Screenshot Saturday – Dark Souls sets the perfect pace

The screenshot above were taken during our forthcoming review of Dark Souls III. We’ve left out any screenshots of boss battles, sticking mostly with locations to avoid spoilers.

When people talk about the Dark Souls games (and Bloodborne), the first thing that’s usually brought up is the difficulty those games are so famous for. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t, and I’m pretty sure I managed to shorten the lives of a few controllers in the process of playing them. But I don’t think that’s what hooks people.

What makes Dark Souls really work is the pacing.

The first Dark Souls and Bloodborne both excelled at this. For most players, the bosses in these games are considered difficult, but they’re rarely too difficult. They’re difficult enough that you’ll spend a bit wondering, ‘how am I going to beat this freaking boss?” Usually, I’m not saying ‘freaking,’ though my neighbors may have an opinion on that topic. When you’re about to hit the edge of your patience, though, it stops being a question, and you’re saying, “I’m going to beat this freaking boss!”

But it’s not just the big victories of beating bosses and cashing all those red-hot souls in for a shiny new level. The game is littered with smaller victories, too, in much the same way as games like Super Metroid. Bonfires pop up just often enough, and often in unexpected places. You’ll be offered two or three paths, and you’re lucky enough to choose the one with the bonfire – a safe spot and a way back to the hub.

Then there are items like Estus Shards, which you can take back to the hub to level your healing flask to give you one more dose, or, in the case of Dark Souls III, Undead Bone Shards, which let each dose heal substantially more hitpoints. These items are often hidden in plain sight, and it’s just a matter of crushing a few enemies and seeing them driven before you, then getting to that sparkling dot in the distance.

Perhaps my favorite, though, are shortcuts. Doors you walked by ten, twenty times or more that you’ve now unlocked, opening up a way to get around faster, to cut around some of the riskier enemies.

What each of these does is open a possibility. Bosses you couldn’t beat before seem like they can be tackled, dead ends become doorways. New armor, weapons, and items provide new skills to learn and new strategies for battle.

Few modern games, if any, manage to do this quite the same way that Dark Souls does. Sometimes the games offer possibilities without the risk. Others present a high level of difficulty, but the goal is something simple and clear like “dodge all the bullets.” Others are so wide open that there’s no control by the creator of the rate at which these possibilities open up. Even later playthroughs offer more secrets, new character builds, and new ways to approach enemies that let that pacing stay compelling after the first time around.

The mastery of that pacing is what makes Dark Souls what it is. Dark Souls III is just over the horizon, and we’ve been playing it at every waking moment, so we’ll have a review up soon. In the meantime, here are some screenshots of the game to enjoy.

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