I'm talking about one of the coolest, most fun and most brutal video games out there: Dark Souls. I'm surprised I haven't seen too many RPG gamers talk about this one, as it is certainly old-school enough. Here are a few D&Dable things this game does that most other video games completely fail to do:
|COME TO THE MANTICORE FIGHT|
1 - The world is fucking dangerous / no hand-holding
Dying is a thing in DS that happens a LOT. Giant poison lakes, pit traps, basilisks, enemies that roll barrels down the stairs, blind corner ambushes, pitch dark levels and all kinds of other sneaky tricks await. Enemies are not rated for your level, or divided into discrete areas of a certain difficulty. Almost all the enemies are bigger, faster, stronger and scarier than you.
Instructions are minimal. What happens when I use a bonfire? What can I spend my souls on? How does parrying work? Which weapons are good? How do I use magic? Where should I go next?? All these questions and more await your own solutions. The game doesn't belabour the point with endless tutorials, a great big quest arrow floating overhead or anything else. Here's the world: go. See what's out there. Try stuff. Have fun. Make mistakes. Figure it out.
2 - Not everyone is hostile / things aren't as they seem
|No big deal, it's the first boss!|
3 - Fights are like puzzles / learn from your mistakes
Once you figure out how an enemy fights, how it "thinks," things get much easier. Boss fights especially are about trying new combinations, different weapons and spells until something works. Sometimes you need to move fast, just wear some short-shorts and run around real quick. Other times you need to gear up and stomp around in the heaviest armour you have. Maybe you can climb up a wall and jump down on a bosses head, or use a special weapon they are vulnerable to. D&D is the same - learning how the monsters fight and what the best strategies are takes place over the lives of multiple PCs, as your characters get wiped out by bigger and stronger enemies until you've gone toe-to-toe with the whole Monster Manual.
4 - The world fits together
|On left, see the parapet where dude above is being chased.|
I don't think this can be emphasized enough. It's key to how the game plays, especially as you unlock shortcuts to speed up your travel through the world. Backtracking happens a lot. Because enemies re-appear constantly, the world never stops being dangerous. Knowing how to get to your destination with a minimum of risk is important, and there are almost always multiple routes to take. In other words, the kingdom of Lordran is well Jacquayed.
5 - Actions have consequences
Whoops! Did you kill one of the merchants by accident? Tough shit. The game autosaves, so you can't just go back to a previous save if you missed some of his gear. Did you let that psycho killer out of his jail cell? Or maybe you said the wrong thing to somebody, and now they hate you? The game might be harder, but it wasn't picking on you - it let you make that decision yourself.
6 - Choose your level of involvement, or: it's all about how ballsy you wanna play it
|Did I mention this is the first level?|
7 - Look under every rock & take anything not nailed down
Sometimes it's hard to figure out where you should go next. The entrances to some levels are hidden away, and the world is so big and open that it's easy to forget where you've been and where you planned to explore later. The blacksmiths who upgrade your equipment are easy to miss, the best treasure is always hidden somewhere, and even paths required to finish the game are off to the side where you might not think of looking. Sometimes you need to backtrack to places you thought were closed off, because they have since changed. There is no automapping feature.
That's the whole idea! You have to try everything, go everywhere and talk to everyone or you'll miss some key points. This is the kind of approach I want to see when I run D&D: players engaging with the game world and taking an interest because it's the best way to survive and thrive.
|That's an iron golem all right.|
8 - Challenge your assumptions
You will hear a lot of people (including me) say Dark Souls is tough as fuck, it's impossibly hard, it will break all your controllers and eat your kids. I am in no way a man of quick reflexes or much speed on the controller - I'm useless at Street Fighter-type games, and if you want to play Counterstrike I'll be hovering around 0 kills & 20 deaths, just fodder for guys with steady hands and decent eyesight. I have stuck to turn-based RPG and strategy games to avoid this humiliation.
|Why are they all so BIG?|
None of this even covers the setting, story, scenery, multiplayer (a whole article in itself) or NPCs and monsters you'll meet. The more I think about Dark Souls, the more I think about great megadungeon stuff that I want to play in.
PS: To have a few laughs with (and at the expense of) a guy playing the game for the first time, go here.