The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

I read what had to be one of the weirdest articles I've come across in a while. Yes, I know it's IGN, but it's still about Dark Souls, and I wanted to see where they were going with the article.

It didn't go very far.

The points of the article irk me.  It's one thing to compare two relatively similar games, but this is almost going beyond apples and oranges into a whole other realm of incompatibility.

The first point IGN addresses is the multiplayer modes. That is, it harps a bunch on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's lack of multiplayer.

Multiplayer in a Bethesda game wouldn't work, for a variety of reasons: it breaks difficulty, loot distribution, XP distribution, pacing, and level design, and modding. Can you imagine trying to run through a Vault in Fallout 3 with multiple people? Can you imagine how often you would get in each other's way? Not to mention all the questions that start to crop up like weeds: do you allow other players to free roam the world (Fable III's Henchmen) or are they constrained to the host's area (Borderlands Co-op)?  Can other players use their actual character in co-op (Sacred 2) or do they have an online-only character discrete from offline (Two Worlds II)? Do they gain experience/money/loot (Hunted: The Demon's Forge) or do they get nothing (Dungeon Siege III)? What, if anything, would a second, human person actually add to a Bethesda game? Bethesda looked at it, realized it not only wouldn't add as much as they want but would actually detract from their focus on the single-player, and decided against it. Now, that may not mean that The Elder Scrolls VI couldn't have multiplayer, but for the purposes of Skyrim, Bethesda's set on perfecting their single-player experience, and for that I'm grateful.

Dark Souls, by comparison, as a spiritual successor of Demon's Souls, had co-op built into the game design document from day one. And the article overlooks that this isn't "co-op" in the Gears of War or Halo sense where you and a friend go through the entire game together. Blue and Black Phantoms (provided they hold to a similar system to Demon's Souls' phantom system) can only be summoned or invade when specific criteria are met. And it is temporary. There is no in-game chat in Dark Souls (the 360 version even disables the voice chat, though you can still form Live parties and talk through those). And unless you and your friend coordinate outside of the game, even finding your friend to play with them isn't easy. And, again, it's temporary. Dark Souls' co-op is designed to provide temporary help to overcome a difficult spot, rather than cruising through the entire campaign with a chum or two.

Dark Souls is so difficult that you need the occasional help. Oblivion or Fallout 3? Not so much.

Dark Souls Screenshot

And besides, multiplayer in Dark Souls was disabled on release day anyway.

The next point the article compares is downloadable content (DLC) and pricing. And I'll admit that I do agree that $150 for the collector's edition of Skyrim is a bit much even for me, because I really don't need a metal giant bust on my shelf (despite having both the inFamous 2 and Halo: Reach statues). The statue alone just isn't enough swag to convince me to shell out the money for the collector's edition of Skyrim. When you compare the regular edition Skyrim to the collector's edition of Dark Souls, yes, DkS is the clear winner in this arena (and note that the hardbound mini-strategy guide was changed to a digital .pdf full version of the strategy guide, increasing the worth of the set).

DLC is a different beast. From Software doesn't do DLC; there have been dozens of rumors of the shattered archstone in Demon's Souls being released later as DLC which were not true. From Software likes to release 100% complete games (remember those days?). Excluding Broken Steel changing the ending of Fallout 3, Bethesda does the same thing as From Software: release 100% complete games. Bethesda seems to actually understand what the heck downloadable content is even for: adding new content that supplements the 100% complete game. None of Bethesda's DLC has ever been "dummied out" content that the player can restore for added money. Most of their DLC comprises of either vanity items (say it with me now: horse armor) or short one to three hour episodes that give you bonus gear or housing upon completion that don't fit into the expansion pack model.

And speaking of expansion packs, Bethesda is still one of the few companies that still make expansion packs for their games, instead of nickel and diming everyone with DLC. And they happily compile all of their DLC into retail discs you can buy in one go (Knights of the Nine came with all of the then-released DLC to that point. Yes. I own horse armor). And they actually make some of their DLC in response to player feedback. And their DLC is usually good. And sometimes they give it out for free. Really, as far as DLC goes, Bethesda's on the far end of the spectrum when it comes to trying to rip people off.

Which is to say nothing of the PC version of Bethesda's games and the modding community. The Lost Spires and the Dungeons of Ivellon easily rival any DLC Bethesda themselves have released, and Skyrim appears to be continuing that trend.

So, really, if anything I'd say that while From Software wins the initial purchase price contest between the two, Bethesda's got a good handle on their DLC, expansions, and bonus content.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

The third point brought up is "epic scope."

"Scope" is a noun, and a ridiculously poor word choice to apply to a game. Seriously, look up the definition of "scope" and try to figure out which of those apply to a video game. The one that comes close is "A purpose, end, or intention." Then you've got "epic,” which as an adjective means "Heroic or grand in scale or character."

Let's forget for the moment that you can't measure the subjective definition of the word "epic," because I'll be here all day talking about how idiotic it that entire topic is. Instead, let's pretend that you actually can quantify an opinion with the only way that remotely makes sense: time investment.

Now, the article goes into crap about the physical size of Skyrim being the same as Cyrodil in Oblivion but that Todd Howard says that Skyrim feels bigger "because of the mountains." That might be the most out-of-context statement of the year, because Oblivion was actually pretty huge. Not Minecraft huge, because that's just silly, but it was large. And if there's one thing I've learned about games with large geographic areas, it's that the bigger the space, the less the content. The entire Grand Theft Auto series got progressively larger and larger in area until it peaked in San Andreas, which was an entire state (more or less) that could be traversed. And a whole lot of it was empty, navigation filler. Grand Theft Auto IV got rid of the wide-open state with three cities in favor of one, much more densely packed city. The result was that Grand Theft Auto IV, despite being smaller that San Andreas, felt much thicker in both detail and content than San Andreas.

Skyrim, according to Todd Howard, is similar. Physically the same size of Cyrodil, but now they've increased the density of the region. You can (I'm assuming here) find all sorts of nooks and crannies and caves thanks to those self-same mountains. There are more animals, more people, more everything in an attempt to make the world feel more alive and more lived-in.  I know I'm going to be spending a lot of time exploring Skyrim for random odds and ends to decorate my player housing with, and Bethesda is known for not just hundreds of side-quests, but quite a few unmarked sidequests as well. There will be a lot of content in Skyrim, many many hundreds of hours in the default game.

And again, let's not forget the potential addition of DLC or—for those of us going PC—modded content. I am going to be spending a lot of time in Skyrim.

Dark Souls Screenshot

Now let's compare that to Dark Souls. Dark Souls is set to be one of those "an hour to learn, a lifetime to master" games. Only more like "a hundred hours to learn through repeated and constant death." There is nothing random in Dark Souls; every monster, ledge and boss has been placed with deliberate care and an eye to balance. Once you know where something is, it will always be there, forever. As you die, and die, and die, your competence as a gamer grows in tandem with your character's stats. Or you will become so frustrated that you will quit outright. The open world design of Dark Souls is filled with peril at practically every turn, no guidance whatsoever. Everything is dead. And what isn't dead is trying to kill you. And what isn't trying to kill you is probably in the single-digits. If Skyrim is the equivalent of Legend of Zelda when it comes to roaming around, taking in the sights, and eventually finding dungeons to pillage, Dark Souls is Zelda II, where the instant you step off the grass you will die in total agony.

Actually, even if you stay on the road in this metaphor, you will die in total agony. That's the type of game Dark Souls is.

And eventually, unlike Skyrim, once you reach the end of the road on Dark Souls, the journey's over. That's it. Time to start over, with the same content, just on an even harder difficulty. Only now you're far more familiar with the game than you were before, and will do better the second, third, or even the fourth time around. This means is that, combined with the finite amount of content available, as you become better at playing Dark Souls, you will find yourself spending less time in Dark Souls because you'll complete each game cycle faster (whether or not you consider such a diminishing return a negative point depends on your point of view).

All told, across two characters, I've put in about 200 hours into Demon's Souls. By comparison, I've put in about 400-500 into Oblivion (more if you count the time I spent developing my own mods as "game time"). I love both games. While I found both to be suitably "epic," both games have different "scopes." Different endgame, different mentalities in approaching the content, different methods of handling and exploring the overworld, different ways of handling the story… they're different games.

Also, the article completely fails to compare, mile for mile, the size of Skyrim to the size of Lordran. Skyrim is denser than Oblivion. Skyrim has Oblivion's fast travel system. Dark Souls is just bigger than Demon's Souls. With twice the weapons/accessories of Demon's Souls. Way to actually compare the two games you're discussing to each other as opposed to their predecessors. And still get things wrong. Because Dark Souls has a fast travel system, too. Does that "quietly designate a tremendous amount of space as filler," IGN article?

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

The fourth point the article brings up is the combat and challenge of the game. How many people were actually turned off by the challenge of Demon's Souls? How many of those self-same  people are likely to get Dark Souls knowing that is far harder than its predecessor? In comparison, how many people played Oblivion and are therefore more likely to get Skyrim?

Yes, Dark Souls is harder than Skyrim will be. That's kind of the point. Dark Souls is being marketed as a masochist's dream game: it will punish you, and punish you, and just when you think you've gotten a handle on something it will punish you again. The game caters to a very specific mindset, and it's no fault of From Software's if people don't like the high degree of difficulty the game represents. Some games are played for fun; some games are played for the sheer challenge. Guess which category Skyrim and Dark Souls fall into respectively.

Mods exist that make Oblivion as difficult as Demon's Souls. Mods like Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul, which I've tried. I subsequently deleted it as it just reinforced that I don't play Oblivion for nigh-constant overwhelming difficulty. Sometimes a girl just wants to hunt some deer without the countryside  trying to destroy her.

I do admit that the controls for Oblivion sucked (and by extension Fallout 3), but Bethesda's working on that. Personally, I look forward to stealthily creeping my way through a cave, headshotting everything I come across.

And that leaves us with the fifth "point."


Yes. The Dragons. I don't even—

It gave a headache then, and it gives me one now.

Maybe it's because I played five years of World of Warcraft, but I really could care less about the dragons. For Skyrim, they'll be flying upgrades/loot bags. For Dark Souls, they'll be… flying upgrades/loot bags. I can only take so many dragons before they start to become redundant.

The key difference, therefore, will be if they make any sense in the context of the game. Bethesda treats their lore like a bible, with everything fitting in at every point without it seeming out of place. Pages of in-game books are written about a variety of subjects that exist for the sole reason of being read at the player's leisure. Bethesda made every ending of Daggerdale canonical. All of them. Even the ones that blatantly contradicted each other. And they did it in a way that made sense. Therefore, the way the dragons look, their behavior, their purpose for being in the game will all but be guaranteed to perfectly align with the lore of Tamriel.

In Demon's Souls, I killed a god. An actual, honest to goodness, dragon god. And at least two other dragons. And the two other dragons didn't even need to die; they just happened to be there and I had 500 arrows, and I shot every single one into their pattern-repetitive hides while surfing the internet and smashing L1 whenever I heard a roar. There was no point to the dragons other the Rules of Cool and Difficulty. They didn't even get the lore blurb that the Dragon God received. And the only thing I got for them was currency that I promptly lost by dying somewhere else.

Dark Souls Screenshot

Choosing one game over another because you liked the design of one set of monsters compared to the other game isn't a reason why "Dark Souls will kill Skyrim." It just proves that you like shiny character designs without knowing anything other than their purpose in the game.

Dark Souls is due out next week, and Skyrim isn't due until November. They're not even competing against each other in the same month, unless you count Christmas sales. Really, the fact that they're releasing five weeks apart shows that at least someone in marketing is cognizant that releasing the game with the shorter play duration first means they don't have to compete against each other. It's like the role-playing game developers are the only ones that realize that RPG fans will buy their games no matter what, and stage their release dates accordingly (remember Witcher 2? Pushed back to 2011 to avoid competing with Mass Effect 2? Or… Dragon Age 2? Some BioWare game I didn't buy). And they will sell copies.

(Of course, there is now the problem of people turning in Dark Souls to pay for Skyrim…)

IGN could have spent so much time touting Dark Souls and helping to make more people aware of its pending release instead of going "neener, neener, Skyrim!" and trolling  just about anyone that suffered through that mass of opinionated blather. As it is, the article saddened me because it's such unavoidable biased fanwanking (and not particularly good fanwank either) that many people might dismiss Dark Souls outright because IGN touted it over Skyrim.

So please, if you were ever thinking about getting Dark Souls, I urge you to give Demon's Souls a try. It's $20 on the PS3 and the multiplayer servers were extended until 2012! If you like that type of gameplay, a straight-up love letter to old school difficulty, then consider Dark Souls a try when it launches October 4th.

And if you ever wanted to just explore an environment and do whatever you wanted for hours on end, pick up The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Game of the Year Edition on Steam (or your console of choice). Even now there are so many tiny details to oogle over and so many vistas to take pictures of for your desktop. You can get it and every piece of DLC for $25! Not to mention the plethora of mods available!

Make your decisions of whether to get Dark Souls or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim the proper way: by trying their predecessors and coming to your own conclusions. I personally, as a lover of difficulty and exploration, will be getting both when they release. Neither game will be "better" to me, because I've already been in love with them from the instant I heard they were announced, and I'm sure I'm going to be the ultimate winner because I'll have a game that reminds me why I love gaming in the first place.

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15 Comments on "Dark Souls vs Skyrim"

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IGN was doing what IGN does – start a war. They did it with Halo and CoD and they’re doing it again. Unless the guy was actually a fan boy, which is still fine because it was an opinion article. Granted, the writing was horrible but I doubt any of it was should be taken seriously.

*************** I like Skyrim more, just a heads up ************* You’re entitled to your own opinions, and I respect them, and will not even mention them, but there are a few made up facts in your post. Skyrim is a “mass-marked juggernaut”? It’s 9 days from coming out and I’ve seen one commercial for it. Sure, that’s one more commercial than I’ve seen dark souls have, but I believe Skyrim could skip marketing all together, since they have a wide fan base. Calling the IGN post opinionated wasnt an opinionated thing to say, yet you still mock him for saying… Read more »

What an excellent article. Thanks for writing it. Loved the read and you said basically what I keep saying about the “console vs PC” warring going on.

Why can’t a gamer just be a gamer? Why can’t I love PC and Consoles, and why can’t I like Dark Souls AND Skyrim?

Thanks again.

I agree with you on the fact that the IGN article was based on a reviewer’s opinion, and so is the rebuttal article above. I believe though that there is no need to have to bring down one game in order to make another game look good. I myself am an avid follower of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. That being said, I haven’t tried either Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, but I definitely intend to at some point. I’m fairly certain that Dark Souls could have stood on its own merits and that the original IGN reviewer could have easily… Read more »
I’m a gamer. And one game I loved with all my 250+ hours was Oblivion. My all Time favorite Game I’d say. Today, my good friend told me about Dark Souls and how it’s kinda like Oblivion but a lot harder and with some unique elements in it. So I decided to check it out. From my findings I’d say it will be a game I will give a shot, but I highly doubt I’ll like it more than Skyrim since I’m a huge Bethesda Fan. People all over are talking about the apparently Epic fail of the IGN article,… Read more »
I enjoyed your article, as a big fan of both series. I also found the IGN article pretty ludicrous; I love both series for completely different reasons. Morrowind remains the best story ever told in a video game. Demon’s Souls is the only really important Action-RPG since The Legend of Zelda. — But anyway, I want to point one thing out about the article – “What? You don’t agree? Let’s hear your arguments. This way to the Comments…” That’s how it ends. It’s made clear that they’re trolling. They’re clearly supporting the underdog, hoping to generate some buzz in their… Read more »

I enjoyed this article and thought it raised some good points, although if you’re going to criticise other writers for using phrases like “epic scope”, you really ought to be using proper English yourself! “Could care less” doesn’t make sense, the phrase is “couldn’t care less”. Also, “outside of” is a phrase with a redundant word. “Outside” alone is accurate.

I would be the last person to defend IGN, but having read said article, I believe that the Kristin is taking it way too seriously. I didn’t think the writer was taking himself or the subject too seriously, and that it merited this kind of response. Skyrim and Dark Souls are two totally different animals, and comparing them is like comparing and elephant and a hippo. Both are big mammals, both have 4 feet and live in Africa. To me, the IGN article was like “The elephant is better because he has bigger ears and a long trunk….” Not really… Read more »

“Epic scope” is a weak, cheaty thing to say about a game. It’s not very exciting writing, but you’re being willfully ignorant when you say it doesn’t parse. The first definition for the word scope is “extent or range of view, outlook, application, operation, effectiveness, etc.: an investigation of wide scope.” What part of that doesn’t fit in the way it’s used in games journalism (i.e.: a grand sense of scale/ambitious, detail-packed game design)?

There is something to be said about opinionated articles that bash another one’s opinion. To set the record straight before someone tries to muck it up, I do agree with a majority of the article. However, despite my affinity for your words, I can’t help but feel that what you’ve done is just a more sophisticated version of what IGN did. They were unprofessional in their structuring of the article, don’t get me wrong. At times, they came across as lowly fanboys, but this article seems to do nothing more than to emulate using overly-esoteric language. Aside from this, I… Read more »

Thanks for actually writing out what I was thinking to myself while reading that gross article from IGN. I’m not a hater, but that article was one of the worst excuses for video game journalism I’ve ever read. How it made it past the editor’s desk there is beyond me. So thanks.


Love the article. But the game i think you meant instead of Daggerdale was Daggerfall.

Mike Blackney
Let me say first that I visit this site because I find it engages in some of the best and fairest game criticism around. I didn’t like this article. First I should mention that I didn’t agree with many of its points (which didn’t help) but its arrogance and ignorance got me a little fired up. I won’t go into why I preferred Demon’s Souls over Oblivion (both games I enjoyed a lot) nor disagree with the finer points that separate the two series. I will probably play both Dark Souls and Skyrim, though I can’t say which I prefer… Read more »
So many people are writing articles based on what Casey said. He accomplished exactly what he set out to do, get people talking about Dark Souls. I will be getting both games, and I already know which I will like more. Also, why is everyone saying that the intense challenge in Dark Souls is just that, a challenge. I loved Demons Souls because it was challenging. I had great fun with it. Just because something is difficult doesnt mean it can’t be fun. And to all the angry people, what difference does all the hate make? Do you have a… Read more »

It might be worth mentioning that Dark Souls’ dragons are an entirely different beast than Demon’s Souls’ were. From Software addressed the criticisms that DeS’s dragons felt like dangerous props and has given DaS’s dragons full range of movement and their own AI. Also, if you watch the Prologue videos Bamco put out for DaS, dragons actually play an important part in the backstory. Check out the Gaping Dragon and the Scaleless Dragon; it just goes to say that From’s art direction is pretty damn inspired.