Hmmm what’s this? Dark Souls. Well, I’ve heard of it. They say it’s pretty hard,
but at this point in time, the game’s difficulty hasn’t been beaten like a dead horse by
crappy, unoriginal game journalists and for those reasons I’ll check it out.
What the f*ck did I just play?
That was pretty much my exact reaction upon starting and completing Dark Souls for the
first time. It was the most bizarre feeling I had gotten after beating a video game. I
felt accomplished yet empty at the same time. I felt like I hadn’t even scratched the
surface, like I just played through the whole thing wearing a blindfold. I must’ve missed
something! Something that explains what the hell I was doing!
I didn’t know it at the time, or at any point during my first playthrough, but there
was much more to Dark Souls than I could’ve imagined… Something that has since become
so muddled within Games Journalism. Almost like an unintentional smear campaign that’s
made people forget what truly mattered when it came to Dark Souls and what gave it such
a well-known reputation in the first place. Being able to sum up a video game in the words
“it’s popular cuz it’s hard lol,” is a nice little gimmick if you want to market
the game easily to a bunch of people, but it doesn’t elaborate on much of anything.
Dark Souls has been heralded as one of the greatest games of all time; that is an exclusive
club. It’s gotten countless awards, spawned a whole franchise and style of games (sorry
Demon Souls) and has captivated mainstream and hardcore audiences alike. It’s done
all these things for good reason, and while a good challenge, a hard-to-master difficulty,
and a cryptic, open-ended story all played a big role in it’s success, it doesn’t
truly explain why Dark Souls 1 is SO AWESOME!
And that’s exactly what I’m here to do…
There’s been an argument against video games for many years, claiming they aren’t TRUE
art. Now, if I were to choose one game that I’d force those dickbags to sit down and
play from start to finish in hopes of changing their minds. My first choice is Dark Souls
and (Bioshock 1.) Because this is the type of experience that
you could show an English teacher, or a poetry class, and they’d be like “uhhh yeah can
you make me 50 copies of this exact experience but in novel form so we can go to extreme,
lengthy discussions about the significance of the pendant?”
Seriously, that’s one of the game’s biggest appeals. Just like poems and certain stories,
the meaning you can find within is not always in plain sight. Dark Souls is no different
because you have to take a close look at it to understand what the f*ck it’s trying
to say, and what in god’s name is going on. Without abstract thinking and interpretation,
you won’t be able to get much from Dark Souls’ story. From the moment you start
in the Undead Asylum to the final showdown with Literally Zues but cooler, the motivations
and reasoning behind what you’re doing is kept very vague. You’re dropped into this
huge, forsaken world with no real direction except to ring a bell.
“There are actually two Bells of Awakening.” Err… ring two bells, I guess.
You might even breeze through the whole game without taking a second to look around, talk
to people, or read item descriptions. Anyways! At surface value, one might look at Dark Souls
and think, “ahh just another generic RPG with dragons, knights, swords and magic. How
many times have we seen that? I bet it was made by British people too.”
But then once you start getting into it it’s like, “Wait a minute, why am I ringing two
bells? Who the f*ck is this asshole? What the sh*t?! Oh there’s Demons now? Man, what’s
with the goddamn poisonI? What-what IS this place? I was just in a swamp killing giant
Mosquitoes, then I find this huge tree, and now I’m on this enormous lake fighting a
7-headed dragon and F*CKING clams?! WHAT AM I PLAYING RIGHT NOW? What the hell is that?
Why’s that dragon look so weird? Why is it breathing crystals n sh*t AAAAHHHHHH!!!”
And it’s this idea of not knowing, these questions in your mind that you don’t have
answers for. This feeling of being out of the loop on everything but the bare essentials
that creates this undying, morbid, curiousity. Sh*t’s pretty f*cked up in Lordran and YOU
want to find out why!! That’s one of Dark Souls’ greatest strengths
is it is so atypical in it’s presentation. Most mainstream games are pretty straightforward
in this regard because they need to have stories that babies can understand, which makes it
all the more puzzling how Dark Souls is able to appeal to such a wide audience.
Because you can’t go through the game and NOT be constantly asking questions. The plot
is minimalistic, and it’s up to the player to come to their own conclusions. You fill
in the blanks, and there’s a f*ckton of blanks to fill in. You see this, Sea of Thieves?
That’s how you create your own fun!!! Now there’s always the possibility that by making
your story vague and confusing it ends up making no sense and being vague and confusing,
but then there’s the other side where you have a confusing or unclear story, but the
experience is so enchanting it makes you WANT to know more.
Would you like to know more? And that’s what Dark Souls accomplishes
so it doesn’t fall into the “plain old, just bad storytelling” category. But let’s
pull back this layer of Dragon Scales and actually look at what Dark Souls offers within
it’s narrative. Let’s take a look at the depth within the Onion.
I think anytime there’s a series of books, movies, tv shows or video games, and there’s
enough interest in the lore and background of that series to fuel 1.2 MILLION Subscribers
into a YouTube channel?! Yeah uh, I think it’s safe to say people are interested.
The amount of fan theories and lore explanation videos on this series should tell you all
you need to know about how involved gamers are with the story. An interesting tidbit
I read was the idea that the item descriptions in-game are actually the player characters
thoughts. Probably not true, but some items become much more interesting when you look
at things that way. And that’s the great thing about interpretive stories, the way
you look at it. Dark Souls is f*cking deep, you don’t need
me to tell you that. And there are plenty of reasons why, so many that I don’t have
time to explain them all. For one, ambient music is basically nonexistent. There’s
a total of 4 areas in the entire game excluding boss battles, where music plays. Firelink
Shrine, Daughters of Chaos Bonfire, Gwynevere’s hot and steamy bedroom, and Ash Lake. If you’ve
played through Dark Souls, then you know each one of these areas are vitally important,
and the music creates a unique tone and feeling for each one. Sadness and sorrow. Hope and
faith. Magnificence and awe. Warm and welcoming. This lack of music creates a feeling of isolation
for the majority of the experience and this means there is nothing to distract you from
the world you’re in. The only things that follow you through Lordran are the sound of
your footsteps and clanking armor and it makes those moments when you hear music much more
powerful as a result. The combat is deep too, and we’ll talk about
that a bit later, but what I find to be the single greatest thing about Dark Souls is
how everything is connected. Not just in map layout, but in items, bosses, enemies, NPC’s,
they all connect together to form a greater whole
Take the classic gameplay element of dying and respawning. In pretty much every other
video game except Bioshock (once again) the concept of respawning has little to no explanation
at all. Cuz it’s just – just a video game. But in Dark Souls, death and respawns aren’t
just gameplay mechanics, they’re a part of the story.
You are an undead, branded with the darksign which means you cannot truly die. How do you
kill, that which has no life? But each death brings you closer to hollowing
– a concept we’ll explore later on. So you are linked to the fire, you are linked
to the flame and as long as there are bonfires you will keep coming back.
It’s not often you see a game that has justification for it’s gameplay mechanics written into
it’s lore. Lemme ask you, have you ever thought about what Estus actually is and why
it heals you? Most people probably saw it as any other item that restores health, cuz
it’s just – just a video game. Hearts, potions, medkits, food, magical green herbs
that definitely isn’t weed, a harmonious melody, games never explain why you get healed
from this sh*t because it really doesn’t matter.
But in Dark Souls does. Estus is bottled FIRE, people! That’s why it refills AT the bonfire.
You capture the flame in your flask. Dark Souls is about disparity between life and
death, fire and darkness and the Bonfires are beacons of life. Miracles come from Gwyn
and his faithful knights. Pyromancy comes from the Witch of Izalith and her Daughters
of Chaos. And Sorcery comes from Seath the Dankless. These gameplay tools have reason
to be in the game beyond their immediate use. You could run through the list of items, mechanics,
tools, and weapons and connect each one of them as these pieces to form the greater whole
of Dark Soul’s universe, story and lore. And that’s the beauty of this game that’s
where the depth comes from.
Now the story, meaning, and purpose behind Dark Souls is riddled with obscurity and has
plenty of room for different interpretations. And while, I could turn this video into something
that discusses nothing but the lore for 40minutes, I’m more or less going to highlight what
I think are the most important themes or messages that Dark Souls tries to hammer home; the
things I learned. I encourage you to share your own thoughts as well.
So we have the basic premise of the player being an undead in an asylum, where they are
all corralled to await the end of the world. “This is your fate.”
Well that’s a pretty shitty fate right there, but home boy Oscar breaks you out because
there’s a prophecy. The Chosen Undead who’s supposed to travel
to Lordran, and ring the bells of awakening, and when you do that…
“The fate of the undead thou shalt know.” So right off the bat we wanna know what’s
gonna happen to the Undead, what’s gonna happen to us, all these NPC’s, all these
roaming hollows. That question is put into your mind from the very beginning.
Cutscenes are rare, and none are more jam-packed with important information than the opening.
What this scene showcases is how man came to be – how they became GODS. How they took
the world by storm and destroyed the previous regime to create their own. When fire was
created, we learned of our existence, we strove to discover, explore, and build. And we found
soul within the flame, metaphorically and physically. Incidentally, you could look at
the real world discovery of fire by primitive man as arguably the most revolutionary thing
to happen in the history of human beings. Once we found fire, the world was forever
changed around us. “But remember one thing. Always fear the
flame, lest you be devoured by it, and lose yourself. I would hate to see that happen
again…” So much of what Dark Souls presents is relatable
to the real world. You could interpret the idea of prolonging the Age of Fire, or ushering
in the Age of Dark as a message on the rise and fall of civilizations. For example, the
Roman Empire thrived for centuries but eventually it’s flames faded, and despite their best
efforts to keep the Age of Romans alive, nothing could stop the coming dark. How long will
our Age last? The old Roman deities were cast aside, replaced with a new god, and his son…
Just as you can become the Harbinger of a new age in Dark Souls, the age of Dark. The
typical “Lord of Darkness” Trope in fantasy stories works better in the world of Dark
Souls than most other stories. I really enjoy the ambiguity of the endings
because its great for speculation, and what I saw in these endings is that they are rooted
in polar opposite ideas, that of self-sacrifice and self preservation. Martyrdom or apathy.
But as well all know… “APATHY IS DEATH!” Maybe Dark Souls is meant to portray the calamity
and hopelessness of knowing the empire – the civilization you serve, the place you call
home is coming to an end. How do you deal with the coming dread? In this sense the Undead
and the Dark could be seen as the always present threat, a tide of people who are bound to
one day replace your way of life with their own.
“O Heretic, swathed in Dark… an eternal curse upon thee.”
This theme of different Ages collapsing and rising is present in both sequels, which means
it’s definitely something the designers wanted to think about.
One theme that sticks out very well in the Dark Souls experience is perseverance. Individually,
the undead or humans are weak, fragile creatures. The enemies that don’t outmatch you in size,
will simply outnumber you. Throughout the game you encounter several
bodies, with helpful items, and while most of them could be looked at simply as items
left by the developers for the player. I see a deeper meaning, because why is it, that
most every item you find is tied to a corpse? Isn’t that strange? It’s because every
one of those things was left behind by the person who died there. Individually you suck,
but as more and more undead travel to fulfill the prophecy, as Undead are caught in the
crossfire of all these colliding forces, at some point or another they finally succumb.
So as you journey through Lordran, you encounter greater souls, better items, stronger weapons,
all from others who made it farther than the last. Even in death the undead that came before
you are helping you by leaving something useful behind. You essentially get the accrued knowledge,
weapons, spells, equipment and items of every single traveler or unfortunate soul in Lordran.
Because you are destined to succeed where others have failed, you’re the main character
after all! “As I explained earlier, I’m the main
character!” The Chosen Undead. But this also ties in with
the game’s difficulty. As an Undead, finding purpose and striving towards a goal is what
keeps you from hollowing, a slow process where a person looses their mind and sanity. Every
gamer’s goal when playing Dark Souls is to beat it. But what of those who never did?
What of those who ran up against a wall they couldn’t climb? A tower they couldn’t
scale? They became the hollows of Lordran. You see, you only become hollow when you quit.
So by persevering through failure, you, the Chosen Undead will feel great satisfaction
when you overcome those challenges that gave you so much trouble. You WILL run up against
an enemy that seems unbeatable. You will die, you will fail, but it doesn’t matter how
many times you are slain, how massive and impossible the road ahead might seem because
so long as you push against the inevitable, you will survive in Lordran and you will survive
the real world. “YES! YES!”
And you’ll come out stronger than before, ready to take on the next challenge.
“Aw fuck.” Hollowing in the Dark Souls universe is one
of the coolest concepts I’ve ever seen a game present. It’s a microcosm of losing
your purpose in the real world. It could also be seen as a metaphor for depression, those
that go hollow, submit to their darkest feelings, their sadness, dread; they give up and lose
themselves. Life is about overcoming challenges, solving problems, and carving some meaning
out of your existence. What value does a person’s life have if they don’t strive to accomplish
something? What satisfaction do you get from life when there are no problems to solve?
Just as characters go hollow in Dark Souls, you too would go hollow in the real world
if you did nothing with your life. There’s far more to this game than meets
the eye, and it’s because of it’s open-ended method of storytelling, your interpretations
might be different. They might be completely different. But no matter who you are or what
you think, stay safe and don’t you dare go hollow.
Now when it comes to gameplay, the combat in Dark Souls has a lot of depth too.
There’s so many cool weapons and badass armor in this game. You can look like an Onion
for Christ’s sake. That’s the armor Shrek would wear. Certain styles of weapons have
different movesets, and everything has it’s advantages, disadvantages, and requirements
except the Ring of Favor & Protection that’s the best thing in the world.
And you’ll need to be smart about what you invest in. PRO TIP: Resistance is the best
stat to level, I max it first. This is where the currency, SOULS (what else did you think
it would be?) comes into effect. Souls are the lifeblood of your journey. If you die
two times in a row without returning to the spot you first perished, you’ll lose all
the souls you had, you want to avoid this at all costs. But you also need to carry enough
souls to be able to actually buy things, and I love this risk/reward playstyle that Dark
Souls offers, because the two death system means that you didn’t learn from your first
mistake and you made it again, if you can’t get back to the spot you first died.
There’s plenty of builds to experiment with and that’s where the fun begins. Because
you can’t realistically cover everything in one playthrough.
You have to make decisions about what playstyle you like best so you can optimize in it or
try to find a general balance in between. Some weapons hit hard, but they weigh you
down and are easy to dodge. Others can inflict status effects, and all the sets of armor
offer different levels of protection. Dark Souls has an amazing and rewarding progression
system and on the opposite side, it can be brutally punishing too. Losing your souls
and humanity too many times can set you back and in my case, I felt I had to restart the
game. But the knowledge I got from that initial playthrough stick with me. It feels great
to finally be able to use that sorcery spell you’ve had forever. Or that giant greataxe
that looks badass! Or to be able to not fat roll while wearing full Havel’s. These accomplishments
give power, satisfaction, and pride to the player because they happen both in the long-term
and the short-term. Because if you’re like me, then you are building and improving your
build throughout the entire game! Best part of it is, damn near everything is
viable in PvE. ESPECIALLY DEXTERITY, AMIRITE SUN BROS?!
But the mechanics, the flow of combat is where the game truly shines. Because it doesn’t
matter how upgraded your equipment is, how good your weapons are, if you can’t manage
this little green bar right here. If you can’t dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge and block,
you aint gonna get through sh*t. This green bar right here? This is your stamina, your
soul, your life. Every action you take besides walking requires stamina and it’s the game’s
way of limiting what you’re capable of. The entire game must be played around it.
Unless you play a cheesey, glass cannon sorcery build like a queerbo.
Keeping with the tradition of ambiguity, the only means of directly communicating with
other players is emotes. THAT AREN’T SOLD IN LOOT BOXES FOR ONCE, HOLY SH*T! It adds
a bit of comedy to the game, and it’s the limitations of how you communicate that makes
it so fun. Against the AI, you have to anticipate the
movements of your enemy. Charging in recklessly without a plan is bound to get you killed.
Yeah you might be able to set that first-person shooter to easy and take out everything without
sweating but Dark Souls doesn’t have a difficulty setting okay, bitch! You gotta be a man! Or
a woman! Every enemy is different, and most likely,
you’re going to die to each of them at least once. However, this is where Dark Souls offers
a level of mastery for the player to achieve. By learning the patterns and moves of your
foes so well, you can fight them without even taking a hit. With enough time, practice and
patience, you can essentially trivialize the game across multiple playthroughs. Sometimes
I get cocky because I’ve beaten all the Souls games multiple times and when I start
to play carelessly is when I get reminded that I can’t f*ck around, because I’ll
get punished. But whether you’ve got a bow, magic, miracles
or a crapton of upgraded armor pieces, you use the tools you have to your advantage.
And don’t be afraid to use them! Dark Souls is difficult, you’ve heard that a million
times but why the challenge is so renown is because it’s not BULLSH*T difficulty…
For the most part. Yes there is trial and error, but again, that connects with the themes.
You learn through failure, in fact that’s like the only way to learn.
“Pain is an excellent teacher.” If I had to highlight some negative aspects
of the game, Capra Demon fight is just so f*cking stupid. There’s no way going through
that door for the first time, that you’re gonna come out on top. It’s just not gonna
happen. You have almost no time to take in your surroundings before you get assblasted.
Ceaseless Discharge has some pretty questionable hitboxes, and the Bed of Chaos is… well….
The Bed of Chaos. But aside from some of that cheap bullsh*t,
there’s a saying my martial arts master told me, “Luck Favors the prepared man.”
So if you hear about this place that’s called Blighttown, you might consider finding or
buying gear and items that can counteract that some of the sh*t you’d expect to see
in a place called “Blighttown”. Course there ain’t no gear that can counteract
that FRAMERATE. By preparing yourself with upgraded weapons,
leveling up, and a utility bag full of tricks is how you can conquer the game. And that’s
something I really love – the preparation you make BEFORE the next challenge, before
the next excursion. Combat is fluid, and heavily favors 1 on 1
encounters. It’s slow and methodical. Attacks have long wind up times but to counteract
this, they have brutally punishing damage. A lot of games might have the illusion of
multiple enemies attacking you, but often times they only attack one at a time, and
act like mindless goons in the background. This is not the case with Dark Souls. Getting
surrounded is a surefire way of getting your ass handed to you and sent back to the Bonfire.
So playing smart, observing your surroundings, and trying to go for 1 on 1 fights is essential
to success. Let’s talk about PvP. In the early days,
it took players a while to find out what weapons and builds were most effective against other
players. It sucks to say, but there are a lot of mechanics that can be abused in Dark
Souls PvP. I’ve run up against so many cheesy one-shot, glass cannon sorcery builds in this
game. That’s no fun. That’s no fun going up against that every single invasion.
And for one, if you stock up on humanity, you can exploit that to pretty much heal indefinitely.
There’s a lot of cheese tactics, and I’ve been the victim of some VERY questionable
backstabs and hitboxes. Like how the f*ck did this arrow hit me? Are you serious?!
This was mostly forgivable in the original Dark Souls, but in the remastered version,
so many of these exploits weren’t fixed! See this video by Inferno Plus for a full
breakdown on these bugs because it highlights the problems with the PvP perfectly. But those
moments when you get into a long-winded battle and both decide to drain your estus and duel
to the death, those are magical moments. One of the greatest things about this system are
the benevolent invaders. People who invade you, with the apparent intention to kill you
and pilfer your humanity, but turn out to give you nice items and black crystal out.
I once had a guy invade me in Blighttown while I was dying by those toxic bastards, I had
barely enough HP to survive it with no estus left. When the invader approached me I showed
him I was out of estus and while I was going through the menus to drop a humanity for him
so he wouldn’t have to kill me, he dropped a twin humanity for ME and then black crystaled
out. That type of kindness in such a cruel, harsh world, can really bring warmth to your
heart and pick you up when you’re down. There’s a lot of nuances to the PvP system,
too many to go into. But being able to help or hinder the progress of others is an awesome
idea! Just as your Estus Flask has a lore-related reason for being in the game, so too does
the Multiplayer. “We are amidst strange beings in a strange
land. The flow of time itself is convoluted; with heroes centuries old phasing in and out.
The very fabric wavers, and relations shift and obscure. There’s no telling how much
longer your world and mine will remain in contact.”
This statement by Solaire is a perfectly vague explanation. Do the summon signs and invasions
send you back or forward in time? Do they send you to an identical world with a different
chosen Undead? There’s no concrete reason behind it, but it’s safe to say without
the multiplayer component and this description from Solaire, Dark Souls would lose a lot
of it’s magic. This is a journey where you don’t have to
go alone. You can share it with others, both good and evil. Other players can leave their
summon signs, or messages and depending on the player, they may be trying to help, hinder
your progress, or send you off a cliff. The gameplay overall is fantastic and unique,
offering limitless possibilities for experimentation and builds, and the PvP is there to not only
enhance the experience but to build up the world of Lordran and offer great gameplay
opportunities if you ever get bored of fighting the AI. But what’s the first thing that
comes to mind when you think of Dark Souls? That’s right! It’s the mothaf*cking bosses!
“Come on slam and welcome to the slam! Come on and slam if you want to jam!”
A classic staple of video games and the big highlights of Dark Souls. I’d go so far
as to say that Dark Souls revolutionized difficulty in the mainstream’s view, because MOST of
the bosses are so perfectly designed. They’re all huge and epic, they intimidate and make
us feel tiny. And even ones like Pinwheel that are SUPER easy or the Bed of Chaos that
are cheap as hell, all these bosses offer value in either gameplay, challenge, lore,
atmosphere or all of the above. The first time going up against each one of these bad
boys, I can safely say I died against all but Gwyndolin, Pinwheel, and the Demon Firesage.
The bosses evolve as you progress and this is demonstrated in 3 fights in particular.
Stage 1 is the Asylum Demon, your introduction to bosses. This fatty is here to teach you
the mechanics of these fights, and use your surroundings to your advantage. Stage 2 Bell
Gargoyles show the player that not every fight will be straightforward, and it gives you
a taste of a boss with more than one enemy. Finally the famous Ornstein & Smough battle
is Stage 3 these guy’s attacks compliment each other perfectly and they attack in unison.
They are what separates the wheat from the chaff. This is the point that you get the
Lordvessel in the story to discover your destiny, and if you can beat these two bad boys you
have what it takes to beat the game. Everything you experience through these 3
key bosses, are the lessons you need to know to complete Dark Souls.
Probably my favorite boss fight in the entire souls series is the 4 Kings. Because as far
as I can remember it’s the only arena that can kill you instantly and it is scary as
f*ck. This is the most stressful fight in the game because the Kings are not only challenging,
have high HP, deadly ranged and close up attacks, but there’s more than one of them! Their
swords are so big they swing around behind them! I mean, the pressure to take out one
king before the next one shows up as fast as possible is unlike any other pressure or
stress I’ve felt in a video game. The utter blackness makes it hard to gauge how far away
the Kings are. You have absolutely no cover to hide behind and those homing bullets track
you for like 15 seconds! It’s so exhilarating! The 4 Kings perfectly illustrate a well-designed
fight in every way.
Now, because players will play through using different builds, the difficulty of the bosses
can vary. For instance, in my first playthrough I beat O & S on my 2nd try, no lie. You know
how I’m not lying? Because I died to both of these Hydras at least 15 times. I just
could not get the fight down for the life of me, I’d either get shot by those spitballs
or fall to my death. Going through it now, they’re a piece of cake but my 1st time?
Good lord… Every single boss in the game brings something
new and different to the table. Yeah there’s a couple stinkers like the Demon Firesage,
but overall they bring a whole new level of terror and fear to an already hostile world.
In my opinion, there are some games that SHOULD be played a certain way to get the most out
of them. To tie into my earlier point about how Dark Souls makes you curious. The best
playthrough, is your first one, because you have no idea what’s around the corner – what
to expect. This is why I think watching guides or gameplay before you play the game yourself,
is a cardinal sin. You shouldn’t do that because half the fun is discovering things
on your own and getting your ass whooped. Not many games give players such an extraordinary
urge to explore and make it so dangerous at the same time. It’s not even just the enemies
you have to look out for. Gravity has killed me more times than any single boss. And if
you head into the wrong direction early in the game, you’ll likely get butt f*cked
by skeletons or ghosts. But if you knew where to go beforehand because you looked it up,
you’re forfeiting part of the experience for convenience. And here’s another thing,
finding which areas f*ck you up and which ones don’t makes you want to get stronger
so you can go back to those areas. The temptation of new weapons, souls, plunder and pillage
is much too hard for adventurous gamers like us to refuse.
That’s the enticing part of Dark Souls, combined with the healing system, there’s
a risk/reward scenario. I mean, perhaps you’re down to 2 chugs of that sweet sunny d, but
you feel close to a bonfire or special treasure. Do you risk death, your souls, and humanity
to press on? Or do you turn back, play it safe and try again? These decisions you make
throughout the game are CRUCIAL! Which bonfires you kindle, if you’ve got humanity to spare,
you’ve gotta scrounge and collect everything you possibly can to be prepared. Thank god
there’s no limitations on your inventory. Every choice made by the player can have it’s
rewards and consequences. What separates Dark Souls from many other games is nobody is essential;
the game doesn’t have any arbitrary barriers on who you can and can’t kill. Some NPC’s
will encourage you to help them, while others will try to send you on the path of bloodshed.
“Most fools have more humanity than they know what to do with. Now, who do you imagine
will make the best use of it, hmm?” You could say there’s even a morality system
built into the game, but it’s not measured with some arbitrary number, it’s your own
moral compass. When it comes to level design, art style and
feeling of the different areas, Dark Souls is perfection, if not the closest thing to
it. Firelink Shrine is a great hub area that leads to the following locations: Undead Parish,
Undead Burg, Catacombs, New Londo Ruins, Valley of the Drakes, Blighttown and the Undead Asylum.
That’s 7 freaking locations accessible after the tutorial, (if you picked the master key).
Remember how I talked about connection? The same thing applies here. That’s freedom,
that’s choice, and yeah many of those areas are tough early on, but there’s nothing
stopping you from going there anyways! One fan favorite technique is to go through the
Catacombs and kill Pinwheel early on so you can get the Right of Kindling.
Having a series of complicated paths, shortcuts, secret areas, and hidden bonfires like this
can make it difficult to remember where you are and where you need to go, but it’s like
knowing the area around your house, and once you know, you never forget. You realize this
type of connected level design is very beneficial to the game’s experience.
The designers want you to understand which paths lead where, and memorizing them will
make your life easier. I want to emphasize that Dark Souls, in every aspect of it’s
design, rewards the intelligent player. The attentive player. And because the world of
Dark Souls can immerse so well with it’s scenery, the gameplay can immerse you on the
same level. This might be somewhat controversial but having
the ability to warp between bonfires was something I thought you had to earn. Giving that tool
to the player right after the first boss might be convenient but doing that risks losing
one of the greatest parts of this game: a connected world that feels real.
Each area offers new different obstacles for the player to overcome, but every one of them
shares a similarity. Gravity is a f*cking bitch. Crystal Caves forces you to be attentive
or guess what happens? Luckily, and you’ll find this good game design in every corner
of Dark Souls, the player can grab these Prism Stones on the way and use them to get through.
Tomb of The Giants puts you in utter darkness forcing you to sacrifice your shield for a
light source or your helmet. Lost Izalith and Demon Ruins have large patches of lava.
New Londo Ruins throws a bunch of ghosts at you that appear from above, below, and can
move through walls. The enemies you face aren’t the only things hostile to player, the environment
is too. Good ol’ Sen’s Fortress and of course the Abyss.
From Software got very creative with all the different ways they could kill you in this
game and that’s something I appreciate.
And as I keep reiterating, Dark Souls is very unorthodox in almost every way. And with the
use of mods and thanks to Shesez (sorry if I said your name wrong) we can actually see
how detailed the world is beyond the normal boundaries.
“Out of all the episodes that I’ve done of boundary break I’ve never seen so much
detail to a set of buildings that were off in the distance.”
Most games will have very low quality rendering on the stuff that’s in the background, places
you can’t even access. That’s to save on memory, but Miyazaki doesn’t give a F*CK!
He wants immersion, DAMNIT! And he got it. Dark Souls puts so much effort into the backgrounds,
just to make you feel immersed. And another thing that kind of blows my mind is Dark Souls
doesn’t stop the gameplay to load in a new area, it does it seamlessly, for the most
part. That’s an extremely underrated achievement because the necessity for a video game to
load something, doesn’t disrupt the experience like you would expect it to.
What Dark Souls also offers is a sense of scale, subtle grandiosity (that’s a great
word to know!) For example, when you arrive at Firelink Shrine, you can see 3 more areas
that are inaccessible, so add that to the other 7 areas I mentioned. You can see Anor
Londo way the f*ck up there, and what I think is the Grand Archives, and you can also see
The Great Hollow. Being able to look at something way the f*ck off in the distance, get there
and look back at where you were, is absolutely amazing. This is what makes Dark Souls feel
EPIC! It feels like a real world! That you don’t have to watch a movie or a tv show
or read a book to experience it, you get to run around on your own; you have control.
Getting an idea of how large these vast kingdoms are, and how small of a speck the Chosen Undead
is in all of it. Even when you’re down in 15fps-town, these
huge arches exist! You can see the swampy ground below you! If you think about it, Blighttown
is just a massive f*cking sewer! And can we just take a moment to appreciate the coolest
area in all of video games? Ash Lake. The first time I discovered this area, after braving
the curses in the Great Hollow, I was blown away. Staring at the endless sea, the massive
trees around you, and thinking… maybe each one of those trees connects to a world just
as massive as Lordran…. You might also think there’s a lot of unnecessary
climbing and running in Dark Souls, but no… you’re wrong. Taking that long ass stroll
to the last surviving ancient dragon is just epic. When you run down that path you’ve
got 2 whole minutes to think about what lies beyond.
The interconnectivity of all the levels of Dark Souls is something From Software has
tried to replicate for years. The first time going through Lordran, one of the most beautiful
things about it was imagining what this place was like in it’s prime, before it was devastated.
But now every Souls game after that has done the same thing, thrust the player into a land
that’s gone to sh*t. And it’s just not as fascinating the 4th time around.
I think Dark Souls 1 really was lightning caught in a bottle, the atmosphere, look and
feel of these places is iconic, beautiful, serene, and will be remembered above the rest
when all else as turned to dark.
So let’s switch gears here. The Characters in Dark Souls are very important because they’re
the main road through which the game delivers it’s narrative. Primarily with NPC dialogue,
which is optional, item descriptions, which are also optional, and the environments which
are optional to pay attention to. The best choice that Dark Souls gives the player is
whether or not you give a sh*t. Most games will force cutscenes upon you and that’s
all well and good but sometimes you just don’t wanna be forced to give a sh*t. There’s
no dialogue heavy scenes and most of the characters you hear about throughout the game don’t
even speak to you. “Be gone with you. You’ll spoil my focus.”
Artorias and Sif are the two prime examples of how powerful the storytelling is. I’ve
hardly ever seen such an emotional connection between fans and characters who never actually
say a word for themselves. It goes to show that sometimes the best stories are told with
fewer words. The world of Lordran carries a very dreary,
depressing atmosphere most of the time, part of that is the feeling of hopelessness just
from the insurmountable challenge you’re posed with. And the other part is how Every
NPC represents something about this universe; a land far off, an infested town below, a
jolly realm of knights. All of them have survived this long in a world plunged into chaos, and
they’ve all been negatively affected by it. Each one of them tries to carve out meaning,
life and sanity for themselves and you witness that.
Just like the story, many of the characters and their questlines are far out of sight
from the normal player. The world lives on around Firelink Shrine as you progress through
the game. Characters move to and fro, some never return, others can be found amidst a
grim fate. But they all have their own agendas, some try to gather souls through selling merchandise,
others are content to wait it out. Characters have relationships with the other
inhabitants of Lordran, they might hate, love, or serve one another.
“Have you heard of – THE HIGH ELVES?” “-Trusty Patches? If ever a man has rubbed
me up the wrong way, ugh!” “Here, have you met that backwoods Shiva?
Believe me on this one, my love… The man is trouble. I can see it in his eyes. I just
can. Hmph, no doubt about it. Watch him.” Doesn’t this all make for a much more interesting
world than a stagnant hub area disconnected from the rest of the game, where people show
up, rarely leave and nothing really changes? Yeah I thought so.
The beauty of Dark Souls is everybody in this world is at risk of going hollow, everyone
knows about this and it is something to be feared. When talking to most NPC’s they’ll
encourage you to press on, and to avoid becoming a hollow.
“Don’t get yourself killed. Neither of us want to see you go Hollow.”
“it’s safe here. I can’t bear the thought of going Hollow out there.”
“Goodbye then. Be safe, friend. Don’t you dare go Hollow.”
“Oh hello. Terrific to see us both in one piece. And pray that you never go Hollow!”
Voice acting in this game is phenomenal, I think we all remember the gung-ho voice of
Siegmayer of Catarina, or the luminous and friendly words of Solaire.
“You really are fond of chatting with me, aren’t you? If I didn’t know better, I’d
think you had feelings for me! Oh, no, dear me. Pretend you didn’t hear that!”
Or the deep, imposing yet compassionate conversations we had with Gouph.
“Good, good. What is bravery, without a dash of recklessness! I’ve taken a liking
to thee.” But To go back to the hopeless and depressing
tone of Dark Souls, what’s brilliant about the game is how The Chosen Undead could easily
be interpreted as the villain in all of this. You kill Qualaag in order to get to the second
bell, not knowing her motivations to get enough humanity to heal her dying sister. You only
realize this after the fact. You help Siegmayer at every turn, robbing him of the adventure
he so desperately craves, making him feel worthless and he hollows on a last adventure.
By learning all the spells from Logan and Griggs, they have nothing more to teach and
in a desperate search for my knowledge they lose their sanity in the Duke’s Archives.
If you show a chaos pyromancy to Laurentius, he’s so enthralled by it’s power he goes
to blighttown to seek it out, but he can’t see Quelana and his mad search for powerful
pyromancy ends up making him go hollow. You’re forced to fight Sif, who’s motivations,
just like Qualaag, are not understood. Sif wants to protect you from the abyss, and you
killed him for it. The Primordial Serpents, Kaathe and Frampt
are such bizarre creatures. They’re like these cartoony, mystical serpents that appear
to be manipulating the events of the game. You can’t kill them, it’s like they feel
all-powerful in a world that’s losing it’s power, which makes them all the more cool.
One of my favorite characters is the Crestfallen Warrior. When you first arrive at Firelink,
he taunts you, tells you the prophecy is hopeless – you’re doomed to die. The Crestfallen
Warrior’s only goal was to sit at the shrine and berate all the undead who show up. Heroes
come and go at Firelink, but he remains. He does give you helpful information and tips,
no doubt things he’s picked up from other travelers or in his own journey, and that
brings him satisfaction. He keeps you up to date on whats happening at the shrine. And
when you ring the 2nd bell to reveal you are the chosen undead, Frampt appears who guides
you from there. The Crestfallen warrior becomes obsolete. There aren’t any noobies for him
to give tips to. His purpose is lost and he becomes hollow.
This melancholy tone is exemplified perfectly in Solaire, a fan favorite character for good
reason. He’s the most optimistic person in Lordran, and by helping him find his sun,
he loses his sanity and you’re forced to kill him. Happy endings are rare in Dark Souls,
and that’s what makes it so special.
So what do you find at the end of your journey? After escaping the Asylum, fighting through
the Undead Burg, locating the bell in the Undead Parish, braving the depths, trudging
through poison infested Blighttown, traversing the treacherous Great Hollow Tree, discovering
the forbidden Ash Lake, scaling the deadly Sens Fortress, after basking in the light
of Anor Londo, warping to the Painted World of Ariamis, getting lost in the Darkroot Garden,
witnessing the dark descend upon Oolacile, sneaking through the New Londo Ruins, passing
the tainted knowledge of the Duke’s Archives, trekking through the lava-stricken Demon Ruins,
marching into Lost Izalith, after advancing beyond the catacombs, staving off the dark
in the Tomb of the Giants, and arriving at the Kiln of the First Flame.
After defeating the mightiest creatures in Lordran what do you find beyond the door you
worked so hard to get to? Ash… and a fading flame.
You enter the Kiln and find not a man, nor a god, but a hollow. A once mighty Lord who’s
time has finally run out. A Lord with nothing left but to defend the flame he cherishes
so much. So it’s come to this? A duel for the ages.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. And after delivering the final blow, do you
save Lordran? Do you deliver it to the dark? Do you find any answers?
Probably not. But you feel something. The words you’d use to define what just experienced
in the world of Dark Souls, are on the tip of your tongue. You can’t say it, but I
think I know: a masterpiece.