Today is a glorious day for fans of Dark Souls, or the ‘Souls’ games in general. The PC version of Dark Souls was updated to no longer require Games For Windows Live and instead will be using Steamworks, the system used in Dark Souls 2. This is something the bulk of the community has been pining for, and for good reason. The GFWL system leaves more than a little to be desired. Reading the forums lead me to see a lot of posts talking about the flak that the sequel received. I began thinking about the differences and similarities between the two games. Let’s start this off by saying that everything in this post will be purely opinion and there’ll be spoilers eventually. Let’s also establish that as I’m sure you’re about to find out for yourself, I’m not very good at these games. Both are in my Top Ten games of all time. I have around 600 Hours (I know, trust me.) in the first and about 200 in the Second, so while I’m not the authority on these games, I know a good deal about them.
To start things off I’d like to just talk about what makes the ‘Souls’ games great in my opinion. To set the stage I’m going to talk about my first experience with the game. It started as many of my game stories will. The infamous Steam Sales. My friend got me a copy and told me to just play it. He gave me the same warnings I’m sure everyone else got when this game was recommended. “This game is hard, but keep going.” “Trust me, dying is just part of it.” “Use a controller.” “Blightown is going to make you hate everything about yourself and your soul will feel like it just ate a brillo pad while watching your parents have sex.” You know, the usual. So I launched it up and messed around with the character creation and settled on a Thief with a giant Blue Face, obviously. The tutorial section (a -VERY- generous name) was filled with challenge which was one of the first games to do that to me. This is the tutorial, I’m supposed to be safe here, Dark Souls considered my request and simply stated “No.” I made my way through, fought through an undead city, and threw my face against the symbolic Grindstone that is the Taurus Demon. I finally got through and by some grace of God, and an entire weekend, I defeated the first true landmark boss, the Gargoyles. And you know what I did after that? I quit. I quit this game that I was progressing in because I thought to myself “I spent this long to defeat the first boss, how am I going to do this?” Dark Souls was the first game that ever made me think I wasn’t good enough while actively progressing.
And that was the long winded segue to my first point against Dark Souls 2. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls had so much faith in you as a player. It made you work for your glory. Grinding through the Undead Parish’s lobby area in order to try and conquer the Gargoyles and ring the first Bell of Awakening was one of the most frustratingly rewarding moments in my gaming career. This game never held your hand, it knew that you wouldn’t need it. The difficulty was very carefully woven into this amazing world for you to overcome, learn, and conquer. You were forced to adapt to each new environment and learn every little thing you can. However, in Dark Souls 2, I felt like the difficulty was thrown in just to live up to it’s reputation of being insanely difficult. But here’s the thing, it wasn’t just about the difficulty that gives the Souls series its charm, the difficulty is just an illusion, it’s very shallow. The difficulty comes from your own aggression and playstyle. These games don’t take your shit. you have to play by it’s rules. It doesn’t care about how badly you want to kill something, you have to prove it. You have to show it that you can be a tank, a fighter, a mage, a theif within the boundaries it set for you. In Dark Souls 2 it felt like the difficulty was meant to be ground through, and not for learning but more for the purpose of progression. They introduced this mechanic where when an enemy dies about ten times he’s gone until you go to “New Game+” or until you use a specific item to make the area harder. That’s this game’s downfall for me, it starts doing what the series hasn’t done for two very solid installments. Hand Holding. There were several times in my first couple of runs that I would simply exhaust dozens of lives on the mobs outside of the boss rooms just so I would be able to have a clear run back when I ultimately failed. And that just felt wrong to me.
Another thing I’d like to bring up is the one of the things that I think really defines the series. The Bosses. Dark Souls’ was really set apart for me by having these amazingly connected environments that I’ll never forget. The “levels” flowed together and the Bosses of each area were so fresh and unique to each other that when you we’re getting towards the end you felt like the end was coming or you saw one of the fog gates you got a mixed feeling of dread and excitement. The bosses Ornstein & Smough is a perfect example of this. The zone Anor Londo is full of very challenging and infamous areas and the end of this zone is one of the hardest encounters, because it had to be. Each boss was fitting. Dark Souls 2 had less of an intertwined feeling and more of a “Branch Out” feeling. Each zone led to one Major Zone and usually one Minor Zone. And a problem with these zones is that most of the bosses sucked. Even as I write this I’m trying to remember a few examples of bosses. I can remember they existed but i forget their unique qualities.
I guess what this pretty much boils down to is that Dark Souls 2 felt like a very generic RPG with an unnecessarily amped up difficulty and it seems like this game lost a lot of it’s charm while being created. The community has put the blame on the fact that the group that worked on this game didn’t consist of a lot of the key players from the last few rounds. And that’s understandable. So I guess where this leaves us is that Dark Souls 2 is a solid game, despite what the past few words may have indicated. In general this game is very good. It’s biggest flaw in my opinion was that it called itself “Dark Souls 2”. Calling a game a sequel leaves it open to that instant comparison that may harm some aspects of the game. The game itself is fine, the problem is that the community, myself included, have to compare it to it’s predecessor. Most arguments of Demon’s Souls vs. Dark Souls gets settled with “Well they’re different games and thats why the title is so different” which is fair enough. But that argument can’t really be made in this case. Dark Souls 2 is unfortunately tethered to Dark Souls because of that.