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Hey, what's up guys - I'm Dave Klein, and welcome to a new series of mine.
A breakdown retrospective of various games.
As people know me for the Souls series, I thought this would be a good place to start,
but I do intend to cover more games outside of Souls, as Game Design is a passion of mine.
Also, I'd love to know your thoughts on this type of video when it wraps, as I'm
new to this.
So, that said, here's a critical analysis of Dark Souls - both its pros and cons.
What makes the game work, and perhaps, would could have been improved.
There will be spoilers, as I'd like to talk about the overall game in depth, so you have
been warned.

Dark Souls starts the game simple enough, with a character creator.
Which, I think for repeat play throughs, and experienced players is a great place to start
- but can be kind of intimidating for someone new to a franchise.
While players returning from Demon's Souls will know what kind of character they want
to play - being immediately thrown a number of stats without ever having played a game
is a rough place to start.
To be honest, on my first play through, I pulled up a guide as I already felt like I
could be screwing up at this point.
I've never been a huge fan of presenting new players immediately with stat choices
to choose before they've even had a chance to play the game for this reason.
If you've never played a game before, you don't know what build you're going to
like, you don't know what works and doesn't work for that particular game, and it's
a lot to handle right from the get-go, before you have any investment in the game at hand.
I'm definitely a fan of RPGs, and love the ability to customize your stats, but my main
point is this can be intimidating, especially for a game that has the reputation of Dark
Souls, whether deserved or not, of being challenging.
One possible solution is to have a tutorial portion of the game where the player at least
learns base mechanics before they get to choose their stats - and in this case, that would
happen when the player arrives at Firelink Shrine.
However, that's really just a different choice, as it creates its own problems.
The character creator, at that point, would pull you out of the game - and possibly ruin
your sense of immersion as you should already have an idea of who your character is if you're
doing role playing.
I don't think there's necessarily a solution to this problem, but do want to point out
my own frustrations with it, as I'm sure I'm not the only one who struggles with
this.

From here, we get what I think is one of Dark Souls strongest aspects over Demon's Souls,
Dark Souls 2, and Bloodborne… and even to an extent - Dark Souls 3, which is its intro
cinematic.
There's a strong pull to take cinematics completely out of video games, as they take
you of the game, and at that point you're watching something happen as opposed to playing.
But, I think they can have their place, and this is the perfect example of that.
In the intro cinematic we find out about the creation of the world, and are given a little
backstory to the overall game, which will become essential to its story.
But the main point I want to focus on here, is what the cinematic highlights.
We're shown horrifying looking Ancient Dragons, and then 4 amazingly powerful lords fighting
off these Ancient Dragons and starting the entire world as we'll come to know it - Gwyn,
The Witch of Izalith, Nito, and Seath.
The cinematic makes them look incredibly powerful, and they absolutely stand out as they're
shown fighting off the ancient dragons.
What this creates is an automatic understanding of who some of the major bosses you'll end
up fighting are.
You don't know it yet, but as you progress further into the game, and realize you're
about to have to fight Nito… or Seath… or the Witch of Izalith… or finally Gwyn
- living legends who we witnessed creating the world and destroying the ancient dragons
- the tone is set for you.
These are characters we know, we might revere or fear, and know are insanely powerful.
They created the world you stand on, and you're about to have to go fight them.
And that's both intimidating and exciting.
In Demon's Souls, we're told the overall lore of the world, and given some minor backstory
about warriors who've disappeared - which works just fine but doesn't have the same
effect.
In Dark Souls 2 we get some cutscene about some weird world under the water… which,
despite all of my lore videos on the game, I still don't really understand.
It doesn't do anything for you other than make the world seem mystical and strange.
Bloodborne, sets the tone of you being in a creepy world where you seem to have just
screwed yourself - but not much beyond that.
And finally, Dark Souls 3 replicates what Dark Souls 1 did - giving us beings that we're
going to have to fight, and names that we'll know.
But, it's not as effective, as these are simply beings who became Lords and had sacrificed
themselves to extend the Age of Fire at some point in time.
That's not nearly as important or wild as the beings who created the entire world and
mythology you exist within.
And I know I'm harping on this intro for a while, but I think it's just that good,
and that well worth praising.

Finally, with the intro cinematic out of the way, we find ourselves in prison, and a character
helps break us out - Oscar of Astora.
It's worth mentioning this, as it's something I've heard other creators talk about before
in mentioning what makes you like an NPC.
We immediately like Oscar, and he's more important to us than most NPCs in other games…
simply by the virtue of its he who gives us the key that gets us out of prison.
Characters who help you, or do things for you, are the ones who you'll tend to end
up liking.
If characters get in your way, such as Lautrec… we end up hating them - regardless of how
virtuous they may end up being.
Let's further look at Oscar…
Oscar later on gives us Estus Flasks, which finally allows your character to heal themselves,
with refillable vials.
Once again, he endears himself to the players by being useful - and he tells you to leave
before he goes hollow… as he doesn't want to hurt you.
When we find him hollow and attacking you later, he's once again endeared himself
through his actions of helping you.
But… when you really think about it.
Oscar is also the one who tells you about the Undead journey, which within the lore…
is a trap created by Gwyndolin, Frampt, or Gwyn… to get an undead to unwittingly sacrifice
themselves to link the flame.
It's all a giant lie.
But, what makes you, the player, so susceptible to this is that it's one of the game's
most likable characters who unwittingly tells you this lie - and sets you on your journey.
It's fascinating when you think about the psychology of it… and I think other games
should look at this as an example of how to properly lie to players.
Another game that did this really well was the original Bioshock.
It's similar in making you trust someone who keeps on doing things that would seem
to help you, when that character has their own ulterior motive.
It's great writing - and whether Fromsoftware did it on purpose or not, which given the
other characters we find, I assume they did - I applaud them for this.

So… here we are at the Undead Asylum, and what happens to be the tutorial area of Dark
Souls 1.
I think this, along with Demon's Souls were the best tutorial areas of the Souls games,
but before I get into that, I do have a criticism for it.
Anyone who's played Dark Souls for an extensive amount of time - especially if you've played
Bloodborne, will know that the optimal way to play the game is usually in rolling to
dodge enemy attacks.
However, the tutorial heavily emphasizes playing the game sword and board style.
It definitely teaches you how to roll - but what I mean is this:
You're pretty much immediately given your shield, and told how to use it.
After this, one of your first scenarios is being ambushed by a mob, along with an archer.
The best way to handle this situation is with your shield, so you block all of these attacks,
and then strike at your first opportunity.
I do think that's great for teaching how to use the shield effectively.
But…
I also feel like you're given the shield too early, or don't have enough enemies
to train with… and by that…
I mean even a single real enemy - to train with without a shield.
Especially when you're light, and before you're mid-rolling or fat-rolling - it's
the perfect opportunity to present a situation where all you have is a sword, and the best
way to avoid getting hit is through rolling.
Outside of that, I think the Undead Asylum is by far the best tutorial in any of the
Souls games, and here's why:
Simply put - the Asylum Demon is the perfect first boss.
When he first jumps down, it's shocking, especially if you've never played a Souls
game, and terrifying.
If you try attacking him, you'll probably die.
And, it quickly sets the mood for Dark souls in multiple ways.
For one - the game is going to be challenging.
And for two, if you stop panicking and explore around the room, you'll find an escape,
and get away from the boss.
You've now been rewarded for thinking and properly assessing the environment, which
is a huge deal in this game, which constantly pounds that into you: Be cautious, check the
environment for clues, and utilize it properly.
Not only that, but when we come to the boss better equipped, you're given a new mechanic
- that being the drop attack.
This takes out roughly half of the Asylum Demon's health, and presents with an optionally
easier boss fight.
Now, fully equipped and with healing items, knowing the mechanics of the game, you should
be able to take out the Asylum Demon after a few tries… if not your first.
He is difficult for new players… but not overly difficult - and this drop attack is
a great way for new players to feel like they have a real chance to defeat him.
Not only that - but because of how intimidating and challenging the Asylum Demon was when
we first met him, it's extremely rewarding when the player defeats him.
Right from the get-go, the tutorial has established what the game is about: overcoming challenging
situations, and a great sense of reward for doing so.
Demon's Souls attempts this by having an intimidating boss - but allows you to lose,
thereby potentially never gaining that sense of reward.
Meanwhile, both Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne omit having a boss, which I think was a mistake
on the part of Dark Souls 2, where-as Bloodborne I'm more forgiving as it has totally different
feel as a game.
I think Dark Souls 3 actually handled this the worst with Iudex Gundyr.
He's overly difficult for new players, and certain builds, such as the thief build, are
at a huge disadvantage against him.
While he sets the tone for: “These games are about overcoming challenge”, I think
it's at the point of potentially being too discouraging.
Finally, another great thing about the Asylum Demon and the tutorial area is it has a now
well-known easter egg that rewards observant players.
The Asylum Demon can be seen at the top of the Undead Asylum if the player truly pays
attention.
Meanwhile, we find Oscar bashed in throughs he ceiling of the Undead Asylum, about to
die.
And - if we piece this together - it was the Asylum Demon who did this to him.
The story is there, and you're rewarded for paying attention… but it's never thrown
in your face.
Anyways, I think that's all I have to say about the Undead Asylum.
To be honest, the area's a little boring to me, but it does make for a great tutorial
area.
So, let's hitch a ride with a crow, and head into Firelink Shrine.
————
Ahhhh, Firelink Shrine.
Thanks in part to the sound design of the game, which opt to almost never play music
unless you're fighting a boss, this truly feels like a relaxing hub and safe spot.
This element of sound design is actually something I'm a little torn on.
On one hand, some of my favorite video game music comes from environmental music.
For example: Playing through From Software's first video game series, King's Field, there's
constantly this creepy music that plays in the background - and it really helped set
the mood of the game.
Meanwhile, a game like Skyrim has peaceful tracks playing the background which helps
make the game feel relaxing while you're exploring.
Dark Souls instead opts to only have environmental sounds ringing throughout, which heavy music
playing during bosses to indicate a heightened sense of danger - which I'll touch on more
when I get to the Taurus Demon.
And while I sometimes do miss the music, it also makes it so every track is far more effective.
Because Firelink Shrine is one of the only places in the game with music, it really does
feel like something separate, important, and peaceful.
Meanwhile, if you eventually find Ash Lake, the track that plays there immediately creates
a sense of awe and importance - as no-where else in the game does this.
I think - to my point - it's an interesting design choice, and I think one Dark Souls
pulls off effectively.
Another great thing about Firelink Shrine is that there are multiple branches here,
with the game not holding your hand or telling you where to go.
It's refreshing for a game to trust its player to figure out what's too difficult
for them.
And while I'm sure there are some players who have frustratedly quit out of the game
at this point, this is the type of choice that makes Dark Souls stand out to players
who do end up enjoying it so much.
From Firelink Shrine, you can head into the Catacombs, Undead Burg, or New Londo - which
actually has even more branches - but, let's first look at a new player's perspective.
If you go into the Graveyard, the skeletons are genuinely hard and will probably kill
you immediately.
One thing I hate in games is when they block off a path telling you: “You shouldn't
go here yet”.
It's such an obvious marker and pulls away from immersion.
But - this tells a player all they need to know.
If you died to the skeletons right away, you should probably be thinking: “I'm not
ready for this yet”, or at leas try to avoid it and look at other areas.
If you want to keep on attempting the Graveyard - fair enough man - but at least you're
given the choice.
Option #2 is New Londo.
To be honest, I didn't even notice the entrance to New Londo my first time playing the game
until multiple trips back to Firelink Shrine, which I think is one good point to why it's
for later in the game… it's harder to find.
That said, everyone's different, so if you do end up here first - once again, there's
a lot that will show you not to come here.
For one - unless you know to utilize a Transient Curse, you can't hurt the ghosts - and that
definitely feels too advanced for a first section of a game.
So again, you should figure out right away this isn't the first place to go.
And finally, our third option is Undead Burg.
Which is really the section designed for a first-time player, and the first area you
should go to.
BUT.
The great thing about all of this, is that it drastically boosts the replayability of
this game.
When you know what you're doing, it's fun to jump into the Catacombs and see if
you can defeat Pinwheel at a low level - or even pick up different equipment there.
If you grab the Master Key, all of Undead Burg is entirely optional, and you can head
into New Londo, out to Blight Town or the Darkroot Garden.
And this non-linear interconnected world design is part of what makes Dark Souls so charming
- and it's, unfortunately, the only game in the series that has as open of a design
in this sense.
At this point of the game, everything cleverly wraps back to Firelink Shrine - and as far
away as you get, there's typically multiple ways to get back - but more on that a little
later.
So, all of that said, let's talk about Undead Burg.
————
If I'm being honest, this is one of my least favorite areas of the game.
Visually, it's just not as interesting as the other sections, with the enemies also
being kind of bland here compared to other sections of the game.
And look - that's totally fair as it's the first area of the game - and the game
SHOULD build up to something more interesting - but, I think my issue comes from everything
that adds up with the section.
To say some positives first: The level design is really well done.
Undead Burg has a lot of clever side paths that feel like secrets when you find them,
offer some extra goodies, and then smartly wrap you right back onto the main path.
There are also areas that are teased to you, where you'll see an item in the distance,
wonder how to find it, and then if you search can find a path that will make you feel rewarded
when you do find it.
There's also a clever shortcut/drop, which seems impossible to do if you're new - but
when you discover it is possible, that in itself is massively rewarding.
But, as far as the enemies are placed, this area has a decent amount of mobs - which can
be incredibly intimidating for new players.
There's a section you have to run past with firebombs being tossed down at you, where
you're basically forced to run into a mob scenario.
Unless you know about the Black Knight shortcut… which has a Black Knight guarding the path
- this is one of the harder areas to run through and avoid enemies - which is good and bad.
On one hand, it forces the player to learn that running past enemies isn't an option
- and force them to learn to be slow and methodical, and learn how to play the game.
It teaches you to be observant and take your time.
On the other hand - as players are still learning the mechanics of the game at this point, it
can be incredibly frustrating if it feels like you aren't making any progress.
And while you'll probably be returning to the bonfire to level-up frequently - at least
I know I was on my first play through, as this was my first Souls game - I think being
stuck in an area that seems a little more bland, without much option of any other section
of the game to try without a far steeper difficulty curve, could be problematic.
And look, there's no way for me to really know, as looking at Achievement rates in Dark
Souls is always a steady drop-off, as it is with any game, it's my guess that this area
may be highly discouraging to new players.
Of course - I'm sure many of you in the comments will tell me about how easy this
section was for you, but it's my opinion that this area, including Undead Parish, could
be the most discouraging part of the game for someone new.
But, okay, let's talk about some more positives:
If you get the Master Key, you can head down to Havel's chamber, and out into the Darkroot
Basin.
The Darkroot Basin is visually interesting, has the Hydra which is horrifying but super
cool, and if you explore you can get the Grass Root Shield, which is a really good shield,
at least in my opinion.
And, while this experience won't be the same for everyone: It was here that I realized
part of what helped me get through the game and enjoy it.
While it felt super punishing to die because Dark Souls gets rid of all of your currency,
with the chance to pick it up again - I realized that I could explore areas and just say: “Fuck
it!” about my currency, and just try to find useful items, which I would keep.
Exploring in hard areas could actually be rewarding, and as long as you weren't thinking
about leveling up, dying was actually beneficial.
It's a different way to play other Action RPGs, where you die and lose everything.
Weirdly enough, it actually makes exploring potentially easier to do.
So, with that, let's talk about the death mechanics of the game:
————
When both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls came out, this was actually a pretty big talking
point, and one of the reasons these games were considered so challenging.
When you die, you lose all of your Souls, which act as both your currency and your experience
points.
That's normal enough… but there's no true saving in Dark Souls.
In most games, when you die, while that's punishing enough, you return to your save
point with all of the experience point and currency you had prior to saving.
However - as Souls doesn't have this, you'll lose everything.
The game does counteract this, though, in a couple ways.
For one, you have the chance to collect all of your Souls again… unless you die a 2nd
time, at which point they're all lost.
For two… this currency is really the only thing you lose, and I think that's a really
important point.
Every item you collect while exploring, even if you die, you'll still keep.
You also never lose levels from dying - at least in Dark Souls - so a dynamic is created.
On one hand, exploring is encouraged because you can find new and incredibly useful items.
On the other hand… you'll always have to pay attention to how much health you have,
how many estus flasks for healing, and how many souls you have.
There's a risk/reward for exploring, and if you have a lot of souls, you may decide
to just cash them in before you explore, and not have to worry about.
Or, you can take the risk.
Once you're used to it…
I actually find this mechanic in a lot of ways less punishing than normal Action RPGs,
where you lose everything when you die.
And it's been incorporated into a lot of games since… so it definitely has inspired
a lot of modern game design - despite the initial criticism it received.
————
Okay, so Undead Burg is fully explored, you've gotten used to the basic mechanics of the
game, so you think… and you come upon your first real boss:
(Show footage of Taurus Demon, but without the music, like I have in my remastered recording)
Look, it's a bigger, scarier enemy!
But, it's not too bad, right?
Wait a sec…
(Show footage of Taurus Demon again, but now with the music).
Oh my God!
That thing is horrifying now!
And this is really the power of Dark Souls' sound design.
By the combination of a bigger, badder enemy showing up, and the music, the fight immediately
feels far more daunting.
Obviously if you're new to the game, being trapped on a small bridge with this thing
is going to be frightening anyways.
But, by not playing any music, and suddenly blasting it when the boss appears, you've
drastically heightened that sense of tension.
So, I don't have too much to say about the Taurus Demon outside of that I think it's
a good “2nd boss” if that's the order you choose.
It's big and intimidating like the Asylum Demon, so you'll feel rewarded when you
defeat it.
It's a little quicker and more challenging, though, with a bigger health pool.
But, if you're clever, you have the option to plunge attack it, which really hammers
in how important it is to explore the environment.
Archers who shoot down at you indicate there might be another area you can go, and you're
rewarded for exploring this by finding a way to significantly decrease the Taurus Demon's
health in an easy way.
It calls back what you learned from the first fight against the Asylum demon, but implements
it in a more challenging fashion.
So, I think it's a perfectly implemented boss fight… when it works.
(Show a glitch kill).
(Add a source at the bottom for whatever YouTube channel's footage I use)
————
Onwards and across to the Undead Parish… where we get one of my least favorite things
in the game - the Hellkite Drake.
On one hand, I do like how intimidating it is, and I think it was a fun design choice
to have the Hellkite Drake show up almost immediately after the Taurus Demon, without
a bonfire or anyway to feel safe or as rewarded for what you just did.
But…
I think this is one of the areas that properly fails to warn the player there's a trap
and they will get injured.
If you look at the ground, there's burn marks before you walk onto the bridge where
the Hellkite Drake is.
But… there's really nothing to indicate to you that you should walk on it, then turn
tail and run away from it.
There are tells that are really well done in this game, but this particular one bothers
me.
Fortunately, if you have full health, when the Hellkite Drake breaths fire on you, it
probably won't kill you.
But…
I would have preferred if the Hellkite Drake cut across the bridge, and lit fire directly
in front of you indicating: Hey, this area is going to be problematic - with a better
tell.
Or, alternatively, if the Hellkite Drake swooped up from under the bridge, shot fire directly
at the bridge in front of you, with the fire coming towards you.
That way, you could at least have a moment to react and possibly run back to safety,
before the Hellkite Drake then perches on wall across from you.
Even getting through the bridge feels kinda poorly handled at this point.
You can go underneath to find a path, where you're punished because you can't reach
the bonfire - but at the very least, you can still progress without figuring out how to
cross through the Hellkite Drake.
So, on the positive end, that option was handled well with you losing out on a bonfire - which
is a major reward - in return for safety.
To get the Hellkite Drake to react in a way that you can run past it to said bonfire,
and get your reward, you have to wait in one of the safe zones until the Hellkite Drake
reacts, seemingly gets annoyed, and flies into get you.
I do like this reaction by the Hellkite Drake… but there's nothing inherent to tell you
to just wait in the safe zone until the Hellkite Drake gets bored and comes to attack you.
Running out onto the bridge resets the amount of time you have to wait, which makes it especially
difficult to figure out what to do in order to cause this animation.
Something notable in this area is the ladder you can kick down to reach your previous bonfire
at Undead Burg.
Not only is it a great checkpoint, but more importantly… it's clever.
After feeling panicked that you beat a boss, you have a lot of souls, and debating if you
should carry on or not - if you get through the first attack by the Hellkite Drake, you
get what's essentially a double reward.
A ladder that creates a shortcut back to your previous bonfire.
It's so cleverly designed where even if you feel like you're traveling away - you
end up looping right back to this bonfire, and now have easier access to the Undead Merchant
or Firelink Shrine if need-be.
Which… leads nicely into my thoughts about the Undead Cathedral.
————
The Undead Cathedral contains what I consider to be one of the most critical shortcuts in
Dark Souls, and what's quite possibly a game-changing moment.
After traveling even further along the path past the Hellkite Drake, and making it to
the end of the Undead Cathedral, you'll find an elevator which leads directly back
down to Firelink Shrine.
This creates multiple major moments.
First - It shows just how interconnected the world design of Dark Souls is.
While Undead Burg has an interconnected level design, with various paths that cleverly loop
back onto themselves - this is a major moment that should show just how well the entire
world of Dark Souls does this.
Secondly - It's incredibly rewarding.
At this point in the game, you've traveled pretty far away from Firelink Shrine, which
is essentially a hub and the one place the feels like a peaceful respite from all of
the Hell going on outside of it.
You've defeated a boss, and traveled even further, to a point where a 2nd boss is looming.
But, after all of that, you've unlocked a quick and easy way to travel back home to
Firelink Shrine.
Another thing I haven't mentioned is kindling bonfires - which I think is a bit too obtuse
and confusing.
But - point is, bonfires typically start with 5 estus flask recoveries for your character,
which also acts as a limit for how far you'll want to explore, as once you're out, it's
a good idea to head back to the bonfire, recover these, and try again.
While you can level up a bonfire to allow for up to 20… by its obtuse nature, I have
a feeling not all players will have figured this out by this point.
BUT, Firelink Shrine's bonfire starts with 10 estus flask recoveries.
So, for players who haven't quite figured out this mechanic, the bonfire is made even
more rewarding to be able to return to.
This leads me to talking about bonfire warping… and an important point I really wanted to
touch on in this video:
————
With the release of Dark Souls: Remastered, I've seen a number of complaints about changes
that weren't made… one of them being about Bonfire Warping.
[SOT - Jim Sterling complaining about how there should be Bonfire Warping in DS: Remastered]
Sorry Jim, I do enjoy your videos, I just want to illustrate this point.
The problem with bonfire warping, and why it was such a smart decision in Dark Souls
1 to not allow players to do this immediately, is it completely negates the interconnected
World Design of Dark Souls 1.
You see, when you can warp at the start of the game from any bonfire to another bonfire,
it lowers the tension of exploring.
Part of what makes the game get more intense as you progress further into the game, is
that you're slowly exploring further and further away from the safety of Firelink Shrine.
At the same time, because you can't warp - that's what makes the shortcut in the
Undead Cathedral to Firelink Shrine feel so incredibly rewarding.
If you could warp from any bonfire, this wouldn't matter, and there'd be no reason for this
shortcut to exist.
When you find the bonfire in the Undead Parish - which is next to the Undead Cathedral, you
would be able to just warp back to Firelink Shrine from there.
Which - yes, is convenient - but again, completely negates any reason for this shortcut to exist.
And at that point, the interconnected world design doesn't matter as much.
Not only that, but the game is designed around the idea that you can't warp.
If you decide to travel into the Catacombs before you have access to warping and The
Lord Vessel… you'll find a fairly difficult path down to the bottom, based on your level
and how good you are at the game.
But, again, playing off the notion that there's tension to exploring as you can't warp…
once you hit the bottom of the catacombs, you'll have to somehow make your way back
up, which in many places can be even more difficult than traveling down.
You've now put yourself in a predicament that you have to get out of.
And that's something you'll always question anytime you pick up a new bonfire in Dark
Souls during a first playthrough: How far away am I from Firelink Shrine?
And how hard is it going to be to get back?
It creates an entirely different feel of playing through the game, than if you can just warp
out - because at that point none of it matters, because you can easily escape to safety.
Even looking at Blighttown, the area was also designed with the idea that players will be
looping out of it.
Most first time players will travel to Blighttown via the Depths, and the escape out of Blighttown
is it's own challenge, again, purposefully designed that way.
I mean, hell, the game even put Lautrec in Firelink Shrine, who'll take out the bonfire
once you reach Blighttown…
Let's consider what happens when you can't warp:
You have a tense trip traveling up the mills of Blighttown, and passing through a cave
of trolls.
When you finally reach Firelink Shrine, the bonfire doesn't exist, and that's horrifying
as this is the safety hub you've been trying to reach.
But suddenly, you remember that you created a shortcut to the Undead Parish, and because
you're a smart player, you can safely travel to that, making the shortcut you opened way
back at the beginning of the game even more important.
None of this would exist if you could warp in Dark Souls right off the bat.
It wouldn't matter.
You finish Blighttown and… okay: Just warp back up to wherever you want to go next.
It's a completely different game feel, and part of why it's my opinion that it was
such a good decision not to allow for warping.
So, what would happen if you could warp right off the bat?
The answer is… the design of the game would have to change to accommodate for this idea…
which is exactly what we see in Dark Souls 3, and to a lesser extent Dark Souls 2.
Both Dark Souls 2 and Dark Souls 3 allow for warping right off the bat, so let's talk
about both.
In Dark Souls 2, you have Majula as the main HUB, acting like Fire Link shrine, and then
4 branching paths that go in completely opposite directions, and never connect.
And while it's not as satisfying than as if the world connected… the truth is - you
don't really NEED it to.
The individual level design isn't as strong, which is more of what people noticed, but
again… the world connecting doesn't matter.
You can travel to the far end of any branch, and warp there whenever you want, there's
no reason it needs to connect.
In a lot of ways, it's really more similar to Demon's Souls in that regard - the world
connecting to the HUB is just a nice, but unnecessary touch.
Meanwhile, while Dark Souls 3 contains certain areas of the world that connect… for the
most part, you have distinct paths that go in separate directions, then dead-end - because
again, making the world interconnect isn't as important.
However, Dark Souls 3 does a better job of accommodating for this design choice within
the level design, and the way they need to in order for it to work with warping bonfires.
So, let me show you what I mean:
The Cathedral of the Deep contains a minor Firelink Shrine in some ways.
You'll find one bonfire in the entire area, but next to it are 2 incredibly obvious locked
shortcuts.
So, in order to create more tension, you spend a certain amount of time traveling away from
this bonfire, and then the game eventually wraps back to that singular bonfire opening
1 shortcut.
You then use that shortcut to repeat the same process of looping around to open shortcut
number 2.
This is how the game functions in order to create a similar feeling.
There's no reason to include a wrap-back to the overall world or HUB at any point,
as you can just warp there.
So - they have to create this feeling in individual levels… which isn't as effective.
But compared to Dark Souls 1…
Dark Souls 3 is designed around this concept.
Dark Souls 1 isn't.
Simply adding warping completely negates the overall design of Dark Souls 1.
Bloodborne is a little better in this regard… as while you can warp immediately in the game,
you're forced to warp back to the HUD before you can then warp to another area.
This is so inconvenient… especially with the loading times of Bloodborne… that it
disincentives warping just enough to make Yharnam mostly connecting a rewarding touch.
I know I've been harping on this for a while, but I really want to hammer in how important
of a choice not allowing warping off the bat in Dark Souls 1 is, and how much it changes
the game, as well as how much the game is designed around this concept.
Similar to not having a mini-map, or objective markers, this is one of those touches that
makes Dark Souls unique and stand out.
It's part of the reason many people enjoyed the game.
And while you could argue: “Warping is optional”, you could say the same thing about a mini-map
or objective markers.
The point is, not being given the option to use these things are what creates tension
and adds both challenge and reward to the game.
If you know that you can just warp at any point, even if you choose not to, it completely
destroys that feeling - as any predicament you get yourself into, such as getting stuck
at the bottom of the Tomb of Giants… which happened to me - the easy option is there,
and it's no-longer a daunting prospect to get out.
The shortcut to Firelink Shrine is nice, but it's no longer important.
How much you hate Lautrec for killing the Firekeeper at Firelink Shrine doesn't matter,
because you'd be able to warp to any bonfire regardless.
While yes - it certainly is convenient to be able to warp at any point in Dark Souls
1, that's not what the game is about.
The point of the game is to establish obstacles and challenges for the player to overcome,
and then reward them for doing so, and not being able to warp ties directly into that.
————
But, I'll stop harping on this point.
Your first truly required boss, as Taurus Demon is actually skippable, are the Bell
Gargoyles.
This is another great boss fight that perfectly works off what the game is about.
For players who haven't played Demon's Souls, the fact that a second Bell Gargoyle
comes halfway through the fight is a daunting surprise.
But, while it adds another layer of challenge to the fight, you actually have a pretty large
space to try and escape from - with this fight being a balance of patience and choosing when
to be aggressive.
The fight feels nicely balanced, and is definitely something new players can overcome - which
you want at this point in a game.
Moving forward, you find the Darkroot Garden and Darkroot Basin which is a nice change
of scenery that should help add a new layer of intrigue to players.
I also love the inclusion of the Hydra at this point in the game, because if further
helps distinguish Dark Souls from other action games.
Leading up to Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, most action games would actively encourage
you and reward you for fighting crazy and horrifying enemies.
So-much so, that nothing really ends up feeling daunting or intimidating.
In God of War, Devil May Cry, or Bayonetta - which I acknowledge are completely different
types of action games - if you see something like the Hydra, your instinct would be to
run up and attack it.
However, at this point in Dark Souls your instincts should be the exact opposite, that
giant monster in the distance could very easily kill you, and further more, the question of
'how' you're going to get past that thing is a real question.
And that's part of what I find so endearing about Dark Souls - You actually feel helpless
at times, and unprepared for various situations - which makes overcoming them all that much
more rewarding.
Another thing I think is important about the Darkroot Basin is - if you don't have the
master key - this is where the game truly opens up.
Even for new players with the master key, this is probably where you'll feel like
you suddenly have options.
You can head to the Moonlight Butterfly and take down that boss, you can try and take
on the Hydra, you can go into the Valley of Drakes, and thereby Blighttown, or you can
fight the Bell Gargoyles or Capra Demon… depending on your progress at this point.
You can even head into the Darkroot Garden, either by saving up for the Crest of Artorias
or by going around it, and find Sif.
This non-linear element works to the games favor in plethora of ways.
For new players, it's nice to feel like you have options, especially if the game is
overly challenging.
If you're struggling too much with one area, you can tackle another, level-up, better equip
yourself, and return to an area you were struggling with later.
Even if they're all challenging, at least you're open to choose which challenge you
want to tackle.
For returning players, this gives you several routes you can tackle, and allows for completely
different types of play throughs.
It's the same thing as what makes the Mega Man games so replayable.
Part of the fun of those games is that you can pick the boss and level in any order you
like - which was revolutionary for the time of the games release, as it was the first
game to do so.
In this way, returning to play those games is always fun, as you're not stuck to a
linear route.
While not every game is necessarily serviced by this choice (with Octopath Traveler being
a prime example I'd like to talk about at some point), when done well it massively boosts
how repayable a game is.
————
Despite how much I love the forest, as it turns out, you're actually supposed to head
back to the Hellkite Drake to get into Lower Undead Burg with a key you should've picked
up around this point if you were paying attention and properly exploring.
I do think this is a little obtuse to find.
From personal experience, I completely forgot about the door the key opens, despite looking
at the key's description - and I've also watched friends stream the game who also had
no idea where to go at this point.
I'm sure it's nit-picky, and other people had no trouble finding it, but I think it's
worth pointing out.
Either way - for a game that's heavy on exploration, I don't think it's a big
deal.
Capra Demon is notable, as it's the first boss with extra enemies in boss arena.
It's also by far the most aggressive boss so far, with the demon and dogs immediately
running at you right when you enter the fog-gate.
Like most people I've seen talk about this - I'm not a fan of extra enemies in boss
arenas.
While I don't mind a boss who doubles-up, like the Man-eater or Bell-Gargoyles, those
feel properly balanced.
This, on the other hand, is just kinda annoying and can feel unfair.
Especially with the dogs, who are already pretty hard to hit in the first place.
On a positive note, I like what Fromsoftware was going for with the boss beings super aggressive.
It's a great way to keep players on their feet, and change things up at a point where
you might be starting to get comfortable.
But…
I think a hyper-aggressive boss would have done the trick without resorting to the dog
gimmick.
————
With Capra finished, we reach The Depths… and the Basilisks.
The Basilisks who are capable of cursing you … which I would call by far the largest
punishment in the game - as it reduces you to half-health until you find a Purging Stone
to take care of it.
This is one of the punishments in the game I feel is a little too harsh.
Both Dark Souls 2 and 3 back-tracked on the effects of this with the curse of Dark Souls
2 dropping you hollow level… and Dark Souls 3 it just kills you with no lasting effect.
I do like that curse has a different kind of penalty than other effects, which makes
it unique - and I actually think Dark Souls 3 and 2's penalties are too tame.
That said, I think a penalty of 1 quarter of your health gone after being cursed would
have been much more manageable, and still a decent penalty.
You do die from getting cursed, and the lasting effect would still be harsh, but at least
you'd feel like you could still carry-on to a degree.
With half of your health gone, it's truly crippling, and I think that's far too harsh
this early-on in the game.
You do open up the Female Undead Merchant just before this point who sells purging stones…
but I'm not sure how many people will realize this, as you'll have no idea just how bad
the 'curse' status is until you get knocked down by it.
So - it's not something you'll be looking out for.
Also, you could pretty easily think to go to the first Undead Merchant to find an item
to cure your status - only to find he doesn't carry it, which would feel defeating.
Outside of that…
I don't have too much to say about the Depths other than the Gaping Dragon is an awesome
boss.
————
With Gaping Dragon down, we enter Blighttown.
An area that honestly gets a bad rep… partially because of the garbage frame rate at the bottom.
Leading down to the bottom is a fun area of narrow bridges and platforms constructed together
to make a maze-like path.
But… reaching the bottom of Blighttown, we get to what I truly dislike about the area
- which is a poison swamp.
There was an area like this in Demon's Souls, and also similar in the future installments
of the game.
Looking at the game as a whole, and from the perspective of a large world, it's an interesting
area and fits in nicely … But…
I've never been a fan of these poison locations.
When it's a swamp, like in Dark Souls 1, it's something you're forced to trudge
through slowly, which just makes it annoying more than anything else.
While you can get the Rusted Iron Ring to counter-act this, even being forced to switch
it on is a hindrance.
Being slowly poisoned isn't too challenging… again, it's more of just kind of annoying.
The design of Dark Souls is overwhelmingly setup to give players various challenges,
with the point being a sense of reward and accomplishment for overcoming the set of challenges.
For my part - these types of areas fail at that, as getting past them never feels rewarding
outside of: “Thank God I'm done with that shit.”.
The boss of the area on the other hand, Quelaag, is a lot of fun with a mix of attacks that
change up what we've seen before, making for an interesting battle.
Apparently she's overwhelmingly easy in co-op, but I like tackling these games solo,
so it's not something I can comment on too strongly.
————
With Quelaag's defeat, we both unleash a new NPC and open up Sen's Fortress.
While I'd go into Frampt, he's really more important from a lore stand-point, and
I've already covered that so heavily in other videos, I'd say to go watch one of
those if you 'd like to see that.
He does give you your next goal in the game, which, as our cutscene has indicated - is
to travel to Sen's Fortress and into Anor Londo, the city of the Gods.
Sen's Fortress really tests if you've been paying attention to what Dark Souls has
been trying to teach you the most of the game…. which is to pay attention to your surroundings.
It's also a nice nod to previous FromSoftware games… in that we've actually seen similar
trap-filled dungeons in the King's Field series - and in particular, King's Field
2's Passage of Death.
While this area can be Hell to go through, I absolutely love it for the challenges it
presents.
Almost every trap here is fair, and the game has already made it abundantly clear to you
that you should take your time in new areas and not rush through.
If you do so, you'll be able to notice the various switches and traps.
The first trap we find is a switch that activates arrows that will shoot out at you.
You're given plenty of time to avoid these, and even have Lizard-Men who will rush at
you, and possibly get in the way of the trap, getting injured themselves, giving you yet
another means of learning the trap and understand what the area will be about without it feeling
unfair.
Another trap in the area is an elevator that leads to spikes on a ceiling that will kill
you.
Unlike the Hellkite Drake bridge, this is far better indicated.
For one - you're already in an area filled with traps, and you know that you need to
pay attention to this stuff.
Secondly - this elevator has blood all over it, indicating something's wrong.
While you may not know exactly what - it's a good clue-in to it.
In fact, the only trap in this area that I find to be unfair is the Mimic Chest.
While I actually love these things, and think they're fun - and overall when you know
of their existence, do think they're fair - as they move around slightly and if you
have a keen eye, you can spot them… the first time we find one, there's really no
indication that something will be wrong.
Yes - you can spot it, but it's so subtle, I doubt most players would ever notice.
You're also so used to chests acting in one way, I think you need a slightly better
indicator that there's going to be something wrong for it to feel fair.
Of course - the fact that the first chest is in Sen's Fortress is a great start, as
that is the perfect placement for this chest.
That said, I don't personally mind this “gotcha” moment, which is really what
it feels like - but coming from the stand-point of how fair it feels, it doesn't match most
of Dark Souls design.
————————
Finishing Sen's Fortress, we reach Anor Londo.
I think Anor Londo is a bit of a mixed bag.
The area is giant and grandiose, which definitely gives it the impression of an important place,
and is fitting both for the lore, and the build up to this point.
However… the outer portion also feels kind of empty.
Now - I do understand the lore perspective of this, and there's nothing wrong with
breaking up the pacing with a wide open space like this.
But, it mainly sticks out when you're trying to traverse from one point to another after
you already know the layout and have completed it's various challenges.
On a positive note, I love that getting into the chapel requires you to run across the
top of a buttress.
It almost feels unintentional - and while it definitely is - the act of finding it and
realizing this will be a way to get to your next destination actually feels like you're
sneaking into somewhere you're not supposed to go.
The rafter segment that follows can be a bit of a pain, but it's not so bad that it feels
unfair.
I also love that - by running through the rafters - not only does it cement the grandiose
scale of the area - as this is where Lords resided - but it also feel like a new kind
of challenge.
However… we do find the Anor Londo archery club here… which… is a bit ridiculous.
When you know how to play the game, you'll know various ways to get through this challenge.
If you're good at dodge rolling and parrying… it's really not all that bad.
If you're not - HOLY HELL, MAN.
And, I think this is one of the examples in the game of an area that goes too far towards
unfair.
Especially as it decides to toss not one… but two archers at you.
I think it's an interesting challenge.
But… my God man…
I wouldn't fault anyone for being pissed about this.
While the outside is a little hit or miss… and I'm not just talking about the archers.
- I think the inside of Anor Londo really shines.
Going through the Cathedral is a bit of a maze, and the Silver Knights really help train
players at parrying if it's not something they've worked on yet.
Also, the fact you can skip half of this makes me happy… as these exploits are always fun
and can make you feel clever.
Of course, what's really one of the most interesting parts of the whole section is
Ornstein and Smough - who are perhaps the biggest test of the entire game.
From a lore perspective, they're meant to test if an undead is worthy enough to see
Gwynevere.
And you can bet your ass I'm gonna try to be that person.
BUT - It also ties in with the gameplay, as this boss fight is a culmination and true
test of your skills.
It'll ask you to properly manage fighting two enemies at once, and understand that sometimes,
being patient is a better strategy than trying to rush-in - which is something the game has
been teaching the entire time.
Ornstein and Smough behave differently, with one being quick and agile, while the other
is slow and powerful.
They test two different skills, and they work perfectly in tandem.
Killing one will make the other stronger, suddenly giving you a challenging 1 on 1 boss
fight - yet again, testing how well you can pick up on the enemy's tells and react.
Interestingly, this also gives them more replayability, as if you come back on a New Game + run, or
a separate game, it's fun to test your skills against the boss you didn't fight the first
time.
It also gives new players a choice, so if you're struggling with one… you can choose
the other.
I think Ornstein and Smough is the most challenging boss in Vanilla Dark Souls, and this is the
perfect placement for this battle.
At this point, players should already be dedicated and have a strong understanding of the game.
It's immensely rewarding to defeat the pair of them, and doing so opens up multiple previously
locked-off paths for you, which is a massive reward in its own right.
————————
At this point, you reach the final portion of the game, and… where the game has it's
biggest issues.
You're presented with 4 paths you have to travel in order to get the various Lord Souls
to finish the game.
In theme with the game so far, the order in which you do this is completely up to you.
However, structurally, this is where the game feels different and loses some of its charm.
What I'm mainly referring to is the game loses its interconnectivity.
Part of the charm of the game, up to this point, was discovering how parts the world
connected to each other, discovering new shortcuts, and discovering new paths.
Now, the world of Dark Souls has grown to a grandiose size, with 3 distinct far away-branches
- that being the Duke's Archives, the Giant's Tomb, and Izalith… with New Londo still
being relatively in the middle of things.
To make up for this, you're now given the ability to warp, which does add a level of
convenience, and a sense of accomplishment - as it's something you unlocked… but
also feels necessary.
So, I'm going to present an alternative concept, that could potentially solve this
issue.
That said - it does have its own issues, which I'll also bring up.
One way to solve this problem, is within Anor Londo itself.
If - say - when you reach Anor Londo, there's now 2 branching paths on top of the Duke's
Archives, you could now create an entirely new area of interconnected paths and locations
around the city itself.
From a purely gameplay perspective, this could give players a continuing sense of discovery
as they work there way around the city.
Then - the bonfire at the Princess' Chamber could warp back to Firelink Shrine, or the
Undead Parish (given Lautrec's involvement).
Now, without warping, you can explore beyond the Princess' Chamber, and feel even further
from your HUB of Firelink Shrine, and what's essentially home, creating a greater sense
of danger as you stray further and further away, as you know that Princess' Chamber
bonfire is the only way to get back to your HUB.
This now heightens the sense of danger at the final portion of the game, which the game
has been ramping up to, and continues the design of Dark Souls you've known up to
this point, but with an even greater sense of fear for being 'far from home'.
On the flip-side, this concept does break the overall world design.
It is interesting from a lore and world perspective to see these opposite ends of the world the
various Gods and Lords of the world have made their homes.
I'm not claiming my concept is better than what the solution FromSoftware found was - especially
as the overall world design and lore of the game, even if you don't know the lore, is
part of what makes the game so interesting to play.
My first time playing the game, without knowing any lore, something about each area felt important
- and like it truly mattered as it all fit in to the world you were traversing - so that
is an important aspect to keep in mind.
It's really meant as food for thought, and a way to try to critically think about gameplay
design, and how you can continue to build and heighten the initial design around the
game.
———————
So, let's talk about these branches:
While I briefly mentioned the Catacombs before, this area leads directly into the Tomb of
Giants and Nito.
The Catacombs is actually one of my favorite areas of the game, because it so strongly
utilizes vertical game design.
There are several branches for traveling down the Catacombs, and several shortcuts you can
find as well if you're creative enough.
And I think that was the fun for me - it was in carving my own path downwards.
Another thing about it, that I actually find to be great - is that the path back up is,
in some ways, more challenging than the path down.
My first time going through the Catacombs was before I activated the Lordvessel, and
the realization that I had to make my way back up after trapping myself at the bottom
was pretty significant.
Of course, this all depends on when you choose to go into the Catacombs, but I like that
this is a possibility.
If you're a new player, you actually get a really great reward in doing so…
The Great Scythe!
The best weapon in the game!
… Okay, I do love The Great Scythe, but really - you get the Rite of Kindling, which
for any new player is a major find, as it'll allow you to upgrade your bonfires so you
can get 20 Estus Flask uses instead of 10.
However - returning players and skilled players can entirely avoid this until they need to
traverse to the Catacombs later in the game which just adds to the brilliance of the design.
From software was smart enough to reward players for taking the challenge early on.
Pinwheel on the other hand…
Alright - here's the thing with Pinwheel.
He's a joke of a boss because he's so easy when you need to traverse the Catacombs,
but he's also designed so you can fight him early in the game.
In some of my runs, I travel into the Catacombs first, just for the Hell of it, and to get
some quick Souls, and he's actually pretty challenging.
I do like his design, but he probably should have had more defense or health, to make him
at least slightly more challenging for when players will typically tackle him.
The Tomb of Giants, on the other hand…
I'm not so fond of.
To its credit, it does mix things up, which I like.
The challenge of not being able to see what's in front of you, unless you specifically hold
up a light source instead of a way to defend yourself - that's a great dynamic to add
in.
I'm willing to say I might just be bad at fighting them… but I hate the Skeleton Dogs.
There's also the issue of getting the Large Divine Ember… which is stuck in a Tomb with
a ridiculous amount of aggressive giant skeletons.
While I usually enjoy these types of traps - they should either be utilized for areas
where there's nothing important… or have a better way to tackle and get out of the
challenge.
As it stands, unless you're a range build, going for the Large Divine Ember is basically
a suicide mission.
Which - you can do as you'll still have it after you die, it's just not great design.
The area's pathing does have some nice twists and turns to it, if you follow it properly…
at least during the front end.
But, overall, it mostly feels like a straight line.
I get that might sound like a hypocritical critique, considering I just praised the Catacombs.
But - with the Catacombs, the area does have a lot of interesting design choices and twists
to it if you follow the normal path down, where-as the shortcuts - which are the reward
for exploring and taking risks - turn it into a straight path.
The Tomb of Giants really is just… a straight line if you turn on the lights.
Which, leads me to my suggestion for the area.
The gimmick itself is interesting and cool, but it's really the overall bathing that