This is part 4 in my series on Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls.
4. Impressions of Dark Souls as a knight
After circa 25 hours in Demon’s Souls, it was time to take a break. I could have played something easier, brighter, more cheerful… but instead, I started its successor, Dark Souls. And no regrets: six or seven hours in, I’m having a good time. Early thoughts below:
Play style: This time, I opted for a build that was the opposite of the first game. In Demon’s Souls, I played a royal, a lightly armoured magic-user for whom melee was almost always the last resort. In Dark Souls, I’m playing a knight: lumbering (by default), heavily armoured, and reliant on melee. While he does carry a cheapo bow and a painstakingly restocked arsenal of firebombs, most of his work is done up close, with sword and halberd. That has redoubled my appreciation of just how well the Souls games do hand-to-hand combat: even against trash mobs, it is a joy to dance past a zombie swinging his axe, cut him down from behind, and turn just in time to face a swordsman. Larger foes too: duck back from a knight’s enormous hammer and catch him while he recovers, hack away at a stone giant before it can awaken, dodge the whip-branch of an animated tree…
Level design: I think Dark Souls has the edge here. Three of the five worlds in Demon’s Souls, at least at the points where I was, felt like typical video game/fantasy environs: the pseudo-medieval castle; the prison/torture chamber; the ruined shrine. They were well-done, to be sure, but typical all the same. Dark Souls, in contrast, has given me a street battle through a pseudo-medieval town, followed by a dark, lush forest, both of which feel far fresher. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I find it easier to suspend disbelief in the second game*.
Difficulty: Not being able to blow away weaker enemies with the wave of a wand should make my Dark Souls run harder, but so far, with one exception, it doesn’t feel that way. I can think of several reasons: (1) most of the time, Demon’s Souls limits the player to 50% or 75% of maximum health, a restriction missing from Dark Souls; (2) I think my knight’s armour does make a difference; and (3) I now have more practice at the combat system – probably the most important factor, judging by anecdotes from new players who are stuck on the first area. The exception relates to boss fights: in Demon’s Souls magic was the easy way to deal with most bosses, and I suspect that’s still the case. The most recent boss I fought was almost wholly ranged, though luckily, the designers provided a magic-using NPC to assist in the fight. At other times, I rely on the next point…
Multiplayer: This has been the source of some of my grandest moments. Co-op is still a blast – my favourite visual image from the game, so far, is three warriors, male and female, differently armed and attired, advancing across a rooftop to meet a boss. And after regularly dying to PVP invaders in the first game, it was a glorious moment when in co-op, I tag-teamed an invading griefer, shrugged off multiple blows from his hammer in a battle lasting minutes, and finally knocked him to his death off a ledge.
Overall first impression: A more polished version of the same, but that’s not a bad thing! If anybody out there enjoyed the first game but hasn’t picked this up yet, this seems well worth checking out.
* Though to be fair, I wonder if my reduced use of walkthroughs/maps in Dark Souls has something to do with this.