The RPG Scrollbars: Hollow Pursuits

Ever had one of those games that you just long to get into, but can’t? There haven’t been many I’ve wanted to get into more than the Dark Souls series. To sink into the world I see people talking about on my Twitter feed. To have that sense of discovery in ash and ember. For that crumbling world to feel like something more than just a succession of traps and gauntlets. I want to like Dark Souls. I really hope Dark Souls 3 is the clicking point. But… so far, (whispers) I’ve never managed to like Dark Souls.

I say ‘managed’ for a reason. I’m not saying Dark Souls is bad. Nor do I have any problem with a game that’s a brutal challenge, or simply a game that’s not for me. What frustrates me is that I desperately want it to be for me. From the snippets of Keza and Jason’s book to the little bursts of design like Miyazaki wanting to see tragedy rather than horror in his undead dragons, it sounds great. But then I try to play one of them and just bounce right off in a way that I haven’t really done since STALKER.

For Dark Souls, things weren’t helped by the awful port, and having issues with DSFix. I shelved it in the hope that Dark Souls 2 would be a better starting point, and to a point, it was. It was a smoother game at least. But in both cases it just didn’t take long before generally small niggles built up and took the experience from a journey of discovery to one of disappointment. Again, more in myself than the game.

This isn’t always the case. I don’t blame myself for not enjoying Fallout 4 for instance, but Bethesda for stripping out most of the RP stuff in favour of shooting. That’s also a world tinged in regret, but the regret is that the game isn’t better. For Dark Souls, I’m fully aware that I should be able to punch through it and enjoy myself, but just never seem able to.

It’s not even for the obvious reason. Yes, the game’s hard, but that’s really not it. I’ve played plenty of hard games before. It’s not even the central combat’s insistence on having to commit to moves harder than Simon Belmont in a hurdles race. It’s that I just always seem slightly out of step with the whole experience – the timing, for instance, even against basic enemies. If they’re not being polite enough to look the other way.

But I think that would be okay, if I didn’t find the whole thing pretty dispiriting. A lot of the time, that comes down to dealing dealing with fans.

In Dark Souls 2 for instance, I started the game, and after a brief moment of glee at finishing the tutorial and a genuinely warm ‘ooooh’ at wandering into Majula for the first time, with its gorgeous orange colour-scheme and relaxing background music, I… uh… promptly took exactly the wrong path, ending up in Tower of Heide without even knowing that Forest of the Giants existed, broke all my equipment and ended up losing a big part of my health-bar.

To players with hundreds of hours invested in the series, this constituted “being stupid”. Well, maybe, but wow, are there few better ways to turn someone off a game than telling them in so many words. In another game, maybe I’d have immediately figured out that getting beaten up by giant knights was a hint that I’d gone the wrong way, but I was coming into this as a new player. How was I meant to know what the game’s idea of a welcoming committee would be? The series motto is “Prepare To Die”, not “Don’t Worry, It’ll Be Fine.” And that’s before not knowing how durability worked let to me breaking literally everything I was carrying without realising it, and assuming that doing basically no damage was just the curse of low-level gear.

Still, I continued plugging away, hoping to reach that moment of revelation – at the time, Dark Souls 2 had yet to sink in players’ estimations to the point it has now – only to find that there was a definite split between how I was thinking about the game and how existing fans were.

For example, when I go into a starter town and the local blacksmith tells me he’s lost his key, my assumption is going to be that the key will be… well, around, somewhere. Or that he could just climb through his sodding window and repair all the stuff I broke in the Tower, but that’s another issue. The idea that it’s being sold by an NPC at the end of the first dungeon just seemed crazy. And then there are mechanics like having to milk NPCs for all of their dialogue before they go and do what you need from them. It’s discovery, I guess, but not the kind of discovery I can get behind – not learning about the world as a coherent place, but just picking up on part of the design that only an illogical person could have any hope of intuiting.

Now, if I missed some huge clue, please feel free to go back in time and tell me. Not now, then. And again, this isn’t code for ‘I think Dark Souls is crap’, though watching playthroughs of DS2 (I never watched one for the first game due to holding onto the idea that I’d go back to it one day) I can’t say I was particularly blown away by any of the imagination or craft on offer. I mean, it looked okay, if you don’t mind over-written and poorly translated nonsense and an obsession with bosses that pretty much just seemed to be knight, knight, undead monster, knight in a car, knight with his buddy…

I couldn’t see what would make me want to spend hours picking it apart, instead of just giving up and opening a wiki. It didn’t help that everyone I spoke to had long-since bought into the series’ grammar and vocabulary to the point that not finding something coherent simply meant missing the point. It’s a common problem for many genres, of course. Why can’t you solve that adventure game puzzle with £10 and a trip to the hardware store? Because we accept that the nature of the genre is doing what you can with what you have. Why do RPG shopkeepers buy whole suits of armour for 1G but sell health potions for 20G? Because as goofy as it is, the already broken economy of these games would get ridiculous.

In exchange, we’re allowed to carry enough armour to kit out an entire platoon and keep fighting at peak health down to 1HP, before suddenly losing all will to live and just keeling over. Learning the grammar and vocab is part of many games, but it’s particularly key when they come from different cultural backgrounds. Japanese RPGs play by very different rules to traditional Western ones, just as German strategy games tend to have – and I’m putting this politely – a distinct style and approach to things. (Less politely: the tendency to get more anal than a rectal thermometer.)

Learning the grammatical rules does tend to lead to problems when games and series’ run on though. By the time of Dark Souls III, the fourth (fifth if you want to include Bloodborne) Souls game, so much of the meaning and value of the lessons learned calls back to previous entries, and it’s hard for fans to remember a time before they understood the basic rules.

MMOs suffer from this a lot, with the word ‘noob’ less used as a description than an insult. Dark Souls 3 definitely does. I’ve been amused watching my Twitter feed to see that people who have put hundreds of hours into the series, often going back to Demon Souls or even King’s Field, have been playing the new one and being a bit disappointed to find it less of a challenge than the previous ones. No shit! I don’t know how hard or twisted it would have to be to avoid that, but I suspect it would take a first boss who can only be defeated by chessboxing and a final foe with exactly one pixel of vulnerable flesh. Covered in impenetrable armour.

But I hope they’re right. “Oh no,” I say. “It’s easier to get into? Oh no. Oh, the humanity.” While secretly breathing something of a sigh of relief. It is after all probably the last chance I’m going to get to actually get into one of these games before the company moves on (I don’t have a PS4, so Bloodborne was out of the question) and the first time it’s felt like I might not be too late to the party to actually feel the sense of discovery instead of simply ignorance of what everyone else already knows.

I have a new controller all ready to go. I have a stockpile of soft drinks and chewy sweets. I really want it to work out this time – the third time to be the charm. At the very least, I’d like to see what everyone else seems to see, not just tweets going ‘git gud’. Fun fact: everyone who has ever said that will be second against the wall, once we’re done executing people who shout at people in MOBA ‘new player’ servers.

Bah. I’ve not even started the game yet, and already I’m feeling cranky.

Elsewhere, are there any games that you feel the same way about – anything old or new that you desperately want to like, but which fights you every step of the way? It doesn’t have to be in terms of pure difficulty. It can be simple mechanics, a general vibe, or even just a strange lingering cloak of no-fun over the whole thing. Whatever it is though, there’s little more frustrating, especially when everyone else seems to be having fun. Let me know down below. With the power of words.

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I have half-given up on Dark Souls 1, I still have it installed but I just feel stressed thinking about going back.

    On the other hand, a friend of mine has convinced me to get DS3 for the PS4 so he can co-op with me for the tough bits (might end up being almost all of it!)

    • Fnord73 says:

      This. Fighting my way through DS1 right now, and its very much a fallback to the FInal Fanatasy 3 days. “Oh, ill just grind the dragon bridge for 20k souls then in order to get miracles. Since I was stupid enough to not read up on the prerequisite stats in the beginning”.

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        Andy_Panthro says:

        Yeah, my main character is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, which has now become a real problem. If I were a better player, I’m sure it wouldn’t matter, but my skill level is not high enough and I could really wish I hadn’t flirted with magic and just stuck with a strength/endurance build.

        I tried a couple of alternate characters, but can’t face going through blighttown and Sen’s fortress again…

  2. Natanji says:

    I really wonder if they fixed this “go into the wrong direction first” shit.

    In DS1 I went to the graveyard first. Since everyone had said the game was hard, I thought I was just not good enough. The steps up to the Undead Burg never occured to me, they were quite well hidden and not the obvious path forward.

    In DS2 I did the same as you. Never saw the entrance to the Forest, but instead had a realy hard time at the Heide Tower area. Plus, I had joined the Champions convenant, not understanding that this would make the game harder for me!

    I wonder if the same thing will happen tonight when I start DS3. Interestingly, neither Demon’s Souls nor Bloodborne did have any of the mentioned problems. So here’s hoping From can actually do better… ^^

    • popej says:

      You see I bounced off the graveyard for about 10 minutes when I first played DS. I gave up on that route and looked around a bit and found the stairs up to the Berg.

      That’s where our similarity ends because I thought this was brilliant.

      Different strokes innit.

      • Replikant says:

        Me too. I managed to kill a few skeletons and watched get right up when I came back. Then I met the giant skeleton thing and despaired for a while. Good training though.
        Still, there were a few learning curves to be had: Getting to the first bonfire. The bloody fire-bomb throwing dudes. Learning to leave the damn black knight well alone for now. Learning to listen to NPCs and soapstone messages. Then learning not to listen to the “jump off here” and “secret wall ahead” soapstone messages. Not going down to Havel. Learning not to fall of the wall fighting the first boss.
        And so on. The learning curve in DkS1 is really nicely broken up into manageable bites. More or less.

        • Captain Joyless says:

          For me, I stumbled into the graveyard, but found the Zweihander before fleeing for the Burg. I killed the Black Knight easily with power attacks on the 2nd try.

          Then the Black Knight Sword made the rest of the game extremely easily, up until about Sen’s Fortress or Anor Londo.

          Blight Town and The Great Hollow were still some of the most frustrating gaming experiences in recent memory.

    • clockwerkgoblin says:

      Well, the Covenant of Champions Stone did say “this will set you on an arduous path” before you clicked ok.

      • Marblecake says:

        What’s the Covenant of Champions Stone?

        • clockwerkgoblin says:

          I just looked it up, sorry, it’s actually called Victor’s Stone. A monument you can interact with to join covenant of champions, thus making the game even harder.

      • Serenegoose says:

        The problem is, games SAY things all the time. Dark souls doesn’t get to be exempt from the language and conventions of videogames and also exempt from being criticised for it. The makers know fine well what they’re doing, and I imagine they’ve accepted that some people will like that, some won’t, and both are entirely correct.

      • Ragnar says:

        The whole game is “an arduous path.” It could easily be interpreted as being required to trigger the start the game proper.

    • Marblecake says:

      I just picked up DS1 last week, after it sat around on my hard drive for a couple of years, untouched since a first ill-fated try while GFWL still had its grubby claws firmly hooked into it.

      And I did the exact same thing. Walked straight into the graveyard and got fucking frustrated. Complained about it online. Got friends telling me, “Well, you went in the wrong direction. The game is telegraphing it pretty clearly if you keep failing, right?”
      That…was weird logic. People keep shouting “you’re supposed to die…yeah, but not there, you’re supposed to die over there.”

      Anyway, long story short: I’m still playing it. And slowly getting into it. I’m still not entirely convinced DS is really all that it’s touted to be. Its level design is absolutely brilliant. The fights are okay (there’s more skill involved in 2 seconds of a M&B duel than in the entirety of the fights I’ve had so far).
      And it’s just so goddamn frustrating. And I don’t mean the dying. I mean the “having to trudge all the way back from there over to here.” If you design a game predicated on getting better through trial and error, then at least make it not squander so much of my gaming time, thank you very much. That and the grimdarkdour atmosphere just makes me want to stop playing entirely.

      But then I want to go explore a bit more and find out what’s around the next corner. So yeah. It’s nice. But not god’s gift to gamers.

      • pocoGRANDES says:

        I just bought a friend of my the first Dark Souls because he’s been incredibly patient while I’ve ranted and raved about the series these past few years.

        I told him that we’re going to have to make an afternoon of it when he starts playing so that I can be there to help out. My rationale is that I was only able to really appreciate the game with the help of a wiki, so I can offer him the same courtesy. People talk about the joy of discovery and all that, and it’s true that the game makes it really fun to figure stuff out, but the flipside to that is that there are a lot of basic mechanics that just don’t make sense to a new player. Something as simple-yet-crucially-important as encumbrance and dodge speed, or what the hell it means to “kindle” a bonfire. Even just looking at the inventory is massively confusing until you start to figure out the shorthand symbols it uses.

        I also agree with the author that the game’s reputation for difficulty gives people an odd perception at the start. It’s easy to get super frustrated in the earliest stages because you know it’s supposed to be hard, and not realizing that you’re doing it wrong.

        Basically, I suggest getting a friend to give you a little primer course in Souls, I think you’ll have much better results. And don’t be afraid to do some extra-curricular studying on the wiki.

        • vodkarom55 says:

          i hope everyone knows you can just press select and it tells you what all symbols do and what they are good for right? if youre on the pc just rightclick and select hints or information or whatever it says. its easy to miss but its there.

    • LacSlyer says:

      The funny thing is that it’s really not something that needs to be fixed, as you suggest. Rather that you should adapt to what the game offers you. For instance, instead of relying on a game to tell you where to go, or simply choosing one way to go and sticking with it, go one way for a little while and then go back the other direction to see what it has to offer. Especially doing this when you run into obstacles is the entire point of the exploration in this game. While there may not be obvious signs directing you as to the appropriate way to go (hint: in DS2 you can go either direction offered at first with very little actual difference in difficulty) the game is designed to encourage you to explore rather than hold your hand and tell you which way to go.

      So like I said, not really something that needs fixing but rather players should learn how to play the game, not to be rude, the way it’s designed.

      • Zanchito says:

        I wonder if having played “the olde games of yore” where there was absolutely no guidance (Might & Magic, Ultima, Wizardry…) has taught me a certain sense of “well, this can’t be right, I must be going somewhere else I think”. Happened a bit too with King’s Bounty. I like this sort of design, though, because it lets you try high risk to access special items or events, giving you a nice voluntary challenge + reward.

        • LacSlyer says:

          Exactly. All the complaints I typically see about this game are either about the combat, with players being used to much more fast paced action combat and not understanding the slow pace, and the complete lack of hand holding the game has compared to the myriad of triple-A games that do nothing but that.

          When I play a game that offers multiple routes and run into an enemy that one shots me I don’t keep fighting that enemy, I go check out what other directions I missed. I don’t mean to be rude to people who don’t understand, but it’s not rocket science to come to this conclusion.

      • Marblecake says:

        I don’t think the issue is the design itself. More that those of us who haven’t (or hadn’t) played the game yet have been given the impression that the game is punishingly hard and if you can’t get past a certain point, it’s your own fault. So it doesn’t occur to us that we’re in the wrong spot and are on the verge of giving up because the part we are trying to get past is literally impossible. I think it’s more the “git gud” attitude that’s the issue.

        • Setheran says:

          Absolutely. I really think the “Prepare to Die” marketing and all the articles about the game’s relentless difficulty create the wrong expectations. The game does require that you approach it with a different mindset to other games, but rather than “This is hard, guess I just try again over and over till I succeed”, it should be “This is hard, what else can I try or where else can I explore to make it easy?”

        • LacSlyer says:

          If you follow the marketing closely though it’s obvious how much it actually mocks the games’ difficulty rather than boasts about it. The entire point is to accept that dying happens in this game and isn’t anything more than a minor detriment to learning the game.

      • Natanji says:

        Oh, once I learned that Dark Souls wasn’t actually hard and frustrating but just fair and taking a few tries, all was well. But the mistake I made is the same thing many others players experienced, and I believe it actually is, factually, poor game design.

        Mind you, not because I want more handholding or anything. But from an ergonomic point of view (I mean the psychological discipline), the game first drops you into the Undead Asylum which is designed pretty linearly. And then there’s the Asylum Demon and you know, this is a pretty huge brick wall but eventually you will manage. You need to repeatedly try, there is no way around it. You know there isn’t. I died at least 30 times on my first Asylum Demon try, but I kept going at it because I knew “this game is hard, it’s supposed to be this way”.

        Now immediately after this, I’m dropped into a different area altogether. I follow the most obvious way forward – the game established the whole “run into the brick wall until it breaks”-approach is the correct one. And so of course I keep going at it. What the game never, up until that point, established is the exploration aspect. Remember, it was all linear up until this point! And so the whole idea that there even *could* be another path, the whole exploration game mechanic, just wasn’t introduced yet. That is pretty bad.

        Good game design gives players a way of deciding whether some of their actions need to be just repeated to finally make it, or if they need a different approach altogether. Due to the fact that DS1 only established the brick wall approach, it made it very unlikely in the minds of many players that any other option even existed. Dying over and over was communicated as “this is how it’s supposed to be”. That *is* bad ergonomics at play: the design fails to communicate what it wants to communicate (“this is not the way to go yet, pal!”). Game designers and ergonomists will tell you the same thing.

        I’m a huge fan of the Souls series + Bloodborne, like really, those are some of my favourite games. And in DS2, I didn’t stay frustrated forever but looked up the correct way to go on the internet (I still find it really weird that the gates for the areas aren’t swapped out, because the one to the Heide Tower is just sooo much more obvious when you explore Majula!).

        I agree that the problem sometimes can be that the players are just playing the game wrong. No issue with that. But it’s the game’s duty to inform the players in some way how it should be played, by introducing the mechanics and concepts and the feel of the game – this includes thinking about what fail states (“You died!”) *actually* communicate to the player. As others in this thread have said, this was just really poor marketing on their part. With “Prepare to Die” plastered all over the place, you obviously need to communicate “this is the wrong way” in a different manner than just “You died”. Because “You died” is established as the standard, how the whole game is supposed to be, and actually if you play carefully this is just a big fat lie. ;)

        • LacSlyer says:

          Again though, I wouldn’t call it bad game design, but different game design. If the game wasn’t designed to be explored in the way it is then you’d have a point. But the entire point of the Souls games is to explore the world created, the combat is merely an addition to it.

          This is why it’s such a widely lauded game, because the game world itself is a living breathing thing that is designed to be explored. The items are designed to be discovered, with their descriptions giving minute details of the lore in the game. The npcs are designed to be discovered again and again, and their stories and paths followed because they actually do more than inform the player of what they should do next or sell them things.

          In fact, I think the only reason you’d consider the options the game gives you at the start bad game design is because of other games that practically have a sign telling you where to go and what to do next. Exploring the world and finding it out on your own is the entire point of the Souls games. And even with that though, it still guides you. With npcs giving you hints at what you should be doing, and even limiting the player in where they can go. And when they do offer multiple directions, it’s often either that the player can go any direction or that one direction they shouldn’t be going yet has enemies with considerable health or damage that should make the player think they should try another route. Not meaning to be rude, but when you’re offered multiple routes in a game and one is obviously overpowered to you then you should at the very least be considering going the other direction, no?

          So while you call it bad game design, I call it allowing the player to explore the world and find it for themselves over being told exactly what they should be doing. It’s exactly why they mock the game’s tag line of “Prepare to die”, because you’re expected to die to discover things rather than have your hand held.

          • Natanji says:

            Again, I didn’t see the other routes, and nothing in the game even hinted that there could be other routes. I did totally explore the whole area around the Firelink Shrine, but never saw the way to the Burg. With so many players having the exact same problem, you can see this as a design flaw.

            Good Design = making things such that their functionality is clearly communicated to the user. Such that you don’t need a sign, don’t need a manual, or any explanation.

            Those games that show you exactly where you need to go with a quest marker aren’t exactly good design. In every 101 design class, you will learn the example that doors with “pull” and “push” on them are extremely poorly designed – because you need the sign to know which way the door opens. The design of the door doesn’t communicate if you should pull or push. I feel like quest markers are the game design equivalent of that.

            An example of good design can be found in e.g. Metroid, which drops you into a bottomless pit when you gain the walljump mechanic. The game forces you to learn this new mechanic at this point because literally, there is no way to progress until you have learned this. Then afterwards it knows it communicated this mechanic to the player and can at any time expect players to try it out.

            I’m saying that same should be done with exploration in DS1. Make it obvious at first that there are multiple paths that you can go, then later on it’s fine to expect players to explicitly look for them. That would not take one bit away from the game play, it would not need to be changed – just actually communicated first, without the unnecessary graveyard frustration which I know has simply made players quit the game altogether. I think it’s pretty obvious that this would be better game design – if players quit within the first real area of the game because you as a designer just failed comunicating one of your game mechanics, that is the ultimate failure on the designer’s part.

          • LacSlyer says:

            I can understand where you’re coming from, but I also feel that while it may not be blindingly obvious that there are other routes in DS1 at the start, there’s so many areas to explore at the start I would think you’d find it hard not to find them. I don’t mean to be rude in saying this, as I definitely understand why people get upset about this, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a flaw of the game that you didn’t see the other options due to a lack of exploring. I’m basing this upon the conditioning in a way that a lot of games create due to their hand holding and that if you took yourself out of that mindset you may have found it to be less of an issue.

            For a new player I can understanding how daunting it can be, but then I also know how great it feels when it finally clicks and you understand that exploration is as important in the game as the combat.

          • Archonsod says:

            The problem with the design is a lot of it relies on killing you to let you know you made the wrong choice. In and of itself that’s not necessarily bad, however it then forces you to redo a significant part of what you have already done to get back to where you went wrong. It’s the exact same mechanics as the old Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and their ‘turn to section 282 – you die’. Which was entertaining when I was about 12, not so much these days.
            In it’s defence grind has always been a core component of JRPG’s, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bad design. Not a JRPG fan myself, but none of those I know who are play them for the grind.

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            Alfy says:

            “But the entire point of the Souls games is to explore the world created, the combat is merely an addition to it.”

            Ahahah. Good joke. I just love the way some people will pretend to elevate these games to works of art when they’re just good ole fashion hack’n’slash with a sense of style.

          • Ragnar says:

            A good number of players never find the way to the Undead Berg. They keep throwing themselves against the wall until they quit or go online to find a guide. The game thus fails to instruct the player, fails to teach the lesson, and that is bad design.

            It doesn’t need to hold your hand, but it should at least point you in the right direction. Instead it drops you in the middle of nowhere with no map and no compass, obscures the right path, and deliberately points you in the wrong direction.

            I searched for an alternate path and found the lake which was just as deadly as the graveyard. The hype and marketing made me think I was supposed to throw myself at the wall over and over again. I couldn’t find the path to the Undead Berg until I gave up and went online. That’s the game’s failure. If I hadn’t read all the glowing praise, I wouldn’t have give online to find a guide, I would have just abandoned the game and moved on.

        • Ml33tninja says:

          But the graveyard CAN be cleared and you ARE rewarded for doing so the moment you arrive. And in dark souls 2 you can clear Tower of Hiede first as well if your skills are up to the test. So I don’t see it as bad design when it is the question of the players skill is called into question.

        • Rufus Bojangles says:

          You could talk to the crestfallen warrior, the first NPC you likely encounter when reaching Firelink. He alludes to multiple paths you might take – “There are actually 2 bells; one above, one below.”

        • hungrycookpot says:

          You know you’re supposed to run from the asylum demon the first time, right?

        • 3ch0ezz says:

          I don’t see at all what you’re talking about, one of the first things DS1 teaches you is that, if this is too hard, work your way around it, that is exactly what the asylum demon teaches you, you meet him first up with a broken sword, then you run around him, find better gear come back and whoop his ass (with more than a few tries because the mechanic’s are still new to you) why not apply this to the rest of the game? like many here i ran into the graveyard at first aswell, and i aswell got the living crap kicked out of me, and then thought to myself “hmm maybe i can’t beat these neverdying skeletons right now, there must be another way around it like there was at the start!” so to me it just sounds like you actually didn’t get the point. i’m not trying to offend but you skipped the fact that its one of the first things the game teaches you is if you can’t beat it go around it and come back with better shit.

        • 3ch0ezz says:

          I don’t see at all what you’re talking about, one of the first things DS1 teaches you is that, if this is too hard, work your way around it, that is exactly what the asylum demon teaches you, you meet him first up with a broken sword, then you run around him, find better gear come back and whoop his ass (with more than a few tries because the mechanic’s are still new to you) why not apply this to the rest of the game? like many here i ran into the graveyard at first aswell, and i aswell got the living crap kicked out of me, and then thought to myself “hmm maybe i can’t beat these neverdying skeletons right now, there must be another way around it like there was at the start!” so to me it just sounds like you actually didn’t get the point. i’m not trying to offend but you skipped the fact that its one of the first things the game teaches you is if you can’t beat it go around it and come back with better Gear.

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      HothMonster says:

      They kind of addressed this in Bloodborne. The first boss and first optional boss are in their own area at the start of the game.

      So they guide you that far. Afterwords though the world opens up and you get some choices of where to go. It’s been a long time since I approached that point in the game fresh but I think anything that is open to you is completely doable at that point.

      I have to imagine they learned their lesson about kicking the shit out of brand new players to the point they quit trying to explore the wrong path and will do the same in ds3

    • Philotic Symmetrist says:

      Upon arriving in Firelink Shrine there is an NPC right in front of you, who will tell you that the first Bell is “up above”.

      Now, the easiest path may not be visually obvious unless you look around a bit; and there may be a problem in that, as far as I can recall, the NPC doesn’t repeat those directions if you talk to him again, but the game does tell players where to go at the start.

      I personally got lost trying to find the second bell; I remembered the “down below” part but thought that meant down from Firelink Shrine, so I had explored all of the first part of New Londo and reached the first bonfire in the Tomb of the Giants before I found my way to the Lower Undead Burg. I did not have the ‘usual’ difficulties against the Capra Demon (although I was also wearing the stone armour and using a large shield which deals with him well regardless).

    • Ubik2000 says:

      I love the Dark Souls games, but all this shit is why I refer to a wiki when I play.

      I’m sure a lot of people think that totally destroys the fidelity of the experience. That’s also a valid point of view. But it hasn’t lessened my enjoyment, and if they didn’t want me to use a wiki, they shouldn’t have made their mechanics so goddamn opaque.

      That said, I’m thinking of jumping right into DS3 while everyone is still largely in the same clueless boat.

    • HotSoapyBeard says:

      I found that the Undead Burg was the obvious direction because I did that gamey thing of seeing an NPC and immediately exhausting his dialogue. The guy at firelink talking about the bell up above seemed to be hinting pretty strongly that it was the correct order. Also very embarrassingly I didn’t understand the levelling and thought “gosh this is taking a long time to level up” and actually fighting the bell gargoyles(and dying) without levelling up at all before starting again and absolutely loving the game once I understood.

  3. popej says:

    Good article thanks.

    However, I’d suggest that your time might be better spent not asking the internet to justify why they enjoy Dark Souls and you don’t.

    I hope you have a good time with DS3, I know I will.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I don’t believe I asked anyone to justify anything.

      • popej says:

        Not specifically no, but you did say this:

        “Now, if I missed some huge clue, please feel free to go back in time and tell me. Not now, then. And again, this isn’t code for ‘I think Dark Souls is crap’, though watching playthroughs of DS2 (I never watched one for the first game due to holding onto the idea that I’d go back to it one day) I can’t say I was particularly blown away by any of the imagination or craft on offer. I mean, it looked okay, if you don’t mind over-written and poorly translated nonsense and an obsession with bosses that pretty much just seemed to be knight, knight, undead monster, knight in a car, knight with his buddy…”

        That probably would serve to invite defensive responses from certain quarters wouldn’t it? Maybe it’s just me.

        I guess the the over-riding impression I got from the article was one of “Why do lots of people like this game? Please explain”.

        My apologies if that wasn’t your intention.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          I know why people like the game. What I’m saying is that watching it, I didn’t feel like I was playing the same game that they were. (Which later on revealed itself to be a lot of people saying the exact same thing about in particular its boss variety, aside from a couple like The Rotten, versus the Dark Souls 1 bosses). And ‘translation’ is probably too strong, but by *god* some of those conversations you have to sit through just to make someone go to Majula or give you a thing. I don’t think you get the spirit of a game by watching it, even when it’s a ‘walking simulator’ type game, but I wanted see more of what people were excited about and get that urge to go back and punch on… and just, well, didn’t.

          And send it back to then because at this point, I’m not likely to fire up DS2 for anything, especially now that it’s become the official ‘meh’ installment.

  4. LennyLeonardUK says:

    I had a similar experience with Crusader Kings 2. Now I love any sort of turn based strategy game, I count Rome: Total War and pretty much every Civilization game since the second one as my favourite games of all time. So when I heard all the good things that people had to say about CK2 I immediately bought it (at full price) and intended to lose countless weekends playing it. Only for me to repeatedly bounce right back off it.

    It was just so deep and impenetrable that I would lose interest within an hour of starting it up. I just figured that maybe I wasn’t ready for it and that I’d have to put it down to a missed opportunity.

    Then when Europa Universalis IV came out a while later I fell into the same trap yet again and bought it up at full price!!!.

    When I first started EUIV all the bad memories of me trying to get into CK2 came flooding back, and I felt an instant twinge of regret for falling into the same trap a second time. But through sheer perseverance and stubbornness I eventually fell in love with EUIV and it now sits proudly atop my favourite games of all time list.

    My question now is whether I should go back and try CK2??. I haven’t played it again since I fell hard for EUIV, so it makes sense to doesn’t it??.

    I think Dark Souls and CK actually have a lot in common in that regard. Both are extremely hard to get into, but once you do it almost feels like you’ve entered some exclusive club.

    Basically, long story short. Keep trying and Git Gud.

    (Yeah I went there).

    • EMI says:

      I don’t know if it’s necessarily about a level of difficulty. CK2 is much closer to an RPG than it is a strategy game, it’s just bound up in some Grand Strategy UI. EU4 is closer to 4x games, in that you are playing a nation, and the people there are, well, like tools for the nation to be used. CK2 is much more focused around individuals/families (and it’s fractal hierarchies). If you come from a big Civ background, this might be why you were able to get into EU4 but not CK2.

      I actually bounced off EU4 for this reason. While I understood the game and how it worked, I just wasn’t really interested in the narratives it had to tell, since it was removed from being about people.

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      My advice – you should get Stellaris next month. Much better UI than CK2 (which I love).

    • bill says:

      My brief experience with CK2 was that the tutorial presented me with a long list of potential brides and told me to pick one.. I then spent ages looking through all of them and trying to determine which one I should pick and had no idea whether I should pick one nearby or on the other side of the world.

      I don’t think I ever made a choice and so I never made it through the tutorial.

      I’ll go back and choose one someday…

    • Premium User Badge

      Alfy says:

      The difficulty level of CKII is really, really low. Like all Paradox games, it’s more about finding your bearings, which can take a long while, but it’s not a difficult game by any means. Quite the contrary actually, there have been a lot of complaints as to how easy it can be,

  5. Palladian says:

    This is a really good article and it’s the first I’ve heard about You Died, which I’ve just ordered. So kudos for that.

    I think you’re underestimating the sympathy of the Dark Souls community, though – I’ve found it to be one of the best in the admittedly noncompetitive sphere of videogames. You say, for instance, that what you did in DS2 would be called ‘being stupid’ by a dedicated player but I think you’d find a lot more sympathizing than you think.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Nothing hypothetical. And I’m not assuming anything from the wider community, just that the responses I got whenever I had trouble were massive turn-offs. As said though, this isn’t about the series or anything else sucking, just my personal lack of success with it and regret at never making it in.

      • Bury The Hammer says:

        I did exactly the same thing in both games as you (go in the wrong direction), though I must admit, I’m a massive fan of the series, despite having had that experience. In the first one I went to the graveyard (died a lot), then gave up and went down the elevator (died a lot against the ghosts). I had to look it up in a guide and totally missed the narrow stairs towards the undead berg.

        Same with the tower of heide. I had actually gone to the forest of giants first but couldn’t find a way forward – so went to the tower instead. After struggling with that for a while I revisited the forest and discovered I missed a door.

        Thing is, this is something I find quite appealing, similar to the exploration elements of the Metroid / Castlevania series. It’s exploring a world and puzzling out the meta of it – am I supposed to go here? Maybe I missed something? I can get how that would not appeal to everyone, but it’s kind of ‘the point’ of Dark Souls. Turn it into a hyper obvious “YO, GO HERE” removes the non-linear puzzle exploration that masochists like me love. In fact, many criticised the overall design of Dark Souls 2 for having too obvious a linear structure, whereas the original is surprising and full of interesting shortcuts and optional areas.

        • Ragnar says:

          Why are we limited by extremes? It’s either dumping you in the middle of nowhere with no map or compass, hiding the path you’re supposed to take, and deliberately pointing you in the wrong direction, or it’s complete hand holding. Why not something in the middle? Why not just point you in the right direction? Maybe they could have not hidden the correct path at the beginning of the blody game?

          I like exploration and the Metroidvanias, but I can’t stand my time being wasted – I have little enough time to play as it is.

          I feel that the mechanics of Dark Souls actually discourage exploration. Go the wrong way, make a mistake, and you die, drop all your souls, and every monster resurrects. Now you get to spend your time clearing your way through again. The mechanics make me not want to go off the beaten path for fear of what I might find.

      • skalpadda says:

        What little interaction I’ve had with “the Dark Souls community” I’ve found to be remarkably friendly and helpful, but then it’s been limited to the RPS forum thread about the game and watching some videos in the less hysterically mad corners of YouTube.

        I came to the games late and started playing DS1 well after DS2 was released, I had a bunch of questions and got sane and helpful answers to them right away. I also found the soapstone message system quite helpful in finding my feet (at least once I developed the skill to sort most of the trolling from the genuinely useful hints).

        Then again I also connected with the game pretty much straight away, so my enthusiasm and willingness to bang my head against walls and obsessively explore my surroundings was high from the start. Not at all surprised that you didn’t find watching DS2 a very engrossing experience, as it’s definitely lacking a lot of what made DS1 feel unique and interesting, both in terms of the game’s spaces, design, and it’s over-arching pathos.

      • hungrycookpot says:

        The thing is, if you’re coming at it like “why do you all like this game so much, its horribly designed, boring, confusing and too hard”, of course people are going to take offense to you saying that something they like is bad when you clearly haven’t put in the time and effort to understand it’s purposefully opaque mechanics. And you’re not required to understand or like it, but if you wanted help and sympathy, don’t be so prickly about it.

      • Palladian says:

        Ah, that’s unfortunate. I hope DS III is the game for you. :)

  6. Premium User Badge

    DrollRemark says:

    I will happily admit to playing Dark Souls (only the first, and none of the others so far) with the occasional glance at a walkthrough.

    The problem is not “how to beat the enemies”, because battles are so fluid that techniques need to be learnt, not taught, and it’s not the kind of game that hides weak spots on bosses. It’s more “where am I supposed to go after this area?” or “what do all these items in my inventory do?” or “how do all these stats actually work?” These are the things that are horrendously communicated by the game, to the point that I was close to giving up before I eventually read up on what was needed.

    The fun bit of Dark Souls, for me, is working through an area and defeating the enemies within it. I can really do without figuring the rest out by myself.

    • Marblecake says:

      Yes! This! I love figuring out how the levels work and the enemies work…but being this obtuse isn’t “fun”.
      So yeah…guides :/

    • iainl says:

      I do find the game a lot better with a decent guide. Partly for the whole “what do those stats mean” thing, but also for the problem the article describes – not knowing whether the game’s difficult because I’ve not figured out something, like how it took me over a year and three different character builds to beat the first ‘proper’ boss, just because I hadn’t realised all the armour I was wearing was slowing me down too much, or how long I took to get the message that I shouldn’t be going into the graveyard yet, or whether I’m just RUBBISH.

  7. Benkyo says:

    Crusader Kings 2. I love turn-based strategy of all kinds, but I just can’t get off the ground with it. I think the issue might be with a lack of a win condition?

    I loved the lack of signposts in Dark Souls though. I spent quite a lot of time trying to sprint past ghosts that I couldn’t kill, terrified all the way, and of course failing to recover the souls I lost each time I died. I had an equally hard time fighting seemingly unkillable skeletons as I scavenged bits and pieces from the graveyard. By the time I found a route I could actually handle and survive for a while, I had a really good sense of where I was, and where I was going, and where I’d like to return if and when I figured out to do it.

  8. yogibbear says:

    Nope. This is an article that complains about things that if they were fixed would RUIN the game and turn it into another Skyrim. If you even bothered to read/listen to the dialogue in Majula you would have been fine. Also there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to Heidi Tower first if you already know how to dodge roll or circle strafe, two things that would have been instantly clear if you were getting hit by their 3 swing combo that is the slowest action in the entire game. I love the thought you put into the article and am not totally annoyed about its existence to understand how other people find games, but if you stop and think through what changes could be made to the game to make your experience not occur they would be something along the lines of… if you die 5 times in some area then a message pops up on the screen “Maybe you should try somewhere else? :P”, or better yet, a linear world where the key to Heidi’s Tower is in the Forest? Urgh…. or a prompt where you hold down Ctrl and a blue line appears on the ground pointing you to the next objective? How would anything that they could do to fix these issues improve the game? Also don’t want to break your heart but whatever Souls game is your first one will be the “hardest” in your mind. So sorry but Dark Souls 3 will probably break your souls too if you Alt+F4’d out of Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 before the first area.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Yeah, you seem to have missed the rather important difference between ‘things that turned me off’ and ‘things I think should be changed.’

      • yogibbear says:

        So this article exists in a vacuum and no game developer should read it and then consider the thought exercise of how to prevent your issues from being common place in their next iteration of a series? Isn’t that one of the critical reasons for the existence of gaming websites and gaming critics. To point out not just when games do something profound, but to also point out criticisms so that gaming gets better?

        • Agnol117 says:

          The thing is, though, that you’re still interpreting “these are things that turned me off” as “these are things that make this a bad game.”

          • yogibbear says:

            Well yes I agree to disagree because arguing that one does not imply the other in the context of this article is something I will disagree with on 100% of the time. The entire point of this article is listing off a whole list of negative experiences in Souls games. How is that not meant to be interpreted as “things that they want changed?”. This isn’t an article about “Urgh I don’t like those boots that aren’t blue”. But if it was, does that statement imply that you would like those boots if they were a different colours? Yeah it does imply exactly that. How you cannot see the logic link from here is a list of reasons why I didn’t enjoy my experience with X, reasons W, Y, Z. And not interpret that as W, Y and Z should be changed because it would improve my enjoyment of the experience is completely nuts.

          • Agnol117 says:

            Because, once again, he’s not saying that it’s a bad game. He’s even acknowledging that the issues he’s listing are reasons why others like them. The case made by the article isn’t (and has never been) “change these games so that I’ll like them.” It’s a case of “I want to like this game but these things are preventing it, so maybe it’s just not for me.”

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

        • Premium User Badge

          Alfy says:

          How about: “pointing things I like and things I dislike”? What’s you’re problem with opinion piecns? And more to the point, if you don’t like opinion pieces, why in the world are you reading RPS?????

          • yogibbear says:

            Because I generally like reading about RPS’ opinions, but this article reads as if someone played <5% of a game and didn't enjoy it for various reasons, then specifically avoids getting any help to deal with those reasons when that help is freely available on Forums, Wiki's, youtube videos, etc. and is not required at all for the average person to enjoy the game but is still freely and easily accessible to anyone that bothers to help themselves. But because they avoided that help, and only touched <5% of the game, justify saying 4 games are irrelevant to them, and yet want to play the 5th as if it will somehow miraculously fix all the problems they had with the other 2 of the 4 games in that mix that they never bothered to resolve their issues with. Then they go and also complain that the community is bad and unhelpful, when if you go actually look at any of the wiki's, youtube, forums, etc. and someone doesn't post a troll post, but actually asks something like "I'm lost in Heidi Tower, Help?" they actually get helpful advice on what to do and what game mechanics they might not be understanding.

          • vodkarom55 says:

            @yogibearr or whatever ur name is, you are right brother. the author of this article cant help but look down on this community from his incredibly high pedestal at RPS. darksouls has a passionate gaming community which is more than just about any other game aside from WoW can say, and the most he can do is respond with shit like, “sometimes a cigar is a cigar” great. thanks. love how you jump in the discussion with that thought provoking comment. the most frustrating part of this whole article is how much this dude doesnt give a rats ass about this game. why would some one write an article and not want to discuss it with the community? oh right the paycheck…. does he get paid?

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            Funny how that’s not the tone of most responses, which tend to be from people who got what the article was instead of taking offence at what it actually isn’t.

    • iainl says:

      I honestly wonder how much of it is the game’s fault, and how much the fans’. I’ve played plenty of games where “you shouldn’t be here yet” is just signalled by the area being brutally difficult, but most of them don’t have me arrive at the game being constantly told by people to expect to find it that hard.

      • Ragnar says:

        Fans, media, and marketing all contributed to it. Everyone called it out as brutally hard. The release titled Prepare to Die. The beginning of the games deliberately points you in the wrong direction. The next obvious path is even more deadly. The right path is obscured.

        The game’s hype and reputation absolutely sets new players up for failure as they think that the graveyard is how hard it’s supposed to be and that they just suck.

  9. Aspirant_Fool says:

    I like these games, but feel that Demon’s Souls remains the series high point, and secretly hope that everyone will hate this entry so that From can get back to making Armored Core games.

  10. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    The mount & blade series and paradox grand strategies are the two I bounced off despite them having wide acclaim. Tried M&B (think it was a Steam free weekend) and found the combat incredibly clunky. Can’t understand why it’s so praised. Paradox strategy games I’m maybe just not smart enough for, I can play one for a few hours but going back to it the next day I can never remember what all the spinning plates I had to keep an eye on were.

    Incidentally, the temptation to get into that initial surge of players for DS3 has been destroyed for me by a load of people getting it early, completing it, completing the secret ending, and finding an awful lot of secrets. Will wait for a Steam sale as there’s no mystery to find out as part of a community.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      Too bad you don’t like the combat in M&B, I personally find that it’s one of the better combat systems, maybe with a quick sidestep system it would be perfect (I do feel that an outright dodgeroll would clash with the style). It allows the player to direct swings and have some physics to it in that depending on where in the swing you connect and at what angle, the hit can be a terrible glance or a perfect cut.

      I also feel like M&B contradicts the whole idea that third person games works better with gamepads. It works flawlessly with mouse and keyboard and more points to that the 3rd person games that do work better on a gamepad, do so because the devs have done a really bad job with the mouse and keyboard controls. Just to be clear, I am no “No gamepad on PC!”-advocate, it just bothers me a bit when people talk about strengths of different control schemes, like aiming a gun with the mouse, steering a car with a wheel, flying with a joy-/flight-stick, and someone states that 3rd person games are better on gamepads.

      I really wish more games would use M&Bs style of directional combat, it’s quite impressive that it was pretty much made by two people.

      • Replikant says:

        M&B combat IS awesome. Unfortunately, I suck at it. Once I figured out that:
        a) I can actually command my army
        b) lances (couched or just stabbing) are great fun
        the game still opened up for me. Great, great game.

  11. Wowbagger says:

    The elitism you mentioned is quite dispiriting as I find many Dark souls players in the community are happy to help people out if they’re struggling. Also much of what you dislike in Dark Souls 2 is what has given it its reputation as the lesser game in the series, things just don’t hang together well enough.

    I hope you do return to Dark Souls and find it as fulfilling as many of us have. Having played it originally on PS3 the PC version (even with its crap porting) was a breath of 60fps fresh air. Just don’t be put off by elitist wankers this time!

  12. ZippyLemon says:

    It’s a shame you were put off DS1 by the bad port. It’s a shame PC players were offered such a lame way into the franchise: a bad PS1 port followed by the instalment everyone bashed.

    DS1 is worthy of all the praise it gets, but it’s in the past now and can’t shine the way it did when new. Try Dark Souls 3 and get back to us :D

  13. TheWhippetLord says:

    Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity were annoying for me. I love fantasy RPGs generally, so they really seemed to be my kind of thing. After a couple of dozen hours on each, though, I just walked off. There was nothing that really jumped out at me that was bad (except for a general mechanical fussiness,) but I just bounced. Been back to both since, same result.
    The really unfair (to the games) thing is that I love both the Baldur’s Gate series and Ultima VII, which would seem to straddle the Divinity games perfectly. Even worse is that I really loved Divinity: Original Sin, so I did like their stuff really.
    I think the worst part of not getting a game you liked the look of is how long it takes to admit that to yourself. I was (according to the Gabeometer) 93 hours into EU IV before I realised that no, this wasn’t the bit where I was having no fun due to still learning the game, this was me not enjoying the game. Both strategy and RPG games are devils for that. You end up buying yourself the surprise gift of dozens of hours of negative fun, and for a bonus gift you get your hope of enjoying a new game crushed too. Still, better that than ripping the hard to learn bits out, I suppose. Maybe a big sign appearing in front of the player’s face after 10 hours saying ‘You must be having this much fun to continue!”

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I didn’t like the Divinity games before Original Sin. Though in that case it was that I thought they were great ideas on top of poor foundations; wanting to make Ultima 7 without having made Ultima V and VI. Was so glad when OS finally got there, and really looking forward to OS2. As long as it’s better that OS/2 Warp.

  14. GregP says:

    Richard, you’ve managed to absolutely perfectly capture my feelings on the series, and I too am hoping the third time’s the charm. I’ve bought the game, bought Keza and Jason’s book, bought the strategy guide, been reading lore articles and watching videos, etc. I’m really trying to nurture some commitment to DS3 ahead of time, since like you I can’t escape the feeling that there’s some element of true genius that I just simply haven’t been able to grasp yet. Thanks for get into my thoughts collected, and it’s good to know there are others out there sharing the same hope.

  15. Synesthesia says:

    You can do this! Don’t push this one away, you will regret it.
    Regarding DS1: You should give it another shot. I recommend, if yo can, to play it in the couch, with someone who already has played it. Drink a few beers, have him/her guide you until the first boss, and talk about the mechanics, etc. Sort of what the extra credits guys are doing.

    It’s a very very opaque game. Visits to the wiki are expected, and not frowned upon. It is a community single player game of sorts, after all.

    Learn how to get the dragon sword, and clutch with that until you get a black knight weapon, or the zwei, or whatever weapon you find yourself finally clicking with. This can take a while, but I promise you, the wait is worth it. I found out I loved katanas, and my first build was this cheesy, all dex, washing pole user. Fuck the haters. I had the time of my life.

    (Don’t worry about blighttown once you get there, everything ends. It’ll be ok. Shhhh.)

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Sadly, I have access to none of these things save for a couch. And it doesn’t play games.

      • Tiax says:

        You don’t have access to the internet ?

      • Synesthesia says:

        whoops, my article-fu failed me. Not my mother tongue, sorry.
        A controller is almost mandatory, that’s why I mentioned the couch. Maybe playing it in(on?) it’s natural habitat would help.

        I’d like to +1 what Rumpelstiltskin said below, that perseverance and humility are key to this game. It’s not about bashing your head through a wall, but rather seeing you can combat roll around it, and bleed it out with dagger attacks. Hm. That came out weirdly.

  16. malkav11 says:

    Honestly, I’d recommend going back to the first Dark Souls (or better yet, Demon’s Souls, if you have access to a PS3 – not because it’s necessarily a better game than Dark Souls, but because it was the kickoff point and the hub structure and less limited magic access seem like they might be easier to get to grips with to start) and giving it another go. Probably with some reference to online guides because the games aren’t exactly intuitive. And then if you’re still not feeling it (or aren’t good enough to progress – like me), just go ahead and watch someone else do it. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are both amazingly atmospheric, and their approach to storytelling sketches just enough to suggest what’s going on without expositing much. Dark Souls II seems from what I’ve seen so far like it has some of what made earlier Souls games great, but it’s much talkier and less imaginative in its areas and especially bosses.

    Dark Souls 3 might conceivably be a better jumping on point, but probably not meaningfully so, and it’s too soon to tell if it holds up the way the first couple of games do.

  17. Rumpelstiltskin says:

    It’s perfectly fine to not like DS. I don’t and I’m ok with it. The urge to like it is just due to peer pressure.

    • Geebs says:

      Not liking STALKER, though? That’s punishable by flogging.

    • Czrly says:

      I’m immunized against the urge to like Dark Souls because real-time games without a pause function are just not games that I can play – I live in a house with *other* people. (Also, how, exactly, does denying the player the option to pause make the game any harder? More frustrating, sure – harder, not at all!)

      • UncleLou says:

        You can basically quit the Souls games anywhere and resume from exactly there, so it really isn’t a big problem in practice. A much smaller problem than in games that do have a pause function, but are checkpoint-based.

        I guess the lack of pause has something to do with the multiplayer.

        • Rumpelstiltskin says:

          that doesn’t quite work with boss fights though

          • UncleLou says:

            I think if you quit in a boss battle, you’re dropped just outside of the fog gate.

            I am not saying it’s ideal, but as a father of a little kid, I’ll take that system over games that let me pause, but not save anywhere.

          • Rumpelstiltskin says:

            Well, sure, but it’s like saying that I’d rather have my arm cut than my leg. It makes sense (I guess), but begs the question why keeping both wasn’t an option.

          • popej says:

            Given the manner in which the multiplayer element works, how would you propose to introduce a pause function?

            You could restrict it only to the offline mode of course. I suspect that it isn’t just the multiplayer though, partly it’s what the developer wanted for the experience.

          • Rumpelstiltskin says:

            pretty simple actually: allow pause if you are alone (which probably somewhere around 95% of the time), possibly unpausing if someone joins you.

          • vodkarom55 says:

            what about invasions… does it unpause when you get invaded?

          • Rumpelstiltskin says:

            Well, yeah, that’s what I said. By “joins” I just meant joins the game with whatever intentions. So you can pause, but you accept the risk of being defenseless if invaded.

  18. Lintire says:

    Man, what’s with all this overthinking? Bumming me out.

    It’s a slow action-RPG with a mechanical focus and some memorable bosses.

    You play it like any other action game – watch for enemy telegraphs and react, be aggressive when they’re passive and defensive when they’re not.

    There’s some obtuse damage-scaling stat systems. Your invulnerability states are blocking and rolling.

    That’s it. That’s the game. There’s not much to “get”. It’s a slower (with the payoff of a less horrible story) Ys. Everyone clap themselves on the back and go home.

    • Lintire says:

      Hell I’m tempted to revise calling it an RPG in any form. It’s certainly barely justified through a thin veneer of levelling that certainly didn’t make DMC any more of an RPG.

      There you go, it’s an action game. An action game with some character progression to keep you invested in it. An action game with an emphasis on “atmosphere” expressed through moody visuals and a lack of overworld BGM.

  19. Dicehuge says:

    Europa Universalis 4 was the game that just plain stumped me. I’m sure it’s brilliant but after hours playing I had no idea if I’d made any progress or not. Felt like pulling a series of levers without knowing if they were connected to anything. Until I tried to start a war, where the consequences of my actions became all too clear.

  20. LacSlyer says:

    The one thing I’d argue against you is about the npc dialogue. For one, logic, or lack there of, isn’t necessarily valid reasoning as to why npcs do what they do in Souls games. It may seem illogical due to how other games handle npcs, but that doesn’t necessarily identify the Souls npcs as illogical.

    Secondly, a lot of rpgs that are more story based have npcs that don’t do anything until you’ve triggered dialogue for them. Which is what the case is with the Souls games, it just happens to be all of their dialogue most of the time. I think that’s where this stems from, story driven jrpgs.

    Lastly though, as a more experienced player with the Souls series I’ll point out a few things that aren’t quite so obvious and will help you understand the behavior of npcs. Primarily that they all don’t require you to talk to them to trigger events. In fact, quite a few will trigger events because you don’t talk to them before another event is triggered. Dark Souls 1 is a perfect example with Leothric (check out the wikipedia if you’re interested, as it’s quite lengthy). As well though, the Souls game is extremely story driven, it just doesn’t appear so on its surface. However, listen to dialogue and read the item descriptions and you’ll find an extremely detailed story that most games couldn’t even come close to matching.

    It’s kind of part of what I love so much about the Souls series. In how not just the people you meet but the items you find tell you the story of what happened. Taking exploration to a whole other level.

    • LacSlyer says:

      It would help if I got the name right… Meant Lautrec not Leothric. I should proof read more when writing before I have coffee.

    • Czrly says:

      Items should tell a story in RPGs. This is exactly what’s missing in over-hyped rubbish like the Elder Scrolls games (yeah… another generic, mass-produced set of extremely rare, magical glass armour!)

      • Lintire says:

        Should check out Drakengard, then, the items descriptions may as well be narrators.

        But that was a Dynasty Warriors clone, not an RPG.

  21. Leafcutter says:

    I think most people find getting into these Dark Soul games to be challenging for the first time.

    Reason being, we are all so used to having our hands held with nearly all decent RPG games these days, so find a ‘mature’ example where this does not happen and the player has to use their brain as well as their ‘virtual brawn’ is a rare thing.

    In my opinion, 2 positive things occur… 1) One gets a much greater sense of achievement for completing a level or beating a boss and getting a unique reward. 2) the multiplayer side of things retains anonymity where only the sword talks and due to the game’s maturity there is ‘less’ likely the chance of children playing.

    My pet turn off is… every game now which shows me a million and one icons on a map… counting how many left to do is more of a chore rather than a fun activity.

    Leafcutter (age 48)

    • Leafcutter says:

      …forgot to mention… you should give ‘Lords of the Fallen’ a go… a more forgiving, but no less enjoyable variation on a theme.

  22. Tobberoth says:

    I never really understood people who take issue with the fact that it’s possible to go “the wrong way” in DS games. Are you somehow personally offended that the game made you feel bad by not having a huge sign showing you exactly where you should go? So you get to the graveyard first in DS1… so did I, and tons of other players. It’s part of learning the game and getting into the playstyle. It’s a game where you find things to explore and when it becomes too much, you see if there are other areas to explore. The game isn’t trying to offend you, it’s trying to teach you how to play it without shoving tutorial windows in your face. The fact that there’s a boss in the tutorial area which you are explicitly told to run away from is just the start of the game trying to show you that just because you can get to an enemy doesn’t mean you have to confront it and beat it right now.

    This playstyle indeed isn’t for everyone, there’s no shame in saying you don’t enjoy it, but then I would assume you would be at peace with that… why force yourself to play something you obviously do not enjoy? Isn’t there a pretty big risk that you will be just as put off by DS3 and then get cranky about it? I see the same sentiment often around the internet now… people who didn’t like the souls games but enjoyed bloodborne who are basically expecting a bloodborne sequel rather than a DS sequel, people who dislike souls games but still somehow expect this to be different. Chances are, it won’t be, because it would make those of us who actually love the series pissed off.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      “So you get to the graveyard first in DS1… so did I, and tons of other players.”

      (re-reads) Uh. I didn’t mention the graveyard. And what bugged me about going the wrong way in DS2 was less the wasted time as it ending up breaking all my stuff with no way of fixing it, so that when I turned around, found the entrance to the actual first area and went the right way it was like trying to kill monsters with a broken spoon.

      • Tobberoth says:

        It’s just an example. In DS1 it’s the graveyard, in DS2 it’s Heides tower. The point is that there are several ways to go and you happened to go in the “wrong” direction. Durability is a completely different issue, there’s nothing about Heides tower which makes durability a bigger issue than the forest, and the durability bug certainly didn’t help matters. I can agree that it’s a problem in the game that someone can be put in a situation where they can’t repair their weapons yet (though you can of course still buy new weapons), but I don’t see what that has to do with the game not pointing you in the exact direction you “should” be going.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          Perhaps because you’re misreading that as the problem, rather than what I actually said, which was “this experience is one of the reasons why the game lost me early on.”

          • Tobberoth says:

            Right, but my comment was not aimed at you in particular. There are several comments here (and otherwise on the internet) where the fact that you can go in several directions IS their main complaint. I mean, one of the first comments to this article starts: “I really wonder if they fixed this “go into the wrong direction first” shit.”

          • Dare_Wreck says:

            Tobberoth, did you miss the comments from those same people about how there was nothing leading you to believe that there actually were multiple paths to take in Dark Souls? Like others have said above, if you are coming to Dark Souls fresh, you’ve been led to believe that you will die repeatedly in this game. If you go down the wrong path accidentally by mistake, that will happen a lot. We’ve been so conditioned by linear games lately that it didn’t occur to many of us that we weren’t actually supposed to fight through that “wrong” area. Why are you taking personal offense at this happening to so many people?

            Again, like was stated above, there is a certain give and take that goes into game design to let people know how your game’s mechanics work. And as great a game as Dark Souls is, it fails in some regard to this. It doesn’t need big neon signs to point out the best way to go, but it sure does a good job at hiding it from time to time.

          • Philotic Symmetrist says:

            Only a couple of us seem to have actually recalled this but there is actually an NPC (the Crestfallen Warrior) right in front of you when you land in Firelink Shrine who does tell you where to go first. There may be issues with the way this information is delivered (mostly, if it isn’t repeated when you talk to him again in case you forgot) but there is also a common occurrence of players ignoring the manual/tutorials/directions from NPCs; not paying attention is not the same thing as there being no indication.

            Being “conditioned by linear games lately” feels like a statement that bears some further consideration but here are some rough thoughts off the top of my head.
            -there have always been non-linear games available so “lately” relates less to a current trend and more to an individuals choices and perhaps preferences. Also, if someone has at least once played a partially non-linear game, overexposure to linear games shouldn’t erase the possibility of a new game also having some non-linearity.
            -games are already so different from each other that it seems strange to me to assume that the way things are in one game indicates the way things must be in another; if someone has played a number of games they will likely be able to learn another more easily, but learning the ‘language’ of games is less about learning the rules that games follow and more understanding that games have rules to learn. When I start a new game the question in my mind is “how will things work in this game?”; should I be searching everything? can I explore? is there anything of particular interest in any of these menu screens? I may compare mechanics to other games and knowing mechanics from other games may help me find the rules faster but I don’t expect a new game to have the same rules as any other, I just expect it to have rules.

            Anyway, that probably ended up a bit rambling and perhaps off-topic/ missing the point; as I said, just some rough ideas.

          • Dare_Wreck says:

            Philotic Symmetrist, those are great points. This, though:

            “There may be issues with the way this information is delivered (mostly, if it isn’t repeated when you talk to him again in case you forgot)”

            is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. The NPC in question should be set up to repeat that information if the game notices you haven’t explored the first area that you should yet.

          • Philotic Symmetrist says:

            I will definitely agree that there are things that could have (should have) been done better but the claims that there is no indication that there are multiple paths or that not going to the graveyard first is something you’re supposed to deduce from the fact that you keep dying are not true. You’re supposed to deduce that it’s the wrong direction because it heads downwards and you were told within the preceding 5 minutes to go up.

            I just checked and, although he does indeed seem to not repeat something he’s already said, if you keep talking to him he does mentioning going up a second time and he’s even more explicit that time: “One of the bells is up above in the Undead Church, but the lift is broken. You’ll have to climb the stairs up the ruins, and access the Undead Burg through the waterway.”

            I will still agree that he should keep repeating some sort of directions until you’ve gone up the stairs, but he’s not subtle in what he does say.

    • horrorgasm says:

      Makes you feel old too doesn’t it (or maybe that’s just me?)? Like, really, you’ve never played an RPG where there is more than just one direction to go and some directions lead to harder areas than you’re ready for that don’t have a big red flashing HARD sign on them in advance? Oh, how the times change.

      • Leafcutter says:

        A similar point to the one I make above… you are not alone.

      • Geebs says:

        Morrowind springs to mind. On the other hand I don’t remember anyone ever telling a player grousing about Cliff Racers to “git gud”, even ironically.

      • LacSlyer says:

        I couldn’t agree with this more. Gone are the days where games at the very most hinted at what you should be doing next rather than pointing a giant arrow showing you where to go. Not that I mind so much, I do prefer a good mindless game every now and then. But my god it has made people so completely reliant on it that they can’t enjoy a game that doesn’t do the same.

        • Archonsod says:

          You don’t think that could be because such games were simply less enjoyable at all? I mean we don’t need to hand-crank cars to get them started these days either, but if you tried to bring them back I doubt people would complain because they’re dependent on the starting motor; they’d complain because we left the crank mechanism behind for good reasons.

          • Ashabel says:

            Modern games including more hand-holding has absolutely nothing to do with things being more enjoyable that way. A lot of modern AAA developers simply don’t know how to design a convincing and satisfying reward loop, so they instead design the game to grab your hands and shake you while screaming how awesome and rewarded you are in hopes that you’ll eventually start believing it.

    • Ragnar says:

      This was my problem with DS 1.

      I’m told by media and fans that it’s really hard and I will die a lot.

      I finish the tutorial and an presented with path A – the wrong path. I don’t know it’s the wrong path, and expect to die, so I die over and over thinking I’m supposed to.

      I start doubting path A, and look for another path. I find B. It is even more deadly. I don’t find a path C, so I go back to A. Then I assume the game is for masochists and give up.

      There’s a huge expanse between the game holding your hand and requiring a guide to figure out where to go at the beginning of the bloody game.

  23. Bobtree says:

    One thing Demon’s Souls did better than the later games is making it clear early that you have many avenues of exploration, some much harder than others, and that progress in one area will yield better approaches elsewhere. Being designed like this didn’t make it harder than the rest, but it felt more imposing and your breakthroughs more triumphant.

  24. derbefrier says:

    Yeah for me that game was the Witcher series. Sounds perfect on paper but every single time I try to play a Witcher game after about 8 to 10 hours I get super bored with it and don’t play it again for 6 months. I see the high production value, the pretty graphics and an above average story for a video game but some things about the game just don’t click for me, namely the combat and since combat is what you will be doing 99% of the time it’s not something I could get past. I tried different dificulties, playstyles (which are very limited since there’s little character customization) and it just felt tedious and not fun every time. I want to like it. Hell I have bought all 3 games thinking “this is the one” after reading all fhe praise, how people say all the problems from the last game were fixed etcc…
    But it just wasn’t the case.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      I also bounced off the first two games, but with The Witcher 3, they finally had combat that was bearable (not great, but okish) and I played and enjoyed it. I also bought and bounced off Dark Souls 1 & 2, so maybe there’s some hope for third time being the charm there too.

    • FreshHands says:

      I hear you brother!

      However I really loved Part Two as some kind of interactive movie with interesting characters. Part 3 though, there is simply something missing there (called “fun”), and the more people hype it to heaven, there more I hate it.

      Of course it taught me why some people are hating on Dark Souls that much.

    • Dirk says:

      I really want to like the first Witcher game and I WILL give it another go one of those days. It’s the enhanced edition after all, that’s got to count for something. I can’t really put my finger on what the reason was that made me abandon the game, but I think if I start over again from the beginning I might be able to… ah, who am I kidding, I’ll just end up picking all the flowers again. But I really want to finish the first two games before I get to number three so I can feel the progression and have a better grasp of the world and the story and… maybe even earn the obsessive completionist badge.

      • Marblecake says:

        You really don’t have to. I bounced off of Witcher 1 several times and got frustrated because I wanted to finish 1 and 2 before diving into 3. Long story short, never did. Instead, I read a couple of the short stories and got 3 when it went on sale. Not regretted it one bit. Thanks to reading the stories I still have that “ahhh, I know who that is” moment without having to slog through hours of horrible gameplay.

        Witcher 3 really is one of the best RPGs to have been released over the last couple of years – simply from a roleplaying perspective.

        So just give it a shot and don’t deprive yourself of a wonderful experience just because game 1 is crap.

  25. Horg says:

    For me, its always been Bethesda RPGs. They are too open for me.

    With Dark Souls, they give you exactly 3 paths to explore from Firelink Shrine, and if you are a compulsive completionist like me, you will find them all. Two of them will kick your ass, therefore the 3rd path is your starting route. Simple. Logical.

    Bethesda games drop you in the middle of a sandbox and right from the beginning offer you the ability to roam in any direction you wish. It is quite impossible to thoroughly explore your immediate surroundings and move on, as on the edge of your immediate surroundings are more immediate surroundings. It just keeps going as far as the eye can see. Exploring is not made any more rewarding by the fact that large portions of the map contain nothing interesting, yet I feel compelled to go over every bit of ground with a fine comb just in case I missed something. I suppose that’s another function of old RPG mechanics rearing its head; you never know which one of those unexceptional looking rocks will be hiding a piece of high quality loot. I’ve been trained over years of gaming to leave no stone unturned, and Bethesda games feature several square kilometers of profitless stones.

    The overall experience is simply overwhelming for me. There is too much to search, too much to make a mental map of, the constant nagging feeling that i’ve missed something. In the end, part of my brain just shuts down and I give up. Penny Arcade summed it up for me nicely when they said something approximate to ”Given the option to go anywhere and do anything, I feel an overwhelming urge to do nothing”.

  26. grve says:

    I…enjoyed Kingdoms of Amalur more than Wild Hunt. I didn’t even get Geralt’s rugged face past the second town.

    I love 3rd-person fantasy action-RPGs! Dialogue trees make me swoon! I was raised with a life-size Skinner Box!

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t want to know.

  27. Podarkes says:

    Look, Crestfallen Saulden has wrote an article. How cute!

  28. Will Tomas says:

    Rich, for DS1 I would honestly suggest checking out Rich Stanton and Marsh Davies’ playthrough for the Crate and Crowbar on YouTube. (Crate and Crowbar, Dark Souls). Marsh starts from a similar POV to you and gets won over. Rich is also a great guide to the lore.

    Maybe after you’re a few episodes in (Gaping Dragon-ish?) you’ll know whether you want to go for it again yourself. But it might be a helpful prompt.

  29. Easy says:

    Dear Richard,

    Let me start by saying how much I LOVE reading your words on RPS. Always.

    It’s cool that you *really* want to to like DS, and have not entirely given up. It really is quite special. It’s hard to say if being special means that you must bang your head against the wall until you like it.

    But, as others have already mentioned, I really do think that DS is a shared experience where seeking help is part of the experience.

    When I started DS, I was cursing the game and was *this close* to deleting it from my HD for ever and ever and ever. All it took was a couple of online friends who explained a few of the more obscure mechanics to me, gave me encouragement, pointed me to the right wiki….. and 60 hours later I was glad to say that I had had the most incredible RPG experience of my life.

    Funnily enough, recently one of my colleagues at work was in the exact same situation and had all but given up at Undead Burg. I spent an hour with him to explain some subtleties which gave him a better appreciation of the mechanics and some much needed confidence. That propelled him forward and he has since not only finished the game, but joined the ranks of DS aficionados.

    Ignore the imbeciles and git-gudders. Enjoy DS on your own terms. As long as you like “dark fantasy”, are willing to get help from your friends – not as a sign of defeat but as a sign of companionship – , and accept the idea that even by the time you have finished this game there will still be mysteries that completely defy understanding – DS is about as good as an RPG experience as you’ll ever have.

    Much hugs
    – Easy

    ps: I would gladly spent an hour online with you and offer a lending hand.

  30. kickeefast says:

    Good writing, like most of the articles on RPS. I disagree with the premise though, and with some of the commenters on here that seem to think the souls games are bad because they don’t explain things to players. The difficulty and confusion are central to the popularity of this game for the people who love it. Once this series becomes more accessible to the masses, I’m afraid the challenge and excitement will be gone for its original fan base. I really hope that never happens.

    • vodkarom55 says:

      yes. ^ short and sweet. sums up pretty much all I wanted to say in a much more polite and abridged manner.

      • sosolidshoe says:

        I can sum it up even more succinctly for you – The Hipster Defence.

        • Premium User Badge

          teije says:

          Leaving aside a few stupid comments about “casuals” from self-appointed “hardcore” gamers, some good feedback.

          I totally get the bouncing off CK2/EUIV. The UI is generally sucky and the lack of explicit goals/direction makes it hard to get into. I’ve been playing Paradox grand strategy games since 2001 for thousands of hours and even I sometimes start up a country and stare at the screen, going what the hell do I do next? The options can be overwhelming, and there’s no helpful signposts or transitions (e.g. levelling up, ending a turn). Hopefully Stellaris will be more accessible – which I mean in the sense of an improved UI that provides more meaningful feedback to the player.

          A few games that I’ve completely bounced off include Thea the Awakening (which I thought was a pile of steaming crap despite it getting lots of kudosand some newer old-school RPGs like Lords of Xulima, which I should love since I’m an old school RPGs (but when playing them I just wonder why I’m not playing BG2 instead). What they all have had in common has poor UI – nothing to do with graphic appeal, but bad writing and clunky interface to actually do things.

          • vodkarom55 says:

            I play ALOT of videogames. not as many as some but I’ve spent over 10 hrs at a time on gaming. which to some is probably nothing. I’m not trying to brag at all, I’m just labeling people like you. <—does that line bother you?

        • vodkarom55 says:

          first of all it doesn’t sum anything up except that you’re trying to be a brat, secondly accessibility is ruining games. older gamers have brought up old prince of persia in the comments on this very page as a sort of throw back to REAL hardcore games. Which is true that game is super hard. but that game wouldn’t be as memorable if you could just flick on easy mode for the people who just wanna “experience” the story. Thats why hardcore gamers want that challenge rewareded with that sense of accomplishment, cause lets face it, if you spend that much time playing anygame you probably won’t be getting any real accomplishments any time soon… except most wasted life award.

  31. Setheran says:

    I think that the punishing reputation and all the “Prepare to Die” marketing of the game is probably responsible for a lot of people going in with skewed expectations and then bouncing off it as a result. They expect uncompromising difficulty, and then when they meet enemies that are too strong they assume they just have to persevere instead of exploring or trying a different approach.

    The biggest piece of advice I’d want to give a first-time Dark Souls player is “Think for yourself,” and maybe “Explore everywhere”. I think the game is best approached like a puzzle you need to solve through exploration and experimentation. The world is littered with weapons, items and shortcuts that make it easier to handle the challenge, and each time you find one it gets that bit easier.

    Every so often I see someone bragging that it took them 30+ attempts to beat a boss, and while I get that a small part of the community enjoy smashing their head against a challenge until they overcome it, I don’t think it’s the natural or intended way to play the game. Provided you understand the game mechanics, have explored and paid attention to messages, and are making use of the co-op features, none of the main-path bosses should take more than a handful of attempts.

    • Dare_Wreck says:

      You had me agreeing with you up until your last paragraph. The problem is that Dark Souls doesn’t have clear game mechanics, messaging, or co-op features. For instance, I’m some 12 or 13 hours into the game, and I’ve never been able to figure out how you’re supposed to summon someone to help you out. I had to look that up on a wiki, along with so many other parts of the game too. For many of us, resorting to a wiki feels like defeat, and yet that’s kind of required for this game.

      (I fully expect a response from someone now who states how if you’re paying really close attention, you can figure all that stuff out on your own. I say, sure, maybe… if I have an unlimited amount of time to spend with this game to research it all on my own. That is not a luxury I have, thanks to real-life concerns.)

      • vodkarom55 says:

        link to this will explain alot.

        • Dare_Wreck says:

          What is your point? We’re talking game mechanics here, not lore. I’ve seen Marsh’s RPS video like this one. I can’t tell if you’re agreeing with me or not (most likely the latter, based on your other responses here).

          • Marblecake says:

            Welcome to my boat! :D

            The game doesn’t explain jack shit except for some basic moves.

            I’m getting the feeling that DS is a very old-school game with very old-school design philosophies but as such is missing something all those old-school games had back in the day: manuals.
            I mean, maybe it does have one, but I never thought of checking because…who has these things anymore?
            But try treating the wikis as manuals instead of cheating. It’s a shame we have to use ’em, but don’t let them get in the way of enjoying a pretty good game. Oh, and if you want do do some coop (we can figure out how that works together), hit me up on steam. Sir Marblecake.

            And in closing, to run with my earlier line of thought: I think the old Mario games are the closest relative to DS. When you started a level you had absolutely no idea what was waiting around the corner. The game kept throwing harder and more ridiculous enemies at you. You kept dying and dying and failing forward, with each run up to your death going easier and easier until you mastered the level, sometimes by sheer muscle memory.

      • Setheran says:

        I agree that it does a poor job of explaining the mechanics to the degree that it should. None of the Souls games give you quite enough explicit information within the game about the way stats work or the rules of co-op and invasions.

        For me, I understood all of this going into Dark Souls because it’d played Demon’s Souls before it, and that game came with a full instruction manual that covered everything I needed to know. I think possibly Dark Souls has one too, but it came out at a time when everything had gone digital, and no one looks at digital manuals for games.

        I think it’s okay for more complex games to require you to read a manual instead of explaining everything through extended tutorials, but I do wish they’d made the manual available within the game or something. It’s hard to imagine these games clicking for someone who doesn’t have an understanding of all the mechanics like equip load, poise, stability, i-frames, and so on.

      • Philotic Symmetrist says:

        Regarding the actual mechanics, I mostly worked out everything I needed to know without looking it up and without too much difficulty; having played a lot of Monster Hunter helped with grokking the combat itself and being slightly obsessive with examining menus, stats and tooltips covered most of the rest. I also tend to not get frustrated easily and can be content with not understanding all the mechanics at once; working out mechanics can be part of the exploration for me.

        Even with all that said, I absolutely agree that the mechanics of Dark Souls should have been explained a lot more clearly: Poise, Stability, Encumbrance breakpoints for movement, two-handing a weapon to satisfy strength requirements, even the nature of the ‘animation priority’ style of combat.

        There are things it is meaningful to require the player to figure out, and there are things that should be stated explicitly (from memory there isn’t even a ‘tutorial message’ pointing out the existence of the tooltips? It does show the button for it on the menu but not everyone looks all over the screen all the time and it does cycle between two sets of buttons for doing different things on the menu).

  32. vodkarom55 says:

    Dark souls is a game for hardcore gamers. For people who are looking for a challenge, something that will test their skills and make them think about what to do next. I’m all for people trying this game out because I love seeing peoples first foray into the darksouls universe, but if you’re the type of person that clicks the easy mode option in a game after you’ve died a few times then you might as well just un-install and give up… honestly this game is not for every one, it does NOT cater to casual gamers. The only reason this article exists is because dark souls gained fame and popularity. NO ONE(a gross exaggeration of course) played demon souls. Didn’t mean it wasn’t a good game, it was just too unappetizing for the casuals. That being said, there is nothing wrong with being a casual, but this article seems pointless in that the only reason you played it and keep playing it is because some one told you to. Now that you’ve decided you don’t like it, why keep playing it? Why are you torturing yourself and plugging along trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel. You’re not going to find it. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. The rest of the game is more of the same. It is incredibly frustrating to me when I see some one playing the game and they just want all the answers spoon fed to them without even TRYING to figure it out. Its probably the same feeling a parent gets when their kid wants the easy way out of something and they are probably thinking “I had to figure this shit out myself and this kid isn’t even trying” the only difference I suppose is that the one looking for an easy way out isn’t my kid nor am I the parent. So why should you get a free pass?

    Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest Dark souls 2 has a couple issues that make it inferior to DS1, collision detection being my biggest gripe, and the level design is shit. there is literally a part where you take an elevator up INTO THE SKY only to appear in a fortress surrounded by lava? wtf? As far as the collision detection is concerned, you might get shot in the head with an arrow but it isn’t actually touching you or you get killed by an enemy but their attack CLEARLY missed you… that is bullshit and cheap and a totally fair reason the hate this game. the whole point of the souls series is that its super challenging but for the most part fair. For instance, many times in DS1 I have dodged attacks/arrows/spells not because I literally hit the dodge button but because I wiffed on a swing or did some kind thrusting attack that changed the position of my avatar. That is cool to me. Its not mindless hacking and slashing, but calculated strikes. So when you die super cheaply in DS2 it definitely is an understandable turn off. Especially in a series that is knows for its brutal but fair challenge. DS2 is guilty of this more than any other game in the series.

    long story short, Don’t be a whiny baby(this translates over to real life too people) cause no one cares that you couldn’t get past some part in the game, because literally millions of other people have gotten past that part… many times. I guess the hardest part about darksouls for some people is realizing that they are just a filthy casual.

    • Will Tomas says:

      What an absolute numpty you are.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Please, try to be better than “filthy casual”.

      • vodkarom55 says:

        I’m dark soulsing this article.

      • vodkarom55 says:

        all shit talk aside i appreciate the discussion your article has created. love this game and talking about it. just curious though, do you respond/discuss in your comments or do you just leave smart remarks. I expect no response or a smart remark. seems like your style.

    • sicanshu says:

      That kind of attitude is exactly what’s turned me off to the DS franchise thus far. I thought they were designed specifically for the kind of people who can actually keep a straight face while referring to themselves as “hardcore gamers.” (Hardcore? Seriously? You’re not a navy seal, you just play a lot of video games). Despite that, I picked up DS2 the other day out of sheer curiosity, and yeah, it’s plenty challenging, but I don’t feel like I’m smashing my head against the wall. And I say this as someone whose skills are average at best.

      • vodkarom55 says:

        a hardcore gamer is one who plays a lot of video games. probably too many.

        • vodkarom55 says:

          oh the DLC for DS2 has some serious head smashing parts. you should definitely check it out.

    • FreshHands says:

      Hey! I am casual, too – and I love Dark Souls.

      I declare that from now on it is ok to call yourself “casual”. Like “nerd”, or “gay” or “satanist” or “patriotic” (although the last one is stretching it a bit)

      • vodkarom55 says:

        good for you. I have no problem with casual gamers. I love gaming and if you love dark souls than I probably like you. I’ve started friendships over this game, its that cool. and you’re probably only a casual cause you got responsibilities.

    • Agnol117 says:

      “It’s for hardcore gamers” is a terrible excuse, mostly stemming from “hardcore gamer” being a completely meaningless term. I’ve played plenty of other games on high difficulties (XCOM springs to mind as a recent one) and enjoyed those despite dying/failing often, but don’t particularly like Dark Souls. Dark Souls, like all other games, (and as you yourself say), is not for everyone. Attaching labels like “hardcore” or “casual” to people who like it/don’t like it just comes off as childish.

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      Is this memes? Parody?

      I’ve only played Demon’s Souls to completion but that wasn’t very hard given its reputation. I died perhaps five times outside some of the boss fights and I’m usually a easy-normal mode player who hate challenge. Every death was completely fair and failing a corpse run just meant some lost resources that could be grinded back pretty quickly.

      It’s not even close to the unfair bullshit difficulty of older games like 8-bit Ninja Gaidens, Contra/Probotector or most arcade games of the 80/90’s where one hit from the wrong pixel meant insta-kill and they were thrown randomly at half the screen at all times.

  33. Premium User Badge

    Alfy says:

    DSII had a number f silly design decisions that made particularly unwelcoming to newcomers while not making it any more interesting to veterans. For one, the loss of max HP upon dying is a perfect example of the designer not understanding the difference between “difficult because it makes it interesting” and “difficult because I can make it difficult”. And the max number of respawns actually punishes beginners…
    For those who can read between the lines, Myazaki made some interesting comments about difficulty and the punishment that should come with dying when Bloodborne was released that were quite critical of DSII.

    • DP says:

      How did Demon’s Souls handle this (that was Miyazaki as well)

      • Premium User Badge

        Alfy says:

        Demon Souls indeed had the max HP loss, but Myazaki removed it in Dark Souls, and for good reason. The point was always to promote mastery of a system, not unalduterated masochism, whatever some may believe, and the loss of max hp made no sense in that regard. Also remember Demon Souls was also much more lenient when it came to HP recovery (although some would say it was severely unbalanced instead).

        • vodkarom55 says:

          i thought it was dumb that your health didnt go down when you died in darksouls. why would you go human? other than to get some cool loot or get some help with a boss there is no reason. at least in demon souls and dark souls 2 you HAD to go human every once in a while. plus there are items that help with that. just playing devils advocate because i like DS1 the best.

  34. Vintageryan says:

    Like others leaving comments I always felt that CK2 and EC4 should be my kind of game but tried to really get into them a few times and can never get passed a couple of hours.
    The same with both witcher 1 and 2 love RPGs but both of this I keep bouncing off.
    Perhaps my biggest disappointment has been endless legend, I have loved all the civ games and really enjoyed the fallen enchantress and warlock games but I find it hard to love endless legend.

    • DP says:

      @Vintageryan I know what you mean about Endless Legend. I’ve purchased all the dlc & put hours & hours into it but just can’t seem to figure out whats so interesting?

      • Replikant says:

        Me too. I found the combat to be too much of a try and error approach and the overall gameplay way too slow.

  35. DP says:

    I feel the exact same way about DOTA and it’s “wonderful” community but love Souls to no end. Hundreds & hundreds of hours & that’s just Demon’s. If we count all the others were talking waaaay to much time I should have spent with humans. I remember my first experience with the Souls universe. It was Dark Souls (original). It took months of trying & failing to get the rhythm just outside of Firelink Shrine. Those undead jerks by the stairs would beat me down in no time flat but that dark, atmospheric world kept me coming back and the day I was able to get passed them & realize that they really were easy was such a great feeling! If the worlds in the souls games aren’t enough to mystify you then you probably won’t care enough to learn the game because learning it’s secrets is the central gameplay. The worlds created in these games are really the main character.

  36. TheTingler says:

    Oh, god. Controversial choices, but pretty much any isometric RPG, especially Baldur’s Gate 1+2. I love RPGs now but I stayed away from the genre until it went 3D with the likes of System Shock 2, KOTOR, The Witcher etc. I hated and still hate the isometric viewpoint, particularly with Real Time With Pause combat. I want to love the stories and writing in these games but ordering these people around like ants as a godlike figure takes me completely out of the world. And the RTWP is just no fun for me. Click click click click click why are my guys all dead. Hate it.

    • Replikant says:

      I loved BG and hated the RTWP. Worst offender for me: Pathfinding issues, were the feet-halos of the party members would get stuck in a narrow passage and then one of the idiots takes a 5 min detour in the middle of a fight. Great story, stupid combat.

    • bill says:

      I have discovered that I bounce off every RPG at first. (Except KotOR1, and that was purely because the “ooh star wars!” factor kept me engaged long enough to get through it).

      I’ve also discovered that IF i go back to them and persevere long enough I will probably get hooked on any of them.
      For me, it’s not about the system or camera or combat or anything – same thing happened with Bioware games, Baldur’s Gate, The Witcher, etc…

      I think it’s because the openings of most RPGs are shit, and because RPGs are about buying into the systems and the world… something that takes time and investment.
      RPGs tend to have huge worlds and complex systems, and hide most of their interesting features at first, meaning that you need to spend time exploring the world, learning the systems and leveling up your character before, at some point, it all clicks into place.

      Unfortunately for me I tend to give up before that happens.

      (Conversely, for example, an FPS usually doesn’t require much long term investment, in terms of time, mechanics, world, etc.. and as such I’ll rarely bounce off even a poor FPS).

  37. Alevice says:

    I own Demons Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. My first experience with the series came from Dark Souls (although I had read articles about demons souls earlier and got me intrigued). Interestignly I missed the Graveyard completely and went straight into the Burg. I had seen the fog that led to the Taurus Demon, but opted to wait before entering and explored elsewhere, and dealt with the Black Knight. For some reason, I completely forgot about the fog and kept trying to beat the BK with pathetic results, went to a guide to see if I was missing something, and behold, the stupid fog I had forgotten about. Beat the bull guy and got stuck against the armored boar.

    I had recently gotten Demons SOuls on a psn deal and decided to try it. After dealing with the blue eyes knight for a while, killing the Phalanx and shit, got stuck on 1-2 for quite a looooooooooooooooooong while (Blue EYes knight after the dragon breath corridor was a huge pain), had 2-1, 3-1 and 5-1 (didnt realized I had missed 4-1). Got frustrated and dropped the ordeal.

    Last week I decided to give DeS a chance again. Still stuck on 1-2, went exploring, found out I had missed 4-1, strated farming a bit there, explored again the other worlds, changed my gear a bit, learnt my first magic spell and decided to go back to 1-2. Suddendly, this because so painfully easy. And then it clicked on me. And proceeded to beat 2-1, harvest quite a few items from 3-1, kill the samurai skeleton on 4-1, got the crescent falchion and now the game doesnt seem frustrating at all. Well, the big fall on 2-2 is lame since you can barely distinguish the planks below, but then a message made me realize some rock was actually ground and went easier from there.

    I wont deny I have skimmed at a few guides (like learning how to actually use my spells and how to find the blacksmith on 2-1, which led me to a shortcut i had missed), but so far I have enjoyed the experience on my own terms and I am now greatly enjoying it.

    I think the click moment for the Souls games differ from perso to person, but once you find it is when you get hooked. You probably might need to skim at some guides too.

    • Alevice says:

      My god I should proof-read. I mistyped quite a few words here and there. Edit button, where are you?

      To clarify:
      “had 2-1, 3-1 and 5-1 (didnt realized I had missed 4-1)” should be “had explored 2-1, 3-1 and 5-1 (didnt realized I had missed 4-1)”

      “Suddendly, this because so painfully easy.”, should be ” Suddendly, this became so painfully easy.”


  38. TheRaptorFence says:

    I suppose the big conceit with Dark Souls is that it is a Metroidvania game wrapped in an RPG package. You poke a certain direction until you start to hit a wall, whether literally or figuratively, then move in another direction instead. This goes with everything from game mechanics to locations to bosses.

    Once I understood this, and faced the fact that becoming an omniscient player would require a trip to the wiki, I decided against it and accepted my mediocrity for my first playthrough. And damn, did I enjoy that playthrough.

  39. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I’m really average at either DS. When watching the speedrunner doing bosses naked with a rapier and me having trouble in full gear and decked out with souls I want to git gud really badly.
    But I wouldn’t want them to appease the masses either with arrows pointing to the easiest target and minimap. We got Assassin’s Creed/Farcry already also the Bethesdas (after Morrowind).
    And frankly the forest of giants is as hidden as undead burg =not at all. Maybe they wanted to tease you into going the obvious way, I don’t know. (I went down from firelink shrine to the sunken city and yeah) Other games would light a subtile rainbow ingame or a flock of birds to show you the way but just as real life would be, DS won’t do that by design.
    Works brilliantly as a metaphor of the human condition in addition to being a game.
    When you’re pushed down the correct and easy path now that’s called hand-holding.

  40. Arglebargle says:

    Dark Souls is a hairshirt game to me. Too bad, as the story and atmospheric nature sound great. But the mechanics, the bad PC port, the ‘die til you figure out the trick’ motif, etc, are not things I look for in a game.

    All games are bundles of abstractions. Since we can’t do the things we could if we were actually there, the designers HAVE to put in some signposts, just because of the medium. How they do it is part of their expertise, and also part of their conception. What they’ve done in DS isn’t what I enjoy. Doesn’t mean other folks won’t love it.

    Yet I love Stalker and Crusader Kings 2. Different strokes and all.

  41. Rumpelstiltskin says:

    I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that DS is hard because it needs you to develop some extraordinary skills. The truth, however, is that the actual skill requirements are pretty basic, but what it needs in abundance is perseverance and humility (i.e. being ok with the game treating you like shit). It’s like a drill sergeant who trains you to assemble your rifle in 30 seconds.

    • Rizlar says:


      Bah. I’ve not even started the game yet, and already I’m feeling cranky.

      This bit of the article bummed me out. My first playthrough of Dark Souls involved short periods of frenzied and stressful activity followed by breaks, long and short, then more short periods of stress ending in elation and victory.

      Taking a step back often helps with tackling difficult problems in general, but even more so in Dark Souls, the stress involved in some of the more terrifying sequences meant I just couldn’t keep it up for longer than like 20-30 mins a time.

      So don’t be afraid to take a break if you have been bashing your head against it.

  42. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    The casual vs hardcore distinction is the most infantile thing happening to gaming since videogames are videogames. I also played RPGs that punished you for going in the wrong direction (which you found out many hours after), and Spectrum games that could not be finished, and adventure games where you suffered trial and error through mazes and sudden deaths (and attack ships on fire…) and really, I don’t need to go back there. I completely understand your frustration with the community: something similar happened to me with X3, a game where basically I was being told to keep away from it as I was not hardcore enough, that I should not like it and if I complained about anything it was practically an insult on that perfect design.

    But I am lucky and have a fan of these Souls series living in my same flat.

    Now, I realize I have been that kind of shitty angry gamer more than once with adventure games :(

    • Premium User Badge

      Alfy says:

      Ah yes, the distinctions and name calling the youngsters will throw these days! Every time a kid tries to tell me I’m not a hardcore gamer, I tell him to go try Prince of Persia, the very first one. One life, a clock, and no retries. None of that sissy bonfire wussy estus crap! :D

      • Replikant says:

        Oh god, the memories. PoP on a 286 and black-and-while screen. Dying and dying and dying and then succeeding only to die by the hands of your own mirror-image. But sprinting along the final corridor with the last seconds ticking down on the clock…priceless.

    • vodkarom55 says:

      being a casual gamer should be an insult, it just means you have more important things in life and you play video games in your free time. hardcore gamers put ALOT of time into gaming and as a result become adept at video games. being called a casual is just a tease. dont people tease eachother any more? and do you really care if some one is better at a game than you? dont you have better things to do than worry about that? like beating dark souls…

    • Premium User Badge

      alison says:

      Hear, hear. It feels faintly ridiculous to me when people who played through the tremendously unforgiving games of 30+ years ago are branded with the “casual” epithet for not wanting to go back to those days. Nowadays i abandon games once they get even a tiny bit repetitive or frustrating (most recently Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora). It’s not because i’m not “hardcore” enough to complete them. It’s because i have no interest in grinding through die-and-repeat mechanics that got boring for me 20 years ago. There are other games i find way more fun because they have a more interesting mechanic, or a more compelling story, or do something unexpected that appeals to me. It’s a matter of taste, not a dick-measuring competition.

  43. Styxie says:

    Good luck Richard, I hope this one grabs you. The best advise that I can give you is to try to think of it as a sort of roguelike, similar to Spelunky. Learning how to play Spelunky is a deeply repetitive experience, and so is Dark Souls. Find the first bonfire and think of that as a safe place to come back to, and a checkpoint to start from when you die. As you progress forward, just accept the fact that you will have to replay that same area over and over, be slow and deliberate, learn where enemies are placed and how they react to you, but give it your full attention. So long as you are being patient and learning from your mistakes then you will make progress. Just take it one enemy at a time, one bonfire at a time.

    When you finally get to the next bonfire, just assume that the new area will be just as repetitive and slow as the last section. By the time you’ve reached the midpoint in the game, the accumulated experience will make future areas far less repetitive since the weird logic of the game will become second nature.

    The best way of dealing with the esoteric knowledge that goes along with the game is to ask a friend who is familiar with the series rather than checking a wiki or youtube. I was stuck in an area called Blight Town for ages until my confidant told me about a bonfire I’d missed, making the next boss fight way more manageable. It also adds nicely to the social aspect of the game.

    I also recommend listening to podcasts when it gets repetitive, and occasionally going back to earlier areas to experiment with new tactics and for the fun of demolishing enemies which used to be so difficult, just as a reminder of how much progress you’ve made.

    Hope that helps.

  44. Smith Replica says:

    Hey, let me give you some advice:

    First, just ignore other player’s insults or derogative remarks. In this or any other game. The REAL good players do not brag or talk down others, so whoever does is also a noob.

    Second, Dark Souls II is not as good as the first or third one, in my opinion. My advice would be to try and play the first one, try to fix the issues you had. The game is easier than DS3, and there are so many good things about the game that I dont think DS3 (or any other game) will ever make it irrelevant. I would also recommend following a basic “where to go next” guide, just not to waste time getting into higher level areas (If you like the game and replay it in the future you will on purpose go different routes, which is exciting). I can also help you with tips if you want, just contact me.

  45. Premium User Badge

    Seerinox says:

    There’s a ton of games where I’ve had a similar experience. Even dark souls 1 and 2 I tried and quit a few times before really getting into it. Cities skyline, kerbal space program, the telltale games, gta5 to name a few. Cities skylines is the one I really wish I’d like though…

  46. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Thanks for linking to the You Died book. Hadn’t heard about it and it looks cool. Pre-ordered on a whim. Love me some Dark Souls exploration and that Keza MacDonald knows what she’s talking about.

  47. csbear says:

    “Why do RPG shopkeepers buy whole suits of armour for 1G but sell health potions for 20G?”

    Was the shopkeepr’s name Martin Shkreli?

    Dark Souls is a game I shouldn’t like. It involves too much actiony bits which don’t make games fun for me. I am terrible at twitchy games. I remember playing Dark Souls and got so frustrated with it that I left it alone for about 6 months. Came back for another shot, struggled against the Capra Demon, and almost quit permanently. However, after some help in defeating the Capra Demon (with my busy cardiologist brother who finds time to play any new Dark Souls game), the game took a complete 180. It then proceeded to become one of my favorite games I have ever played. Not because of the action, but primarily due to the environment and ambiance From laid out for me. Combat did become easier, and honestly, just circle strafing enemies worked for me (with some dodges thrown in and tons of Estus). It seemed to be the most effective method for all DS enemies in a general sense. And I just used it as a foundational tactic for the entire series of games. Also, getting help from online players makes boss fights so much easier. This cannot be understated for bosses you can summon others for. Anyway, now the whole dying repeatedly and difficult fighting has become second nature for me, and I just don’t give it a second thought. The only limiting factor for me now is that I have so many RPGs I want to finish in my queue, and DS3 will take a lot of time itself, and I know it will suck me in.

    The game does have many, “why the !@#$ did they do that?” design elements which turn off many, but I was just too absorbed in the obscure setting to let it bother me. And another key thing: the absence of music. Removing music or soundtrack from the game is one of the best things I got from that game. Now I play almost every RPG sans music… or at a low volume.

    Dark Souls has become a popular, huge franchise, but it is still a divisive game. Fortunately, it clicked for me! Who knows, maybe I will be too Soul-ed out to complete DS3, but I will enjoy the hours I do get out of it. BTW, I never finished DS2 (although I enjoyed it), but loved Bloodborne. So I have completed DS and Bloodborne so far.

  48. Mordus says:

    I get these feelings about pretty much every FPS game I’ve attempted to play. I haven’t gotten good at them so multiplayer is just right out of the question due to the harassment and stress-inducing nature of not being able to compete with the people I play against. I play games to relax, not become more stressed. So, I don’t play them. Even the single player campaigns end up frustrating the hell out of me at some point.

    The Souls games, while frustrating, have a greater sense of satisfaction once I finally conquer an aspect that has been giving me trouble. Perhaps if I gave shooters the same amount of time and energy I would get better, but I just don’t enjoy them as much in general, so I stick to games like the Souls series. I started with Demon Souls and I’ll never claim to be the master but I do enjoy playing them. I hadn’t played Dark Souls or DS2 but I just bought them last month when I pre-ordered DS3. I’m currently playing through the first one and just beat the Capra Demon after losing several times. I’m also playing Bloodborne when I’m not on my PC for Souls. I love the lore of the universe they’ve created and the feeling of getting to that next section after struggling for so long.

    I know it’s not for everyone and I would never give anyone grief for it, except jokingly with my buddies who do the same. It’s a game. It’s meant to be fun. If you don’t have fun playing it, there’s no reason to. Simple as that. People who get “elitist” mentality because they think you should be better or because they don’t have problems with things rather than giving constructive help to people piss me off.

  49. Ml33tninja says:

    Reading this article and the comments really changed how I viewed Dark Souls 1 and 2 beginnings. For me I started in Demons Souls so I had a idea what Dark Souls 1 would be like. The graveyard was my first stop like many gamers but for me it taught me the basics quite well. And I finished the graveyard with great starter weapons and items. I thought it rewarded me for learning and adapting so I always loved it. Dark Souls 2 Tower of Hiede section felt like an starter point for advance players. Hell I beat Old Dragonslayer before Dragonrider and finish many areas before going to the Forest of Fallen Giants. Did I die in both section – Of Course quite a few times but it never felt impossible or unfair to the most point. Maybe I am in the minority of this.

    • vodkarom55 says:

      you’re a champion. thats what you are.

      • Monggerel says:

        ♫ Unforgettable,
        ♫ That’s what you are
        ♫ Unforgettable
        ♪ Tho’ near or far
        ♫ Like a song of love that clings to me
        ♪ How the thought of you does things to me
        ♫ Never before has someone been more
        ♫ Unforgettable in every way
        ♫ And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
        ♫ That’s why darling it’s incredible
        ♫ That someone so unforgettable
        ♪ Thinks that I am unforgettable too

        ♫ Unforgettable in every way
        ♫ And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
        ♪ That’s why darling it’s incredible
        ♫ That someone so unforgettable
        ♪ Thinks that I am unforgettable too