Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Dark Souls: It 'aint King's Field, sadly.

From Software released Dark Souls on PC in the last few days. So now that I could finally take the opportunity to try their new RPG series, having enjoyed King's Field so much, I tucked in.  And found the experience disappointing:

There are major issues with Dark Souls that are severely diminishing my enjoyment of it.

Firstly, it is not possible to pause the game. So if you have a phone call, the door bell rings, "real life shit" that has to be dealt with and you're in the middle of a battle, you are buggered unless you quit the game.

Secondly, third person.  God, how I have come to loathe third person games. They allow far less movement precision than first person games, and having a bloody great avatar taking up a large amount of the display requires one to flail around with the camera at all times just to see where to progress next.

Combat is excellent, one of the finest melee systems ever allowing huge flexibility. Movement is swift and responsive. But most of the time it's difficult to see where one is aiming or going next because of the bloody camera.  Switching in and out of target lock mode is simple but often leaves one running in the wrong direction. It's VERY easy to hit right-trigger and target an enemy far, far away from those that are right next to the player (e.g. the roof-top fire-bombers in the Undead Burg). Also, dying from a spear in the back while one's avatar is in the middle of an "un-cancel-able" combat animation is an occurrance that happens rather too often.

Finally, the gameplay as a whole can be boiled down thusly: explore, fight, die. Explore the same places again, fight the same enemies again, die again. Make a tiny bit more progress, die, then do the same shit over and over again.

This goes a long way towards killing the experience for me.  I have no issue with the difficulty, I've completed all four of the far more enjoyable King's Field series (also by From, people, if you could get past your obsession with visuals, you'll find equally good dungeon crawlers in all four of them).  I enjoy exploring the truly fantastic, imaginative world that From have created in Dark Souls. I loathe seeing the same few square acres over and over again as some undead thing kills my avatar for the 34898th time. Also there's almost nothing to interact with save for doors, the odd NPC or levers that open doors.

I'll concede one massive positive design choice that every game developer on the planet should consider: Dark Souls plonks you in a unique world, and just lets you get on with it. This is similar to Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and King's Field. You're given a specific goal, but little or no hints as to how to achieve it, or the events that will happen during the course of your journey. There aren't hours of exposition, and NPC banter is at an absolute minimum. This is something to be encouraged, as is the beautiful hand-crafted (if rather static) world.

But it sucks having to see the same parts of that world so many times just to progress further.