Dark Fantasy  Tagged Articles RSS Feed | GameSkinny.com Dark Fantasy  RSS Feed on GameSkinny.com https://www.gameskinny.com/ en Launch Media Network Why Dark Souls Is Still So Good, Six Years Later https://www.gameskinny.com/wnyc6/why-dark-souls-is-still-so-good-six-years-later https://www.gameskinny.com/wnyc6/why-dark-souls-is-still-so-good-six-years-later Sat, 30 Dec 2017 10:00:01 -0500 Colin "Ghost Panda" Mieczkowski

The Dark Souls series has become one of the most iconic gaming franchises of all time. It has wowed gamers with its unique worlds, intense boss battles, mysterious lore, and classic level-to-level gameplay. 

What's more, it has opened the door for some great sequels and inspired games of today like Nioh and Nier: Automata. Bloodborne, a spinoff game made by Dark Souls creators FromSoftware has also become an all-time great in its own right. 

But what is it about the first Dark Souls that still makes it such a great game almost a decade later? There a few reasons, so grab your swords, spears, and catalysts, and follow me as we explore this dark, magical world once again. 

Variety of Locations

 As you progress through Dark Souls, you see a lot of the usual sights of castles, knights, and dragons, but then things really start to change. These changes take effect when you enter the Darkroot Garden, one of the more beautiful and serene areas in the game.  

There, you take on several odd enemies, and once you're done with the main garden, you can head down the basin of the garden. In this location, you'll take on a hydra, which is a dragon with multiple heads.  

These two locations are when you really start to see the game change from your classic castle and knights tale into a world of total fantasy. From the garden, you never know what to expect the rest of the way because the locations vary so much. 

There are some creepy, dark places, but then there are beautiful places such as Anor Londo, the Painted World of Ariamis and Ash Lake. The way the game plays with your psyche is unreal. 

Just when you think you're in a safe, cozy spot, the game will take you to a dark and eerie place. Just remember to cherish every bonfire, as there aren't as many as in later installments of Dark Souls.  

The Difficulty of the Game 

The difficulty of the Dark Souls series became a trademark and was what helped make it so famous and successful. Obviously, as players began to get more comfortable with the game, they started to puff out their chests, and their heads blew up like hot-air balloons. 

That being said, at the time when it came out, the difficulty was unique. To state the obvious, the enemies could hit you very hard, and they were very intelligent with their movements. 

Nice job dodging that one enemy, but wait, he's going to change his attack pattern mid-movement to still hit you anyway. Not only that, your souls and humanities you earn will be gone after you die. 

You can still get your stuff back, but you shall be escorted back to your nearest bonfire first, good sir or madam. This means that you could be a world away from where you died, depending on how far you got. 

And finally, you won't be able to unlock the ability to warp between bonfires until later on in the game. This means that, if you have to go back to a certain area, you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way: making the trek. 

Welcome to Dark Souls

The Classic Style of Gameplay 

One of the things that made Dark Souls so different from other games was the classic level-to-level gameplay. It took what you knew from old arcade games and brought it into a new generation of gaming. 

Go to level, beat level, defeat boss, move on to next location. It's one of the things you'll notice immediately when playing the series for the first time, and it's a concept we're all familiar with.  

It's almost like time travel. The differences obviously are the graphics, difficult enemies, specialized combat, and a lot more "Ahh!" and "Whoa!" 

So it's a game that old-school and current gamers can easily admire. I shall give you a blank piece a paper so you can write your love letter to FromSoftware. 

The Fascinating, Hidden Lore

The lore of Dark Souls has become a widely discussed topic amongst the dark fantasy gaming community. The fact that the game doesn't hold your hand through the "story" is one of the things that makes it awesome. 

They want you to figure out the story yourself. This is where the numerous items, armor, and weapons help immensely at piecing together the lore, bit by bit. 

Sure, you can always pull up YouTube videos and Reddit posts, but the descriptions of the various items can give you an ah-ha moment. It's great if you truly want to put the pieces of the puzzle together yourself. 

The game does an excellent job of giving you the tools to learn the story without them having to tell you the lore themselves. Much like a game like Journey, Dark Souls forever changed the way we view video game storytelling. 

The Online Experience

There is no game that has an online experience quite like Dark Souls. The game does an amazing job of incorporating other players' experience into your story mode without ruining it. 

Seeing messages on the ground written by other players gives you a great deal of guidance and is a great idea. Of course, you'll have some pranksters that will leave misleading messages. One example would be a message saying "jump" near a ledge (no, I did not write that message, and no, I did not jump). 

Also, when leaving messages down for others, it's always fun to see how many plus or negative ratings you get per message. The messages you could write weren't as detailed as they are in Dark Souls 3, but it was the introduction of a neat idea. 

Of course, there are the good old summon signs. You know that claustrophobic feeling you get when you realize that you can't defeat a boss and you're trapped, unable to advance the game?  

Well, have no fear, fellow undead is here. Having other players to help you get through certain areas helps to heal the massive wound you received after dying so much. This also keeps your sanity in check.  

Of course, you have to watch out for invaders if you haven't beaten the area boss yet. These dudes or dudettes will make your experience a pain if you aren't a skilled player yet. 

Overall, though, what makes the online gameplay for Dark Souls cool is that it merges both online and story into one lane. You're going to journey alone, but in reality, you aren't alone, as messages and jolly cooperators are there to help.  

Plus, it's just fun to play alongside other players. After beating the area boss, I always enjoy trying to help others in need. 

Once the boss is finished off, you will be rolling solo again just like that, and you can progress your story. The only downside is that if there is a certain enemy or mini-boss that you still want to beat, you will not be able to summon help because the area boss was beaten. 

Playing the role of helper is also an amazing way to rack up your souls. Keep fighting alongside fellow players, and you'll be leveling up in no time, as each boss rewards you handsomely. 

If you're a PvP player, then just keep those eyeballs glued to the ground for red summon signs. Be prepared for an epic duel. 

As a whole, the online rocks, and it changes the way we view a "story mode." 

The Epic Boss Battles 

 

This sorta goes back to the classic gameplay concept of boss-to-boss, and Dark Souls nails it. Certainly, Ornstein & Smough is a battle that comes to mind a lot, and they instantly became all-time great bosses.  

All of that hard work trying to reach Anor Londo ... you finally make it, and you were not disappointed by the epic boss battle (well, disappointed at the many times you died, but other than that, totally cool). 

The battle with Sif (pictured) is one of the more visually stunning boss battles ever. Not to mention that Sif is just one of the coolest bosses ever. A giant wolf wielding a sword? Epic.  

Overall, though, the game is littered with amazing and difficult bosses. Each one also fits perfectly into its respective area. 

When you enter into each area after figuring out the game's pattern, you might ask yourself, "I wonder who the boss is that protects this land?" Crossbreed Priscilla (pictured at the beginning of the article) is a great example of fitting into the area. 

Her all-white robe, hair, tail, as well as her mystique, plant her beautifully on the snowy canvas of the Painted World of Ariamis. Entering the painting, you knew the boss battle was going to be of "magical" proportions. 

The amazing thing is that each boss is so different from each other. It's almost as if you're playing two or maybe three separate games. Just when you think you know the type of boss you're about to battle, guess again. Some bosses might make you say, "OK, he/she isn't so bad," while others will make you scream out profanities. 

The boss battles are the juice in Dark Souls, and the reward for beating each one is always a treat. Not only are you advancing in the game, but you can also rock their gear and use their weapons. 

The game has taken the meaning of "boss" to a whole new level. Being a golf geek, I like to use this analogy: you can either "lay up" and play it safe by summoning a fellow chosen undead, or you can go for the target and take the boss head-on by yourself. 

The choice is yours, but don't be afraid to summon someone, as "jolly cooperation" is one of the pleasures of Dark Souls. 

The Introduction of Bonfires 

Ahh yes, one of the most iconic checkpoints in video game history, the first installment of Dark Souls introduced us to the bonfire. After so many intense battles, pressure moments, and deaths (especially falling off ledges), the bonfire was there to help us relieve stress and dry off our sweaty palms. 

When our gear and weapons were exhausted after being used so many times, we could rely on the bonfire to repair our stuff. When things needed upgrading, the burning coiled sword was there as well.  

In short, there may be nothing more iconic in Dark Souls than the bonfire, and it would always come through in the clutch in time of need (unless you're in New Londo Ruins -- then you're screwed).

Conclusion

Although we have seen the releases of Dark Souls 2 and 3, as well as Bloodborne, it's always fun to revisit the first game. It was an introduction to a brand-new way to play an RPG game, and it still keeps players coming back again and again.  

Some players may have worked backwards, and they're currently experiencing the joys of Dark Souls 1 for the first time. There's no doubt that they will get hooked like returning players. 

The game's design, combat, visually unique locations, and boss battles made it a special game. Who knows, some time down the road, we may be discussing how incredible Bloodborne was. 

But certainly, the first time that players complete Dark Souls may be an experience they never forget. 

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With Obsidian's Latest RPG Tyranny, Evil Truly Does Win https://www.gameskinny.com/v3hfx/with-obsidians-latest-rpg-tyranny-evil-truly-does-win https://www.gameskinny.com/v3hfx/with-obsidians-latest-rpg-tyranny-evil-truly-does-win Fri, 11 Nov 2016 07:45:18 -0500 Ty Arthur

Considering this week's events in the U.S. elections, it seemed like the right time to play a game based on the premise that an evil overlord already won. Likewise, I discovered the intense annoyance of Google searching the word “Tyranny” and finding a whole lot of Tea Party "don't tread on me" material rather than anything to do with Obsidian Entertainment's latest take on the classic RPG formula.

 This is definitely not what I was looking for...

An Unexpected Return

As soon as we heard Obsidian had teamed up with Paradox, everyone was dreaming of a new World Of Darkness RPG. Personally I was hoping for Wraith -- a corner of the World Of Darkness that never gets any digital gaming love -- but of course everyone gets themselves into a frenzy over Vampire.

In a twist nobody saw coming, instead we got Tyranny -- a game Obsidian had pitched to a publisher years back but was turned down. This is one of those interesting turning points in gaming history and its impossible to know -- would this have been a completely different experience if the original idea was executed then, versus arriving now after Obsidian nailed the retro style with Pillars Of Eternity?

 Look familiar?

Before getting into the game itself, I have to give props to the folks from Obsidian for not crowd funding every game, like several other purveyors of classic style RPGs have done (which has really put a sour taste in the mouths of fans). They made their money on Pillars, and now are doing things the old fashioned way.

Honestly I didn't believe this game was actually arriving this year as originally announced, and was rather shocked when the November release date was revealed. I was expecting the end of the year to arrive and then see a sheepish delay announcement quietly released, so hats off for keeping your word, Obsidian.

Tyranny Raises The Stakes

Not many games have you play the conquest of a nation as your character creation screen, and that's just the beginning of Tyranny's shift in focus. The choices you make during the initial conquest of the Tiers area radically change each location and how people interact with you throughout the rest of the game.

Many of the NPCs I came across referred to me as the “Queenslayer” due to options chosen during the character creation section -- with some very pleased to meet me over that particular exploit, and others attacking me on sight over the name.

 The conquest of a nation serves as your character creation

Tyranny turns a lot of the standard RPG tropes on their head. In an early section you'd think you should stop and help a wounded soldier. That option just earns you derision, not only because you are supposed to be iron-willed and without mercy, but because this particular faction is under a magical compulsion that heals non-lethal wounds very quickly.

There's also a major shift in how the world reacts to you and what kind of character you are playing. Rather than that defenseless peasant having to take up the sword and learn to become a hero, nearly everyone you meet is already terrified of bringing out your wrath because you have the lawful means to execute anyone you come across.

Rather than that defenseless peasant having to take up the sword and learn to become a hero, nearly everyone you meet is already terrified of bringing out your wrath...

That doesn't mean people immediately agree with or capitulate to you though, as there are many different factions present -- and not all of them agree with how you are going about your job of enforcing the Overlord's will.

There's a compelling reason to get people to work together and not just slaughter anyone you disobeys you, as the game starts with a magical Edict compelling you to complete a task within 8 days or everyone in the area – friend and foe – will die.

 The Disfavored and Scarlet Chorus have very different conquest styles

A Reactive Dark Fantasy World

In a manner similar to the ARPG Grim Dawn, your Fatebinder character gains new Reputation abilities both for currying favor and for invoking wrath with any given faction, but you don't just get wrath for killing enemies – quite a few options present themselves as you decide how to enforce the Overlord's will.

While conventional wisdom would be to ingratiate yourself with party members and keep them happy to make them loyal, sometimes in the world of Tyranny its better that they hate and fear you instead.

You can actually start with a sizable favor or wrath score with certain factions just based off character creation options. Likewise, there's loyalty and fear with companions.

Neither is necessarily better than the other, and both offer up different dialog options.

While conventional wisdom would be to ingratiate yourself with party members and keep them happy to make them loyal, sometimes in the world of Tyranny its better that they hate and fear you instead.

                        Gaining Verse's loyalty unlocks new combat options

As expected from Obsidian, the companions are a serious high point, and perhaps even more interesting than those from Pillars. Adding another tactical layer, you can learn combo attacks with your companions that unlock as they grow to love or fear you.

More Of The Same, With Some Twists

Style and layout-wise, Tyranny plays like a combination of Pillars Of Eternity and the similarly amoral Blackguards 2, which is a good thing. One of the reasons the game likely arrived so quickly is because its clearly the same engine, and in some cases even the same assets, that were used in Pillars Of Eternity.

The camping equipment and wounds system, for instance, are lifted wholesale. But other elements of the combat and class system have been tweaked and changed to feel separate and unique.

One interesting change is that experience is gained for simply using skills and making attacks, and there's also the ability to pay trainers to upgrade skills (with a cap on how often that can occur per level).

Graphically Tyranny is very similar to Pillars, but the background locations are a little more washed of color and less vibrant, while the character models (especially the powerful Archons) are much more eye-popping and colorful.

 War is a dreary hell... and ever present in Tyranny

As with Pillars, your character build will change dialog options radically. It's not just conversation though --  whole areas of a map that may be unreachable depending on where you put your points. There's a section of the opening area I simply couldn't get to due to my low Athletics. You better believe points will be going there on the next playthrough when I'm not focused on lore and spell casting.

What's surprising is how interconnected everything ends up being. Dialog options, for instance, become available with different party members even depending on what you look at. Simply choosing to examine a certain banner gets your first companion Verse talking about what she doesn't like about the army that flies that banner, and offers opportunities to earn loyalty or fear.

The biggest combat change is in learning Sigils and Accents to craft your own spells, changing the form, size, duration, effect, damage, etc. for a wider range of spell options.

You can create a huge (nay, massive) range of spells, but only have a limited number of slots to put them in. And the more Accents you add, the higher the lore cost, until eventually the spells will be too powerful to cast. There's no magic points or Vancian daily magic spells, and instead each spell has a cooldown period controlled by your stats. 

 Building a better fireball

A Few Problems

Unlike with Pillars, I'm not crazy about the UI layouts in Tyranny -- both on the main screen and in the inventory/character panels, which are pretty cluttered.

The inventory screen when buying and selling from merchants in particular feels a little basic and unpolished, and reminds me of Wasteland 2's UI before being fixed in various patches and the Director's Cut edition. 

 This is about as basic as it gets 

All of the various menu and character screens feel overly plain and utilitarian, and fail to evoke the flavor of a dark fantasy world where an evil god-like overlord has conquered nearly everything.

They really do feel like a sheet of paper covered in RPG stats, but there's an upside there. Your various offense and defense stats clearly state where everything is coming from: a bonus from your equipped Scarlet Fury Helm, a bonus from high Finesse stat, and so on. You aren't ever in the dark about why your stats are the way they are.

Other than the UI, the only other issue present is that the many interesting moral choices becomes less prevalent the further you progress in the game, and it does feel like there should be more content overall. Most noticeably, each of the map locations are much smaller than they were in Pillars, which may also have something to do with the short amount of time between games.

The companions in particular could have used more side quest material, and I would have gladly waited a few more months for a more complete experience rather than getting another game just a year after Pillars

The Bottom Line

Obviously you have to already be in love with the Baldur's Gate / Planescape: Torment / Pillars Of Eternity formula, but if you are, this is going to be in your top games of the year. There are some flaws, but I suspect some of them will be rectified with patches and others will hopefully be remedied with DLC.

After playing through as a law-breaking mage who sides with the chaotic Scarlet Chorus, I honestly can't wait to start over and come through again as a noble-born soldier who supports the regimented order of the Disfavored.

With Tyranny arriving so unexpectedly quickly after Pillars, now we have to ask: what's next from Obsidian? Sadly, it's not a likely scenario at this point that Obsidian will be taking the next Fallout to put Bethesda's efforts to shame, as in years past.

Personally I hope the next one is a sci-fi horror mashup done in a similar visual style to Tyranny. What do you think of Tyranny's shift towards evil, and what are you hoping the developer will get up to next?

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