Why We Need More Games Like Dark Souls

Just a couple of months ago my friend and fellow Way Too Many Games author, Jason, convinced me to give Dark Souls III a try. I was hesitant due to the notorious difficulty of the game, but as a huge fan of medieval fantasy I caved shortly after.

And I loved it.

Dark Souls III is, without a doubt, one of the best games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. The combat, world design, gameplay, graphics, genre; everything grew on me either instantly or with a little bit of time.

And so I’m going to make a proposition: We need more games like Dark Souls. Not just because I enjoyed it, but because it’s a relatively rare experience in the gaming industry. It’s not so common that you find such beautiful and difficult games and, when you do, they often come in the form of lower budget titles like Flinthook and Hollow Knight. That’s not a bad thing at all, but I definitely want to see more big budget games take on the style that Dark Souls has gone for.

We see a lot of the same genres making constant reappearances. We’re all used to the “open world sandbox” that was once groundbreaking but now seems to be the default genre for AAA games with titles like GTA, Assassin’s Creed, and Just Cause. First-person shooters are seen all the time in the forms of Battlefield, Call of Duty, Halo, and more like them coming out every year. And we’re seeing a steadily growing number of games falling into the action-adventure story based titles that Sony seems to emphasize like Last of Us, Uncharted, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Days Gone.

In an attempt to make them more accessible to the masses, lots of developers have made games that more or less hold the hand of the gamer. We’ve gotten used to games where anything that requires more than a third attempt is deemed “too hard.” And, don’t get me wrong, sometimes games are meant for relaxing. Sometimes you just want to sit on the couch and chill without feeling the urge to smash a sixty dollar controller through a two thousand dollar TV.

But I believe there’s a niche that needs to be significantly more filled. Dark Souls provides a AAA experience with a style that’s usually reserved, as previously mentioned, for 2D indie games.

And that niche needs to be filled with games that focus on Dark Souls’ biggest strengths: Its combat, its difficulty, and its world design.

Working in reverse order through those three things, its world design is evocative and beautiful. I’m not typically someone who feels the need to explore every corner of every world I visit in a video game, but the world of Dark Souls is intriguing. It demands that you explore everywhere and find every secret. It’s attractive both conventionally and sometimes repulsively.

The next thing, difficulty, is arguably the franchise’s claim to fame. But it’s not hard for the sake of it. Dark Souls is difficult for the right reasons. The bosses have patterns and when you learn them you gain the upper hand. Every enemy has a pattern of attacks and a style, and you need to format how you fight to that style, sometimes slipping one hit in at the end of your stamina to get that one blow that will finally kill him. The difficulty is brutal, but rewarding and it makes sense. The sigh of relief I breathed out when I finally beat the game was loud. But a swelling sense of pride followed immediately after. Every time you beat a boss it becomes one more victory you feel deserves a small trophy for you to place on your mantle.

And, finally, the thing that impressed me most about Dark Souls III: The combat. At first I thought it was pretty standard fare. Light and heavy attacks, along with blocking and rolls to dodge attacks. It’s simple, until you start coming across more enemies and different weapon types. Then you begin to understand the value timing, using the right attack at the right time to take the least amount of damage while vanquishing your foe. The only other really good combat system I’ve experienced has been the Arkham style combat that’s becoming increasingly popular in games, but its fast paced take on a lot of enemies at once style doesn’t quite measure up to the nuance that the Dark Souls combat contains. And I want to see that nuance spread throughout the industry.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I definitely want to see the market filled with more games that have beautiful world design. I want to see games where combat is nuanced and rewarding, as opposed to a button-mashing fest that leaves little to methodical thought. And I want to see more games that are difficult for the right reasons. Games that you can understand where you went wrong and adjust accordingly, feeling like a master after finally beating that boss.

We need more games like Dark Souls, ultimately, because they’re good, because feeling that sense of accomplishment is something all gamers should be able to experience if they so desire to put in the work, and because there aren’t enough like it. Plus, medieval fantasy is just an awesome genre.