The Dark Souls Conundrum

Screenshot courtesy of Neogaf user neoenigma

So, as it turns out, I’ve been spending all my time with From Software’s Dark Souls in the last few weeks, which is rather surprising, because that particular game was released quite a while ago (in 2011) and, until now, I haven’t been able to get into it at all. Just couldn’t get myself to like it. And not for lack of trying either. I must have attempted to get somewhere with that game for six or seven times over the last few years (if I include the original Demon’s Souls that was released in 2009), but I quit in frustration every single time. The game seemed plain impenetrable and I was almost willing to leave it at that. Though deep down, I knew – I fucking knew – there was something about Dark Souls that I was simply not seeing yet. And it seems as if there’s a substance in the air that’s conducive to people standing up and saying ‘Goddamnit, I’ve had it with this shit! I’m playing this game whether I like it or not’, because I see a veritable truckload of forum posts from people with similar experiences, along with Patrick Klepek (from Giantbomb), who wrote his formal apology to both Dark Souls and himself for not playing the damn thing earlier and Ben Croshaw (from the Escapist), who finally got around to doing one his Zero Punctuation reviews of Dark Souls, even though he’s a full two years late to the party (still a damn funny review). Perhaps it has something to do with the imminent release of Dark Souls II.

All those people have expressed the same thing however: relief. They are simply glad not to have missed a game like this when they came frighteningly close to doing so. Better late than never they say. And my own feelings are no different. It’s been a little over a month since I declared A Link Between Worlds 2013’s Game of the Year, so it feels a bit odd to heap even bigger praise on something else just a few short weeks later. However, I hadn’t yet decided what the best game of the entire last console generation was, right? That would be the one that lasted from 2005 till 2013. Eight full years. The one that included Gears of War, Uncharted 2 and Red Dead Redemption. That generation. And I think I’m ready.

You guys probably remember how I always ramble on about the fundamental differences between films and videogames and why it makes me so fucking mad that most big budget games are convinced they should be cinematic experiences instead of embracing the essence of what defined them in the first place? Well, Dark Souls is the answer to that issue. Unlike games that have more similarities to roller coaster rides, Dark Souls isn’t afraid not to tell you anything about its mechanics. It doesn’t have hours worth of voiced characters meticulously explaining the game’s story. It doesn’t make absolutely sure you see everything the game’s developers have worked on. It’s not afraid to kill you over and over again – for hours – until you understand what it is you are doing wrong. And perhaps most importantly: it isn’t afraid not to tell you whether you should go a simple left or right.

The results are undeniable however. The sense of accomplishment you feel when you finally do understand something new about Dark Souls is unlike anything I have experienced in any videogame for a really long time. Of course, you might say it’s high time I get that sense of accomplishment somewhere other than fucking videogames, but that’s not what we’re about here on Additionally, the game tells it story exactly how I think all videogames should tell their stories from now on: by shutting the fuck up about it. It’s there for you to glean from the background, from the empty world, from the forgotten ruins, from the stinking depths, from the abandoned castles and the deliciously desperate atmosphere that makes it seem as if someone has turned the first installment of Diablo into the game of my wildest, wettest dreams.