Attention: This article contains spoilers. The Aftermath assumes that you have played the game through its entirety. The Aftermath takes no responsibility in spoiling the game for anyone. If you have not played or are currently playing the game and do not want your experience ruined, do not read further.
In 2007, developer From Software released a very obscure game for the PS3 called “Demon’s Souls”. This was a game that was a throwback to the early days of 8-bit gaming: There were no hints in the game, so if you didn’t plan your path carefully you will die a very quick death. In this game, not only could bosses kill you with one hit, so could an unsuspecting stage enemy whom you didn’t plan on facing.
The difficulty and gameplay mechanics of “Demon’s Souls” is what helped turn the game into a cult sensation. I can’t say for sure if From knew that the game would be successful, but it definitely caught Sony by surprise. Whereas “Demon’s Souls” was a PS3 exclusive, its successor “Dark Souls” was released on both PS3 and Xbox 360. Now Xbox 360 fans could take part in the sadism of dying multiple times and coming back for more punishment.
I stuck with the PS3 version of the game because that’s where I was first introduced to the series. That being said, a strange thing happened on my torturous ordeal through “Dark Souls”.
I didn’t feel the same thrill that I did when I first played “Demon’s Souls”.
This is not to say that “Dark Souls” is not as punishing and difficult as its predecessor because it is. What disappointed me about “Dark Souls” was that it felt like a watered down version of its predecessor.
Let’s put aside the difficulty of both games for a moment, but I’ll come back to that later. One of the aspects that made “Demon’s Souls” a fan favorite was its deep game mechanics. In addition to a unique multiplayer setup which allowed players to invade one another worlds or be summoned to provide assistance, “Demon’s Souls” possessed a system called World Tendency.
World Tendency came in two different colors, black and white. Depending on what tendency your character possessed affected the game in different ways. For instance, certain areas within “Demon’s Souls” would be completely off-limits to black tendency characters, but not white tendency ones and vice versa. In addition, depending on your tendency, some enemies whom you faced would be stronger and when defeated they dropped more souls and better items. This gave players an added incentive to try to manipulate the tendency to their advantage to be able to explore the game fully.
World Tendency or something similar to it was conspicuously absent from “Dark Souls”. When I booted up the game for the first time I checked out the menus to see if there would be something similar to World Tendency found in “Demon’s Souls”. When I saw that it wasn’t there, I thought that “Dark Souls” would be a straightforward affair, but when I discovered that you can enter into Covenants with some of the game’s characters I thought this would be a worthy replacement.
My excitement about the Covenants was short lived because they’re not crucial to the game. Great items are available for those who wish to invest the additional time in building the Covenant, but they are only useful in online play. It is entirely possible to beat the game without ever entering into a Covenant and, other than missing out on some trophies or achievements, the Covenants do not impact the main game. Speaking of online play, “Dark Souls” does continue the tradition of being able to invade other players’ worlds and summoning good characters to assist you in battle.
“Dark Souls’” difficulty is a double-edged sword. I can honestly state that I never used any phantom summon to help me fight a boss in “Demon’s Souls”. There were a couple of bosses where I wanted to summon someone to help me badly, such as when I fought the twin gargoyles on the narrow bridge in the Tower of Latria or when I had to face the giant knight of Boletarian Palace. Instead, I soldiered on with no assistance from outside players because after many deaths, I was able to exploit their weaknesses to eventually achieve victory.
I cannot say the same about “Dark Souls”. There were a few bosses where I needed a phantom to aid me. Fighting Gravelord Nito in the Tomb of the Giants was an immense challenge. This guy not only could kill you with his spear like weapon and booming cries, he would always drop skeletons from his body to help him attack you. It was hard to focus on both him and the skeletons so I had no choice but to call a phantom to attract the attention of the skeletons while I fought Nito.
Another boss that caused me to summon a phantom was the fight with the dual guardians, Dragon Slayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough. The phantom focused on Smough while I fought Ornstein, making the battle much easier to deal with. When I dispatched my enemy I was surprised to see the phantom’s enemy take his power and developed a lightning style attack. In this instance, the phantom did not help because I still died, but it did arm me with the knowledge of whom I should attack first on my next go around.
Even though these boss fights were difficult, they couldn’t hide the fact that it was easy to exploit an enemy in “Dark Souls”. A great example of this exploit was the armored pigs in the cathedral in the restricted area of Anor Londo. Attracting the pigs right outside the entrance to the cathedral allowed me to load them up with arrows. It was as if the pigs were bounded to the cathedral and could never leave it. Every time I shot the pigs with an arrow, they would charge, but then retreat to go back inside. I just repeated this until I defeated both pigs.
Another exploit was against many of the armored knights in the game. As I took the winding stairs in Undead Burg down to the Darkroot Basin, a huge armored knight laid in wait. The easiest way to defeat this knight was to lead him all the way back to the top of the stairs, stand slightly outside the door, and attack him as he wanted to retreat back down the stairs. Other knights allowed me to get behind them to perform critical back stabs, bringing them to their demise.
Because of “Dark Souls’” many detection problems, some enemies would get stuck on in-game obstacles, allowing me to fire arrows at them until their defeat. Some of the game’s enemies and bosses were so huge that it was possible to walk underneath them or get close to them to avoid damage and take them out easily. This was how I was able to defeat Ornstein and Smough by myself: Smough was so huge when I hugged up against him it was hard for his hammer swings to touch me and after Ornstein took his power and grew huge I stayed near his legs to avoid his lightning spear attacks.
“Demon’s Souls” did not suffer from this problem, which made it that much more difficult and rewarding. When I used these exploits in “Dark Souls” it almost felt like I was cheating. Indeed, when I defeated Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, I lured him behind a rock formation and attacked him from behind it with a spear. He never figured out how to get from behind that rock.
My main problem with “Dark Souls” is that it offered From Software an opportunity to take what worked in “Demon’s Souls”, improve it, and add new features that would create an even more engaging experience. “Dark Souls” started in that direction with open worlds, an improved healing and magic system and a better variety of enemies, but then it backtracked with poorly designed AI, a weak Covenant system that replaced a more intricate Tendency system, and an underwhelming online experience that suffered from severe lag. The game is certainly fun and rewarding, but “Dark Souls’” problems prevent it from overshadowing its predecessor.
There is always new game plus, which offers a harder challenge, but then it would still be “Dark Souls”. I’m sorry, but I think I’ll wait until From delivers a true sequel to either game that incorporates the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses of both “Demon’s Souls” and “Dark Souls”.