Marketing Dark Souls must be the Dark Souls of marketing, which is probably why it’s easy to just take the approach of “this game is really hard”, which they’ve been doing since they released the Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. But, they hardly market it like that for absolutely zero reason. Even when it’s not really like that.
Firstly, early builds of Dark Souls were notoriously hard. The Bloodsouls games (Demon’s Souls, the Dark Souls trilogy, and Bloodborne) are always built around online, and not just with the multiplayer. All the games in the series have been tweaked and patched since release with the aim of providing the best gameplay experience possible. That’s one of the best things about gaming in the modern era, and it’s greatly appreciated. So, early on, and especially without online assistance, I’m sure the game really was balls to the wall hard.
Secondly the games are still pretty balls to the wall hard. From Software’s Bloodsouls games punish mistakes pretty harshly. Most of all they tend to punish some of the techniques other games have taught us. Cheesing From’s games in the ways we might be used to cheesing other games, usually involves them kicking you to the curb. This is why I’ve seen some cases where people who don’t even game that much have found From’s game very rewarding. It’s a level playing field. You have to learn the game on its own terms, without shortcuts from having played other games. That’s quite nice.
But it’s also quite off putting. A new Dark Souls? Like I really have the time to hit my head against a brick wall for hours on end, let alone play one of those games. Git gud amirite? Sure, for some people it’s incredibly rewarding to truly master the game solo. But I really wish more people would take the time to explain to potential players that that’s not necessarily how the game is built. If anything, From’s games have taught me that when we come together, even as strangers, us humans can work together to accomplish some great things that we’d have a lot of difficulty doing alone.
The online systems in From’s games are really quite incredible. Stepping into the world for the first time, be that on last or current gen, and seeing those transparent ghosts of other online players running around? Nothing illustrates or hits home the true feeling of gaming’s new age of online interconnectedness more than that. Even when you’re not actively in each other’s game worlds, you’re all still connected. Players can leave messages and hints all over the game world. Bloodstains litter the floor, over which a button prompt will show you how a player died, alerting you to danger nearby. It’s ludicrously simple and something that still feels pretty unique to the Bloodsouls series.
So too the way players interact with one another’s game worlds directly are another online element that nobody else has really been able to truly capture in that same way. On the most basic levels of the online multiplayer in the Bloodsouls series you can hop into another player’s world to co-op with them, or hop in to invade them, with the aim of killing them. Often, both things can happen at once. You can only do this when your character is in a certain state, which usually benefits the player in a non-online way too, giving them a reason to interact with the online elements, and also adding some risk/reward. Having players able to just jump right into your world even feels wildly exciting to this day, no matter how many times I do it. I’m right there in that person’s personal world. It’s a real rush.
I’m not great at the games to be honest. I can take on the odd boss on my own, but more often than not I’ll quickly summon people in to help me with a difficult area or boss. And now I’ve beaten Dark Souls 3 I’m also eager to jump in to help or hinder people in turn. Often with a little help from another couple of phantoms in “jolly co-operation” you can clear areas and beat bosses in just a few tries.
The Bloodsouls games have terrific visual design, immersive worlds, and alluring narratives and stories. Everyone deserves a chance to experience that, and it’s not doing anyone favours by pretending it’s the hardest game out there. They’re far from “hard”. They’re manageable. Because there’s a whole load of strangers more than happy to step in, and give those running along behind them, shields raised, a helping hand or two.
That’s why it’s always worrying to see servers coming down for older games, or even Dark Souls‘ mysterious week of outage on PC just the other week. Without online features, the Bloodsouls games are simply very different games. And yes, to an extent, quite brutally hard. No being invaded by other players. No jolly co-operation. No bloodstains of your fellow, dead players. No messages on the floor helping to point out hidden items, illusory walls, or using the template message system to make silly puns. No ghostly visions of other players playing in the same yet slightly different world around you.
That’s why you really should try and make the most of it while you can. And it’s also why it’s always a great idea to get in on Bloodsouls games as early as you can, when it’s busiest, and everyone is still testing the waters. All the games are still fairly active, but of course none more so than the just released Dark Souls 3. This is a moment in time, in gaming, that can never truly be recaptured quite the same. It’s a unique proposition, and nobody else can really offer the same reason to buy a game day one. But here it is. Don’t miss it.
Also, to the player I harassed into quitting the other day in Irithyll Dungeon by making them hide in a cell and then repeatedly dropping an “I’m Sorry” speech token from a height right in front of their cell — I lied. I’m not sorry, I have no regrets. This game is great.
We’ll have a full review soon.