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Dark Souls 2: the inviting unknown

Tuesday, 11th December 2012 13:32 GMT By Dave Cook

Dark Souls 2 is to be more “understandable”, according to developer FROM Software. VG247′s Dave Cook explains why the studio needs to be cautious in its approach.

Fearing the unknown is a perfectly natural thing. For example, we have no knowledge of what – if anything – lies beyond death, and it’s the kind of troubling thought that keeps people awake at night, as do concerns over World War III, the rise of environmental cataclysms and other unforeseeable events.

We’re inquisitive creatures, constantly trying to explain the unexplainable, furthering our own knowledge through education or the arts, and breaking down the many myths surrounding our planet and beyond, into the great void of space. We live to learn, and that learning helps us live in kind.

This curiosity-baiting ambiguity and thirst for knowledge is where the beauty of FROM Software’s cult hits Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls lies. Both games offer little in the way of lore or tutorials, and instead rely predominantly on cause and effect deduction. There are no need for words here, just simple, raw experimentation.

If you try something and it fails, then you know not to do it again. If you try something else and it works, then that’s the game’s way of telling you that you’re doing the right thing. It is the most basic form of aesthetic feedback in gaming, yet FROM Software’s titles remain a masterclass of the art.

For example, when you shoot someone in an FPS you’d expect some kind of aesthetic feedback to know your shot landed on target. Such mechanics are a given these days, but so many games still fall of short of conveying those messages clearly without resorting to intrusive text panels.

The ‘Souls’ franchise manages to deliver this information through visual and aural means – albeit subtely – without the immersion-breaking nuisance of HUD pop-ups, arrows or voice chatter. Dark Souls gets players curious, gets them talking, and has spawned vast word-of-mouth theorising and collaboration.

It’s still incredible to think that when Demon’s Souls: Black Phantom Edition launched in the UK, its bundled ‘official’ strategy guide was actually the Demon’s Souls Wiki pages editorialised into a digestible format, underlining just how much the game had got people talking.

The game didn’t explicitly reveal these secrets to players as it was largely ambiguous. Instead they had to earn and pool that collective knowledge by trying things in-game, as well as discussing unearthed secrets on the Wiki page and on forums.

Baffling mechanics such as World Tendecy and the way it affected the game world, or the best places to farm souls suddenly became readily-available knowledge, all without the developer explaining a thing.

That is truly a phenomenon, even if it feels insignificant. To get people talking that much, and to see them collaborating to master the game on a grand scale was inspiring, and the same rang true with its successor Dark Souls, which also boasts a massive Wiki community.

Dark Souls 2 was announced at the VGA awards over the weekend, and with it a dark and ominous trailer that fell in line with the series’ dark, harrowing tone. Typically, sequel announcements are met with one of two reactions – excitement or cynicism. Some fear the money-grabbing intent of fast-buck sequels, while others are happy to see franchises return.

Either way, the Dark Souls 2 announcement has largely been met with celebration, and theories have already begun about the game’s new world, the existence of bonfires and other areas. It’s a brand people feel is worth discussing and combing through to dredge as much insight as possible. It’s a powerful thing indeed.

However, as part of a Dark Souls 2 feature, Edge spoke with co-directors Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura, who discussed the game’s difficulty and accessibility. Shibuya stated that the game would be more “understandable” than its predecessor.

He specifically said, “I personally am the sort of person who likes to be more direct than subtle. [Dark Souls 2] will be more straightforward and more understandable.”

This has got some gamers worried, as to many of the Dark Souls faithful the word ‘understandable’ translates to ‘easier’, but I’m not so sure that’s the case here. Namco Bandai’s promotional push on Dark Souls was rather massive.

I remember walking the public halls of gamescom 2011 and seeing huge, intimidating banners and posters everywhere telling advising everyone to “Prepare to Die.” E3 was no different. Yet for all of Namco’s pushing, the game entered the UK charts on October 8th at 6th place, then steadily dropped from there – according to scorekeeper Chart Track.

That’s just in the UK of course, but I remember seeing a lot of gamers and friends saying that they were either avoiding Dark Souls because of its difficulty, or that they had traded it back in after finding it utterly impenetrable. I personally adore Dark Souls, but I can absolutely see where they’re coming from.

Trial and error runs through Dark Soul’s veins. It’s all about figuring out attack patterns, earning the discipline to defend at attack at the right time, and having the patience to grit your teeth after each death, take a massive breath and enter the fray once more.

It’s a lot like fumbling around in the dark for a light switch. You get closer to pinpointing it each time you reach out, but for some – especially those who are time-poor – the demands of Dark Souls are too great.

Making the game more understandable might be something as simple as offering an easy mode – as desired by Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki – who said, “I personally want my games to be described as satisfying rather than difficult.

“As a matter of fact, I am aiming at giving players sense of accomplishment in the use of difficulty. Having said that, however, it is true that Dark Souls is rather difficult and a number of people may hesitate to play.”

Namco Bandai quickly debunked the quote as a mistranslation, and stated that no easy more was being developed, but I feel that Miyazaki was simply speaking out loud here, and I absolutely agree with him. If hardcore fans hate the idea of an easy mode, then they could chose to not play it. It’s simple.

The unknown can be intimidating, and the long proccess of learning the intricacies and harsh penalties of FROM Software’s world results in a significant time sink. Dark Souls 2 may not be getting any easier, but explaining how status inflictions change your character, or the way swearing allegiance to certain NPCs impact the game later on would go some way to purifying the muddied water.

That said I do enjoy Dark Souls’ ambiguity and crushing difficulty. In fact, I’d even hazard to say – as mad as it may sound – that it’s not that difficult at all on a mechanical level, and that you, personally are the biggest foe in the game.

If you know what you’re doing and act cautiously without haste or confusion, then you will have greater odds, but if you charge on without care or respect for your enemies, then you will die a foolish death. Restraint and intelligence are needed over raw twitch skill. It’s a lesson in patience, rather than feats of control.

Dark Souls is one of very few games where the hazardous, unbeaten path is more inviting than the safe road. There are secrets to be found everywhere if you look hard enough and brave the unknown. The thrill that comes with stepping through walls of light – uncertain of what horrors lie on the other side – is immeasurable for one.

To strip away the mystery and make Dark Souls 2 more understandable in that sense could be disastrous, but I seriously doubt that FROM Software were saying that to Edge at all. I think it just means the game will spell out more of its rules in plain English.

Will Dark Souls 2 be easier for it however? Well, I’ve met the Dark Souls team several times before and let me tell you, they’re a gleefully sadistic bunch of brilliant sods.

They’re very lovely people, but make no mistake; they want you to die, die and die again – not just for their own amusement – but to give you a sense of gratification and pure elation every time you overcome the unknown and notch up another fleeting victory.

Without that feeling, Dark Souls 2 would be nothing, so I think we’ve got very little to be worried about.

What’s your view? Let us know below.

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35 Comments

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  1. absolutezero

    I understand that learning things in todays games is a bit of an oddity, but removing that sense of the unknown in an attempt to attract new fans is risking the chance of putting off the people that allowed this series to reach its third entry in the first place.

    Its balancing on a knife edge, I mean its not as if they made Dark Souls MORE obscure than Demon’s, take the item descriptions and icons in Demon’s. Alot of that was smoothed out and made far more understandable.

    I dunno, I somewhat trust From alot more than say what IO did with Hitman. Still its a very dangerous game to play with what the Souls titles are at their core. Pure Exploration and discovery, sharing knowledge and experiences.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 Yeah it’s tricky. It’s going to be so interesting to see how the studio handles it from now until launch. I’m excited either way.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Rafa_L

    “If hardcore fans hate the idea of an easy mode, then they could chose to not play it. It’s simple.”

    I really don’t agree with that, I don’t think it’s simple.

    I really enjoy the challenge in the game, and I played it a lot, but that’s only because of the chalenge, I was addicted to the sense of acomplishment, but being honest, when I started, especially with demon souls, there were several times I put down the game and swore not to pick it up again, only to find myself thinking of a new strategy later. If there were an easy mode, I would have switched it, consciously I woulnd’d decide “hey, let’s choose the mode that will frustrate me and consume hundreds of hours of my life in search for a fake feeling of acomplishment”, people usually don’t rationalize their escapes. Dark souls needed to be hard and unforgiving to suck me in, and would have lost a great fan if I could rush trough it like any other game.

    No easy mode please. I won’t deliberately boycott my personal life choosing a harder, longer mode, I would finish the game, the many flaws would be more evident, because there wouldn’t be a distraction from them, and I would abandon the franchise.

    That’s me being honest about my behavior. But speaking generally, every news I read about dark souls, every review I read since demon souls, they are always talking about difficulty, not cinematic experience, not voice acting, not graphics, not art direction… if the game have an easy mode, what will people talk about? How it will stand out?

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @3 “If the game have an easy mode, what will people talk about? How it will stand out?”

    They’d talk about the proper, standard, difficult mode surely. If there was an easy mode in Dark souls 2 I wouldn’t play it, neither would most reviewers. Most people wouldn’t play on easy because they buy into the franchise for the challenge.

    It really is as simple as not choosing easy mode if you don’t want it. If an easier setting introduces new players to the series then is that such a bad thing? :)

    #4 1 year ago
  5. absolutezero

    Yes because what they are experiencing is’nt Dark Souls. Its Dark Souls “lite”.

    Sure that could work as a kind of gateway into joining into the real community efforts but when you factor in stuff like the multiplayer co-op and PvP are easy mode players only going to be allowed to match up with other easy players? What about people maxing out stats for PvP griefing in Easy mode and then challenging people who are playing in the normal settings?

    Everyone in the community faced Dark Souls as equals and they got through it togethor by sharing and talking. Each person more than likely has multiple stories to tell about being knocked off a ledge in Anor Londo, or stumbling into a Black Knight unaware. Those stories will subtely change when you can just face roll through an easier version.

    It was community through hardship and adversity, take those away and you just have any other game. I think Dark Souls deserves better, and if that means less people play it then so be it. Now thats a horribly elitest thing to say and I admit that it is, but its only because nothing else is like Dark Souls.

    Why take something almost entirely unique and make it like everything else? I’m all for welcoming new players in most other titles even if it does 9/10 times lead to a worse experience.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. OnionPowder

    @4 Dark Souls already has an easy mode, it’s called your first play-through. To get to the actual difficult modes you need to play New Game+.

    All this talk of accessibility does worry me. I wouldn’t want another Skyrim as Dark Souls is one of the few good RPG experiences out there right now.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. YoungZer0

    As i said before, i really think that Dark Souls 2 needs to be more accessible. The Lore is so damn interesting and it’s completely ruined by cryptic dialog (or monologue, since your ugly character can’t speak) delivery and a very cryptic opening.

    Yes, figuring out shit is interesting in the game, but i don’t think basic gameplay mechanics should be one of those. Secrets, like using the coffin to get to Nero can still be in Dark Souls 2.

    But, personally i’d love to actually be the driving force for the story, not just someone who came after all is done and told. Remember the first cutscene, with the Knight looking down into your cell, that was cool, why not more of that, with some dialogs perhaps?

    They really need to ramp up the story-telling elements of the game.

    Really? You’re going to hide huge parts of the story in the ITEMS DESCRIPTION? Are you fucking stupid?

    Also keep in mind that the Souls game seem to suffer from poor english translation, which makes things even more difficult.

    And get a proper team for the art-direction this time! It’s ugly and stupid and completely out of place. I don’t want any Mushroom families inside a tree, nor do i want huge cats that roll around.

    Be bizarre but not stupid. The Painted World of Ariamis is the prime example of what i’d would the game to be like. Mysterious, dark, kind of cool but also scary, not ugly and not eye-cancer-causing like Blighttown. “ADD MORE CONTRAST!”

    I’d also love to have more open places like the Ash Lake. Loved it.

    Also: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/jimquisition/6601-Dumbing-Down-for-the-Filthy-Casuals

    #7 1 year ago
  8. absolutezero

    Nito*

    #8 1 year ago
  9. YoungZer0

    *that dude with them skulls.

    #9 1 year ago
  10. OnionPowder

    *fucking skeletons everywhere

    #10 1 year ago
  11. absolutezero

    Neat. O.

    http://i.imgur.com/0tBkG.jpg

    #11 1 year ago
  12. Rafa_L

    Well, not even going into the on line component, I still don’t like the idea of easy mode, and I’m yet to see a convincing argument. Of course I want the developers to make tons of money and keep these games coming, and I don’t want to leave anybody out, it’s not an ego thing, as accused by the awfully aggressive video (full of judgement and insults)@7 posted. If people wanting to show off was the only issue, let them brag with achievements or whatever.

    When I defend a single difficulty it’s because I really worry for the essence of the game. I really think an easier mode would banalise the experience and leave the game shalow, and as youngzero pointed, with a relatively “weak” story, average graphics, the game would fade.

    What would be the marketing campaign? “Prepare to die. If you play on normal mode.”

    #12 1 year ago
  13. YoungZer0

    YOLO!

    #13 1 year ago
  14. YoungZer0

    “I really think an easier mode would banalise the experience and leave the game shallow”

    But that’s not your problem. You can play it on normal mode. How can someone be against the choice? It’s just the same with people being pissed off about the instinct mode in Hitman Absolution, which was completely optional.

    More choices is a good thing. Let those who want to ruin their gameplay experience ruin it. It’s not your business.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. Rafa_L

    @14 First, I’m usually pro choice, in tomb raider underworld I really liked that you could taylor difficulty, I could make lara and the enemies have low health and high damage, or I could increase her health and focus on finding treasures instead of combat. It was up to me, my mood and my objectives. But Dark Souls is a special case.

    It becomes my business when it affects the success of the franchise and I may or may not get more games from them. As I tried to explain, I think the game would lose it’s recognition, people would stop talking about it, the flaws would stand out.

    Maybe dark souls 2 with easy mode would sell better, but in a long run it could mean the series end. I feel that staying true to it’s core proposal with improvements is the way to go to to keep the franchise alive and respected.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. OnionPowder

    @14 How many players that have pushed through the difficulty in Dark Souls and found a great rewarding experience would have been tempted by an easier mode and just switched to that after finding a challenge they felt they couldn’t beat. The Developers crafted an experience, and if somebody doesn’t like that experience because it’s too difficult then they should look elsewhere for a game. Easy mode deteriorates the initial vision shown for Demon’s Souls and the focus of Dark Souls with deep rewarding gameplay.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. YoungZer0

    @16: I don’t care. It’s optional. Play it, or leave it, it’s a choice and you’re not a child.

    If they think it would hurt the game, they shouldn’t do it.

    And can we please stop acting like FROM SOFTWARE is working on an easy mode? Because they are not. Way too many people crying here.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. Dave Cook

    @17 and @thread yeah chill out guys, I never said there is going to be an easy mode, but I am still for it. It would be entirely optional. I don’t see why people can’t accept optional things in games.

    Say Dark Souls 2 shipped with an easy mode. Are they putting a gun to your head and forcing you to play it in easy mode? No.

    What does it matter to you if someone gets so frustrated with the game to the point of almost selling their copy, but then bumps difficulty down to easy, sees it through to the end and ends up having a superb experience? Why is it so hard to let other people so that? It isn’t hurting you in any way. It doesn’t matter.

    All you should worry about is your own experience, or is there a bit of ‘difficulty eliteism’ going on here?

    Help me understand the problem guys, sincerely. I’m genuinely intrigued here :)

    Also, did you enjoy the piece regardless? Do you have any personally stories from Dark Souls linked to its ambiguity? If so, lets starts sharing them.

    #18 1 year ago
  19. absolutezero

    1. Souls games are not Single Player titles, everyone needs to be on a even level in order for the multiplayer to be fair. So server would need to be split between difficulties, or cut off the easy mode players completely. The former results in more money spent that would be better off being used elsewhere and the later again leads to a lesser expereince.

    2. It robs the players of the experience, while a lesser version of a Souls game is still going to be great its still lessened.

    3. The game already has easier options all the way through it, it actually involves playing the fucking thing though instead of just selecting an option from a screen and face-rolling. Early game weapons like the Drake Sword, Summoning and learning the different character builds. This is also part of the experience and as such it folds in less skilled players into the community, simply making everything easier would fracture the player base between those have choosen to work at something and those that can’t be bothered.

    4. Jim Sterling is a fat cow.

    5. http://youtu.be/-b91BWzLigs

    6. Just because almost every other mainstream massive numbers selling game has an easy does not mean that every single game ever created needs one either. I mean wheres my Super Meat Boy easy mode? I should rightly be able to wall hack and float throughout that game because I want to see the fucking end and I fucking paid for it and its my game and Ill do as I please.

    7. Dying is not a failure in Souls games. Its written on the box, Prepare to Die, theres an entire mechanic built around being deaded multiple times. Actually a failure state is intrinsic to the way the game plays, you need to know that you can die at any time. Its part of the game.

    #19 1 year ago
  20. Telepathic.Geometry

    Everyone, THERE IS AN EASY MODE! And I’m not too proud to admit that I played the most difficult parts of Dark Souls and bits of pieces of Demon’s Souls on Easy mode.

    To access Easy Mode, you need to be alive/have humanity. Then you summon one or two total fucking bad-asses who are all tooled up and will help you to lay waste to the enemy. It’s hard to lose in that mode. If you think the DS games are hard, I recommend you try Easy mode.

    Warning: Even Easy mode can’t save you from Sen’s Fortress. Beware.

    #20 1 year ago
  21. Telepathic.Geometry

    Speaking seriously, I think that Easy mode should arrive in the form of a more transparent multiplayer co-op (i.e. summoning) system, with better net-code.

    They could also create a new “Guardian Angel” Covenant – like the Blades of the Darkmoon – where you could go into the world of petitioners and help them out. Imagine how happy a noob would be to see a hard ass knight or battle mage swoop in out of nowhere and save their bacon…

    #21 1 year ago
  22. absolutezero

    That would work amazingly.

    However, its not just a straight drop in difficulty, which would mean all those people that have a passing interest but have passed up on the game because of its reputation would still not want to try it.

    Really if they want a larger audience then they have to risk angering alot of the fanbase that built the series in the first place. Now you have to ask yourself if that new audience would be better or worse for the series as a whole.

    I over-whelmingly feel that it would be a negative decision.

    and finally its not about forcing people to play a game one way only, its about allowing one single fucking game to exist that doesnt pander to the “heres a medal for participating, everyone is a winner and special” crowd.

    #22 1 year ago
  23. Rafa_L

    @17 Haha really? Crying? Dave expressed an opinion in his article, I tought we were only having a polite conversation about our opinions, but aparently people were crying haha. I think it was pretty clear that there isn’t any “easy mode” in the works, nobody was acting like it.

    @18 Dave, haha, I really tried to explain my toughts on all the things you pointed, that it’s not about eliteism, or the way people play their games, it’s about the brand value.

    Anyway, the article was great, =)

    #23 1 year ago
  24. Telepathic.Geometry

    To be honest, from a business point of view, making it easier makes nothing but sense. I try to get a few of my hardcore gaming friends into it, and although they were all really into the style and the atmosphere of it, they almost all gave up really quickly.

    Unfortunately, this kind of game can never appeal to the masses, even amongst hard-core gamers. They tried to sell it on its difficulty and hardcore prestige status last time around, and it still didn’t make the sales that they were hoping for…

    I’d like to think that FROM will find some elegant way to educate newbies in how to play the game so that they don’t quit straight out of the gates, but I think that it’s incredibly difficult to get that message across to the ADD COD generation…

    #24 1 year ago
  25. absolutezero

    I just wish there was some way for the series to exist while keeping its amazing ideas in-tact.

    I mean From are’nt exactly a well known series creator, they quietly produced rather alot of amazing middle-ware titles and they seem content continuing the Armoured Core games.

    I guess I just don’t understand why they NEED to target consumers outside of the games established base. They have a very very dedicated and loyal fanbase right now. The fans adore what From have managed to do here and judging by whats happened in the past to other series that have attempted to “widen the appeal” nothing good to going to come of it.

    #25 1 year ago
  26. Rafa_L

    @20, 21 hahaha I used that easy mode too, and got lots of loot from said players, but I also got destroyed by griefers more than 1 time. Man, i love this game.

    I think it’s a great idea, something like instead of using signs everywhere, people could activate a stone or something like that and allow players to drop in any given time. And a system to play with specific friends more easily would be nice.

    #26 1 year ago
  27. Telepathic.Geometry

    @25: At the end of the day, the publisher is paying for a product that sells. They don’t give a shit whether the game is innovative/generic, cool/mainstream, engaging/by the numbers…

    They just want sales. And they’ll lean on the devs to get what they want. If I were a publisher and throwing my money at this investment, I’m sure I’d be clamoring for an easy mode that might potentially double or triple sales. Why wouldn’t I, don’t I like having money?

    Don’t get me wrong, as a gamer, I think that that would be a bad move for the series that would alienate the existing fanbase and water down the franchise’s strong points, but that’s what they did with the Dead Space franchise, and it obviously paid off for them… :/

    #27 1 year ago
  28. absolutezero

    Dead Space

    ;_; sniff.

    #28 1 year ago
  29. Telepathic.Geometry

    One of my all time favorite games. Then DS 2 came along. It was… okay. And the next game in the franchise, which I have pre-ordered will also be, okay. I guess. But from the lofty heights of the original, look how far they fell. Dark Souls is next, mark my words…

    #29 1 year ago
  30. absolutezero

    Your words are poison!

    D:

    #30 1 year ago
  31. Telepathic.Geometry

    absolutezero said: “Your words are plague! D:”

    Fixed!

    #31 1 year ago
  32. Cobra951

    Destructoid: “After reading the recent interview you did with Wired, it came across to me that you really want to reach a wider audience with this one –”

    Ken Levine: “It’s not that we want to. We HAVE to.”

    (Re: Bioshock Infinite)

    There are multiple factors in play here. What elitist gamers want is only one of them. The more forceful reality is that without a wide customer base, AAA games are not financially feasible. Yet the bring-on-the-pain crowd can still get their jollies, if only they accepted the need for multiple difficulty levels without frothing at the mouth.

    No one should begrudge others an easier path in a noncompetitive game. How I get through a single-player or coop campaign at my place, alone or with friends, in no way impacts the experience of others. Why should they object?

    Yes, I am one of many who passed on Dark Souls because of its reported (even by Dave) “crushing difficulty”. I was, and still am, very intrigued by the series. That’s money they’ve left on the table, so far.

    #32 1 year ago
  33. oxidizedtower

    i completely understand the thought of an easier difficulty. but at the same time, i started playing this game bc a, it gorgeous, and b, when i heard it was “the hardest game of the decade” i wanted to shove my foot up its ass. that was the fun, yeah, i have several dents in my wall, and my controller has a few interesting marks on it, but in the end i couldnt put it down. eventually i played it enough where i forgot there was anything else, id play for six hours about to piss myself because i wanted to keep playing and not get up. and all of the atmosphere creates the feeling that makes this game scarier than a horror game, without the difficulty the horror would be gone, walking through a narrow passage to find a black knight would go from “oh shit… ” to “wheres that big ass hammer… “

    #33 1 year ago
  34. Telepathic.Geometry

    I still feel that it’s not an easy difficulty level that’s needed, but better marketing. This is a slow methodical RPG, where you have a chess-match with the enemy and the environment. Prepare yourself. That should be the message, not prepare to die.

    They need to communicate that somehow…

    #34 1 year ago
  35. locus2k1

    @20 aye, I am ashamed to say I was unable to solo Dark Souls like I could Demons Souls, and I had to use Easy Mode to finish Anor Londo… Smough and Ornstien would just keep kicking my a$$. Was only fair to return the favour though, got myself summoned a couple of times, including to help one guy who was constantly getting invaded there.

    Very happy that I beat Four Kings on my own last night (after some soul farming in the Painted World), now onwards to Duke’s Archive!

    #35 1 year ago