “Souls like” game is a third person game where you control a single character, are dropped into a world without knowing where you are or what the world is like. You roam around extremely dark areas in the world. There are enemies strewn around the environment, you might be able to see them in the near distance if the world isn’t pitch black, and you can get to a certain distance and then they will “agro” becoming aggravated and try to attack you. Once they start attacking you they have a pool of around 3-4 animations to attack you with, these attacks can be parried or dodged and then you will have an opportunity to strike back. These are usually fairly hard to pull off as you must have pinpoint timing down to get into the very small window to parry correctly. The best option is to just hang back, wait for their animation to finish and then run in close and attack. Once the enemy is defeated, you will get “souls/blood/XP” that will be used to buy new weapons or level up stats.

The world is large and interconnected with big boss battles that require you to beat them and then unlock a shortcut that will take you back to a main hub area. There is a checkpointing system called “bonfires” that will act as a safe room and place to save, since the main selling point of these games are “they are hard’ removing pausing and saves make the game harder. If you die and you will die because again, literally the main selling point is “Hey, this game is hard” and the actual tag line of the first Dark Souls game is “Prepare to Die”, you will loose all your XP, you get one chance to respawn, run to your death point and collect your XP before you lose it forever. This does add a significant challenge to the game, but for a game that already has the cards stacked against you, it adds another frustrating layer on to it. I really wish I did like these games, and honestly they are fine, I consider them nice B tier games. But when the fans get their teeth into a new one of these, they take it too far. There IS only ONE way to play these in their eyes. You don’t go here, or there or grab this specific item or kill this enemy in a particular way… you aren’t playing the game correctly. The game has been out for less than a week and everyone is yelling at you if you aren’t doing exactly what someone else does.I even have gone on record stating certain games (like Red Dead Redemption 2 does require you to play it a certain way, but not acording to fans wishes, it’s the way the GAME wants you to play it.) The fans have ruined this genera of games. And yeah, it is a genre at this point.

From Software makes one type of game at this point, they’ve made it since 2009 and refuse to change up to a different type of game. Demon Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls II, BloodBorne, Dark Souls III, and now Sekiro. Sekiro is a Souls game, sure it doesn’t have a character creator, but neither did Nioh (not made by From, but still a souls game), You are dropped in the world where there are difficult enemies that you agro, when you die you lose any xp you haven’t stored up and used, if you can’t collect it in time or die again, you lose your XP. Big bosses that gate a shortcut back to the hub world and bonfires….and also it have the exact same UI as all other FromSoftware games. It is a souls game from every concievable viewpoint. It does add a grappling hook allowing for a new amount of mobility, but that doesn’t make it different from a souls game.

I could rant about Souls games for hours, in fact I have. They are well made games, the devs do a good job at creating these games, but the real issue is that they have taken on an unnatrual mythos of “the best video games have to offer”. I think Souls games are created for people who play a few video games a year, someone who wants to spend hundreds of hours in one single game and has no issue if they don’t progress in the game after 4 or 5 hours. The to me that is the most boring way to play video games, just repeating the game over and over again, memorizing them to the point where you know every single inch of the game better than the devs. I ask why? How is that fun or entertaining. I can’t think of a single game that I have put over 200 hours in in my life. I got close with Witcher 3, but I only played through that game once, I only did each quest and uncovered all the question marks, and all the DLC once. I 100%ed that game, but I could never imagine playing that game again. Maybe in the far flung future when I forget the main plot points and am ready to replay it. Same with Psychonauts, my favorite game of all time. I have only played through it 3 times, the last time I 100%ed it and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to it. There is no real point in going through it again and again and again. Just like movies. Why would people rewatch movies over and over again. I get if it’s on in the background, or every year on Christmas or something, but those are usually and hour and a half or two. Not 40 or 50 hour experiences. There are just too many games to play and experience to spend your time replaying the same thing over and over again.

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