Home Editorial Balance Dark Souls 2 is horrible, and here’s why (map design)

Note: This is an article in a series dissecting the good, bad, and horrid of Dark Souls 2. Rebuttals to the arguments presented here will come in future articles, but feel free to disagree in the comments below. These opinions are my own, and are informed by others as little as possible.

Last time we discussed why the bosses make Dark Souls 2 suck, and while one aspect of a game does not a failure make, multiples certainly might. To that end, let’s look at why the map design of Dark Souls 2 is utter trash, and how it affects the flow of the game (trashily).

No one likes a fork in the road

One of the original Dark Souls’s best qualities was the cyclical nature of its world map. Starting from Firelink Shrine, you rarely, if ever, had to visit the same location more than twice. Indeed, unless you wanted to take a look at the stock of those merchants that flocked to it, you needn’t have come back to Firelink even once to progress the game. In short, everywhere linked to everywhere else, and the world felt real, connected.

Dark Souls 2 does away with that connectivity, for the most part. Instead, you start at Majula and expand outwards, upwards, sidewards, and downwards. However, instead of simply walking to your next destination, you more than likely have to head back to Majula, as every path simply ends, lacking any connection to another. Sure, you can teleport through bonfires from the start, but when the world is, essentially, a series of spider-leg paths that have a single sunlit vertex, there’s no sense of cohesion to it. It ceases to be a world at all, becoming merely a set of roadways that, again likely enough, end in a boss fight or two and nothing else.

That these needs be the case is a sad state, as one of the key selling points of the original Dark Souls was that sense of cohesion. Not just given by the map design, but also by the subtle direction every area gave players. You might not know exactly where you’re going or why, but you could rely on the environment to at least give you an idea of where you needed to be. If you ended up at Darkroot Basin out of the Undead Burg and found yourself outclassed, it was clear why. Dark Souls 2, by contrast, has no clear markings of where you need to go. Even the NPCs give little in the way of guidance, saying only, “Seek the King” or “There’s a forest there. Go look at it.”

Uncertain paths, uncertain players

If players don’t have a sense of where they need to go, they’ll never learn why they need to go there. As far as the player is concerned, the Pit in Majula might simply be a giant troll by the developers. “That pit’s got treasure in it,” you say. “But you die when you try to get it. Every. Single. Time.” What incentive other than that treasure exists to go looking? None, really, and even with Gilligan’s dialogue saying there might be something down there, the early frustration might make some players simply put the game down altogether.

This is not, of course, saying that entire areas of the map are prohibitive in their design. Black Gulch, for example, is essentially a giant poison pit, and the deadliness of poison in DS2 is scary enough without making it nigh inevitable. On a personal note, I remember making it through the Gutter and arriving at Black Gulch, then saying “Nope, not doing this. Nope nope nope.” I warped out shortly thereafter. At the same time, I knew I would probably have to go through it to progress the game. I didn’t nope any less, but I sighed and ground my teeth, becuase, unlike almost any location in Dark Souls 1, I truly did not want to ever have to come back there. I hated Blighttown, to be sure, and Lost Izalith was tedious, and the Catacombs were annoying, but none gave me the aversion of Black Gulch.

A difficult game should do the exact opposite of what I’ve just described. Instead of making players grind their teeth because they physically do not want to play an area, you should make them feel like they’ve conquered something when they complete it. The Tome of the Giants was the latter. I hate the dark in large part because my vision sucks, but the sheer relief and exhilaration of getting to that first bonfire is unlike most other feelings in gaming. Getting through Black Gulch just makes me angry.

I could go on about these kinds of choices, but if you’ve played Dark Souls 2, you can fill in your own grievances. Anything from the windmill in Earthen Peak to the “kill these enemies every time you face the boss” in Iron Keep, there are any number of locations where it’s neither fun or rewarding to complete. This does not even account for the strange area transitions between poison and lava, night and day, dark and light, and at the risk of waxing angry, I’ll end the article here.

Next time we’re talking about characters, and why they suck.

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12 replies to this post
    • the only reason the pursuer is considered difficult is because he kills you in about 2-3 hits while you have to sit there and keep dodging his shit while getting in a hit in between for like 10 minutes untill you finally take him down, hes not actually difficult, he just have alot of hp

  1. At first, I felt the same because ive put in a 1000 hours with demons souls and dark souls but then I played NG+ with the goal of mapping out the world and treasure hunting.

    Usually with a souls game I handicap myself and turn the brightness way down . and to my surprise I actually needed torches. I got the redeye ring, burned bonfire ascetics, and tailor made my game hard as fuh .. I quickly changed my opinion and realised I was on easy mode my first run. Not only do enemies jump out and creep from the darkness, they also truly fight you and attack your stamina at random.

    As for the game world I felt it was disconnected and didnt make sence that was until I realized that it was my fault because I abused the warping to go where I thought I should be. I felt the same way in DS1 after I got the soul vessel. At first its powerful but then it fades and feels cheap but at least you cut your traveling time and didnt have to fight the hard obstacles. Again its easy mode. Youre supposed to fight your way back to majula and the bonfire placements are part of easy mode. Dark souls 2 allows you to play how you want and its developers know the hardcore are going to keep playing because really… what else is there hahaha!!!

    So to rock the bandwagon just a bit I would ask those who feel they are in the adventures of dark souls mini game to challenge themselves, get more souls by slaying every demon and travel by foot more to where you want to go. Its true dark souls to its roots in that fashion.

    For those gripes about difficulty, lower your brightness and use your options to raise the bar. You will quickly notice the difference and appreciate the True dark souls.

  2. This game fucking sucks. I could understand these types of controls and graphics AND game play being acceptable 10 years ago….but this game is seriously SHIT. Story sucks (non-existent), dialog sucks….fuck this game. Everything about this game is complete crap!

  3. Game was a disappointment compared to demon souls and dark souls. Not saying the game was bad but it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the other two souls games. The characters were unremarkable, storyline was BLA, satisfaction wasn’t the same and boss fights were a fucking joke compared to what they engineered in Dark Souls. Don’t get me wrong it had it’s good parts but Dark Souls would have been better without this second game. I feel fucking terrible that people played the second installment without playing the first or demon souls. I hope they can’t possibly think this is what a real souls game is like.

  4. Worst thing about dark souls 2? enemies despawn….
    The whole despawn element must have cosumed too much memory on the disk, why elese would they drop the graphics enhancements.. To get infinite enemy respawns just set the enemy respawn condition- like rest at bonfire… Instead the game has to keep track of enemy respawns, so that the monsters in game don’t go over the limit… There is also the case regarding soul memory.. With soul level it is easier, as there is only 3 digits to work with, but soul memorylook at all the digits the game has to keep track of! More disk memory fpor one part = less memory for any other part…

  5. Sorry OP, but I am going to say what people including myself hate to read. You do not sound like you are very good at dark souls at all. You gripe that boss design is a joke yet you complain about black gulch? Really hard to roll dodge through a handful of enemies after killing a few stationary statues to the second bonfire eh? You know, the one that is like 10 feet from the boss fog gate? And iron keep? Killing enemies every time? Once again, if you had explored and looked around, you may have found a second bonfire where you only have to run past one enemy and walk 30 feet to the boss gate. Now, if you are someone that insists on killing every enemy every time, then yes, black gulch is brutal. And yes, the first run through black gulch is disturbing. But really, one full clear is enough to get any loot and anything past two full clears is not necessary. I agree that the map design does not make sense from even a geological standpoint. And yes, dark souls 1 map design is IMO brilliant. However, I think they were doing a throw back to demon souls in that type of hub design and I do not really mind. Take it for what it is.

  6. I couldn’t agree more.
    I absolutely loved the prior souls games.
    I actually played dark souls 1 first and purchased a PS3 strictly to play Demon’s.
    I NEVER purchase or preorder games on launch but i did so with Dark Souls 2 and even took vacation days upon release to be able to absorb myself into the experience.
    The game just felt “off ” from the beginning.
    The graphics are muddy, enemy designs uninspired and generally lacklustre. The environments are baron and uninteresting.
    You can really feel a genuine lack of artistic integrity.
    I read praising reviews and assumed it was just me who didn’t feel engulfed into Drangleic.
    It wasn’t until i found out that Miyizaki moved over to Bloodborne that i felt relieved to know that my disappointed was justified.
    Dark souls 2 lacks the flair and concise direction that it’s predecessors conveyed.
    The world itself is disjointed, empty and sprawling .
    My favorite parts of the first two games are missing.
    – Depth / Design/ Shortcuts/ beautifully constructed battles and tight controls.
    I wouldn’t go as far as to say this game was a “cash – in” . I justi don’t think the development team could reproduce the visions,craftsmanship or cohesive worlds of its predecessors.
    It is not a bad game, far from it, but it isn’t a masterpiece.
    I am, however, looking forward to the third installment with miyizaki at the helm as i loved bloodborne.

    • You described the problem very well. Art direction in the first game was superb and the guy trying to fill Miyazaki-san’s shoes simply could not do it.

      Dark Souls I bought twice and still play it. DS2 I pirated and dropped it halfway because it felt incredibly inunspired. I can’t wait for DS3 though.

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