Dark Souls 1 is one of my favorite games, I could sit here for ages praising it, what it did right, the lengths it went to push the player without holding their hand, though that is a discussion for another day. Today we are going to look at the negative aspects of the game and explore them together, making criticisms where necessary.
Dark Souls 1 might be the most popular in the series, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be open to criticism, though most of said criticism against Dark Souls 1 was alleviated in future installments. A lot of the negative aspects come from the games age, with it being the 2nd one in the franchise, if you are including Demon’s Souls. Although From Software got a few things wrong, they certainly did many things right.
The biggest problem when returning to Dark Souls 1 is the lack of omnidirectional rolling whilst being locked onto your target. When locked onto a target, you are only able to dodge in 4 directions, forward, back, left or right. After playing Dark Souls 2 or 3 then coming back to the first, the difference sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s easy to die many times in Dark Souls 1 due to attempting to dodge diagonally through an attack, only to dodge to the right or left and get hit.
Dark Souls 1 is notorious for feeling quite clunky, where you can feel the weight of your armour – it’s a fantastic aspect about the game, how armour values matter and how much it affects your character’s ability to move and roll. Despite this, not having omnidirectional roll doesn’t take all that long to get used, but it was not until the later games where we did, thankfully, have that option.
Regarding the UI, the vertical nature of the inventory menu and how you navigate the menus is quite frustrating. Having so many items in the game per category, it can take quite a bit of time to locate what item you actually need. Though, with the item box, the piece of kit that gives you inventory management from the bonfire, allowing you to put items from your main inventory into a storage box. With this addition, the little issue gets somewhat squashed. But, adding this problem to the fact you can’t pop numerous Souls and can’t hand in covenant items in bulk, and it doesn’t really need an extra explanation as to why this is bad.
Luckily, as mentioned before, all of these problems got fixed later on in the franchise. For developers, it’s understandably difficult to get everything right from the get-go. These are just things that will always be at the back of your mind when returning to places like Lordran, “oh yeah I’m going to have to pop 30 humanity individually and then hand them in separately or pop individual souls”.
The nitpicking is well deserved, but obviously, these things were prevalent enough to be changed later on, in some areas ease of life changes are warranted but some ease of life changes can sometimes have a negative impact on the game as a whole.
There is an obvious dislike about the warp ability between bonfires in all the Souls games, a very common opinion is that the Dark Souls 1 level design is the best in the series, from Firelink Shrine to multiple areas in the game, connecting via elevators and passageways, you truly get a sense of feeling lost in an interconnected world. It’s wonderful.
Getting lost feels good in this game, the wondrous feeling of realizing where you are after taking a shortcut, finding that area you’ve been in previously after wandering out of a new area and knowing your struggles were not in vain as now you have a new way of getting there.
This is all well and good, until you get the Lordvessel, the item that lets you warp between bonfires instantly. When you retrieve this item and the ability to do this action, the areas that open up to you; The Duke’s Archives; the area before Nito in the Tomb of Giants and the end of the Demon Ruins all have one thing in common: they all fall into a linear fashion. The connecting ‘zone-like’ level design that was prevalent in the areas at the start of the game is nowhere to be found in these areas. This is because of the fact we now have the ability to warp.
This is the case in all future Souls games as well – it’s only a coincidence that when we’re in part of the game where we do not have the ability to teleport it’s the best piece of level design we have in the entire series. Most likely because they needed a way for the players to get to areas and they didn’t have to rely on simply sitting at the bonfire and teleporting away, they had to ask the question “how do we get the player from point A to point B”.
However, this becomes amplified for the player, let’s say you’re at Firelink shrine which is A and you want to get to Darkroot Garden which is B – you have to learn the layout and remember how to navigate your surroundings, you progressively learn that the quickest method is to go up the elevator, through the church, down to Andre, and then you’re in the Garden. But after gaining the ability to warp? You sit at the bonfire in Firelink and teleport to Undead Parish and you’re there, you did not need to learn anything besides the name of the bonfire you need to go to.
This is what’s so special about these initial zones in Dark Souls 1 and why the later sections in this game feel almost underwhelming, as harsh as that word sounds. The fact that we didn’t have the warp ability in the earlier stages was the root reason we had the ability to level up via the bonfires. This a great thing about Dark Souls 1, not only do we feel a sense of progression as we traverse the level but our character also starts progressing and we’re becoming more and more powerful as we go through a zone. In Dark Souls 2 and 3, having to return back to the hub system was frustrating, not only because it was less convenient but it takes you out of the zone, after visiting the hub and going back to where you want, you find yourself asking the question “Okay, where was I?” whereas in Dark Souls 1 after leveling up at the bonfire you would ask, “Okay, where’s next?”
On the topic of areas within the game, it probably comes as no surprise to hear we are going to mention Lost Izalith. Hate on Blighttown all you want but Lost Izalith is the weakest zone in the game because of two reasons; first is it actually wasn’t a thing until pretty late into the development cycle, so much so, they hadn’t even conceptualized it yet; secondly, because of this the developers didn’t have time to finish it.
Now that information may be slightly incorrect, but there are many rumours online about why this area is so weak in design – with copy paste enemies, dragon butts, and a really awful boss fight at the end. This area is the black sheep of the areas in Dark Souls 1, it sticks out for all the wrong reasons, so you can’t really point the finger at anyone here. They had an idea but didn’t have time to execute it to it’s fullest potential.
A lot of this area felt like filler, as you traverse the lava I got a sense and still do get a sense of prolonging the area by having this huge scope but with very little to do. Just before the Bed of Chaos you actually get a sense of what this area could have been, with tree branches leading into a hidden area then that area being connected to Demon Ruins which is then connected to Blighttown and then onto multiple other areas. This area had potential, it had promise, but it looked as though time got the better of them.
It’s not even that the area is necessarily awful per say, but when compared to the quality of the previous zones, with most of them being memorable for their own unique way, whether that be aesthetically or via a challenge, Lost Izalith is remembered for being weak, that coupled with the lava continuously burning your retinas out.
Now I’ll put my hand up right now and say I cannot critique the PvP aspect in this game because it’s just something I didn’t participate in, I’ve dabbled here and there in the later years after hearing the horror stories about instant backstabs and in my brief moment in the PvP scene, it’s most certainly something to take into account but again I’m not knowledgeable enough about this specific area to give my 2 cents.
One element of the game that is hard to choose whether is good or bad, is the method in which you upgrade your weapon via the numerous titanite paths. There are 8 different types of upgrade methods in Dark Souls 1, and these are used for upgrading different weapons with certain infusions, boss or unique weapons.
It can be seen as a very overwhelming and convoluted method, especially with how you obtain boss weapons – you to have a certain level of your weapon to then transform it into a boss weapon. Though it is sort of likable – it can be quite difficult to understand and become familiar with the method, but it adds this level of depth to the game.
Despite that, the refined system used in Dark Souls 3 is also great, both can be good but which one is better? Although the Dark Souls 1 system does add a level of depth, the Dark Souls 3 system – where you only have 3 ways of upgrading your weapon, is better, but only because it’s easier. The fact you have to go out into the world to certain blacksmiths for certain infusion types in Dark Souls 1 is fantastic because it does just that, it gets you out in the world, it might be easier and more convenient having things all in one area just like in Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls 3. It often meant, however, that the player returns less to areas as much, unlike in Dark Souls 1.
You need to go to the giant blacksmith for lighting, Vamos for fire and so on and so forth – it actually gets you out and about. As mentioned earlier, you learn the best possible way to those Blacksmiths – yes, most of the Blacksmiths have a bonfire conveniently placed near them – but you’re not just doing everything from your hub system, moving back onto the upgrade path. It’s similar to Demon’s Souls, there are upgrade materials in that game where it’s easy to forget what they do. The same thing happens in Dark Souls 1, if I want a Divine weapon, I have to level up to plus 5 via normal titanite, then grab green titanite so I can switch it to divine. But what if I want a lightning weapon? I have to go to plus 10, head to the Giant blacksmith and use regular titanite, again?
This obviously might not be something you mind, but personally, I always have to scratch my brain when I start upgrading. But is that even a bad thing? Having to think about what you’re doing in the game is a good thing, right? It looks as though From Software deemed this as an issue, as in later titles they replaced the multiple titanite paths with elemental infusions via a gem system or a stone.
Taking some time away from the negativity, let’s talk about something Dark Souls 1 does better than any game: the setting. Dark Souls 1 taught us that to love the medieval fantasy world. The way it’s portrayed in this game is sublime, and it is a testament to how From Software created their worlds. Similarly with Bloodborne, I didn’t think I’d like the setting and I was gladly proven wrong, the dark damp feeling of the Undead Burg, the heavenly Anor Londo and the poison-filled Blighttown, the varied zones bringing their own uniqueness to the table, coupled with swords, shields, spears and daggers, knights in shining armour, thieves in dark cloth and mages in robes. In a world full of darkness, our only hope is to get up and persevere.
When you look back on Dark Souls 1 and find what’s wrong with it, it all comes down to some minute things that got changed later in the series, Dark Souls 1 and Demon’s Souls laid that foundation for future games and we owe it that much. There’s a reason getting your game labeled as a ‘Souls Like‘ is a bad thing, and this is because you are automatically paired with games like Dark Souls 1 and that’s really really hard to even come close to, many have tried, very few if any have succeeded.
Though most people will likely get rather angry with someone criticising such a beloved game, bear in mind that I really had to think about which areas of the game are deemed as not very good – it honestly took some time, because as mentioned earlier, a lot of these issues have vanished in the newer games. Obviously, those games aren’t shy of any faults themselves but Dark Souls 1 did a lot right – it paved the way for future Souls games and in turn, was granted a dedicated passionate audience. We can’t agree on everything but if we were to agree on one thing it’s that Dark Souls is bloody fantastic.