Since the release of Dark Souls III and my subsequent addiction to it, I’ve subjected the few people that follow me on social media to a regular barrage of any Dark Souls related content that I find. Reviews and articles, numerous screenshots I’ve taken, Memes (some of which I’ve made myself) all reinforcing my love of the series and many reiterating that one point that everyone in the game community acknowledge about From Software games- The soul crushingly difficult, but fair, gameplay.
So after posting probably hundreds of articles and images, I was finally asked the question I’d been waiting for a non-Souls player to ask: Why do I find Dark Souls, such a difficult game series, fun? My response doesn’t exactly answer why I think it’s fun, but I hope it does convey why I enjoy the Dark Souls series so much.
I played the first Dark Souls straight after completing the Tomb Raider reboot. I thought the origin story of Lara in Tomb Raider was amazing, but I felt the gameplay path along that narrative was really linear in comparison to its origins. A bit zig-zaggy, sure, but hardly a challenge in comparison to the original.
The first Tomb Raider actually had people calling me up to help them solve puzzles and find hidden paths. In a time before the internet was common place I was a Tomb Raider guru. The reboot in comparison felt like a journey along which I was guided, my hand held for developmental fear that if I were to get frustrated about not finding a direction or solution quickly enough, I would put the game down and never pick it up again – or worse still, trade it in. While I understand why this is a very real fear for developers, I feel the gaming industry suffers nowadays because of it.
The next game I played was Dark Souls. Holy. Shit! It was the complete opposite! It dumped me in a world with no real sense of what to do or where to go. Death lurked everywhere and I was incredibly tense because of it. And that was it, for the first time in a long time Dark Souls made me feel like I was exploring something genuinely dangerous and unknown, in a way that I hadn’t felt since the original PlayStation days (with the original Mass Effect perhaps being an exception, on the exploration of the unknown side of things).
It was a game that made me find my own answers to things and that actually let me play and level a character however I wanted. And the level design! I could go anywhere, but certain areas were less likely to kill you time and time again. And because of that, because of its difficulty and its stone-walled refusal to become any easier, because it didn’t care if I cried and returned it to the store unfinished, I respected it. And by the gods of gaming, every victory, no matter how small, every bonfire lit, felt like a milestone!
I often say that Dark Souls is the only game I feel I deserve a t-shirt for completing, and I mean that. It’s the only game series that I really, and I mean really, feel like it was an accomplishment to complete. It’s a bond you share with the others that have also done it, because you’ve faced an adversity that not everyone else has, and rather than quit, you conquered it.
Dark Souls is that band you like that mainstream doesn’t, and though you try to get your friends into it, when they hear it and don’t like it? Secretly, deep down, you think “Good”. Because it’s yours, and it’s quite simply not mainstream, and it’s not for everyone. But it is for me. And perhaps, one day it will be for you to. Because the Dark Souls series is a classic, and despite its niche market, will be talked about for years to come.
One day the thought of rising up to your virtual fears and attempting to complete that which very few have will overcome you. You will get to feel the same elation that no other game has made me feel before. And if you ever do, I applaud you. But, you better be prepared to put your souls on the line, and above all else…
Prepare to die.