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).
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.