Welcome to Flawed Masterpieces. A series designed to look at the weaknesses of gaming’s greatest titles, and remind us all that the past was not perfect.
Dark Souls is a great game. Actually, as the title of this article suggests, it is a masterpiece.
I’ve only thought of Dark Souls more recently with the release of Bloodborne, which has reignited my love of the Souls franchise like a freshly kindled bonfire in the hopeless night.
Yet as much as I love Dark Souls (I once wrote it ruined me for other games, and stand by that statement in many ways) it is not a perfect game. Some of its flaws didn’t become evident the first time through, nor the second or even the third. But as I go through what will be my fifth playthrough of From Software’s great contribution to gaming, I have found there are things about Dark Souls which do hinder the game. Some of these hindrances are small. Others…well to be honest some of them continue to impact the franchise to this day.
So with respects to my fellow Dark Souls travelers, I present the biggest flaws of Dark Souls.
The Magic System
Magic in Dark Souls was intentionally dialed back from its Demon Souls counterpart, on the grounds that the old magic system made certain parts of the experience meant to be challenging in a specific way, far too easy to get around.
That’s fine, but the problem became that making a pure magic character in Dark Souls is a huge chore. Even assuming you have a slight indication of where to go and how to manage your path to pure sorcery (which, as I’ll be discussing later, is a big assumption) you’ll find your ability to manage the early game on your limited spell repertoire alone to be nigh impossible. Even the act of casting a spells will require some online fact checking for many new players.
Eventually, you can get a handle on how the process works, but this doesn’t mean the game makes this class pursuit any easier. Compared to regular weapons, truly useful spells are incredibly difficult to locate even for the more thorough players, and Dark Souls system of granting you a limited number of casts per bonfire visit means that at some point you will have to devote resources to an alternate form of combat.
I’m sure that this is where some Dark Souls players who went through the entire game with nothing but spells will tell me I’m crazy, and that devoted magic builds are incredibly powerful late game, but the fact remains that Dark Souls treatment of magic throws every possible hurdle at the player who wishes to use it as a primary resource.
And that’s what really bothers me about the process. Not that magic isn’t viable or entertaining, but that for a game already so focused on making things as difficult as possible, the heavy restrictions placed on such a primary mechanic simply feel arbitrary.
I don’t mean this entrant to be as controversial as it will inevitably be, but I am of the camp that says Blighttown is an uninspired misery.
Let’s start with something everyone can probably agree on. Blighttown’s framerate, especially pre-patch, is a joke. It’s so bad in crucial moments, that the conspiracy theory that it was intentionally implemented into the level to add to the general misery doesn’t actually sound that unreasonable.
Beyond that, the entire basis behind Blighttown seems to have been to throw the most miserable aspects of the game at the wall to see what sticks. That means curses, unavoidable enemies at the bottom of ladders, leaps of faith courtesy of awkward platforming, unreasonable distances between bonfires, annoying enemies and poison around every corner.
Some of these can be countered through shortcuts and the right combination of inventory, but in true Dark Souls fashion it’s going to be very likely you won’t have acquired much of it by the time you get to Blighttown. That means you’re in for multiple, miserable attempts through the long way around.
And that sucks. Dark Souls is at its best when it’s difficult, but fair and Blighttown eschews that notion in favor of introducing the kind of annoyingly overwhelming (and wholly unenjoyable) level of frustration non-Dark Souls fans have come to unfairly associate the series with. On my multiple playthroughs of the game, it is always the one area I roll my eyes at, even with the shortcuts.
Surviving Blighttown has created a brotherhood among Dark Souls players, due to that overwhelming feeling of satisfaction that comes with besting it. However, that doesn’t make it a good level. Just an epic pain in the ass.