The Problem with Dark Souls


It took me a long time, but I finally figured out why I can’t play Dark Souls. I tried to play it–put a good 15 hours into it, which is longer than it takes me to complete most of the games I play. I even played a bit of Demon Souls before that, so I had some idea of what I was getting into. But in the end I came away confused, frustrated, and having made almost no progress whatsoever.

Casey, my founding partner at Robot Invader, is a huge Dark Souls fan. So are a number of my friends. Many designers I respect immensely have told me that they consider Dark Souls to be one of the best games ever made. People talk about it with such reverence, I feel like I am missing out. But every time I’ve tried to play the game seriously, I’ve felt that I was wasting my time.

The problem isn’t the difficulty. Dark Souls is incredibly difficult, but I’m sure that, with time, individual enemy encounters become more manageable than they are in the early game. One should at least become proficient with the combat system and controls, and can eventually upgrade stats and weapons. Combat might not be easy, but over time it probably seems less random. I am cool with that–I have enjoyed some pretty hard games that worked much the same way in the past. I am proud to have finished God Hand, Devil May Cry, Catherine, Siren, and the arcade version of Strider on less than $2, way back in the day. Once I did a zero continues run of Resident Evil 4. It could be that Dark Souls is just too hard for me, but I don’t think that’s the real issue.

Even after playing for what seems like a long time, I’m absolutely unable to make any progress. Perhaps I’m just playing it wrong. Maybe I’ve made some grave error in my perception of how this game is to be played, and because of that I’m making it much harder on myself than it should be. Is the first boss supposed to take 100+ attempts? Or did I screw up somewhere?

The feeling of wasting my time comes from the basic sense that I’m zigging when the game expects me to zag. This is reinforced by the occasional discovery that I have be doing it all wrong. For example, early in the game your character is told to that they can go “up or down,” but that up is the easier path. The path downwards, a series of winding stairs heading straight into the face of a cliff, is easy enough to find. The path upwards is a small staircase placed at the side of a cliff that I completely missed my first time through that area. I missed it the second time, too. And about fifty other times. I explored the area and the only other place to go, other than down, seemed to be through a graveyard into a cave. I spent a few hours trying to fight my way into that cave, and eventually made it, only to be killed immediately by even more powerful enemies. Skeletons in Dark Souls are no joke.

“Don’t go that way,” Casey said, when I asked him about it.

I eventually found the way up, and breezed through the next area until I reached a boss, whom I’ve been unable to defeat in the subsequent 10-odd hours of play.

“You’ve just got to get better,” Casey said. “That’s the fun part.”

But better at what? Combat? Better weapons? Better stats? Better at finding my way through the map?

The real issue, I think, is the way the game refuses to give the player feedback about their decisions. The rules are complex and the path to the goal is intentionally obfuscated. Am I going the right way? Which character type should I choose? Which gift? Which stats should I upgrade? Should I upgrade all my stats little by little or pour all my points into one or two abilities? Am I meant to come back to this area later or have I just missed some trick to completing it? Should I spend humanity points or hoard them for later? My experience is that the play outcome for me, for all permutations of the above questions, is the same: I die in the same spot over and over and over again. It doesn’t seem to really matter which choices I make; maybe it will matter 60 hours in, but at the 15 hour mark the complete lack of feedback from any of the decisions I’ve made leads me to feel that they are pointless.

There are other hard games that refrain from holding your hand as you play. I think pretty much everybody hit a shelf moment when they encountered the very first lava spider boss in Devil May Cry. You’re meant to figure out that you need to grind for upgrades, or simply become incredibly good at playing, or select the easy mode. That boss is a forcing function: you learn how to play or you adjust the difficulty or you quit. And once you’ve passed this moment, you have a better idea of what is expected of you as a player, and the game now knows something about how you choose to play. But a lot of people I know just gave up at that point. Siren is another hard game that does a terrible job of telling you the “correct” way to play, and you can get lost for hours on end, making no progress whatsoever, until it clicks. When it does, it’s an amazing game. But a lot of people quit long before they get there.

I’m ready to believe that there is a threshold of understanding to Dark Souls, and surpassing it makes a number of unanswered questions clear. That inflection point probably makes it more clear what the game expects of you, and you can start to strategize and make informed decisions. But until you reach that point, you’re flying blind. Dark Souls isn’t going to tell you if you’ve chosen the easy road or the hard road, or even if you’re on a road that is going anywhere at all. It’s not going to tell you if your approach is advantageous or problematic. It’s not going to tell you what it expects you to do.

So, I guess you can stick around long enough to figure it out, or you can become frustrated with the absolute lack of progress or feedback and quit. After 15 hours of feeling like I have no idea what I am doing and am wasting my time, I quit.

32 thoughts on “The Problem with Dark Souls

    Hi Chris,

    I used to hangout a lot at the forum of this place and it is always good to read a new article from you. I follow you on twitter (username:pikosapikos_), so I noticed this post about Dark Souls and I would like to offer my two cents on the matter. Personally, I’ve played a lot of Demon Souls and very little of Dark Souls (due to lack of time and the ever expanding family). However, the same principles apply on both games. The reason I invested so much time on the first game and intend to do so on the second, have to do with immersion and not mechanics.
    I will give you an example. When I was playing Siren on PS2 I came up to the part where you have to exit a tunnel in a mine and Shibito snipers are wiping the foor with your ass dealing instakills left and right. Now, I am ridiculously persistent with games to the point of TOO MUCH but after a certain point I was “enough is enough”. Now that I think about it , it had to do with the fact that I considered the game mechanics ‘unfair’ and custom made to make me lose. Bottom line I thought I was fighting with the game mechanics not with the game’s world.
    For me Demon Souls(and Dark Souls) has this irresistible feeling of dread and bleakness that permeates within the player’s skin. You are not fed with much information but the feeling of isolation is impeccable. In games like Elder Scrolls, Gothic I was always moving from one quest to the next but it all felt very gamey. I didn’t invest in the world of those games, merely existed in it. Bottom line is, in the Souls games, when an “unfair” challenge emerges, you are fighting against the game world not the game mechanics. The game mechanics are very serviceable -albeit less intuitive than a lot of games- but you deal with them merely because simply existing in the world of the game is a challenge of its own.
    I don’t know if this makes any sense to you but the reason that these games have such a massive following doesn’t have to do with game mechanics(e.g. combat system -which I love btw- or interface) per se. It has to do with the fact that surviving in the world of the game is THE MAIN challenge of the game.
    I won’t deny that it takes a certain amount of masochism to continue at all times (LOL) and I agree to a lot of the points you make. However, those points have to do with game mechanics and not the overall feel of these games.

    Anyway, these were my two cents on the matter and thanks for the hospitality as always.

    PS: I’ve bough both Rise of the Blobs and Wind Up Knight on Android. I dig the first but I am hooked on the second, well done:).

    Take care

  2. Interesting post!

    The thing is I believe Dark Souls’ vague, inaccessible, not-sure-what-to-do-next approach is an intentional design choice and one of its biggest draws. When you first play the game it’s like a huge puzzle that you need to mysteriously piece together. When it fits and when it clicks, Dark Souls is an extremely exhilarating experience that I feel is very unique in games today as it never “holds your hand,” which makes the reward of merely surviving even more rewarding. I totally get that it’s not a game for everyone.

    The things you see as frustrating with Dark Souls I see as its main strengths and unique selling points.

  3. >complete lack of feedback from any of the decisions I’ve made

    Oh, there is feedback. If you died, you did the wrong thing. Stop doing that thing and try something else.

    This isn’t just me being glib – this is actually a major reason I love DeS and DaS: they are rare games that don’t treat the player like he’s a baby. They assume you can figure things out on your own and punish you if you can’t. In an era of “cinematic interactive experiences” where every designer sees fit to lead the player through the nose, they feel like a breath of fresh air to me.

    >Which character type should I choose? Which gift?

    These choices matter very little. Every gift can be found in the game (some more easily than others), and “classes” are just starting packages that affect nothing after character creation. A Warrior can easily be turned into a magic build if you want, and there is almost no way to permanently screw yourself over.

    >Which stats should I upgrade? Should I upgrade all my stats little by little or pour all my points into one or two abilities?

    In the beginning of the game, the first priorities are getting enough STR/DEX to meet the minimum requirements of whatever weapon you want to use (note: almost any weapon will be good enough to beat the game with as long as you upgrade it regularly) and after that, pour points into END so that you can wear heavier armor while staying fast. Mobility is of key importance and while having the slow roll isn’t as much of a death sentence as it was in Demon’s Souls, you still want to stay quick.

    Don’t bother with RES, that stat is junk.

    As for beating the Taurus Demon, I have little advice to give other than “get better at the game”. Have you noticed you can climb the tower behind your back and do plunging attacks from there? I guess in an extreme duress you could pick Black Firebombs as your starting gift and toss them at TD until he dies.

  4. You’re not alone, Chris. I’ve stuck it out, but I find my frustration more often exceeds my enjoyment of the game. It’s not the ‘not knowing what to do’ that bothers me (I don’t mind figuring things out), it’s mostly that I find the game to be so repetitive that it often becomes tedious. I get tired of dying, losing my accumulated souls, replaying the same encounters only to lose my souls again, repeat ad infinitum. I can certainly understand why the game appeals to a lot of players (it’s challenging and the world design is top-notch) but I just find it too grind-y for my taste. Especially the bosses. That damn wolf with his giant sword just about made me toss my controller. The game’s currently in time-out until I can summon the will to grind for a few hours to build up my stats/gear.

    FWIW, I recently played through Devil May Cry, and while that game is challenging (and made my hands sore!) I didn’t find it nearly as frustrating as DS. I also think DS owes a lot to DMC. Playing them simultaneously really made the parallels obvious. DS is really just a much longer, more tactical, RPG version of DMC.

  5. I AGREE.
    Whole hardheartedly.
    Dark Souls is a fantastic game and YES I do think you are suppose to lose to the first boss 100+ times (I did).
    Your point about most people shelfing the game at a difficult part could not be more apt.
    I put 115 hours into the game, grinded like crazy, carefully managed my skill points, learned the ins and outs of combat and still shelfed the game because I got to a boss I could not figure out and figuring the boss out is almost a 3 hour endeavor in itself many times because they always put the closest bonfire about 5-10 minutes away from him and your going to die 1,000,000 times.
    But I THINK the counter point is that Darksouls means to make itself difficult so that it will insight discussions and critical thinking amongst its community. Darksouls I think is a game about talking about and sharing secrets with your fellow players. Having a friend along with you in the journey to discuss strategies or mythos (that the game absolutely refuses to give you any of beyond a few vague refrences) I think is an important part of what makes that game so great. I got into the game real late like yourself so I had nobody to discover things with and nobody I know played it either. So I’m stuck trying to figure it out on my own (which obviously I’ve given up on).
    I love the game, and I’ll go back and try to beat it, but I think much of what made darksouls a great game was the level of discovery and community it promoted amongst players still playing it in its hayday.
    We missed out I think on that experience, But I’m willing to try again come DARK SOULS 2!

    A few months back an online friend of mine intro’d me to Dark Souls. At first I started off watching the (very funny!) “Dark Souls with James” videos on YouTube. Then there was a sale and I bought the game.

    Through I was pretty thoroughly spoilered through strategy videos, I had fun building my character, discussing tactics and stuff with my friend and got pretty far. The boss fights were exhilarating and it was fun to see myself progress in skill. I’d start off derpy among some initial enemies, then gradually pass through them with ease (so long as I didn’t get cocky!). I liked sharing my accomplishments with my friend, and I liked the suspense DaS could give.

    But some months ago, my friend went AFK on me. I’m at the beginning of the main game, facing the boss at Anor Londo, but I’ve felt little draw to jump back in. Yes, my life’s gotten busy, but when I get some playtime, I tend to pick an indie game or game demo instead of DaS. Doesn’t help that I know the ending (though I’m sure the game has other surprise, gameplaywise ready).

    Anyway, it’s a difficult game and though I really enjoyed it for a while, without someone to share my accomplishments with, the thrill is gone.

    I haven’t brought myself to uninstall it yet (HOURS of progress, man!), but I’ve considered it.

  7. I went back to beat the boss I was stuck at.
    its been 3 months since my last save.
    All I had to do was jump through twigs.
    Thanks Chris.
    Thanks alot.
    Now I have to beat dark souls.

  8. 15 hours is more than it usually takes you to finish a game? Wow! How do you *play* games!?

    I’ve never played Dark Souls, but the comparisons to Devil May Cry make me think it’s not for me. I loved Siren, and actually didn’t find it hard (compared to other people’s experiences), but your description of Dark Souls leaves me with the feeling that I saved myself a load of frustration by not playing.

    Psh! Whats 100 deaths anyways..
    Its a fun game, even with all the dieing. Its also a tough love game. A really tough love game. Like a “get hit by the Mace of Molag Bal repetitively, while wearing no armor …in the head” tough love game.

  10. hey Chris –

    I agree for the most part and your experience is very similar to mine. I ended up enjoying the combat but finding it incredibly repetitive. I liked the setting but ended up finding it irritating as I never knew if i was heading in the right direction, etc etc.

    I didnt mind the difficulty, but i did mind the lack of explanation and unfortunatley after 12-15 hrs of play, gave up feeling like i had got nowhere.

    Shame – I’d love to love it.


  11. You should persevere, because all you will accomplish by quitting at this stage is robbing yourself of a fantastic experience.

    Your mistake (or rather the mistake that the developers made) was that for the vast majority of this game, you *can* take any path. Some will be harder if you go to them early on, some easier. There will be certain obstacles and *huge* creatures that you can’t defeat, but they are usually obviously out of your league, so you don’t have any illusions as to why you can’t do it yet.


    The problem is that they break this rule at the very start of the game where you are now. They give you three paths, and only one of them is at all viable. The graveyard and catacombs are monstrously hard, have enemies that give no Exp when you kill them, and even regenerate once you get inside. The other path leads to invincible ghosts (at this point) and even if you did struggle past them, you’d only end fighting enemies that will one shot you (and will actually have killed you about 5 times over).

    They claimed it would be more open world, and it is. And you can struggle through tougher areas for great rewards – but this is the one and only time when you *must* pick choice X.

    Its a terrible way to start, and gives a completely false impression of what this game is like. Its the fact that the enemies in the graveyard and New Londo are *so* much harder, give no Exp and some are actually invincible at this point (the ghosts and the skeletons in the Catacombs, unless you can kill the Necromancers).

    Don’t be put off – the game gets a lot more manageable and a lot more generous in where and when it allows you to explore. This is just a truly badly executed first section – one that Demon’s Souls fans loved because it keeps the ‘We’re not going to tell you *anything* – find it out yourself!’ spirit alive, but which scares off plenty of newcomers, with the suggestion that the game will be even more hardcore than they’d been lead to believe.

    It is tough, but outside of the silly opening, it is a fair game. Just curse them for their stupidity, head up the hill, make it through the Burg and Parish, and I promise you, this game opens up magnificently.

    The tendency on both sides is to treat these issues as lines in the sand. One faction say ‘Forget this – what do you people possibly see in this game?!’ The other faction say ‘Good riddance, mainstream fools like you just don’t get it etc etc’.

    Don’t listen to any of that. The game is hard, but only as hard as games used to be (much easier actually, given the infinite continues etc). And despite what you may hear, you can progress quickly and easily, without doing all sorts of obscure upgrading and grinding for materials.

    Basically, people exaggerate how hardcore the game is. By today;s standards, it is about as hardcore as they come – but as anyone who played games before the last gen will tell you, it not *that* hard.

  12. Here is the analogy I gave Casey the other day.

    Dark Souls is like a metal box that’s been electrified. If you touch it, you get a nasty shock. There is secretly one little spot on the lid where you can very carefully lift without getting shocked, but there’s no way to know where that spot is by looking at it. All of your friends say, “you know, I really liked what was in that box.”

    So you sit there, burning your fingers over and over again, trying to find out what’s in the box. And after a while, your fingers are charred and you really don’t care what is in the box anymore, because man, screw getting shocked anymore.

  13. Except that in that analogy, there was no clue on how to proceed. It could be argued that Dark Souls gave you a pretty significant hint that you were going the wrong way when all the enemies were not giving you EXP and/or were actually invincible.

    ‘Ho ho – listen to that from the Dark Souls Defence League!’ I hear you cry. But that isn’t the case, I assure you – I agree that your analogy can be used to describe the start of the game. (I also missed one of the 3 paths, but it was the graveyard for me).

    I simply make the point that as poorly executed as that start section is IMO, it does give you the clues you need to work out what to do. One path has foes that are actually invincible, one has enemies that nearly one shot you and give no Exp, and the last one has weak enemies and gentle progression.

    Under normal circumstances, any gamer would easily understand what they were supposed to do (some would obviously still try the harder routes anyway – its only human nature).

    But these are not normal circumstances. The 2 sides of the Souls argument have blown the difficulty and unfairness expectations of the series out of all proportion, so people go into these games expecting the extreme difficulty that you faced to be normal and indicative of how the game is.

    But is isn’t – this was simply a case where the typically inaccurate hype and internet fanboy/hater exaggerations have created a blind that prevents new gamers from seeing what is actually in front of them.

    Just treat it like any other game made in the last 10-15 years. I.e if something seems too hard, then it usually means you are making things harder on yourself than they need to be. Games hardly ever require you be possessed of superhuman skill to make progression, and this is no different.

    To go back to your analogy, when considering the electrified box, what if instead of trying to open the box, you looked to either side and saw 2 more boxes. One covered with steel chains and locks, and the other slightly open, enough that you could actually see what was inside, and with a stick to prop the lid up further?

    Because all you ever heard about the game was that it was about opening an electrified box, you ignore these other boxes, thinking it can’t have any relevance. But on a mad whim, you do open the last box, and after some sorting through you find a key for the 2nd box, which contains a set of rubber gloves to open the third.

    ‘Why the hell did you keep touching the electric box?’ people ask you. ‘Well nobody said anything about the other two, and you said the challenge was hard so…’ you reply.

    Not for the first time, the internet has a lot to answer for. The misinformation and misrepresentation of what the Souls games are like and will expect of you, is all smoke and mirrors. Any other time, in any other game, you’d easily work out where you were going wrong – and that’s what happened here.

    Always remind yourself ‘If its too hard, then I’m not seeing something obvious’ and you’ll be fine. Over-thinking problems is a killer, as is listening to people who tell you that someone is harder than it really is.

  14. I’m willing to believe that the intro sequence is simply supremely bad and that everything clicks a little later in the game. Once you’ve got the box open, right?

    I didn’t get stuck at the graveyard (well, I did, but I talked to people and eventually found the correct path). I got stuck at the Taurus Demon. Of course I figured out that you can climb up and drop down on him. Apparently you can get him to fall off the ledge, too. I haven’t been able to, though, in way, way too many tries.

    Because, apparently, I made the wrong choices at the onset of the game, and also because I don’t have time for marathon gaming sessions at this point in my life anymore.

    So yeah, the later game might be fantastic. But it had its chance. I’m on to other things.

  15. Then fair enough – lol.

    The reason I said anything at all, was because I had much the same experience. I really wasn’t feeling the game for the first couple of hours, and doubted I would continue much longer. It was only when I arrived in the Undead Parish that I broke through the pain barrier.

    Tutorials in all games are terrible, and this is no different. The game drills into you that there is a new ‘Death from Above’ mechanic by having that be pretty much the only way (certainly the easiest way) to defeat all the early bosses (Asylum Demon, Taurus Demon, Capra Demon, Giant Rat etc etc).

    That along with the enforced ‘You can choose any of these 3 paths – but choose the third one’ was really getting on my nerves, in a game that was supposed to be more open world, and all about playing in your own style, with whatever weapons and tactics you wanted etc.

    It takes them a while to actually let you do that, and its frustrating that they shot themselves in the foot like that. It simply reinforces the growing(and unrealistic IMO) demand that all games be amazing *immediately*, and if a game doesn’t start strong, then forget about it.

    But don’t think I’m pointing fingers at you here – Dark Souls (or more specifically From Software) only have themselves to blame. Because a slow start is one thing, but an actively bad start is quite another. Particularly egregious because of the false impression it gives of the rest of the game.

    Anyway, your article was a good read. I meant to say that earlier, but then there were all these boxes, and chains and there was electricity and well, you know…

  16. It’s also worth noting that I’ve quit (a very few) other games for similar reasons in the past.

    Clock Tower 2 is a really fascinating game, and I was enjoying it quite a bit until I got to a point where I simply couldn’t progress. Only one door was unlocked and going through it caused instant death. I finally looked up a faq, which read, “if you die when going into this room, you did something wrong in the previous three chapters. Start over.”

    At that point I quit. Sorry, but I got a lot of other games to play.

  17. Chris, I am sad that you’ve given up on Dark Souls, but to each their own.

    The downward plunge attack works extremely well on the Taurus Demon, the idea being that the encounter with the tutorial demon boss teaches you that said fight is largely easier if you do the plunging attack and then engage it. With the Taurus Demon, you can plunge down on it, roll between its legs or a swing it makes and then rush back up the tower and repeat the plunge when it gets close enough.

    I probably died about three times on it, but the plunge attack felt instinctive to me because I remembered it from just a short while earlier.

    What really interests me is that you didn’t notice the upward stairs to the city area. For me, I had the exact opposite problem and didn’t notice the area below the starting bonfire until after I came back from another boss later on. 😛

    The game definitely is unapologetic in allowing you free experimentation to try and figure out how things work. It reminds me of a much more fluid and logical King’s Field game. It also becomes much more non-linear as you do indeed open the box.

    For what it’s worth, it’s good that you stopped at the Taurus Demon if that was truly frustrating you…there is one boss that a lot of people attribute luck to beating a bit later on and another pair of bosses (ask anyone about Ornstein and Smough) that probably have accounted for some large percentage of broken controllers and huge pools of tears and verbal bashing. If you quit at Taurus Demon, you got off easy. 😛

    What’s really fascinating about some of the boss fights (because that’s what people are really in it for, let’s face it) are the techniques that can be applied to combat. There is no one right way to do things and your willingness to be patient or skilled in a particular way or clever can yield a number of interesting ways to rout a monster. A lot of people were intimidated by the Gaping Dragon and approached it head-on or by timing their way around behind it to attack its posterior. I was playing an archer-oriented character and blasted it with several hundred arrows. Slow? You bet. Effective? I never once felt threatened and it never came close to my location. Vice versa, I’ve had fights where I’ve felt soulcrushed from losses and then watched my wife ruin whatever boss was grieving me like it was no big deal at all.

    I think that’s the strongest appeal. There is no wrong decision…just a matter of what effort you’re willing to put forth to make your decision the right one. If it’s still not working and you’re not willing to pursue said tactic, it’s time to change it up…even if that means grinding for the necessary resources. 🙂

  18. I probably died about three times on it, but the plunge attack felt instinctive to me because I remembered it from just a short while earlier.

    Ok, I’m at about 50 attempts so far. I figured the plunge attack out on the first attempt.

    If you had to play this boss 50 times, do you think your perspective would be different?

    It’s likely that I’m just doing something wrong. But that’s the whole problem: there’s zero feedback for me to actually decipher what that might be.

  19. I wish I could see what happens during your encounters. I look at the stats you posted in the article and you look like you should be WAY overpowered against something like the Taurus Demon. What is your Soul Level?

    My typical run against the Taurus Demon is to kill the skeleton archers on the tower before heading out toward where the demon appears, then edge out until it appears and turn and run immediately for the ladder, climb it, move to the edge and plunge attack down on it if it’s directly below you. If you take too long to plunge down, it will jump up onto the tower area.

    The plunge isn’t perfect, and I’ve had it miss a couple times. When you hit, there’s an apparent stun for a moment. You essentially drop down and land right below it and could swing at it if you’re feeling saucy. I generally run/roll away from it back toward the middle of the long walkway just to be safe. When it runs/ambles over to me and prepares to swing the axe, I try to roll under it or beside it to get back behind it and then re-climb the tower and repeat the process.

    This isn’t the fastest tactic ever, but after three or four of those, you can just swing the rest of the damage on it. I just wish I could see what’s going on in your attempts that is causing you grief, as I know it was an intimidating fight at first, but even a small amount of grinding should be considerably good enough to handle the Taurus Demon. You have a +15 Longsword. I’ve usually hardly upgraded my weapon at all by that point.

    If I were in your shoes and I had died fifty times to what seems to be the first boss, I probably would have asked friends if anyone knew a good strategy for him, asked what I was doing wrong, and tried grinding. For me, the scenario you’re in is EXACTLY the problem I had with the Bell Tower boss. It also seems like the problem that EVERYONE has with Ornstein and Smough (granted, that’s an extremely frustrating fight for different reasons).

    You do have a valid point though. There really is no obvious feedback. The lesson that Dark Souls teaches when you die each time is this: If my tactic didn’t work, is it worth trying to repeat the same tactic again in hopes of doing better and if not…what different approach could possibly be more ideal?

    Some people mention the Black Firebombs (or whatever they’re called). They make the fight really easy, but unless you sit there and waste items that cost a decent amount and aren’t easy to replenish, you’d never know without asking someone. It’s hard to justify risk vs. reward in a game that will sometimes outrightly punish your risks with complete loss of items or progress. Yes it’s also what offers the most promise…experimentation is necessary in order to beat monsters that operate outside the normal mode of thinking.

    I don’t think Dark Souls is one of the greatest games of all time. I think it did some things better than Demon’s Souls, and I think it took a few steps backwards regarding certain areas of the game and a couple particular bosses. I definitely never felt like feedback was an issue, though. If I failed to push through an area, it was on me to brainstorm and come up with a new plan or way to tackle the situation that wasn’t just something that boiled down to, “Try harder.” If you never play this again, I would simply urge you to watch an above average player fight through the bosses. The ending is really nothing special and it’s the design of the levels and the bosses that holds the game together so well and makes it enjoyable.

  20. I look at the stats you posted in the article and you look like you should be WAY overpowered against something like the Taurus Demon.

    Ah, that’s just some image I found on the internet, not my stats!

    My typical run against the Taurus Demon is to kill the skeleton archers on the tower before heading out toward where the demon appears, then edge out until it appears and turn and run immediately for the ladder, climb it, move to the edge and plunge attack down on it if it’s directly below you.

    Sure. 50 attempts.

    Generally I can hit him this way a few times, then I get hit by his attack and die immediately.

    I just wish I could see what’s going on in your attempts that is causing you grief, as I know it was an intimidating fight at first, but even a small amount of grinding should be considerably good enough to handle the Taurus Demon

    I ground for about 10 hours. Is that enough?

    The problem isn’t that I’m playing wrong (I probably am). The issue is that there’s no way to figure out what the problem is. If a skilled player has no way to advise a novice player other than looking at exactly how the player plays, I think that’s a strong indication that the game isn’t telling the player anything himself. OK, so I need a coach to play this game. Fine. No thanks.

    I probably would have asked friends if anyone knew a good strategy for him, asked what I was doing wrong, and tried grinding

    Done and done, but again: that’s all external feedback. My main complaint is that the game is so obtuse that, short of reading a faq or finding an expert to consult with, there’s no way for me to understand it or improve. Or maybe there is, and it just requires a time commitment that I can’t give it. Too bad.

  21. Honestly, I think you’re spot on with the assertion regarding how the game is to be approached. This is essentially taking the King’s Field series and putting it into third person perspective, throwing grandiose bosses into the mix, and much more clever enemies than what people are used to seeing from grunt-types.

    I seriously don’t understand why Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls got so popular, given that they are ridiculously unforgiving and most of the people playing them probably have not touched a King’s Field (or Shadow Tower) game. There is no easy set of directions, very limited feedback, and an extremely unforgiving playstyle in which your deaths will practically haunt you because of what you’ve lost. Made harder by the constant auto-saving, it seems like an enigma to me. This has always been a game style I liked, but I’ve seen it catch on with people I’d never expect to give it a second glance, telling me how amazing and fun the game is.

    Is that not the strangest thing? That here amidst so many people wanting “fun” games that also happen to not be very challenging, that there’s a great embrace of something that does as little as possible to elaborate on its challenges? Casual play almost feels like a lifestyle now, but people are coming out of the woodwork for something that’s simply saying, “I will best you. You will die. I will not care. Play me or not, it makes no difference.” …and people love it. 😛

  22. Like others have said, its hard to advise you without knowing exactly what the problem is. The key ingredient is speed – you move much faster when you aren’t wearing much armour, and it really does make the world of difference.

    I’m not saying that armored characters can’t succeed 0 I’m a heavy armor kind of guy myself. But early on, I found it better to ditch the armor and take the extra speed – very handy for outpacing slow clumsy bosses.

    Basically I did the following.

    1) Take enough armor off that I’m moving at a fair old pace.

    2) Run to the ladder, nip up and then Death from Above him.

    3) Run away past him for a fair distance. Turn around, roll past him as he pursues you.

    4) Race back to the ladder and repeat the Death from Above attack – and keep doing this sequence until he dies.

    Its *much* easier if you are lightly armored, because you have much more time to get to the ladder, and get up there, before he catches up with you. Just make sure to run far enough away that he has a long distance to travel to get back to the ladder.

    Basically, don’t underestimate the differance that losing a bit of armor can make. It feels like you lowering your defenses, but the speed increase is worth it. Later on, you will be able to level up enough that you can tank about in heavy plate, if such is your wish. But at the start of the game, I find that being fast on your feet is better – note also that the roll is basically useless if you have too much encumbrance.

    Now consider that I played through the whole of Demon’s Souls with lots of encumbrance. My character was really tough, but *really* slow and his roll was just embarrassingly bad. I had it in my head that it worked like Fallout – i.e that encumbrance only kicked in if you exceeded the max level.

    But its a gradual thing – you get slower and slower the more weight you have, until you finally can’t really move. My stubbornness made Demon’s Souls so much harder than it should have been – I just couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been when I played Dark Souls, and found out what I’d done.

    I’d played as a Temple Knight, and I liked the look of my heavily armored gal, so I stuck with it through thick and thin.

    Anyway, that’s my best suggestion. I can only echo the sentiment that it really isn’t that hard, so something is obviously going wrong. My best guess is that your encumbrance is so high that your speed and rolling are compromised.

  23. It’s likely that I’m just doing something wrong. But that’s the whole problem: there’s zero feedback for me to actually decipher what that might be.

    Your not doing anything wrong. Even with a viable strategy (plunging from tower, fire attacks, etc) the Taurus Demon still take skillful playing to beat as do most things in this game.

    Dark Souls is the greatest game I’ve ever played but, maybe it’s just not for you Chris. I see the other commentators giving you advice but if your not interested enough in the game to figure it out yourself then your not gonna get any farther anyways. The game only gets much harder.

    I’m a great fan of your articles and for that reason I’ve again and again tried to get into Sirens but I just don’t like it, it’s just not for me.

  24. Sure, that’s fair.

    What bugs me about Dark Souls is that I’m totally down for a really hard, no-hand-holding, super deep world game. Sounds great. The fact that I can’t get into Dark Souls bugs me.

  25. Have you considered playing Demon’s souls first? Its up for debate over which is the harder game overall, but Demon’s Souls definitely has a much gentler and easier opening couple of hours.

    Unlike Dark Souls, there are is no rush of bosses that you must beat. The only boss you face in the first few hours is Phalanx, and the game holds your hand through what is already an incredibly easy fight (because in an uncharacteristically generous move, the game both tells you about and gives you lots of, a specific item that is extremely damaging to said boss).

    Of the 2 games, I would argue that Dark Souls is by far the easier when all is said and done. But it also has a dreadful and needlessly frustrating opening couple of hours, which Demon’s Souls does not.

    It may not help, but on the other hand, it might. Its worth bearing in mind that a substantial number of people who are singing Dark Souls’ praises, have also played Demon’s Souls first, and become accustomed the series’ way of doing things.

    Demon’s Souls most infamous sections are some distance into the game. That gives you plenty of time to learn the ropes, power you character up properly and get your head in the right place.

    Meanwhile Dark Souls does the equivalent of strapping some boxing gloves to you, pushing you into the ring against the heavyweight champ, and saying ‘Well? Get on with it then…’

    DING! Lights out…

    Its something to consider at least. You lose nothing by trying, right?

  26. I actually had a worse reaction to Demon’s Souls–not only did I not understand how to play, I didn’t understand ANYTHING about the progression system (alive/dead, Nexus thing, etc). At least with Dark Souls I understand the geometry of the world sort of. Demon’s Souls gave me no impetus to play and I didn’t understand what the goal was or where to go or how to play and it wasn’t fun. I did try, though.

    You lose nothing by trying, right?

    My time. My time is what I lose. I have a giant stack of games to play, and very little time each week to play them. I’d rather not feel that I am wasting that time.

  27. Fair enough, but… its your *quest* man, your Survival Horror Quest! What’s a little time in the face of the Quest…?

    I jest of course. I am curious about this ‘stack of games’ though. I’m a fan of survival horror games myself (obviously, or how would I have ended up here in the first place).

    Its been many a long year since I’ve had a stack, or even a little pile of Survival Horror games, more’s the pity. Curse these wretched modern mainstream times!

    But oh, for a stack…

  28. If we’re talking just horror games, I have about 50 to complete. But I don’t just play horror games!

    That’s part of the problem with Dark Souls, for me: I have, at most, maybe 3 hours per week to play games nowadays. And that’s probably broken up into two sessions. That’s probably not enough time to make progress in a game like this.

    This is pretty unbelievable. 15 hours just to get to the first boss? I get that the game is meant to be difficult and all that, but a difficult game needs to be balanced. Game developers need to start understanding that not everyone has that amount of time to invest in a story. The story might be great. The game might be amazing. But there’s only so much time you can invest into a game. I’m lucky if I get a few hours a week to play a new old game and on the whole I have far more unfinished games than I have completed games and I am pretty sure that experience is not exclusive to me. I’ve dumped probably hundreds of hours into games like Chrono Trigger, FF5, ff6, Deadly Premonition, Silent Hill 4 & 5, Just Cause 2, Dead Island, and countless others without finishing them. And to complete most of them now would just feel like nothing more than an arduous time sink. So why bother? Do I truly care about “the story” of Dead Island when the gameplay is essentially just “go out to this place, get this thing, kill zombies”? Seeing the same actions time and time again just gets boring. So I quit. There are other games out there that aren’t going to feel like going to work. I don’t mean to say that I am not willing to invest a lot of time into a game, but the amount of patience I have for a game that is going to be an exercise in frustration has dwindled. I’m only willing to expend so much effort on a title, particularly when all I am getting out of the game is irritation.

  30. Reading your post i have come to the conclusion that you may be making the same mistakes i made when i was playing demons souls.

    i went in originally thinking, Hay this is an RPG there for states = better ability for character, or hmmm there is a system to beating this boss without looking around, lets observe.

    this is not how the games (dark souls, demons souls) work.


    Upping your level simply for the purpose of holding better gear and equipment, or to buy better magics, more mp or more hp.


    you have to use your surroundings, think about attacking from distance if your equipment cant protect you (mange’s and no gear types vs heavy gear types).

    the moment you realize its a case of what you have vs how many mobs (enemies) vs the surroundings your in, is the moment the game gets more playable and less frustrating from my experience.

    The difficulty is still there, but that’s part of the charm.

    Heck prepare to die over and over again, this was part of there marketing campaign 😛

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