Those who are familiar with souls games may know that not only they are difficult, challenging, brutal but also they are fair in the sense that the games give all of the tools to the player in order to survive. With all the tools at our disposal we have to explore, learn, adopt to the world in order to keep going. Knowledge is a very important part in a Souls game, and the self-learning process in these games are one of the brilliant aspect of game design in my opinion, I am sure many of you will agree with this. Now, however there is one aspect of the game design that frustrates me, that is unfair. This article is about that.
Note : Before I start going further, by Souls games anywhere in the text below I refer to Dark Souls 1, Dark Souls 2,Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3 . I have completed the first 3 and I am currently playing Dark Souls 3. There are spoilers for DS1, DS2, Bloodborne (nothing for DS3) ,so if you haven’t played and plan to play any of them please skip the article.
Getting back, the aspect of the design I hate is the fact that the game deliberately tries to hide many things from the player that could have an impact on the gameplay experience. As much as I love the sense of discovery in a souls game, there are certain things that just cannot be discovered. To explain this precisely let me start by quickly going what an average player including me would do when entering a new area in any of the souls games.
Self-Learning is at the core of the game :
We enter the area with no clue as to what is its geographical structure, what enemy types are there, where are the bonfires/lamps, what are the shortcuts etc. In short we enter with zero knowledge. Then slowly we explore the area, encounter various enemies know the enemy types and hit patterns, experiment with different weapons, strategies and find the weapon of our choice for that particular area. We simply attain knowledge from the game and adopt to the environment, so that next time when we go through that area we will have a good knowledge on how to proceed.
(Anyone who have played souls game with interest will surely remember the area design of almost all levels.)
This self-learning aspect which is not present in many of the games nowadays is one of the greatest strength of a souls game. On one side it gives the player the satisfaction, the feel that we have embraced the game; on the other hand it also reinforces the player with the fact that everything is fair in the game, everything is presented to the player and we have to piece it together and gain knowledge. The answer to everything is present in the game either in environments, item descriptions or any other thing like that, which makes the game self-contained.
Things Hidden in not so plain sight:
However this is not entirely true for all aspects of the game, especially when concerned with the NPC’s and their questlines. To explain this further I would like to quote an example from each game - DS1, DS2, Bloodborne. (By the way ,I look up about any souls game on the internet after the first playthrough).
- Dark Souls 1 :The NPC that we all know and love - Solaire of Astora. I know many of you would have just see him die at your own hands after being infected by the sunlight bugs. (I too !). Then after playing I look up on the internet, I find that if we unlock the shortcut and kill those bugs beforehand the fate of Solaire can be changed. But to unlock that shortcut we have to be member of particular covenant and also have a certain covenant level.
- Dark Souls 2: The simple Snuggly the crow that we encounter in the tutorial area of the game. After my first playthrough I learnt that we can give items to that shrieking cute voiced NPC with no form, and then it will give you some other item. The game which has taught us each item is precious expects us to try leaving an item with no clue as to whatsoever will happen.
- Bloodborne: After going past Oedon Chapel first time after Father Gascoigne boss fight, we will come across tall hooded enemies with a sack on their back (Snatchers). Apparently if we die to that enemy we will be transported to a completely new area in the game, which has its own boss fight also. Apart from that if you go through Hypogean Gaol to Old Yharnam , the mini-gun NPC Djura will be appearing friendly to you! . The game here assumes that we are going to die to that enemy, when all the way it has taught us to be patient during fights with enemies and defeat them.
These are just few examples out of a handful. Now for the explanation part. As I had said before in all its aspects the game is self-contained that the knowledge needed is available inside the game through NPC Dialogues, environments, item descriptions etc. But for the things stated above there is nothing sort of that kind. How is a player supposed to find about them apart from looking up on the internet or hearing from some other person ? This straight out conflicts one of the main principles of the game that is discovering things on our own, because there is no way to discover them from all the knowledge we have gained from within the game.
So, is everything fair after all!?
I totally love Souls game and I enjoy playing every bit of it, but this aspect of the game sometimes hinder the experience especially when knowing that I have missed something in the game and that was unfair to me. This is just my opinion and it may seem like am nit picking but its the way I feel and I thought like sharing it with everyone . I hope some of you can relate to what I am saying, and I also hope future FROM Software games will have less/none of these. So, do you agree or disagree ?! Please leave your thoughts in the comments :)