I’m always late to the party when it comes to video games, but when it comes to Dark Souls, I can at least claim to be fashionably late. I got it less than a week ago, I’m playing exclusively offline, I’m less than seven hours in, but already the game has become my world.
There have been times when I’ve hated it. Absolutely hated it. Momentarily it’s occurred to me while playing Dark Souls that I’m really not enjoying myself at all. It’s far too punishing, and the environments are oppressively dark, dank and gloomy. The whole game oozes fear, dread and malevolence. Why would anyone want to spend any time in this world? It’s too cold!
But then you take a deep breath, pick up your pad again and play in less of an angry mood. You learn to take your time; think, look for openings, pay attention, and suddenly Dark Souls becomes one of the most exhilarating and rewarding gaming experiences you’re every likely to have.
Whilst I was fighting those bloody Bell Gargoyles for the nineteenth time, I suddenly realised that my heart was pounding. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I was utterly engrossed: those gargoyles had to die.
And when, after over twenty attempts, I finally toppled the beasts for good, the sense of achievement I felt was overwhelming. This is what games used to be like. Death used to present a genuine fear, which meant that success was always its own reward. You’ll notice that most retro games don’t offer much in the way of endings. That’s because you didn’t play to “complete” the games. You played to “beat” them. So when, after weeks of hard work, the most the game could offer was a simple “well done”, it really did feel as though you’d achieved something.
Dark Souls is the closest a game’s come to offering such an experience in about fifteen years (I didn’t play Demon Souls). It’s been extraordinarily difficult to get to where I am, and yet I know that the nightmares have barely begun. This is truly a game to master – a game to beat. I know it’s going to take a while, just as I know that I’m going to love every second of it.
Well, maybe not every second. But those moments when the dust has settled, you’re on your own and silence is restored – and you’re able to simply bask in the lush beauty of your surroundings – they’re the moments that’ll keep me coming back. Every time the going gets too tough, I’ll just remember the tranquillity that followed my final victorious bout with the gargoyles. Alone on a suddenly-silent church roof, I was finally able to take in the surrounding vista, and I found it to be breathtaking.
And with Dark Souls II having been announced, it seems there’s already plenty to get excited about. As somebody who’s still comparatively new to the joys of Dark Souls, perhaps I’m in a better position than those who’ve been immersed in the world for months to consider as to how this game could be made even better. Because I’m seeing everything with fresh eyes, it’s inevitable that I’ll see room for improvement where others see well-trodden paths.
So here’s how I think Dark Souls II could achieve gaming nirvana.
5. Make It Less Repetitive
There are plenty of boss fights in Dark Souls, and it’s unlikely that you’ll tackle any on your first attempt. When you die, you go back to the last bonfire at which you rested, and all previously slain monsters are resurrected. This means that every time you want to have another crack at that boss, you’ll have to trawl through the same path, slaying the same monsters in the same order, for as many times as is required before the boss expires for good.
Sometimes, the repetition really ground my gears. It would have been better had I just respawned right outside of the boss chamber. This, then, is exactly what they must do in the next game. Of course, this would singularly remove every ounce of tension from the subsequent battle, making not just the ultimate victory but the whole game itself less rewarding overall. But if there’s one thing I hate, it’s having to backtrack. So if a game must sacrifice exactly the qualities that make it so unique in order to save me some time, then that is what must happen.
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This article was first posted on January 25, 2013