Oh good, another post about Dark Souls on Midnight Resistance. God knows we all need another one of them, right?
Well you do, actually, and I need to write this, so shut up and just listen for fuck's sake.
Have you played Dark Souls? Have you journeyed through Lordran's terrifying, yet wonderous world of desperate eviscerations, endless undeath and unparalleled story? Have you played quite possibly the finest video game of this console generation, if not of all time? Have you?
Well if you haven't, then heed my advice: Fucking don't, whatever you do. Stay away from it and stay happy, because it'll ruin just about every other video game ever made for you forever if you let yourself get sucked into it.
Let me explain.
Y'know those dicks who always have a go at you when yo buy supermarket sushi because they've been to Japan and they've had the proper stuff and oh I don't know how you can eat that terrible plastic crap when we were in Osaka there was a little place that served the best sushi and OH MY GOD I'VE TORN MY EARS OFF JUST TO MAKE IT STOP
You know that? That stomach tighteningly annoying thing that people do?
Dark Souls turns you into one of those people.
I've taken a little bit of a break from my first playthrough of Dark Souls. I'm currently trying to defeat Gwyn and I can't tossing well do it, so I've decided to play other things until my piss stops boiling quite so intensely and I don't try to parry people in the supermarket carrying baguettes.
What have I been playing? Tomb Raider and Dishonored - two games released in the last few months, both of which have scored well in various gaming publications and have been considered good games by just about everyone I've spoken to about them.
And they are. They're both fun titles that the teams who developed them should be proud of. But here's the thing:
They're not Dark Souls.
Dark Souls explains NOTHING about ANYTHING. Aside from a few scant words of tutorial at the start of the game, Dark Souls makes you work for your story - it's scattered in item descriptions and fleeting snippets of dialogue, and the internet is still piecing together certain narrative threads eighteen months after its release.
Which is why, when that dead-eyed gonk on the boat in Dishonored reels off another monologue, I know feel like the screen should be flashing luminous green with the words "WARNING: CLUMSY EXPOSITION DUMP" like before a boss in some scrolling shmup (but more on them later). You're supposed to live in the world in which this game happens, yet the most basic things have to be explained to you.
A quick f'rinstance:
"Don't drop that whale oil, it'll makes a mess if you drop it" says Pierot - when would you ever feel the need to tell any adult not to drop oil because it will make a mess? That's what oil DOES when you drop it, it's pretty common knowledge, and the game keeps doing this with information that should be fucking obvious to any inhabitant of the reality that game is set in. The way the story is told just feels...
...Right, this is sort of odd, but I don't feel like I deserve to learn it. I've not done anything to work out the information I'm being told other than finishing missions that don't necessarily relate to it, and aside from relying on the wobbling mannequins that wander around the levels, there's no way I could have learned this otherwise. It just doesn't feel real to me; it's not a story that organically drips and squirts out of itself like Dark Souls - I mean for Christ's sake, in Dark Souls you don't even find out what you're supposed to be doing until half way through the game, and even at the end of your first playthrough it's entirely possible that you have been lied to in a pretty major way twice and you won't have even realised it - while Dishonored just keeps cranking the handle. You'll find things out when we want you to. Listen to the thing that might as well be another audio log except audio logs can't drive a boat. Shut up, here comes the story plane. Eat your narrative like a good boy.
It feels unrealistic, and gaining knowledge about the world I'm in feels too easy. I don't like it, and it's all Dark Souls' fault. So many games are façades; giant spaces that you're only allowed to stand in a tiny chunk of, and you're allowed to think about even less. In Lordran however, if you can see a place, you can get there - in fact, you might even be rewarded for challenging the rules. After a playthrough of Dark Souls, after spending 70 hours or more enveloped in its world, every other game you've played seems flimsy and false; a cheap plywood prop that the game hopes you won't look or think about for too long.
Dark Souls is solid. It's meaty and sprawling. It encourages you to look at things in the world; in fact many times you need to look at things in order to learn more about the story.
And Tomb Raider? Fucking hell, Tomb Raider feels like a tricycle ride through a nursery playground once you've played Dark Souls.
Tomb Raider actually has a quite well told story, that gets around the exposition problem by having many events that you don't witness happen just before you arrive, meaning that these things are fresh in peoples' minds when you get there. Everything is happening RIGHT NOW and you need to know RIGHT NOW and there's no way you could have found out before RIGHT NOW - it actually keeps a nice pace to the story.
But fucking hell, that game doesn't expect much from you in terms of meaningful interaction or exploration. For vast swathes of the game all you need to do is push forwards while timing your presses of the face buttons in order to advance; the game hardly ever requires you to stop and think about which direction you're supposed to go in (and if somehow you can't fathom out which direction to go, there is a button you can press that will make a giant pillar of light burst intot he sky) - try this approach when you arrive at Firelink Shrine and you'll end up as another notch in the sword hilt of a Skeleton. Dark Souls frequently leaves you at the end of a quest with absolutely zero explicit information about where to go next, and at times there's actually several "correct" places to go next, with none of them being more right than another. Before Dark Souls I didn't mind those "You are leaving the battlefield" messages too much - now, I'm not sure whether I could see those words in a game and not eat my controller.
Many lazy authors have simply written Dark Souls off as a difficult game, when it isn't: It's a complicated game with a near-vertical learning curve, but once you're over that wall it's a nuanced, tameable beast that you will soon learn to co-habit with, and every time you make a mistake you'll curse yourself for not being careful enough, or being too wary, or simply for getting complacent and making a silly mistake that you learned not to do twenty-five hours ago.
You can never relax in Dark Souls. The game is eminently learnable (I regularly chat to a few people who have forgotten more about the game than I have ever learned), but even as an endgame character running through early sections of the game, a couple of little mistakes can quickly lead to you getting impaled on something nasty - as opposed to something like Tomb Raider, that almost feels desperate to help you get to the next set of flashing lights, action-movie explosions and scripted excitement that you can press some buttons during - but only the ones the game wants you to press.
I'm aware I'm starting to ramble. Let me enapsulate my point with this little story:
Since playing Dark Souls I've developed an interest in games by Cave, a company famous for making notoriously difficult 'bullet hell' shmups. You can probably imagine what they're like - although if you're on this site reading these words, the likelihood is you know what I'm talking about.
I played a single level of Bug Princess 2: Black Label on normal, before cranking it up to "hell" difficulty because I felt like I was doing it wrong. It's fucking Ten Hard, don't get me wrong, but playing it on such a searing difficulty level feels like I'm playing the game how it was supposed to be played.
I feel like I'm being challenged by it like I am in Dark Souls - that feeling of synergy between player and game is addictive, like some wonderful polygon-rendered drug . In fact, Dark Souls has made me want to delve deeper into Dwarf Fortress, and after I lost an entire month to that fucking thing I swore I'd do heroin before I went anywhere near that ASCII nightmare of an experience.
Dark Souls: It will fucking ruin everything you've ever played.
Don't play it. Don't touch it. Don't even think about it. JUST LEAVE IT THE FUCK ALONE.