Demon's over Dark

Dark Souls Screenshot

HIGH Being reunited with my old comrade, the Halberd.

LOW Anor Londo catwalks, Curse status, being lost, and THE ENDING.

WTF The frequent attack lag really passed QA?

While Sinan did an admirable job of explaining why Dark Souls is such an interesting experience (and I agree with much of what he said) I can't help but be disappointed with it. As someone who thought Demon's Souls was pure brilliance, there are simply too many issues in Dark Souls that keep it from surpassing, or even equaling it. Putting it bluntly, Dark Souls doesn't do anything that the original didn't—only now there are problems that weren't there before.

To begin with, the decision to take Dark Souls into open-world territory was an admirable one, yet what it offers is not appreciably better than the former system. I can understand the rationale behind it, but the developers have lost the incredible intensity and perfect scripting that the smaller environments in Demon's Souls had. Although the original was built around a central hub-world, it still felt as though there were plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, I rarely felt hemmed in or constrained in artificial ways, and the focus of each section kept the player moving forward. In my view, it wasn't broken and didn't need fixing.

Although I can't say for certain, I would estimate that Dark Souls is at least three times larger than Demon's Souls. In crafting a world that's so much bigger than what the developers turned out last time, it feels as though they've badly overreached.

Playing the game without any FAQs, I often found myself wondering where I should go. After I'd pick a zone to explore, I would then constantly question whether my time was being well-spent. The game does give vague clues as to the next objective, but it's still quite easy to get off track and spend hours in the wrong part of the world. It can be argued that "being lost" often leads to finding items or adding to the player's knowledge, but that doesn't negate the fact that it can be quite frustrating to kill a boss or find a nifty item and feel as though no progress was achieved.

It's also frustrating to see that some areas feel padded-out, or poorly-designed. The early hours of the game are solid, but the further I went, the less appealing the environments became. There were also instances when the world felt large just for the sake of being large, and times when I realized some sections were created just to hold a boss and a key, without adding much to the overall atmosphere of the world. Some of the late-game areas are particularly awful (Lost Izalith is an atrocity) and don't have even a shred of the complexity or nuances that I'd expect. Neither Demon's Souls nor Dark Souls tell traditional narratives, but I had a stronger sense of environmental purpose in the former. Each area had urgency, balance and drive from start to finish. Dark Souls can't say the same.

Dark Souls Screenshot

Design decisions aside, there is no doubt that Dark Souls is rougher in terms of production than it should be. For a game that lives and dies by its level of immersion, hitting several areas with stuttering slowdown was bitterly disappointing. The game does run at a smooth clip for the bulk of play, but when the framerate gets bad, it's bad. The Blighttown zone is the worst offender, but there were several other places when things chugged and wheezed painfully.

While the choppy framerate should have been ironed out, what's worse is the rage-inducing delay between pushing an attack button and when the strike actually starts. I've heard this problem is more prevalent on the PS3 version (which I played) but after getting deep into the adventure, I could frequently count one to three seconds between when I meant to attack and when I actually did. In a game with lethal enemies and a combat system that relies on precision, having a recurring attack delay is simply unacceptable. Thanks to this constant hiccup, I suffered several undeserved deaths and more mis-timed attacks leaving me open than I could count. (And before you send me an email, no, it wasn't a malfunctioning controller.)

Taking a more meta view, Bandai-Namco's server situation has severely cut into the quality of the online multiplayer features. For some reason, crucial hint messages shared by other players seem to come and go at random. More importantly, it's sometimes impossible to "summon" assistance with bosses. I sometimes had a healthy handful of players available to jump to my aid, but more often than not, there wasn't a single person to be found despite being in the required human form. Besides that, I seemed to have about a 50% success rate when I finally found someone to summon. Errors in getting players to join occurred just as often as they didn't.

Speaking of summons, it's also irritating that it's next to impossible to arrange a session with a friend. While I'm quite aware that the developers intended the system to discourage players from connecting, it wasn't too hard to do in Demon's Souls—and in my opinion, taking down a big monster with someone I knew didn't hurt the experience one bit. Now, with the option to call in a stranger being so unpredictable (and often impossible) the ability to ask for help directly from a pal is needed more than ever. Keeping friend connections forbidden may have some artistic value, but that gain is far overshadowed by what's lost.

After the litany of issues I've just listed, I can in no way say that Dark Souls is a better experience than its predecessor. It's certainly different and larger, but the developers bit off more than they could chew. The consistency and overall quality of the first game just aren't there. It doesn't feel quite done. It doesn't feel as lovingly constructed.

Dark Souls might be worth playing for those who've beaten Demon's Souls multiple times and can't get enough, but a blink-and-you're-dead game of this sort needs to have every aspect airtight in order to maintain player buy-in, and that's just not the case. Dark Souls simply can't match the bar set by FromSoft's previous work. With every additional hour spent, the rough edges and annoyances kept adding up, and I eventually reached a point at which the sizable investment of time and effort wasn't delivering enough of a return.

Oh, and the ending? Talk about adding insult to injury… Rating: 6.0 out of 10.


Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 82 hours of play were spent, and the game was completed. There are no dedicated multiplayer-only modes.

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
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16 Comments on "Dark Souls Second Opinion"

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Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 7 months ago

In Demons Souls, I have experienced the R1 input lag and jittery framerates like blightown. That is all.

Wulfsten
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Wulfsten
4 years 8 months ago
Good review, but I disagreed with a lot of what you said. First off, I will testify that the input delay DOES exist, even on 360. I experienced it myself. To any out there still doubting, please don’t. It doesn’t happen with every swing, but often enough to feel unfair. As to your other points, having an open world without a strict, impregnable hub area is definitely a legitimate design choice, and does provide a sense of immersion and besiegement that doesn’t occur in a game like Demon’s. At least, not to the same extent. The interlocking geography of the… Read more »
sleeve
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sleeve
4 years 8 months ago
[quote=Wiggly Squid] This may be the way the game was designed and is not a bug. I have seen messages disappear and reappear and and I think it’s just to keep the ethereal nature of the players in the other words. It would be pretty boring if you saw the same exact messages every time you went to some area. The game has to have some messages disappear and have new ones reappear every once in a while. There’s got to be a bajillion messages across the world by now, and they can’t show every message ever written.[/quote] Mr. Squid… Read more »
Wiggly Squid
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Wiggly Squid
4 years 8 months ago
[quote=Brad Gallaway] Besides that, there were several times when messages would appear and disappear within the span of a few minutes when I was doing these reboots, and some of those messages were great ones. I can’t really imagine that the authors were going back and erasing those messages at the exact moment when I was noticing the absences. [/quote] This may be the way the game was designed and is not a bug. I have seen messages disappear and reappear and and I think it’s just to keep the ethereal nature of the players in the other words. It… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
4 years 9 months ago
Hey Sleeve, always good to get a note from you. = ) >>>I’m about 40 hours into my main character, about 55 hours total, into Dark Souls. I’m playing on 360 and I can say that not only is this my GOTY, but one of my favorite games of all time. FYI, I’ve never played Demon’s Souls. You should track it down. If you like Dark that much, I can only imagine that you would like Demon’s just as much, if not more so. >>>Brad, to the extent that input lag was ever a problem, I think the patch has… Read more »
sleeve
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sleeve
4 years 9 months ago
I’m about 40 hours into my main character, about 55 hours total, into Dark Souls. I’m playing on 360 and I can say that not only is this my GOTY, but one of my favorite games of all time. FYI, I’ve never played Demon’s Souls. Brad, to the extent that input lag was ever a problem, I think the patch has taken care of it. I’ve had zero problems. Soul count per kill has also been increased, and ghosts and skeletons now give souls when killed (among many other changes). There are definitely some legitimate criticisms in this review. I… Read more »
BloodTsunami
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BloodTsunami
4 years 9 months ago
I would say I agree with your point that Dark Souls is not the Complete experience that Demon’s Souls was, but I also do not find it as flawed as you do either. Certainly it felt rushed, or incomplete to say the least. The first indicator being the now classic “You Defeated”. At first I sat there thinking, and…, but no, just “You Defeated”. It’s almost as if they just left that part open and then forgot to complete it before going gold. And for anyone who’s completed it (or in my case, completed four times with both endings) the… Read more »
Forest Hills Accountant
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Forest Hills Accountant
4 years 9 months ago
The performance in this game is AWFUL! Gamebreakingly awful. I never played Demon’s Souls and this game (on the XBox 360) was my first experience with the series. After about 30 minutes, I was blown away at how choppy and laggy the game was. AND I WAS PLAYING THE GAME OFFLINE! Dark Souls handles like an old computer trying to play WoW with a dial-up Internet connection. Why is nobody mentioning this? In this day and age, no console game should handle this poorly. Especially a game that is based upon action finesse. It’s not like this is a turn-based… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 9 months ago
Have to say, closing in on the end of the game I disagree with pretty much every point above. The lag in Blighttown was an annoyance, but not much of a hindrance overall. I got the game the day before official release and have been pacing myself by joyfully wandering around the world, and have experienced none of this mythic input malfunction (PS3). Personally I’m much happier with the way the online works this time around, though there’s certainly less bloodstains so the focus is firmly on leaving anonymous messages. People do fail to summon from time to time, but… Read more »
Wiggly Squid
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Wiggly Squid
4 years 9 months ago
Brad, Thanks for your response. I think it clears it up for me a little bit. It sounds like it really boils down to two things: 1) The technical issues really bogged you down, whereas I have been fortunate enough to not have any issues so far. 2) The later levels sound like they hold all of the design problems, and I have yet to play those yet. It really sounds like I have to reserve judgement until I’ve finished the game. I have found the areas that I’ve played so far very well designed, so I hope you can… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
4 years 9 months ago
Hey Squid. >>>I’d like to preface this by saying that I am only about 33 hours into the Dark Souls adventure, but so far I am loving it just as much, if not more so, than Demon’s Souls. I must admit I have having a hard time buying into some things you say in your review. No problem, but if you haven’t been to Blighttown yet, I’d estimate that you are less than halfway through the game, so you’ve got quite a bit left to see. Also, it’s worth noting that From has now released a second round of patches… Read more »
Wiggly Squid
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Wiggly Squid
4 years 9 months ago
Hey Brad, Thanks for the review. I’d like to preface this by saying that I am only about 33 hours into the Dark Souls adventure, but so far I am loving it just as much, if not more so, than Demon’s Souls. I must admit I have having a hard time buying into some things you say in your review. For instance, this paragraph: “Playing the game without any FAQs, I often found myself wondering where I should go. After I’d pick a zone to explore, I would then constantly question whether my time was being well-spent. The game does… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
4 years 9 months ago
Hey Robert! I don’t necessarily disagree with any of the points you bring up except for the level design, since I do feel as though Dark Souls has some severe deficiencies, especially in the mid-to-late game. However, although the things you mentioned are better, I don’t see them as being so significant that they make up for all of the problems that Dark Souls has. I mean, they are certainly nice-to-haves, but when weighing the two experiences overall, there’s just no comparison for me. Demon’s Souls may get some small stuff wrong, but looking at the big picture, it does… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 9 months ago
I still don’t see where this input lag is. I never experienced it, and neither have any of my friends playing. In fact, many of the problems you listed I didn’t have, except the framerate. And that existed in Demons Souls anyway. Overall, I thought the game was much better than Demons Souls, and I have put over 200 hours into Dark Souls already. Also, I don’t understand the complaints about not always knowing where to go. There are more than enough hints that tell you where to go. Occasionally NPCs will just straight up tell you. Then after you… Read more »
Robert Boyd
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4 years 9 months ago
Gonna have to disagree with you on the game not being better than Demon’s Souls in any way. 1 – Better stat system. Specifically, removing the necessity to put stat points into luck (luck is now gained in other ways), consolidating spell slots into a single stat (previously split up between the lame Intelligence stat & Faith), and giving a good chunk of overall defense for each level gained. 2 – No item burden. This was very annoying in Demon’s Souls, especially since the items that you tended to get a lot of like upgrade materials weigh a lot. 3… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 9 months ago
Good review and valid points. I did not notice the input lag, but I think that sometimes my R1 press does not register at all, often for backstab somehow. I am myself at about half way through the game, so I have not seen the last levels which are “awful” and the ending, but I enjoy the game so far. To me, the big problem with the predecessor, Demon Souls, was harder difficulty of pure melee fighting and that you could spam various ranged weapons/spells and win the fights in an easy but tedious way, especially boss fights. *Mild Spoilers… Read more »
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