Its Christmas time and the holiday rush of games is over (shut up Old Republic, MMOs aren’t games), so there isn’t very much news coming out. Therefore, I decided that I would use Dark Souls to illustrate how to successfully make a sequel. Dark Souls is the spiritual successor to Demons’ (thats right, s’) Souls, which was a PS3 exclusive. You see the game isn’t really a spiritual successor, as the company just didn’t want to work exclusively with Sony anymore and decided to break off and make an unrelated sequel so they could go multi-platform. Demons’ Souls was basically a dungeon explorer. It had a central hub and worlds were segregated into levels with an end-level boss. The hook with Demons’ Souls was just how well it was designed.
|The Dragon God demands snuggles!|
Enter Dark Souls. Firstly we can hit on the fact that the creators of the game didn’t take more than three seconds to think up a name for it. Well as it isn’t an “actual” sequel all of the lore of the last game has been thrown out and this game is all about a land of undead. Not in the cool, sexy vampire kind, but in the depressing, losing their minds, ghoul kind. This depression permeates every facet of the game, from the difficulty to the design. When you are at the bottom of a horrific tower looking up at your destination, to when you are at the top of Blight Town and have to descend further into the wretched swamp.
|I hear the real estate market is really good in Blight Town|
Why is Dark Souls a good sequel unlike so many others I could highlight here? The answer, internet, is level design and atmosphere. There gets to a point when Mario jumps on a Goomba, Marcus Fenix chainsaws a Locust, Drake shoots a minority, Batman breaks an arm, Kratos kills a god, etc. that you realize that you are just doing the exact same thing as the last game. I hear you asking: “but Nick, if that is your real name (it is, you cynical bastard), doesn’t Dark Souls just copy and paste Demons’ Souls’ gameplay the same way those games do?” You are correct, the gameplay is identical. The difference is that you will never notice it.
|Mario is such a dick|
Dark Souls is not about the gameplay. It is about the experience. Very few games can claim this feat. Look at Silent Hill 2. It has garbage gameplay, an awkward story and terrible voice acting. Why then is it such an amazing game? Its because, like Dark Souls, the game is all about the experience of playing it. I remember the first time I reached Anor Londo in Dark Souls and I sat there at the bonfire reflecting on my trips through the undead boroughs, then down through the sewers to Blight Town and then finally up Sen’s Fortress to Anor Londo. I thought to myself, how much of a journey it was to get to where I was. Internet, that doesn’t happen often to me.
|I thought about Quelaag too, but that was for different reasons|
The level of detail present in every one of Dark Souls’ environments pulls you further and further into the game. This is a game that takes itself very seriously, and, unlike many, it doesn’t falter because of it. The general rule, nowadays, for sequels, is make something bigger and better, with more stuff, higher stakes, and refined gameplay. Dark Souls does this, but unlike any of the games I mentioned above, you will never notice it. Dark Souls doesn’t wave huge set pieces in front of you or brand new game mechanics. Hell, Dark Souls makes you work to even find out anything about the world you are inhabiting. The point is, Dark Souls is bigger and badder, but never pulls your attention to it. This isn’t some obnoxious hedgehog, who tries to make you think he’s “edgy”. This is one of those rare “games are art” games.
|This, boys and girls, is called obnoxious|
Then we get to the obligatory discussion about difficulty. Dark Souls is fairly hard, but its rarely unfair. It goes back to the experience part of the game. There are very few points where the game is just unfair, but most of the time, death merely teaches a lesson. This is weird. I mean, its not, because we learn through failure in real life. However, in the video game world, the player is never expected to die. Designers don’t make bosses to force a person to lose so they can try something new. Modern video games are made to be beaten, not played. The difficulty doesn’t necessarily make Dark Souls better than an easier game, but it adds the the overwhelming sense of dread and despair that runs on every corner of the game. Basically, difficulty is a tool that Dark Souls uses to be good. I would never say a good game needs to be hard, but difficulty can make a game better.
|My favourite kind of difficulty|
In the end, Dark Souls is a good sequel because it isn’t Demons’ Souls in my head. There is literally no difference between any Uncharted, God of War, Gear of War, Halo, Mario, Zelda, whatever, in my head. They are all just a continuation in the series, and ,damningly, many of the new games obsolete the old ones (why play Gears 1 with 3 around?). Dark Souls doesn’t obsolete Demons’ Souls, and it is distinct, and different. Interestingly enough, it did that while copying and pasting the gameplay from the original, which makes it a pretty special game.
|This is a gaping dragon. He watches you while you sleep|
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer