By Lewis Warner
People have been crying for a while now about the decline video game industry, that it isn’t what it used to be, so I set out to disprove this myth. In the true spirit of “why so serious?” I picked up a copy of Dark Souls and set out to die.
After a painstaking crawl through dungeons and obstacles I have come to an impasse. In front of me stands the Capra Demon, wielding two machetes each longer than a man and covered in blood. My stomach sinks, around his neck hangs the key that I seek. I charge forward, hoping to catch the beast by surprise, but to no avail, it lunges with unnatural speed, swinging its machete in a vicious arc. I catch the first sweeping blow upon my shield. The impact is deafening and I stagger backwards, helpless as the second swipe hurtles down towards me. Then I die, a painful, repetitive, infuriatingly challenging death.
(An anonymous fan art submission of the Capra Demon)
This isn’t the first time the Capra Demon has killed me, nor the second or the third. If I recall correctly it’s somewhere around number twelve. Welcome to Dark Souls, a game that is bucking the trend towards easy, dumbed down games, one gruesome death at a time.
When I read the phrase emblazoned across the front cover of Dark Souls: “Prepare to die”, I scoffed and considered it a challenge.I was so confident in my gaming prowess, I thought I would chew this game up and spit it out with a light smattering of deaths along the way. Much like I do with each AAA title that hits shelves. I was so very, very wrong.
Dark Souls has many aspects that set it apart from any other game I’ve ever played, but the thing that makes it stand out in the current market; it’s hard, uncompromisingly, unapologetically and unfalteringly hard.It does not come equipped with the standard option to play on easy, normal or hard difficulty mode, just the one nail biting, controller smashing default difficulty setting.
Don’t expect an industry standard in-depth tutorial here, all dark souls provides is a long and difficult initial level in which you gather knowledge of the controls and game mechanics and die numerous times in the process.
(A cover image of the dark souls video game)
Maybe you are thinking I’ve painted a pretty grim picture, and that Dark Souls doesn’t sound like it’s even fun to play. Why would anyone want to play a game in which failure and death is guaranteed to be a regular occurrence? After years of playing games in which I could change the difficulty setting down, or level up in order to easily overcome a challenge, it took me a while to pin point why I find Dark Souls so addictive. It is the challenge of Dark Souls that makes it so rewarding.
After suffering countless deaths at the hands of a boss fight, screaming every profanity you had to utter at the developers and swearing that the game is impossible, it is the sweetest most exquisite feeling to finally win.This is why Dark Souls has managed to be successful even whist most other games are becoming easier in order to appeal to a wider audience.
I sat down with an old hand in the video game industry, Michael Lennon, to discuss his experience of the industry, and his view on the trend towards easier video games.
“I think the trend towards easier video games has been happening for a while now.” Michael said.
“Because major publishers are now public companies traded on the stock exchange, there is an need and a drive for games to generate as much revenue as possible. “
“To this end, publishers use the ‘we pay the bills’ trump card to pressure developers into making games that will appeal to the widest possible audience.” He said.
Michael spent eleven years in the video game industry, working for companies such as THQ, Pandemic and EA.
“I really enjoyed my time in the industry, and I was lucky enough to work on six released titles.”
“There were also some negatives though, sometimes the games industry can pressure you into making a game you aren’t happy with.” Michael said.
According to Michael, a lot of passionate games creators have started small independent studios with the ambition of creating new and innovative games, free of the pressure of huge profit hungry publishers.
“A lot of ex-colleagues of mine have started their own small companies, their games often appeal to niche markets rather than a wider audience, but they don’t make a lot of money.”
When I asked Michael about Dark Souls specifically he was quick to praise the game.
“Games like Dark Souls are reminiscent of the golden age of video games, when there was a huge, dedicated fan base that wanted a challenging experience that offers depth and replayability.”
“Nowadays a lot of consumers are more interested in the graphical advancements, movie like storylines and carbon copy competitive multi player.”
“This means that games like Dark Souls are few and far between, but they are a beautiful thing when they do come along.”
Dark Souls is the rare exception to the rule, despite being unapologetically difficult it has enjoyed immense success.
One particularly passionate fan and active member of the dark souls community is Dean Cormack.
Dean has been a gamer since his early teenage years and says Dark Souls was a pleasant change from most other games on the market.
“I’ve played my fair share of Call of Duty and other similar games, but Dark Souls is so different, it’s the game I just keep going back to.” Dean said.
“I love the challenge of Dark Souls, every death is essentially your fault and you have to learn what you did wrong and approach the problem differently if you want to win.”
Although Dark Souls innovates in the area of difficulty and mixing conventions of the action, RPG and strategy genres it also offers a completely unique multiplayer experience. When you connect to the internet whilst playing Dark Souls the experience takes on a whole new dimension. Messages scrawled on the floor by other players appear throughout the world. These messages are equally useful as they are dangerous.
For example where one player might see fit to warn his piers of a trap lurking around the next bend, another sadistic player might herald an amazing treasure ahead, causing unwary readers to rush headlong to their deaths.
“The messages on the floor are a real highlight for me, sometimes you find one that really sums up Dark Souls.” Dean said.
“I had died at the hands of a particular boss so many times, and as I fought my way up to the lair again I came across a message scrawled at the top of a cliff, it just said ‘try jumping…’, obviously someone else was having just as much trouble as I was.”
Multiplayer isn’t limited to just writing messages to one another however, by using a valuable in game currency, players are able to be summoned into each others worlds to assist in boss fights. By leaving a white summons sign outside the lair of a boss, players make themselves available to be summoned by someone who is struggling to beat the boss on their own.
“Some bosses are pretty damn hard to beat solo, if you aren’t rolling a build that can tank a lot of damage, bosses like Quelaag or Smorg and Ornstein are very hard without summoning.” Dean said.
“If you want a pure Dark Souls experience or you want to be able to say ‘I beat the game solo’ then you can try to do it without summoning, but you’re going to have a hell of a time.”
If you are thinking that this summoning option seems out of sorts with Dark Souls commitment to ruthless difficulty, then you are correct. Summoning assistance comes with one very large catch.
In order to summon, players must change their status from hollow to human. This allows the player to summon other human players into their world to assist with a boss, but it also opens them to being invaded by human players who want to steal their souls. Souls and humanity are the currency of Dark Souls and invading other players is a very lucrative means of gaining souls.
“PvP is a tonne of fun in this game, it’s just nothing like any other PvP experience I’ve ever had.” Dean said.
“When you invade someone and your risking all the souls you have for the chance at stealing theirs it’s an exhilarating feeling.”
“Putting down a summon sign and helping someone beat a boss is fun, but nothing feels more baddass than invading someone else’s game as a spirit of vengeance or a dark wraith.”
I asked Michael Lennon what he thought of Dark Souls approach to multi player, and why he thinks it has been so successful in maintaining an active online community.
“Because Dark Souls seamlessly blends single player and multiplayer, people who love the game are drawn back to it over and over again because every time you play it is different.” Michael said.
“Where one time you summon assistance and defeat a boss with relative ease, the next time you attempt it you might be invaded before you even reach the lair.”
The developers of Dark Souls were not content to rest upon their success however, after completing Dark Souls they were quick to release a substantial expansion pack. In a lot of modern games, expansion packs are pay to win affairs or content that was already developed prior to release but held back in order to make more money, not so with Dark Souls. The Artorias of the Abyss expansion added a whole host of new areas and bosses to test your prowess against as well as new items, spells and characters. But the thing that really made the expansion pack shine is that the developers had clearly listened carefully to what the community wanted and delivered it to them.
Although the PvP system in Dark Souls is a whole lot of fun, and adds an exciting risk to summoning other players, for the hardcore PvP fan it wasn’t quite fast paced enough.
“I love PvP, I could do it over and over again, but in the vanilla version of Dark Souls sometimes you would have to search for quite awhile before you could find someone to invade.” Dean said.
“In the expansion pack, the developers built a dedicated arena within the game world where players could go and match up for PvP battles one after another.”
“This was just the icing on the cake for me, I already loved Dark Souls so much, and this just meant that I can keep coming back and enjoying it, again and again.”
Maybe I’ve swayed you with all this praise of Dark Souls, and you are thinking you might want to give it a try.
Just be warned, Dark Souls will challenge you, it will test your patience, logic and skill. So when you pick up a copy, hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I and countless others have, but before you rush in thinking it will be as easy as the last ten games you conquered, prepare to die.
If you are interested in giving dark souls a bash, had any questions about this story, or just wanna say hey, sound off in the comments or drop into the facebook page!