Dark Souls is a pretty great game, isn’t it? At the time of this writing I’ve sunk several hundred hours into it, and still manage to have fun experimenting with different builds or attempting to speed through areas as quickly as possible. There’s a lot to love about this game, but there’s a lot that’s not so good too; things that weren’t quite fully realized, whether due to time or budget constraints or simply because the developers didn’t realize how the game would evolve to be played hundreds of hours into it.
With Dark Souls II well off on the horizon, now seems like a good time to look back at the first game and point out those places where maybe the game wasn’t so great, or even just ways to make the game even greater than it already was.
1) Fix Covenants:
The Covenant system was a great idea. It gave players something more to work for in endgame, PVP and numerous New Game + playthroughs. Unfortunately their design and reward payoffs are very uneven. Many Covenants either give poor rewards or simply stop giving you anything after the first two tiers. The various methods of invading/summoning the Covenants provide seem like neat ideas in theory, but in practice it can be difficult to find a match if you belong to a more obscure one.
The Blade of the Darkmoon and Gravelord Servant Covenants are the biggest examples of really neat ideas that fail to succeed because of how specific the conditions for getting into PVP with them is. The Darkmoon in particular get the short end of the stick, as the item needed to advance their covenant is in extremely short supply outside of engaging in PVP. The Gravelords’ role of trying to kill players indirectly by invading their world with powerful monsters seems cool as hell, but I wouldn’t really know as I’ve only ever seen the message that one had invaded me twice, and it seemed to have failed both times, as I never managed to find a single additional enemy lurking about.
The ideas behind these two Covenants should absolutely be kept for Dark Souls II in some form, but they should be reworked to make it easier for them to find matches. Having to carry around Indictments to place Invaders in the Book of the Guilty severely reduces the pool of players the Darkmoon can invade, as many players either won’t bother to carry them or won’t feel the need to report a player unless he was hacking, exploiting, or being obnoxious in some way. Maybe indicting players could be something all players could do without the need for an item, perhaps on a cooldown of 30 minutes or so? Alternatively, take marking players as guilty out of the players’ hands altogether. Provide more opportunities to make the player commit a sin through normal play, such as killing Gwynevere. Maybe even require such actions be taken in order to get certain powerful armor/weapons?
As for the Gravelord Servants, their problem seems to rest heavily on server-side issues from my experience. As I said, I hardly ever see their Black Phantoms, let alone their summoning sign. There are all sorts of connection issues and bugged mechanics associated with this Covenant, which is a shame because on paper it holds the potential to make NG+ much more interesting. There is also the issue of their Covenant advancement relying on Eyes of Death, items that are very easy to obtain through offline play, giving Gravelords little incentive to actually do their job if the Covenant rewards are all they’re after.
In general the other Covenants seem to work well enough, though the reward tiers are often either lacking or mysterious nonexistent after tier two. The Chaos Servant Covenant is particularly underwhelming, offering no real payoff beyond access to a shortcut and two disappointing pyromancies, yet allowing you to offer humanity all the way up to 80 for no real reward.
The Darkwraith Covenant is probably the best-developed of them all, offering rewards at all tiers and even its own distinctive armor set. Members of the Path of the Dragon are likewise very easy to identify for what they are. I think ideally all of the Covenants would benefit from having a unique armor set to be unlocked at the highest rank, or a weapon, or anything significant to strive for in the long term really, beyond the things that are handed to you right off the bat for joining and ranking up once. And this is just nitpicking here, but the process of turning in items for covenant advancement could do with some speeding up. Instead of having to spend twenty minutes offering individual Humanities/Medals/Souvenirs/Scales/etc, why not just prompt me “How many X would you like to offer?” and be done with it?
2) Make Armor Matter
There is a massive variety of armor in Dark Souls, so much that it could instill envy even in MMO players. But what makes one set distinct from the next? Not all that much to be honest. The two key factors are the defense the armor provides and how much it weighs. In PVP a player will likely pick an armor set based on whether it will let them roll at a decent speed with their allotted stats, while in PVE… it honestly doesn’t serve much purpose, at least not after the first playthrough.
Once you start getting into New Game Plus, armor of any sort becomes more of a hindrance than a protective measure, with enemies eventually growing powerful enough to one shot you regardless of what you are wearing. The poise supplied by wearing heavy armor is useful, but really it’s best to just not get hit. This leads to a lot of running around naked with a greatshield and a long reach weapon.
So in PVP armor is generally kind of boring, while in PVE it is eventually useless. What could be done to fix this? The answer might lie in giving armor stats and utility beyond your basic defensive stuff. I’m talking strength, dexterity, endurance and such, as well as some unique characteristics of the armor itself (spiked boots that deal increase damage when kicking, slight movement speed buffs, etc.) These stat bonuses could be used to allow the player to continue to invest in an attribute beyond the diminishing return cap of 40 without wasting points that would be more valuable in other stats.
Perhaps even incorporate the concept of set bonuses. Maybe, for example, if you equip the full Shadow Armor set, you gain the flipping ability of the Dark Wood Grain Ring, freeing up one of your ring slots for something different. Set Bonuses would generally have an equivalent ring that doesn’t stack with it, giving you multiple paths to having the same benefits and allowing for more build creativity.
Maybe even introduce enchantment to armor in the same way that it works with weapons. Enchant your armor to reduce physical defense to be resistant to fire, or maybe deal a small amount of fire damage to enemies when they hit you, actually igniting them if they hit you too many times in quick succession. Perhaps a new weight reduction enchantment could make heavy plate more viable, trading some defense to make a piece of armor 10-20% lighter? These sort of new features would hopefully encourage more diversity in PVP builds AND provide utilities to help overcome NG+++++++++++++++ without having to take on Ornstein and Smough in the nude.
3) Give More Bosses “Hard Modes”
Speaking of Ornstein and Smough, wasn’t it a nightmare the first time you tried to kill Smough first? Focusing down Ornstein while keeping Smough at a distance isn’t all that tough, but locking your camera on Biggie while Smalls is dashing around stabbing at you from out of sight is significantly harder. And once Smough is dead, you now have to deal with a lightning-charged Ornstein, who is far more intimidating than lightning-charged Smough.
The natural instinct is probably to kill Ornstein first for an easier fight, but in this case intentionally seeking out the more challenging fight yields the greater reward in the form of the Leo Ring. What if every boss fight was like this?
It sort of is if you consider the number of bosses whose tails you can cut off, but the way it works now, successfully doing this is enough to get the weapon. That’s a little weak. What if cutting off the boss’ tail just made him angrier and faster, and you had to then survive the entire fight as well to get your extra loot? What if luring a giant monster into ramming through a brick wall revealed a SECOND giant monster, and you then had to fight both at once? The masochistic possibilities are limitless!
These “Hard Mode” encounters would have to be enabled each time a fight was attempted, and the mechanism for triggering them wouldn’t be so obvious that a first time player would be likely to accidentally set one off, leaving their discovery to the community. The gear rewarded for defeating these encounters would be among the very best you can get, serving as status symbols for the truly badass (and the hackers).
4) A Wider Array of Viable Weapons in PVP
When it comes to PVP, a small section of the vast array of weaponry has come to dominate. Katanas, spears and the occasional greatsword, halberd or dagger seem to be the popular weapons of choice. Other weapons make an appearance here or there, but these are mainly seen in gimmick builds or to gimp oneself in order to show off.
Whips, rapiers, hammers, maces and swords smaller than trees should have their place in both PVP and PVE. There are a crazy number of different weapons in Dark Souls, but the ones that win out are usually the ones with excellent stat scaling or a useful moveset. The more exotic weaponry should almost always fall into these categories, or they are never going to see serious use.
Unless your opponent is packing some particularly dangerous magic, PVP tends to devolve into what is known as “backstab fishing”, with both combatants circling around each other with shields raised, rolling around until lag inevitably allows one to backstab the other. This sort of tactic could be discouraged by providing more weaponry that either breaks guards or attacks around shields.
Ranged weaponry could do with some expanding on as well. Making bows and crossbows fire faster and making it easier to move around while firing them might encourage players to make more use of them beyond taking a couple potshots while waiting for their enemy to close the gap. They shouldn’t be TOO easy to use, nor should they deal more damage than a melee weapon for obvious reasons, but they make for a different sort of encounter every now and then to keep things interesting. Adding slings, boomerangs, and a wider variety of consumable projectiles would also be cool.
5) Random Events
Remember how I said I loved the idea of the Gravelord Servant Covenant? Dark Souls is a game that is meant to be played through over and over, clearing and running through the same areas countless times to get to your current destination. Anything that can be done to keep things fresh with a game designed like this is worth exploring.
Did you know that if a player dies and loses a large amount of humanity, a rare monster called a Vagrant will spawn in another player’s world? I didn’t, until I spotted one randomly chilling by the lava on a recent trip to the Demon Ruins. Mechanics like this are awesome, and it’s a shame that they are so rare.
Let’s keep the idea of Vagrants for Dark Souls II, but take it to the next level. Instead of a fairly weak little tentacle crab, what if a powerful NPC Black Phantom based on a dead player spawned in randomly to block your progress, regardless of whether you are in human form? What if, if you died while holding a certain amount of humanity, there was a good chance that your bloodstain would morph into a Black Phantom of yourself, and you would be forced to kill it to reclaim your souls?
At the very least, let’s make the Gravelord Covenant (or it’s DaS2 equivalent) a little more active during normal play. Enemy placement in Dark Souls is consistent to a large degree because memorization and identifying threats is key to its difficulty curve, but some insertion of random dangers would help provide continued challenge to veterans without posing too much trouble for newbies.
It worked for Dragon’s Dogma AND Shadow of the Colossus so why not Dark Souls? While it might be kind of a cheap tactic, some of my favorite moments in Dark Souls’ boss fights were the rare opportunities to drop down from a high place to stab the boss right in the face. Maybe for fights against particularly large bosses you could have some opportunities to cling onto the boss’ back, arm or head to get at a hard to reach weakpoint?
7) Better Enemy AI
The AI in Dark Souls is serviceable as is, but presents all sorts of opportunities for exploiting your way through difficult areas. There are a lot of situations where enemies can be tricked into running straight off of ledges with very little effort. That should probably be fixed. And rather than look around dumbstruck if you start sniping them with arrows, enemies should charge in the direction the shots came from, even if it’s outside their typical patrol area. If I’m obviously attempting to circle around for a backstab, maybe the enemy should catch on to this eventually and roll away rather than oblige me? Make me work for my backstabs.
8) The Return of Stealth Components
The closest thing we have to a stealth playstyle currently exists in the form of the Ring of Fog and the Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring. The two together render the player nearly undetectable in PVE, but have very little application in PVP thanks to a series of patches that have rendered the Ring of Fog basically useless once the enemy has spotted you. Yes, there are players who manage to make stealth work as-is, but to me it seems like it is far too easy to be caught, and once you are caught your options are very limited. You can run, but the environment offers few opportunities to get back into hiding.
An option for silent invasions would be a nice start, like the Red Eye Orb worked back in 1.0. Such an item would obviously have to be fairly costly or come with some big drawback (invade with reduced Max HP?), or else everyone would use it.
What about some actual built in stealth mechanics? Could new mechanics like crouching, sneaking, and –dare I say it– taking cover fit in with the existing gameplay model, or would they clash too much? Maybe a new stealth-oriented magic would be enough? Something that renders the user completely invisible and silent but disables attacking while active, and takes a few seconds to go into and come out of? And throw in some other spells built around hunting the sneaky little bastards down of course. There’s all sorts of weapons and armor sets that seem visually oriented around the stealthy assassin archetype, but the actual playstyle usually turns out to be more along the lines of KATANA NINJA FLIPPING AROUND WHOOSHY WHOOSH.
9) Let Players Redistribute Their Stats
This will probably be a point of contention, but should I REALLY have to completely remake my character and spend another 8-10 running through the game all over just because I accidentally put a few too many points in Vitality and not enough in Endurance? If I want to try out a few different spells or miracles but otherwise like my current build, why can’t I just slightly adjust how I’ve allocated my Intelligence/Faith? There is dedication and then there is wasting eight hours to move some numbers around.
It shouldn’t be something you can access at any time of course. Make it costly; requiring either a ton of souls, a lot of humanity, or some rare item drop. Maybe have the cost scale with your soul level, like absolving your sins does. Even having to grind for that would take far less time than starting a whole new playthrough.
Well, that’s it for now. As we learn more about what Dark Souls II will be like I’ll certainly be interested to see what From comes up with to improve on the weaknesses of the original. Like these ideas? Hate them? Leave your thoughts below.