Is Dark Souls The New Benchmark for Gaming?
Gaming has always had its benchmark titles; those games that stand out head and shoulders above the rest, those that set the trends other studios work towards or try to best. These seminal titles are considered to be the benchmarks of which other games, and sequels, are judged; particularly within specific genres. Every so often, with increasing rarity in an industry which relies heavily on sequels and franchises, a game comes along and sets a new benchmark.
For the best part of the last decade, the Grand Theft Auto series have been those titles, spawning countless clones and rivals to the throne. Prior to GTA3 on the PS2, the Tomb Raider and Resident Evil games had been the standout titles. Thinking even further back, platforming Gods Mario and Sonic were the superstars of countless iterations of their games.
During the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation, the generation which is currently coming towards a close, gamers witnessed the rise of the formidable first-person shooter with super heavyweights like the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises. Moving into the next generation; Grand Theft Auto V remains, being upscaled and re-released with Ubisoft’s rival Watch Dogs offering up some stiff competition. Both Call of Duty and Battlefield have already enjoyed success, albeit with launch issues in the case of the latter, on the next generation consoles.
So, what’s the next big thing for the games industry? Is Dark Souls the new benchmark for gaming?
It would certainly seem so, given the amount of titles that have been heavily inspired by the Souls series of games, and the amount of games being released in the future in a similar vein to the Souls games. The original Dark Souls, spiritual PlayStation exclusive follow up Demon’s Souls, and the direct sequel Dark Souls 2 have all received critical success scoring 89, 89 and 91 respectively on Metacritic. Looking again on Metacritic, Dark Souls 2 ranks at 177th place for the critically highest rated games across any platform, ever. 177th may not sound hugely impressive, but classics like Final Fantasy VII and, arguably the franchise best, Assassin’s Creed II rank at 210th and 256th respectively in comparison.
In the past three or so months since Dark Souls 2‘s release gamers have seen next-generation Souls wannabe Bound By Flame released, alongside the announcement of From Software‘s next game Bloodborne, further details from E3 regarding Lords Of The Fallen, and the forthcoming indie title Titan Souls. Clearly the Souls series of games are providing an increasing amount of influence on the industry as a whole. Capcom‘s free-to-play PS4 exclusive title Deep Down also looks very akin to the Souls games too.
It’s interesting that the Souls series now seems to be, or is at least one of, the benchmark games. It ticks all the right boxes though – they’re polarizing games that players either ‘get’ or simply don’t, they’re set in a colossal world that’s pretty much free to explore right from the off, and other games have been influenced by or borrowed heavily from the Souls games. Divided opinion has surrounded the Souls games since their inception, so much so that respected magazines such as Forbes are asking ‘Is Dark Souls II the worst game ever made?‘.
The Souls games are also brutally difficult and games in which you will find your character(s) dying a lot. Typically, the benchmark games have been fairly accessible, open to a wide variety of gamers both hardcore and casual. The Souls games aren’t anywhere near as accessible as Grand Theft Auto or Watch Dogs; games in which players have their hands held through a glut of tutorials, or even Call of Duty where the online matchmaking pits you against opponents with the same level of skill and/or experience. Sure, there are tutorials at the beginning of Dark Souls 2, but they’re brief and function more as an interactive manual rather than in-depth technique tutorials.
The Souls games are quick to let go of the apron strings, instead favoring the approach of teaching you the very basics before letting you go off to fend for yourself. If you die in the Souls games, you lose not only your progress but also the Souls you’ve collected, which function as Souls‘ version of experience points used for upgrading and leveling up. To get the collected souls back, you need to reach the point at which you died again – you only get one chance, if you die trying to recover the dropped souls, they’re gone forever.
Accessibility is a key concern for many with the Souls series of games. First person shooters, like many other genres, are fairly welcoming with a range of gadgets, aim assists and other buffs to help the player. In fact, pretty much any genre in modern gaming has ways and means of supporting the player and offering remorse for mistakes, giving players a second chance. Even Forza on Xbox One has a number of assists set to on by default, including steering assist.
So why is it that the focus has shifted for developers? Why is Grand Theft Auto seemingly no longer the gold standard for game production? These questions can’t be contributed to the release of one game, in this case Dark Souls, but more a variety of factors.
It’s no secret that all over the world, pretty much everyone’s struggling financially. Recessions, pay freezes and other economic factors directly affect us on a day to day basis, and they may also affect our gaming habits. It’s not entirely inconceivable to accept that an increasing number of gamers simply want more for
their money in harder times – which do you choose? A 50+ hour RPG with almost limitless customization or a 10 hour action campaign that offers little variety or replayability? The answer is likely to be the former, given the choice of the two for most gamers.
On the flip side of that same coin, as we live increasingly busy lives, it may be that economic reasons alone are not a strong enough cause for the shift in popularity. In the same way some gamers will be looking for longer titles, other players will be looking for something they genuinely have the time to complete and enjoy, without investing hours into a game with a steep learning curve or living a second, digital life.
Market saturation has undoubtedly had a part to play in the shift. Grand Theft Auto spawned a whole selection of similar titles; Saint’s Row, Sleeping Dogs, Just Cause, Watch Dogs, Mafia, True Crime, and even a Scarface game. There are only so many times a player can rise to power or seek revenge in a free-roaming sandbox before it becomes too repetitive. GTA3 came out on the PS2 – the 3D Grand Theft Auto games and similar titles are into their third generation and people are starting to get bored.
Another factor in the rise of the Souls games is the challenge; I discussed the extreme difficulty and learning curve a moment ago. A benefit of a tougher difficulty level however, is that the game provides a healthy sense of challenge and provides players with a greater sense of achievement than the standard cookie-cutter titles that provide little genuine challenge. The Souls games will kill your character hundreds of times, they will frustrate you and the process can be exceptionally demoralizing. On the opposite side of the coin is the sense of achievement, the indescribable feeling of finally beating a boss that’s comfortably bettered you for the best part of four, six or even more hours.
So everyone loves the Souls games – what next?
The obvious place to go, whether you’re looking for more games in the style of the Souls series or giving the relentless RPGs a go for the first time, is Bloodborne. Bloodborne is developed by the team behind the Souls games, From Software. The development team have made it clear that Bloodborne is a completely separate entity to the Souls games, but it’s still likely to carry many similarities purely by sharing the Souls games’ DNA.
Elsewhere, Deep Down and Lords of the Fallen both look set to offer similar gameplay experiences to the Soul series. Deep Down will be released exclusively for PS4 and will be a free-to-play title – it’s unclear how Capcom will monetize the game and how that will affect the gameplay, if at all. Lords of the Fallen is in development by CI Games – best known for Sniper Ghost Warrior 2.
Probably the most abstract influence of the Souls series in a forthcoming game is that of Titan Souls; a clever indie title that looks set to merge pixel-art visuals with a gameplay cross between the Souls series and Shadow of the Colossus. Titan Souls pits you against a series of boss battles in a similar manner to Shadow of the Colossus, with the relentless difficulty and one-hit-kills reminiscent of the Souls series.
All of these projects will undoubtedly garner interest and grow in stature towards their respective release dates. We’ll keep you updated on TheParanoidGamer with the latest news regarding these games and, of course, the Souls series. It will be interesting to see if any of the pretenders to the crown, including Bloodborne, will be able to rival Dark Souls 2 in a battle to be the game everyone wants to make, everyone wants to play and everyone talks about in social circles. If the difficulty of the Souls games also applies to the task of besting the Souls games by other development teams, there will be one hell of a battle ahead.