Dark Souls is one of my most beloved series, from the action rpg gameplay to the general world aesthetic, the continuous feeling of helplessness in every turn and the lore hidden deep into each object this franchise got my heart on a leash.
In between Demon Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 (vanilla) I invested nearly 2000 hours of gameplay with various characters, builds and personal challenges, I had a very good time with all of it, but today we are not going to talk about any of those times.
Today we are going to talk about how a complete edition fucked up my Dark Souls experience and made a game that was lesser than its predecessor, worse.
It’s important to consider that to me Dark Souls 2 (Vanilla) was not a better game than its predecessor, it was a flawed game, on its own regard it was good, but on direct comparison to its predecessor it had many issues.
The most evident of those were:
Let’s discuss some of these open scars , starting with the change in level design, in Dark Souls you had a set of areas that were extremely well connected , and we also had a general circle that encompasses most of the those areas with lots of hidden shortcuts and passageways , it’s center is firelink shrine .
Now this may not seem too important at first, but in a game such has this, finding those passageways and shortcuts were not only part of the experience, it was FUN, incredibly so when you discover a ladder that lets you bypass a hard section you had trouble with, or to reach the initial safes zone after getting to a strange elevator, it was a rewarding experience and made player connection with the world stronger. It also incentivized players to recon and explore more of each area.
Now let’s take a look on the level design of Dark Souls 2.
Majula works has the hub area in here and from it we access other areas (seems similar right?) the thing is there is no circular interconnection back to it or in between areas, all pathways end being long tunnels (please don’t confound this with the areas themselves some of them have maze like structures), this design enforces less exploration while giving more areas to the player to see , they end up being less investing since the focus on reaching the next dead end/area is stronger than the rewards exploration can give you .
So we get more areas, but players invest less time in each of them and exploration is reduced since the rewards are oriented on getting to the next area and not on shortcut/passageway finding.
Dark Souls games are considered “Hard” mostly because the game mechanics are balanced in such a way that any enemy encounter can result in a player death (which got some cool implications like losing your souls and humanity) .
Even though that is a series staple the original Dark Souls was fair , in a sense that the game teaches you before using its big guns, it also established some rules and those rules were true throughout all the game world, of those one important rule was regarding safezones, safezones have a placement that allows players to be safe inside them, allowing for a moment of respite in a world full of dread and death.
This rule was broken in the Dark Souls 2 …
In Dark Souls 2 there are safezones surrounded by enemies that attack the player the moment he/she is teleported to the bonfire, this is not only a bad design choice but it breaks what defines the safezone, there is no more respite, when players need to use those places responses vary from “run for your life” to “damn gotta waste time killing these useless enemies again”, and since this is a game were death and repetition is common this gets old fast.
But that, my fellow reader may say, is a nitpicking point, enemy placement was not so bad, was it?
Well aside from unsafe safezones, there were important NPCs surrounded by dangerous enemies like dear Straid of Olaphis , an important NPC, let’s see what you needed to kill to get to him:
Some explosive enemies that can kill many builds with one single mistake :) , great right ? Well there is of course a nearby safezone (although it’s pretty much unsafe with those enemies around).
These are just a couple of examples but the idea is pretty clear, the choice to create “unsafe safezones” was not only negative for the gameplay but it also created more harm than good (raging from boredom and inconvenience to hate).
Other important inconvenience is that invading NPCs on Dark Souls 2 where pretty unbalanced regarding the overall player level and many were too strong for the areas were they spam, on the original Dark Souls it was possible to avoid NPC invasions by staying undead but that was taken away in Dark Souls 2, which means that many of these harder fights turn non-optional. Thus forcing players to either “get gud”, cheese the fight (by fooling the AI) or calling a friend. None of which are close to the organic solution on the original Dark Souls.
The Dark Souls series has remarkable characters, and when I say character I mean bosses, each more memorable that the other, all of them very unique, varied and well integrated with their environments. Or at least that was how it was on Dark Souls since in Dark Souls 2 more than 7 of the main bosses are just giant suits of armor.
Now boss rehashes are not uncommon in games, even on Dark Souls sometimes a boss becomes a common enemy later on, but in Dark Souls 2 they really dropped the ball. Not only did they rehash a boss with a second encounter (Twin Dragonriders) but there are even bosses that are a copies of Bosses from the previous game.
To add insult to injury the majority of boss fights are reduced to “avoid attack of giant weapon to left or right , attack , repeat “, move set variety was removed and/or simplified (with few exceptions) and these constrains made boss fights pretty repetitive.
Seeing this information, one might think that these bosses are easy, a mighty mistake dear reader !
From decided to harden some fights by adding more enemy copies! Everyone loves more enemies on screen right? Well not really since most of these fights were pretty unbalanced and either require that you use co-op or NPC summons to make them possible with most character builds.
I could speak volumes on bad transitions but I shall just put on very a visible sample, Earthen Peak and its transition to Iron Keep.
In the original Dark Souls all areas fit together very well, area transitions made sense and the overall design allowed for players to immerse themselves on the world, on Dark Souls 2 the developers wanted to give the impression of “grandeur” to the world and that backfired in many ways…
Earthen Peak is a area with a giant windmill castle (as seem in the picture above) it has no mountains behind it and above we see clouds and heaven , everything looks fine right ?
Well, when the player kills the local boss he gets to ride a elevator UP , and this is were he ends:
A castle with rivers of molten lava, in the heavens, since there is nowhere for that elevator to take us up beside the clouds!
This is of course a very strong example that environments and areas in Dark Souls 2 don’t fit so well together, although they want to pass the impression of being bigger and wider than the previous game.
We got also examples of bad level design directly related to gameplay like for example the need to put the Windmill on Earthen Peak on fire to make the boss room less filled with poison, without any clear indication , NPC chat or pointer that it is even possible to interact with the windmill.
All in all those were issues that stopped Dark Souls 2 from being better than Dark Souls.
Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin is a “Complete Edition” that encompasses the original Dark Souls 2 and its 3 DLCs ( Crown of the Sunken King , Crown of the Old Iron King and Crown of the Ivory King) along with a revamp on enemies and item placement.
Now my fellow readers you might think “Oh a revamp! Cool! Maybe they fixed the bogus enemy placement they had on Vanilla Dark Souls 2, like those bonfires with enclosing enemies, or those hard has hell cloned bosses”.
No , they did not, in fact most of the issues from the Dark Souls 2 (Vanilla) are still present here in this edition , along those issues the developer decided that they would throw more enemies , overpowered NPCs Phantom’s and of course make your life has a player harder, at first I was optimistic about this.
They actually broke the experience in such a way that I gave up on playing the game.
The extra monsters and phantoms were not only uncalled for but in many situations deems playing solo near impossible, mobs agro before even seeing you and the player character needs to face groups of strong enemies in areas that are considered “for beginners”, some of the issues with “unsafe safezones” where deepened has more enemies were added in some of those areas (instead of removed).
New blockers (like stone statues that need to be turned to flesh) in various areas also restrict character progression in unneeded/unwanted way.
All in all the experience felt more restrictive and punishing than what I experienced in the original base game, and it was less fun and more frustrating than I could ever imagine it could get.
It's the first time in the last 10 years that I gave up on a game.
This blog series is gonna put some people favorite games on fire so please consider that these are just a bloggers opinion, I’m just blogging for fun and you don’t have to agree with any of it.