“A shining diamond, dipped into a bucket full of diarrhea, vomit, and developer incompetence.”
That is how I describe the Dark Souls/Sekiro series. If you are willing to step up and repeatedly lick off all that sick, you WILL find the most exquisite and challenging game series ever created.
Too bad it gets buried underneath a mountain of programming arrogance/incompetence and HIGHLY questionable design decisions. I often said, if you gave ANY top tier developer studio (or even any passionate indie house with enough staff) the specs for this game, they would produce a MUCH better final product.
And this was proven when Lies of P was released. The game was published by Neowiz Games and Round8 Studio, two companies I was unfamiliar with. Neowiz had a wide array of smaller titles previously published, while Round8 had much less experience with only one game under their belt before Lies of P. But they took the Soulslike formula. most specifically a Bloodbourne rip that was reskinned with a steam punk Pinocchio overlay, and showed the world what a FUNCTIONAL Soulslike game should look, feel, and most importantly, be designed like.
FromSoftware should be embarrassed. They’ve had SO many chances.
The vitriol comes from the wasted time. There are SO many games out there, developers should be on their knees thanking their player base for spending their time and money on their games. FromSoftware does. not. care. about. your. time.
They got your money, why fix a broken game? Why introduce mechanics that would help the player and not just punish them? Why do any of the job of explaining the most important game mechanics, when they can just rely on the internet to solve those problems? The arrogance is mind-numbing.
When the overwhelming majority of players COULD NOT finish the game without the internet, you gotta realize the developers are not good at their jobs. They are hiding behind the brilliant core of the idea, with a ‘git gud’ dumbass fanboy approach to crucial aspects of their games.
Targeting systems – Broken. Game progression design – CERTAINLY broken. Hit boxes – Broken. Item descriptions and clues to how they effect the game – Broken. Collision detection – THE MOST BROKEN OF ANY GAMES I’VE EVER PLAYED. Invasion systems – unbalanced and broken.
Play Lies of P. Then play any Dark Souls. My point will be proven a dozen different ways.
I blew $60 bucks on the ‘game of the year’ Sekiro. What a f-ing joke. It’s just a complete troll on the player. Boss after boss after boss after boss. The tempo is just ground to a halt. That is when you aren’t leaving the game to go look up some mystery item, so you have to let the internet do the job FromSoftware refuses to. How is that ‘good’ game design? The beginning of the game is alright… but then by the mid-way point, it’s just a monotonous slog of boss fights. Take 50 fucking times to figure out some dumb ass gorilla boss… only to have to fight TWO of them soon after. It’s just ‘hard’ for the sake of being ‘hard’ and completely misses out on FUN.
The following list is mostly made of legitimate assessments of where most AVERAGE players will find difficulty with the Dark Souls series. The points discussed are assuming all the above mechanics are working (the majority of the time, they work just fine). But if you’ve played any Souls game, you know those mechanics should bring FromSoftware a massive level of shame and embarrassment. But it doesn’t. Because their battle-cry to release a game seems to be ‘It’s good enough.’
And because the formula for the game is one of the best out there, too many line up and pay their hard earned cash to a developer that too often trolls its players rather than appreciate them.
And what do the players get in return? Wasted time in a broken game. The whole ‘Fuck around and find out’ mentality absolutely RUINS these games. I personally have more time for video games than most humans. And there is NO WAY I would be willing to invest the amount of time it would take to ‘discover’ most of the worthwhile aspects of the Souls/Elden Ring games. I’ve learned it’s just better to understand FromSoftware are horrible developers, so just open the internet and have that explain the game so you don’t waste your life on such stupidity.
Because the games are hard. But all the above has ZERO to do with the game’s difficulty, and everything to do with FromSoftware just being the absolute worst at developing one of the absolute best game series out there.
But if you take a deep breath and accept the failings of FromSoftware, there is a playful way to look at the game’s difficulty curve. Let’s try that, shall we? The rest of this are reasons we LOVE the difficulty and what makes Dark Souls unlike any other gaming challenge.
Reason 1: Relentlessly Difficult Gameplay
Their games are like that one friend who ‘lovingly’ shoves you into the deep end of the pool, knowing full well you never took those swimming lessons your mom signed you up for. FromSoftware games don’t just dip your toes in; they throw you in the deep end with weights strapped to your feet. You remember your first encounter with a boss in “Dark Souls”? Yeah, I do too; it’s permanently etched in my psyche alongside my childhood fear of clowns.
And it’s not just the bosses… every corner, every shadow, every seemingly benign inch of their cursed landscapes is out to get me. I once spent an hour trying to cross a bridge; a feat most toddlers could accomplish without breaking a sweat. But no, in FromSoftware world, bridges are death traps masquerading as quaint, cobblestone pathways to hell, often guarded by creatures that might as well be a boss, even though they aren’t.
Admittedly, they’ve created an art form of digital punishment that should have its own wing in the Louvre. Watching your avatar fall to its doom time and time again in a beautifully tragic loop, that’s a special kind of art. A painful, tear-streaked, fist-clenching masterpiece.
Reason 2: Punishing Death Mechanics
Let’s chat about FromSoftware’s love affair with punishing death mechanics. You know, most normal games have a gentler approach to failure. You mess up, they pat you on the back, and you try again. But FromSoftware? They grin, steal your lunch money, and tell you to try again. Or don’t. Did I mention they don’t really care?
They say adversity builds character. Well, after hours of getting smacked down by some grotesque nightmare, my character’s been built, deconstructed, and rebuilt more times than a Lego set in a toddler’s playroom. The cycle’s nearly as endless as the game’s loading screens.
This isn’t just a sadistic game design—it’s a test of willpower, patience, and the durability of your controller. Each death isn’t just a setback; it’s a mini existential crisis in digital form. It’s the Sisyphean punishment of the modern age, where your boulder is an oversized sword and the hill is a gothic landscape filled with horrors that laugh at your puny attempts to survive.
Reason 3: Lack of Clear Direction
FromSoftware has an unwritten company motto, “Let them use the internet.” It would cost time and money to actually figure out a clever in-game way of explaining important game items, mechanics, and progressions… why not let others do that job for free?
Finding where to go next often feels like listening to a GPS that’s speaking an ancient dialect of Elvish. You might think you’re heading toward some holy grail only to walk off a cliff… that’s actually there by design to trip you up. Shiny things are often bait for traps. One learns to anticipate the various ways in which Dark Souls is gonna end you.
It’s not just the physical direction I’m talking about either. The storyline can be just as cryptic. Imagine a puzzle piece falling from the sky every few hours, and it’s your job to figure out where it goes without the box art. Oh, and sometimes the pieces don’t even belong to the same puzzle! You’ll meet characters who mumble about curses and dragons with such vagueness that one needs a notebook to keep track. It may be days, or even weeks, before what is being mentioned on screen will have any relevance in the game. Or maybe it never will. Who knows? When the developer obviously doesn’t give a shit if you find the secrets in the game, why should you care?
FromSoftware takes ‘figure it out yourself’ to a level that inevitably translates to ‘look it up on the internet’. They pass off lazy as ‘cryptic’ and poor design as ‘challenging’. It wastes so much time for those willing to waste it, and let’s so much of the game go by unnoticed by those just trying to progress. That’s not good game design no matter how many layers of ‘the reward is in the discovery’ bullshit you wrap it in.
Reason 4: Minimalistic Storytelling
Imagine sitting down to watch a movie, except the screen’s dark 90% of the time and the dialogue sounds like it’s pulled from a fortune cookie. That’s FromSoftware’s approach to narrative.
I get it, some love to put the pieces together, piecing lore from item descriptions and cryptic conversations. But since I don’t have the time to acquire a PhD in FromSoftware-ology to decipher their incohesive mess, again, the internet will do their job for them. Minimalistic doesn’t even begin to cover it.
There’s a certain charm to the murky depths of FromSoftware’s narrative style. But when the story’s as clear as mud, charm is hardly a saving grace. It fails to connect because the general tempo of these games focuses so much on the grind that too much time lapses between important dialog and story points. So much more could be done to flesh this out without taking anything away from the rest of the game.
Reason 5: Unforgiving Difficulty Spikes
Oh, you thought you were getting the hang of things? That’s cute. FromSoftware has a knack for throwing in difficulty spikes that just destroy the flow of the game. When a player sees a fog wall, they know a big fight is coming and best be prepared. But they often drop something in where it doesn’t really feel like it ‘belongs’, as much as anything ‘belongs’ in the Dark Souls world.
These seismic jolts in difficulty aren’t just road bumps; they’re more like brick walls. Tall, thick, and plastered with the laughter of developers watching you try and fail. Repeatedly. It’s the kind of spike that doesn’t just test your gaming mettle – it tests your will to live, to play, and to refrain from hurling your controller across the room. Most of the time, it is done correctly. But when it fails, it’s so game-breakingly bad, it pulls you out of the game to ponder why you are even bothering.
And we must mention the ‘Invasion System’ that allows for other real world players to come into your game and smoke your ass. Repeatedly. This is one of the most broken aspects of the Dark Souls series. Yes, you can turn it off, but then it turns off the other features of online play that most players do like. If the idiots at FromSoftware had ANY clue about the concept of balance, they would fix this. But as it stands… all the advantage goes to the Invader. The most egregious and easily fixed problem is the idea that when they invade your world, the monsters don’t attack them, but they still attack you. (Yes, there is a rare in game item you can activate to change this, but mostly, you won’t have that option). So what do assclown troll players do? They invade your world, then post up somewhere knowing they can use the environment and monsters against you, instead of just fighting fair. And what is fair? Having a guy 15 levels ahead of you, who has already beaten the game, and is now spending his time specializing in PVP and making lesser players miserable. It takes a certain kind. They have set up their build specifically for fighting you, while your character is probably geared up to deal with whatever stage of the game you are in. The invader comes in fully equipped with max health supplies. You can be caught on the way back to a bonfire with zero health supply. You can be invaded within a couple minutes of signing on and entering a world you’ve never been to before, and then have it happen every half hour continuously… each time losing valuable in-game resources. It’s just more wasting your time, and rarely translates to ‘fun’. It’s not balanced or fair and gives every advantage to the invader… just so FromSoftware can have another reason to think their games are ‘hard’. Well of course they are hard when you unbalance the shit out of it to give trolling invaders the lion’s share of victories.
Elden Ring finally fixed this by making PVP arenas and creating specific dynamics for people who WANT that experience, instead of shoving it down their throats or forcing them to disable part of the game. Duh. And HOW many games did it take FromSoftware to figure that out? Too many.
Reason 6: Brutal Boss Battles
Bosses in FromSoftware games essentially redefined what a ‘boss fight’ means. Of all the tortures these sadistic developers concoct, their boss fights are legendary. Until you know their secrets. Then they are child’s play.
Bosses come in all shapes and sizes, from towering behemoths to fast, lethal shadows that slip in and out of your camera’s view faster than a squirrel on expresso. Get used to the “You Died” screen.
But for the gamer that likes tricks and strategies, boss fights are where it’s at, and Dark Souls gives you plenty. I’ve spent many hours trying to decipher the perfect way to defeat these assholes. Some are fair fights, and that’s when Dark Souls is at its best. But a few are ‘trick’ bosses. You need to figure out some ridiculous… something… THEN you can kill the boss. Until you figure that out… it’s just a loop of death with zero chance of success. This is Dark Souls at its worst. The ‘Fuck around and find out’ approach. Waste your time trying everything until you stumble across whatever stupid human trick the devs want from you. Or… you go to the internet, learn the ‘secret’, then curse the developers for thinking that was clever.
Sekiro is the worst offender BY FAR. It’s just a string of boss fights. Any exploration or story or environmental fun gets ruined as you repeatedly slam up against boss fight after boss fight after boss fight after fucking boss fight. It gets monotonous and old. You have two choices… 1) Understand life is too short and FromSoftware suck so might as well just look up what the ‘trick’ is… or 2) Rinse and repeat over and over and over and over and over (because that’s fun) and over and over and fucking over again… so much that you finally get it down to muscle memory… and beat it. And by then you DON’T GIVE A SHIT BECAUSE YOU ARE SO OVER IT. You just want to progress further in the miserable game because you paid for it and now you have to beat it out of spite. But there is NO sense of ‘accomplishment’ for SO many of the ‘bosses’. It’s just a fuck around and find out until you stumble on some mechanic that works. Most every session of Sekiro just ended in me being disgusted with the design choices and tempo. The most regrettable $60 I’ve ever paid for a game and there is NO WAY that should qualify as ‘game of the year’. Either they bribed someone or the industry is just so hopped up to suck FromSoftware’s dick that they will say anything they put out is just ‘amazing’. Bullshit. The ONLY game FromSoftware actually got close to right is Elden Ring. Everything else is broken garbage.
Reason 7: Hidden Secrets and Unexplained Mechanics
The secrets in these games are so hidden, its taken literal years for some of them to be discovered.
Take “Dark Souls,” for instance. Want to know how to save Solaire? Well, you better be prepared to thread the needle of a convoluted series of events that’s beyond obscure. I don’t want the devs to hold my hand, give me map markers, and tell me exactly what to do at every turn. but FromSoftware hides behind this arrogance of ‘mystery’ and ‘difficulty’ that just buries SO much of the game for the average player. If you aren’t willing to do multiple playthroughs with different approaches, you will miss A LOT of the game. From important items, NPC quests and dialog. whole hidden areas, and even more hard to fathom… incredibly important game mechanics that would change the entire way the game is played if better understood… are often so hidden behind purposefully obscure design, it’s easy for players to miss. Why would a developer purposefully make a super-complex game and then hide some of the best ideas behind walls of mystery that take ridiculous hours of trial and error to discover… if ever discovered at all? Forums are FILLED with people discovering basic game mechanics very late in the game that should have been understood early on… or worse yet, after they’ve either completed or completely given up on the game. That’s NOT good game design.
And let’s talk about their unexplained mechanics. What do these stats mean and how do they interact with the world? How does poise work? What the hell is ‘Humanity’ and ‘Hollowing’ and how does it affect my character? What do covenants do? Why can I suddenly not roll properly with this new armor? Ok, that last one was something most players face and figure out on their own, but you get my point. The questions pile up faster than my pile of in-game corpses. Trial and error is one thing, but FromSoftware games take it to a level where I’m pretty sure the trial is rigged and the error is in the code.
There’s an actual item called “Pendant” in “Dark Souls,” which the description says has no effect. None. Zero. Nada. Some players spent days trying to figure out its purpose, only to learn it was basically a developer’s inside joke. Get it? It’s funny because you wasted your time trying to figure it out. Yeah, that mentality gets taken WAY too far WAY too often with FromSoftware games.
Reason 8: Not Beginner-Friendly
Now let’s chat about the club’s VIP section: beginner hostility. From the constant refrain of ‘Git Gud’ that oozes from the hardcore community, to lazy that passes itself off as ‘cryptic’ design arcs, these games are nearly impossible to finish without a guide. Even seasoned gamers will hit an impassible wall at some point… completely lost as to how to make the game progress or make use of some item.
Too many times the games make obtuse, poorly conceived, and seemingly random choices in what the devs expect the player to just ‘know’ in order to make the game move forward. The sequence of events and areas visited in correct order needed to complete Dark Souls II was absolutely the worst game design of any RPG I’ve ever played. And I’ve played more than most.
Imagine trying to get into Dark Souls as your first “serious” gaming RPG experience. The learning curve isn’t so much a curve as it is a vertical line.
Here’s a fun fact: On the Xbox, when one gets an achievement, it will show the percentage of other gamers who also got that same achievement in game. Most of the Dark Souls achievements fall around the 30%. Closer to 20% when you get towards the end game. That means that roughly 80% of gamers say, ‘Fuck this.’ and move onto some other game. Most quit before they even really get far into the game. And even those that do manage to wade through, would miss SO much without the internet filling in the blanks that FromSoftware refuses to.
If I worked on a game, and saw that MOST people seemingly don’t play through it, I would be disappointed and feel like I failed. I realize the games are very successful, and the money made proves the formula works, at least enough for a business model, but is that the main marker of success? Yes, it is. Does that make them amazing developers? No, it does not.
Dark Souls is what happens when you have an AMAZING game produced by sub-par developers. The core of the idea is so good, people bend over backwards to forgive decisions that don’t make the games better, and in so many ways, makes them worse.
Reason 9: Inconsistent Difficulty Scaling
Difficulty spikes in FromSoftware games aren’t just speed bumps; they’re full-on mountains that require Sherpas to guide you over.
The enemy scaling often takes on random spikes. In some areas, the run-of-the-mill fodder you face might as well be made of paper mache. But then something attacks like you killed its family, and the game suddenly decides you were having too much fun and that needed to end.
It seems either you’re under-powered, trying to take down a dragon with what might as well be a toothpick, or you’re so over-leveled that you’re basically one shotting everything that moves. The game finds its best experience when it finds the middle ground, which it often does. But the inconsistency is enough to wonder what is intentional, and what is just thrown in for the sake of killing the player right there… just because y’know… Dark Souls is hard.
Sekiro also kills its own good ideas as it trips over itself to be ‘hard’. Boss fights are SUPPOSED to be a spike in difficulty, but when you don’t know how to pace the game around them, then it just grinds everything to a halt. Because here is why boss fights as a concept are kind of lame (while fully understanding the need for them in a game like this): Boss fights entirely miss the ‘Goldilocks Zone’. That’s the zone where gaming is neither too hard, nor too easy. It’s just right. And that’s where games are most fun. Boss fights toggle between being impossibly difficult, to being stupid easy once you know the ‘trick’. There is very little time spent in the ‘zone’. You spend so much time in the frustration, that by time you figure it out, it’s not even a sense of accomplishment. More like getting out of some kind of punishment you really didn’t sign up for, but understand you have to endure. Or you got to the internet for the answer, because you refuse to waste your life, which is also not satisfying.
Reason 10: Suffering is a Feature, Not a Bug
Suffering in FromSoftware games is about as intentional as me forgetting my ex’s birthday – it’s not an accident; it’s a choice. The ballet of certain death is part of the game. I’d have it no other way. But when you fail due to sloppy code in the targeting system, or bad code in the collision detection, or because you wasted hours doing something you really weren’t supposed to be doing, or because the invasion systems are so unbalanced… the deaths feel more like a failing of the developers than any missed button combo.
In these games, the line between what’s a bug and what’s a feature seems to be determined by the experience of the player. I will admit, what I may call ‘broken’, others might embrace as ‘challenge’. I will disagree and tell them they are wrong and tell them to play Lies of P and then we will continue this discussion.
I always suspected the problem was more with FromSoftware than with me. And after beating Lies of P, then going back to beat Dark Souls I, II, and III… I can tell you, most assuredly, the problem you, I, and everyone else has with these games originates with FromSoftware.
If they’d listen to the community and stop acting like the key to their games success is their trolling disdain for the player’s experience, they could EASILY fix so much of what is wrong with their games.
Thankfully, other developers are taking the formula and producing solid games that appreciate the player. While I can bag on FromSoftware for hours, they did totally invent a new modern genre of game. They deserve all the credit in the world for that. But it highlights my point all the more clearly. The idea was so good, the games succeeded IN SPITE of the bad code, bad game design choices, and an overall disrespect for the players time.
I look forward to more Souls-like games, especially if they are not made by the people who invented them.