The first Dark Souls game was released in 2011, as a spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed action-RPG Demon’s Souls, notorious for its difficulty and challenging gameplay. The first Dark Souls game brought players a world rich with lore, and a deep combat system with a character customization to suit a variety of combat styles. There is a vast array of weaponry that the player can choose from to engage the various enemies found throughout Lordran, the game’s epic fantasy setting. The gameplay is merciless, as players find themselves sometimes utterly overwhelmed by the sheer difficulty. Enemies respawn after every bonfire, the checkpoints in Dark Souls, making revisiting areas a pain, as well as getting to boss fights a trying task. With the release of Dark Souls 2 the game’s rich combat system goes even deeper than the original, and the player’s journey through the land of Drangleic offers even more challenging bosses and enemies. To get an idea of exactly how difficult it is to play this game, look no further than From Software’s “Beyond the Bonfire” feature on the Dark Souls 2 website. Of the 255,197 copies sold the week of its release on Playstation 3 alone, the player’s portal on the Dark Souls 2 website at the time of this writing only lists 14,168. Under the assumption that a majority of these sales are people actually playing the game, fourteen thousand does not exactly stack up to two-hundred and fifty thousand that are playing. But why even play a Dark Souls game at all? If it is so hard and so frustrating, why even bother? Don’t people play games for enjoyment? What is enjoyable about dying time and time again just to learn the game’s core mechanics? Why put oneself through such frustration? The answer is not so simple.
A simple explanation is that the completion of the game is somewhat of a geek status symbol. It takes resilience, patience, and skill to make it all the way through a Souls game. Each boss conquered feeds the player’s confidence. Each heavily trapped, enemy riddled area traversed forces the player to become more comfortable with the game. Most importantly, each death serves a lesson to the player, telling them through experience, not words “you’re not powerful enough to be here” or “that strategy doesn’t work.” These lessons are reinforced through the online interactions of other players leaving in-game hints of what to do next or what to avoid. Completion of a Souls game brings back the nostalgia of being able to tell one’s friends that they had completed a game. As modern gaming keeps becoming more “user friendly” it is a fresh experience to be denied the completion a game.
Another reason why people would want to play a Souls game lies in the lore and the stories behind the games. For many players, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 are games with worlds too rich in lore to simply give up because the game is difficult. Getting to Anor Londo in the first game is an experience in itself, as the city is bathed in the brightness of an eternal sunset, offering the players a beautiful landscape as they journey through the trials of the city of the lords. In Dark Souls 2’s Drangleic, players are forced to take caution when exploring each ruined landscape as enemies lie in ambush and traps await around every corner of these mysterious ruins. Every new building or area has a foreboding aura lurking behind it, causing the player to second guess themselves as to whether or not they are prepared for what awaits beyond.
There is simply a strange attraction that draws players back to these punishing games. Something about the overall cruelty of these games makes people come back to play Dark Souls without really knowing why. Each failure makes every success that much more triumphant, and each success spurs the player onward to complete their journey, and fulfill the quest they embarked on, no matter the hardships.
Opinion by Michael Foster
Dark Souls II Official Site Statistics