In Defence of Dark Souls 2

So, if you know me IRL then you’re probably aware that I enjoy a bit of gaming. If you didn’t know that before then you do now. So I’m going to write now about Dark Souls 2 because I think that the game takes a lot of flak from fans of the series and there are plenty of instances where I think it’s straight up unfair criticism. But for everyone who isn’t familiar I’ll contextualise a bit before launching into it. So everyone who is familiar with everything Dark Souls shaped, please bear with me.

According to Wikipedia Dark Souls 2 is “an action role-playing hack and slash Roguelike video game”. I honestly don’t know what “Roguelike” means in this context so eh (or rather, I looked it up and it was lengthy so I won’t bother describing it because it ain’t important for a description of Dark Souls that doesn’t want to go into pedantics). Basically, it’s fantasy type game with your swords and your magic and your monsters who you have to fight in order to progress/survive. Dark Souls (or the Souls series developed by From Software in general) is also famous for being a difficult and challenging series of videogames. Part of the whole concept behind their development is a very steep learning curve and the idea that the player is rewarded for their efforts upon completion of a difficult task. So if that sounds cool to you it’s probably gonna be worth trying. I personally began playing Dark Souls 1 after a long period of playing first person shooters and becoming soundly bored with them. Which is not to say I generally dislike FPS games, I enjoy them a lot. But I started playing Medal of Honour: (actually Medal of Honor because English US lacks “u”s) Rising Sun on PS2 and played almost only FPS games from then until Battlefield 3 on PS3 (I also played Assassin’s Creed and Ratchet and Clank and Jak & Daxter but apart from that…). So yeah, can understand how I got tired of them, hopefully.

So anyway, I got into Dark Souls after getting tired of shooting things and taking a lengthy break from gaming at all (minus Pokemon, can never give up Pokemon) and wanting something that was more engaging and enjoyable than (the unfortunately weak) Assassin’s Creed 3. So I picked up a copy of Dark Souls 1 one Christmas just before it got to patch 1.05 and I wanted to play nothing else for like a year. I think I’ve got roughly 500 hours in total clocked on Dark Souls 1. Which might sound like a lot of time to someone unfamiliar and sound like not much to those who are more well versed in Souls. For context, the more well known Dark Souls players on youtube and twitch and whatnot are known to have clocked 800-1000 hours, with some easily closer to 1500 in Dark Souls 1. So I’m kindof a small fry by comparison.

Anyway, when Dks2 was announced I was very excited, I got on the closed beta/network test and played that for every second it was online. I enjoyed it immensely. I got the game itself on release and I enjoyed it immensely. I felt that it outdid Dks1 in most ways. And then to my surprise (though I shouldn’t really have been surprised) the mass of net-based fandom had endless whinges and complaints about the game. So for better or worse I’m gonna address some of those here because it bugs me.

I’ll firstly say that I acknowledge no graphics complaints about Dks2 compared to Dks1. Dks2’s graphics are indisputably superior. Or you need a trip to specsavers. There are some textures in Dks2 which ain’t great, but that’s a different discussion. The game is overwhelmingly better looking than Dks1.

Secondly, a general complaint about movement. I went back and played some Dks1 after a hundred or so hours in Dks2. It felt like running through mud to me. I like movement in Dks1, I also like movement in Dks2. But Dks2 does make walking and running around in Dks1 feel epically slow. I don’t think the two can be really compared, you just have to play them differently.

Those are really kindof minor things, let’s move on to more serious whinges about the game.

The first game in the Souls series was Demon’s Souls. In Demon’s Souls if you were hit by an enemy you were immediately staggered, that is your character was knocked out of whatever action they were doing and stunned for a moment. This leads to what is often called ‘stunlock’ where you keep getting hit and keep getting stunned and basically can’t move for being hit until you’re dead. In Dks1 a system was introduced called ‘poise’. Poise allowed the player to resist certain attacks of a certain strength. If you wore heavier armour, you got more poise and your character wouldn’t be staggered by weaker hits. The higher your poise, the more hits it took to stagger you. In Dks2 poise was altered. The basic system was the same but poise was weaker, that is you need a lot more poise to resist the same strength of hit than you would have needed in Dks1.

In every Souls game so far there has been a mechanic known as the ‘backstab’. When executing an attack behind an enemy of roughly human size and shape or perhaps a little bigger (with some exceptions) your character would get a special animation and stab the enemy in the back for a critical hit and significantly increased damage.

I think there is very little to complain about with these mechanics in the standard PvE experience of the game. Where the complications arise are in the balancing of PvP. Again, for those unfamiliar, PvP refers to player versus player, players duelling or fighting randomly or whatnot. PvE refers to player versus environment (or my preferred version player versus engine) which means just playing the game on your own and trying to beat it. Your opponent is the game engine and the AIs and enemies it operates and all the processes that entails.

In Dks1, combining these two mechanics made possible the ‘poise backstab’ which was especially detrimental to PvP duelling in general. The long and short of it is that, wearing very heavy armour, an opponent could simply walk behind you, even as you hit them repeatedly in the face with your sword, and stab you in the back for a critical hit. This was one of the biggest complaints about Dks1. Of course there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with poisestabbing your opponent. You’re not cheating or anything. But it is annoying and generally considered cheap and effectively a “skill-less” style of play, given that the only skill necessary is putting on the requisite bits of armour and having a very damaging weapon. Plenty of arguments were made suggesting that well, you really shouldn’t be able to walk through the blade of a sword that’s taller than most people without flinching and be absolutely fine.

So in Dks2 poise stabbing is almost impossible to do. In fact, I’ve never seen it happen. Yet there are rampant complaints about how weak poise is in Dks2. It is true that most attacks will stun you in Dks2 unless you have very heavy armour on. Which effectively means that if you try to circle behind someone to stab them in the back, they can prod you with a dagger and you’ll stop and go “ow, that hurts”. And that makes quite a lot of sense to me, given that I don’t imagine most human beings can just walk off being stabbed like it’s nothing. Though it doesn’t make sense to compare a videogame to ‘real life’ firstly because the game cannot simulate the precision of real combat and secondly because I don’t know anyone with ‘real life’ experience getting in sword fights to tell me what it’s like, I will say that it does seem completely ‘real life’ feasible to me that getting stabbed, cut, or whacked should stop you dead in your tracks no matter what you’re doing 1) because it hurts and 2) because you’d probably be bleeding and have some kind of internal organ damage.

It seems to me that the Dark Souls community asked for this change and From Software sat up and listened. You can’t take a hit to the face and walk it off anymore, and rightly so to my mind. You also can’t play as if it’s okay to take a hit here and there, because it’s really not, and I imagine that if someone were trying to put a sword in my living body, I’d want to avoid getting hit no matter what anyway (though having never been in a sword fight I can’t say for sure…).

That’s not to say there aren’t problems with the new system, (double rapier stunlocking anyone?), but that’s a separate issue. I think what’s important to note here is that the changes to the poise system were implemented in order to fix a problem (poise stabbing) and in that it was overwhelming successful. In addition, this was not something FromSoft undertook in isolation. This was addressing a grounded complaint supported by the overwhelming majority of the Dark Souls PvP community. In fact, given the vast swathe of complaints about backstab tactics in Dks1, I would say that FromSoft did an excellent job of reducing the effectiveness of backstabs in Dks2 by changing the timing and range required to activate one, along with altering poise, movement speeds, and weapon tracking, which are all things which, for whatever reason, the playing community has seen fit to whinge about. It’s unfortunate because I believe FromSoft to be a responsive and responsible developer and I feel like you can see this in the changes made from one game to the other here and the playing community is doing their efforts a great disservice.

Once again, I’m not saying that there aren’t problems with Dks2, I think there certainly are, but give the devs some credit where it’s due huh? Whenever I hear/read a reddit warrior asking “why would they do that?” or “who thought this was a good idea?” I kinda want to slap them. FromSoft made the changes from Dks1 to Dks2 to correct errors that the players themselves asked to be corrected. It ain’t perfect but these are pretty effective alterations and considering the game developers had absolutely no obligation to listen to the acres of whingers out there in the comments sections of youtube, I think they deserve a little bit of thanks for taking the time and care to make a game which we, as a fanbase asked for.

So anyway, that’s my two cents on that. I am aware of the hypocrisy of whinging about whinging on the internet on the internet, but eh. Contrary to what it may seem, I don’t dislike complaining in and of itself, I just dislike complaints which I disagree with (much like anyone else you could mention really). So yeah, in short. Dks2 is a great game. Cut it some slack. Please forgive me if my tone has been less than savoury. If you want to talk about problems with the game, I can do that another time. I’ll probably (at some point) talk about things I’d love to have seen in the game (or in the next game). Soo yeah.

Thanks for your time, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading (or at least felt I made a sensible argument which you can understand).



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