I Think Dark Souls is Great — I Just Don’t Want to Play It
The more I think about Dark Souls, the more I talk about Dark Souls, the more I see Dark Souls in action or hear how it is affecting other gamers, the more I appreciate it. I think it’s great.
But keep it away from me, because I’m not interested in playing it.
I mean, of course, I gave it a go. The purpose of our Aftershock features is to get a second opinion on a big game review, and that means playing it with an open mind. But after a solid, I dunno, six or seven hours with the game, I was pretty well done. And yes, I’m aware that Ben Richardson put in better than 70 to properly review the game. I knew how I felt about it much sooner than that, and frankly, I don’t have 70 hours to give to a game that I’m not going to enjoy. It’s not my job to properly review Dark Souls; it’s my job to judge it my way.
Don’t get me wrong: Dark Souls is everything you’ve heard. Phenomenally difficult but highly rewarding. Beautifully off-putting but strangely compelling. An exercise in intelligent game design. A recasting of every gaming convention you’ve ever dealt with. A punishing reminder of what video gaming can achieve. Dark Souls really does hit all those notes — on paper, at least — and on paper, I think it’s great. The gaming industry needs more titles like this one.
I love that Dark Souls is so relentlessly difficult, in a way. In a world in which death has no consequence in games other than the resetting of a checkpoint or some other minor inconvenience, Dark Souls challenges you to really think about what the hell you’re doing. In theory, I love that. I also love that it’s so exceedingly difficult that it requires you to really hone your skills, to think carefully and critically about every move and every encounter, and to forget the strategies like madly mashing the attack button that have been chiseled into your frontal lobe by decades of lesser titles. All those things are great.
In practice, however, Dark Souls is slow, methodical to the point of irritation, a little bit on the boring side and worst, a huge frakking waste of my time. We’re talking about a 70-hour game here. Seventy hours! If a game is going to be this long, I have to be in love with it. It has to haunt my dreams and make me consider skipping meals to play it. It has to at least pack a story I care about, at least make its mechanics more or less apparent to me, and at least drive me forward whenever possible to explore new and exciting territory. These are the prerequisites that must be met before I can surrender the equivalent of three straight days of my very busy, very cramped life to a video game.
Dark Souls, on the other hand, constantly threatens to take everything you’ve earned away from you. Sure, it gives you some great gifts when it kills you — it lets you keep your items and weapons while costing you the equivalent of your character’s experience points (which you can rescue if you’re good enough), and even more important, it provides you with the knowledge that can help you do better next time. Yes, I get it — that’s great. But you know what I don’t want to do? I don’t want to fight the same enemies every time I leave my bonfire, in the exact same way, over and over again. I don’t want to grind out levels so I can face some boss enemy only to find that those levels I ground out weren’t useful to me anyway (because the goddamn ax I was raising my stats to use is a piece of garbage anyway). I don’t want to get understandably bored with the repetition and have the game slap me in the face for growing complacent when it’s the game’s fault I’m bored.
I don’t want my time wasted.
And for all the greatness that Dark Souls encapsulates and all the ideas it brings and mold-breaking it does that I hope get funneled down into the rest of the industry, it still wastes my time. Yes, Dark Souls requires a great deal of skill to defeat. That’s awesome. What do I get for the hours of time I put in to make my character not suck or make my brain activate my fingers in such a dance as to beat a Bell Tower Gargoyle before a second Bell Tower Gargoyle descends on the battle? What’s my reward for the incredible frustration through which I’ve had to wade? Do I get to play competitively in the future? Do I get to serenade beautiful women with musical talents derived of practice or accomplish great tasks with the mental muscles I’ve strengthened?
Finishing Dark Souls is like nailing a perfect on Jordon on Expert in Guitar Hero II — you’ll feel good for a minute and then you’ll look back at your life over the last several months of obsession it took you to get to that point, and what will you have? Nothing, my friend. You won’t have been emotionally altered by a story; you won’t have a skill you can apply to your life in more than just the basest sense of having learned to be patient and not kill yourself for your failings. Like Guitar Hero, being good at Dark Souls earns you nothing but bragging rights among the hardcore and eye rolls from everyone else.
Sure, certainly many of you really enjoy the game and really dig its often-excrutiating difficulty level. Congratulations. But I’m an adult now and I don’t have 80 hours to dump into a Final Fantasy title “to see if it gets any better,” and I certainly don’t have 70 hours to pump into Dark Souls for the satisfaction of knowing I trained my fingers until I could best this one game. There are experiences out there that are just much, much more fun, and require far less work on my part.
Follow Hornshaw on Twitter: @philhornshaw.