I’ve gotten into too many “arguments” with fanboys over the course of the past year or so about this title. The rabid army of From Software weeaboos who defend this game as immaturely and aggressively as possible is getting really old, so it’s time to put this topic to rest for good. Dark Souls is an overrated exercise in the most extreme case of mediocrity, defended by children who literally weren’t alive or gaming in the time when games were actually difficult.
Difficulty is, as the boos would have it believed, the main tenet of the Dark Souls franchise. Dark Souls moreso than the second and third games for sure, as the games have gotten easier over time. Everyone raves about how hard this game is. The problem is, it’s not hard. It’s either stupidly cheap and punishes you for mistakes, like if you fall down at the beginning of Sen’s Fortress and survive the fall, or it’s just a matter of timing. Timing is not difficulty. Timing is a basic gaming concept used to present challenges since literally the first video game ever made, Pong. There’s some misconception that just because Dark Souls isn’t Ninja Gaiden where you can run in and murder things by the seat of your pants, that it’s somehow “hard”. No. You need simply learn how each enemy fights and learn when to block, when to attack. It’s no different from literally any other action game.
Combat is not even the cause of the difficulty in Dark Souls – it’s the woefully inept character controls. Just like Demon’s Souls on PS3, the game only lets you turn and face so many different directions. It’s as if From designed this game for SNES d-pad gameplay and then they emerged from a basement to find out that games were 3D and actually have the ability for characters to face 360 degrees. That isn’t From’s fault – no developer has figured that out, still, after 20+ years of 3D games. But I’ve digressed.
Character animations are all absurdly long, making anything you hoped to resemble movement a drunken, stumbling affair. Whether it’s performing a heavy attack or even drawing your weapon, it takes forever. On purpose, probably. Even with that, it’s far more likely in Dark Souls that you’re going to die from fall damage than an actual enemy. Rather, falling itself – rarely the damage from the fall unless you are at full health and fall a short enough distance to survive. For instance, you may die when fighting the Darkroot Basin hydra because you thought, as a rational person, that you should be able to melee it from up close. Nope, sir, you must used ranged attacks or chop it’s heads when they come at you. Why would you expect your entirely melee based character to be able to melee a boss? You also have brilliant game design like the fact that, in at least one area, the game requires you to cross a gap 40 or 50 feet in the air. Except you can’t do this by jumping because there is no jumping until Dark Souls 3, so you have to sprint and roll, and hope it works. And you will die either because it didn’t work, or it did work but your character literally can’t move and you have to walk around a little bit to get the geometry to stop blocking you.
That isn’t difficulty. That’s poor design.
So we have a game that requires you to actually pay attention and recognize enemy movement and attack patterns. And to do so throughout, meaning it has a high learning curve. That indeed has never been done before. Yes, Dark Souls is unique. It makes you learn to play the game. How difficult.
What is most hilarious, what is the biggest sign of cognitive disconnect in the Dark Souls “community”, is that people make an argument that “dying is a game mechanic.” No it isn’t. Dark Souls is a trial and error game. Beyond learning the combat, you come to an area and see what works, and what doesn’t. That boss isn’t dying the way you’re trying to kill it? Well try something else after you respawn, hopefully recover your souls, and fight it. That’s normal – all games work that way. Dying as a game mechanic though? No. Anyone who believes this is either new to gaming, or doesn’t know what a game mechanic is.
I present Cyberia. Literally one of the worst games ever made. There was absolutely no indication what you were supposed to do to progress and beat the game, ever, at any point in the game. It was pure trial and error from start to finish and if you died, there were no bonfires. No checkpoints. No save files. You restarted the entire game from the beginning unless you played on easy. If you walked into a room and walked the wrong direction, you died instantly. Start over. If you got past that room then went to the wrong area of the screen in the next room, you died. Start the entire game over. You want an actual challenge? You think you die a lot in Dark Souls? Go put your PSX emulator at above 30 frames per second and try to play Cyberia. You will literally die before you even see what’s on screen.
Any rational person who played this PS1 game now would immediately concede that it’s a terrible game. If you need proof, though, you don’t even need to emulate it. It’s on GoG, for some godforsaken reason. They wouldn’t say “Dying is a game mechanic” and attempt to perform some mental gymnastics, claiming that it’s how you learn the game. It’s entirely trial and error. A game mechanic is something that you can learn inside the game that can and will be used over and over again, intentionally. Dying is not interactive. You don’t intentionally die in Dark Souls in order to unlock a door or find the right path to take., nor do you intentionally die in Cyberia. You don’t press L2 + Square and Triangle at the same time to perform “Drop Dead lvl. 3”. You do so because it’s trial and error. It’s the only way to figure out where to go – by learning where not to go. Yet somehow, 10 – 20 years later, this same poor game design is heralded and worshipped by a small group of people as if it’s good.
I’ve seen and heard some absolutely crazy shit in my time – after all, Donald TRUMP is the President of the United States of America and he makes George W. Bush and Obama look good – but the silly group of gamers that are trying so hard to convince themselves and their peers that they’re a real boy because they think Dark Souls is hard, or a good game, is a fucking hoot.