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Why Dark Souls is the perfect game for me (light spoilers)

After taking a long break from gaming from 2007-2019 one of the first games I picked up was Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne. I had no idea about the whole Souls phenomenon, they just had cool covers, were cheap and (most importantly) well-rated. Little did I know they would become some of my favorite games of all time…

I replay these games (yes, even DS2) all the time. Here are 10 reasons they are the perfect games for me:

1) World Building – although From Software isn't know for graphical fidelity in their games, the art direction, world building and attention to detail is second to none. Wandering through Yharnam is like experiencing a time-traveled fever dream. Looking at statues of Gwyn and Gwynevere in DS1 and wondering why there is an empty spot next to them. Regularly reading and hearing about the importance of Byrgenwerth and then finally reaching it… The lore is deep and thought-provoking if you make the effort to dig into it. I pondered Bloodborne for months after playing it.

2) Atmosphere – I love good atmosphere in games, and FS makes you truly feel like a lone adventurer in a hostile world. The last time I truly had that feeling in a game was the original Tomb Raider, and part of that is the lack of music except at important moments. These are lonely games playing them solo and I love that. The unexpected is always waiting for you around the corner and puts you on edge the entire time. There is music usually only in boss fights and in the hub, and let me tell, the music in the Firelink Shrine/Majula/Hunter's Dream just TRANSPORT me every time I hear them.

3) Combat and Builds – FS's combat systems are also the best I've seen. Realizing that I did less damage with my halberd because I hit the enemy with the HILT of it instead of the blade?! Crazy. The sheer amount of weaponry, equipment and spells makes doing other builds so enjoyable and challenging. Strength build, dex build, pyromancer, sorcery, miracles, ranged, shields, consumables, combinations…the build variety is never-ending, and because the combat is so precise, open-ended and challenging, you can play the game in so many different ways and it feels fresh.

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4) Level Design – Especially in DS1 and Bloodborne, the way the areas connect and wrap around on each other is so satisfying. It's not a new idea (Metroid and Resident Evil come to mind) but it's implemented so well here. When I reached that bonfire at the bottom of Blighttown the whole tension in me just drained away and it was so cathartic. Having much of the world open to you from the beginning allows different kinds of runs, if you have the skills to pull it off in the tougher areas. The lack of a map and general lack of direction forces you to learn the sometimes labyrinithian pathways and really take in your surroundings, instead of staring at a mini-map the whole game. It's engagement at its finest.

5) Creature Design – What twisted minds come up with some of these enemies? The Souls games are one of the few games I've played where I literally squint at my screen and say "what the hell is that?" when encountering a new creature. And how they design the enemies and their attacks and arenas to fit into the lore…genius.

6) Exploration – One of my favorite things to do in games is explore and try to find all the items, nooks and crannies and secrets. Can I drop down to that ledge? I see an item, but how to do I get over there? In Bloodborne there is an undescript door in a dark tower which takes precise platforming to get to, and reveals a mind-blowing moment. In DS1 there are FOUR COMPLETE AREAS that are hidden. First timers playing blind may never find them. Curiosity and patience are virtues in Soulsborne games.

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7) The Obtuseness of it All – These games are obtuse and mysterious, which is also something I look for in some of my games. I think Miyazaki knows fundamentally how the human mind craves learning and discovery, and expects you to fully engage in the game and figure it out yourself. Because there are very few cutscenes and NPC dialogues, the gameplay is , well, all gameplay. No looking at your phone while a 5 minute movie plays out. I like to PLAY my games, not watch them.

8) Weird NPC Questlines – I'll tell you, some of the questlines are HARD to follow. They often require a lot of time and searching and using subtle clues, which makes them all the better when you DO find them. And because NPCs and character interaction in general is sparse in these games, it MAKES you want to find them because they feel so much important. I recently did probably my fifth playthrough of DS1 and found an NPC somewhere were I'd never seen them before, with new dialogue. Amazing.

9) The Gameplay Loop – Dying and respawning (also built into the lore) is the game giving you another chance to learn from your mistakes. If you keep getting killed at the same area or boss over and over, try it a different way. Or do something else and come back later. Or level up a bit first. I'm the kind of old-school gamer that loves learning layouts, enemy patterns, systems, etc. Going out into the hostile world, exploring a bit further, (hopefully) returning XP intact and seeing how far your new found knowledge will take you this time, THAT'S satisfying.

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10) The Endless Challenge and Replayability – There are always NG+ cycles and new builds and different ways to beat these games. New secrets to uncover, NPCs to run across, new areas to explore. It's really up to you how you want to tackle it.

In summation, I'm quite amazed that one can even FIND new favorite games in their mid-40s. You think you've seen it all, and then… If you give these games an honest chance they might just become some of your favorites too.

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