Dark Souls is, unsurprisingly, one of my favourite games of all time. I’ve espoused my love of the first two games as well as the spiritual successor Bloodborne a number of times. From the very core mechanics fuelling that drive we all have to keep playing…keep getting better and faster and stronger, it’s an exemplary use of mechanics matching the medium. It’s damn frustrating sometimes, but each time I pick up the controller, I want to succeed, to press on and overcome the enemies. Sure that dragonrider may have a lightning-soaked pike and be so quick that he’s a blur, but I’ve got that innate drive that won’t let me quit until you’re down. You will not beat me. That’s the very nature of video games right there. It’s a wondrous, magnificent feeling when you overcome an obstacle that’s been in your way for hours or days or even years. When we as gamers beat our demons, that sense of achievement is unparalleled. Games have done this for years, even some of the most simple games have had this drive to succeed as a core mechanic built into its very fabric. So why has Dark Souls become so ingrained in the folklore of gaming after such a short period of time? Playing Dark Souls 3 brought into sharp focus why I love these games so much.
Dark Souls one of the prime examples of how incredible gameplay and story can intersect. A lot of people point to one of the main issues of games as a narrative device is the disconnect between the places where the player is in control of the character and where they aren’t. Because you have such freedom to do whatever you want, it can take you out of the experience somewhat. If you can kill 40,000 bad guys with a hidden wrist blade but then get a game over screen because you accidentally pickpocketed the wrong NPC, that can jar just a little. In order to get round this, some games limit the scope of their gameplay. That’s far from a bad thing, anything that helps make me more invested as a player makes the game better. Dark Souls though, not only did that find a way around it, it made the craft of world building into an artform.
The story of Dark Souls is told through fragments, short cutscenes referencing ancient events and battles of times long passed. Descriptions of swords telling you just a tantalising amount about its former owner. You’re not told much in a Souls game. Instead, if you want to know more about the story, you have to find things out for yourself. That’s exactly how it works in the real world. In this case though, the game uses it to actually help the immersion. You feel like a tiny part of an age-old, decaying and frightening world. Locations from previous games appear again, this time twisted by age, or space, or something much less tangible. It’s an astonishing example of making callbacks to the previous games in a way that makes me as a massive fan of the series as a whole, much more interested and invested in what’s happening. I want to discover more, but I’m afraid to. What will be lurking around the next corner, through the next door? No matter what, it’ll be danger.
But I promise, it’s worth every ashen-soaked second.