It’s hard to deny that “Dark Souls” didn’t completely change the face of the games that came after its release. Thanks to its obscene difficulty and largely rewarding combat system, “Dark Souls” became exemplary for many RPGs that came after it. Although “Demon’s Souls” came before it, “Dark Souls” is more solidified in gaming culture today. “Dark Souls” is arguably most well known amongst mainstream audiences for its aforementioned difficulty. One of the largest selling points of “Dark Souls” was the fact that it would be unforgiving from beginning to end. Fans readily welcomed this attitude towards players, arguing that games before it held your hand throughout gameplay and never readily offered challenge. In “Dark Souls,” enemies could easily kill you in one hit and traps often lined each castle’s murky corridors. As the back of the game’s box warned: be prepared to die. I played “Dark Souls” briefly and found myself falling in and out of interest. Perhaps, I thought, the game was too hard for me. The game requires a large amount of repeating sections over and over again in order to properly identify enemy patterns. Being the simpleton that I am, I found myself unable to practice this extensively. It wasn’t until I recently began playing “Darkest Dungeon” that I realized that my gripes with the “Dark Souls” series weren’t with the difficulty itself, but the way in which difficulty is conveyed.
Like “Dark Souls,” a core facet of “Darkest Dungeon” is failure and player death. The game opens up by reminding the player that they will die frequently, and that restarting a dungeon will become commonplace as the game goes on. I believe I learned this lesson within thirty minutes. Thanks to my hubris and lack of preparation, I led my group of four trusted adventurers into a dungeon that they would never return from. However, I wasn’t frustrated upon death like I expected I would be, and this is in large part because of the game’s design itself. The adventurers that dare enter the caverns willingly volunteer to be a part of the team in droves. In other words, they are sadly expendable. For every soldier that dies on the journey, there is another misguided court jester or bounty hunter that will take their place. Hubris plays a huge role in “Darkest Dungeon,” both on the player’s end and for the characters. Characters unwittingly enter the dungeons in hope of gold or glory, ultimately leading in their downfall. Simultaneously, the pride of the player can affect the pace of the game. In my efforts to preserve gold, I limited rations for my party that ended with them in hunger. In other instances, I deliberately took my team out of recuperation time due to my impatience. The game reveals that the flaws of character and player can be paralleled. The game essentially predicts my inevitable failure, and fosters perseverance whereas “Dark Souls” expects perfection through repetition.
Another aspect of “Darkest Dungeon’s” design that fosters a healthy representation of difficulty is the concept of randomness. “Darkest Dungeon’s” representation of damage is riddled with so many statistics that it borders on the line of sheer randomness. An ability may do a specific range of damage, but the defensive abilities of the opponent and the accuracy of the character can drastically sway an outcome. Critical strikes are random as well, meaning a single hit can make or break a situation. In other words, you feel that there are times where things are completely out of control. This single aspect speaks a lot about the difference between the two games discussed. Whereas “Dark Souls” is about overcoming the odds, “Darkest Dungeon” is about trying your best to survive within your means.
Michael Dellapi is a staff columnist for the Highlighter.