I am not wont to making top-10, top-5, top-x lists. Nor am I comfortable being forced to decide on a ‘all time favorite whatever‘. My interests are far too wide and my attention is far too short. But if you pressed a talon to my jugular and prompted me to pick a personal “Game of the Year” for 2012 I would, without even flinching, declare it to be Dark Souls. I shall not delve into the reasons but suffice it to say that the dank, musty world of Lordrain and the demanding gameplay therein had consistently drawn me deeper and deeper and deeper – more so than any game had since perhaps Diablo 2 (I must have a thing for dank, musty places). Therefore, the few details, snapshots and demo videos of Dark Souls II that are seeping out of FROM Software’s studios are filling me with an odd mix of excitement and anxiety: Excitement in that a sequel is now all too real; anxiety in that I hope it doesn’t – for lack of a better word – suck. In fact, these few details and snapshots gave me pause for reflection, specifically concerning the atmosphere and environment of the first Dark Souls – the vibe – and ways in which they can be improved in order for the sequel to be all the more devastating.
Part of the masochistic appeal of Dark Souls is all those inconvenient spaces one must battle the enemy. The first thing that comes to mind is the Capra Demon boss battle. This gladiatorial event is not fought in a spacious arena; The 10-foot, dual-meat-cleaver-wielding, goatskull demon (and his two vicious bloodhounds) is fought in a narrow, cramped courtyard in the Lower Undead Burg. Another instance is fighting a black knight on a spiral staircase in The Perish; or an armored boar in the entrance hallway to the Duke’s Archives; or those two Anor Londo archers flanking your narrow path – on a buttress – up to a 2-foot ledge on the side of the castle. These are examples of immediate gameplay design within the named staged area – and the sequel should not alter these.
I suggest that the designers take a step back and assess the composition of these named staged areas, the aesthetics, and the potential vibe these elements can create. I am not calling for a more lavish spacious place to battle – do not confuse my idea of environment as a place with greater graphical detail. The environment I am envisioning is a dynamic, foreboding place that enhances the ever-present sense of danger. And Dark Souls achieved this in specific areas of Lordrain; in other places however areas feel flat. For Dark Souls II to achieve a universal sense of oppression and danger I propose over the next few posts the adroit use of two very basic elements: light and sound. Keep the inconvenient battle places the way they are, enhance the environments, and you’ll have one intense and exhaustive sequel that will not only stand tall over its predecessor but find itself in top-x lists for years to come.