Demon’s Souls, as you may have heard, is a difficult game. There is no “Easy” mode that you can play to just make it through the game. The tutorial is very brief and basic and actually doesn’t give you nearly enough information about the game before it literally ends in your death. Unlike other unforgiving games like Ninja Gaiden that ask if you want to reduce the difficulty after you die, Demon’s Souls actually takes away half your maximum life and makes the game even harder (and getting back that half of your life is not an easy task). And if that weren’t bad enough, every time you die you drop all of your experience/money (they are one and the same in the game), and can only recover them if you make it back to where you died the first time from the beginning of the level (the game auto-saves this, so no cheating your way out of death). Oh, and there’s no “pause” function in the game. Yes, really.
Such a punishing design apparently came from a developer that doesn’t care about the “lessons” learned by modern developers, which typically include some combination of frequent checkpoints, “anywhere” saves, adjustable difficulty, and/or regenerating health. The lack of a “pause” function can be attributed to the fact that the game is played in a strange sort of quasi-online mode where you can read messages other players leave, watch how other players died, or even join up to fight with some other players at times. But even online, the developers, From Software, decided to ignore modern conventions for online play:
- There is no voice chat when playing with other players.
- There is no real way to “party up” or arrange to play with your friends or past players you may have met online.
- You cannot choose to continue playing with someone after you’ve defeated a boss. You are automatically booted back to your own “realm”.
- When playing with others, only 1 player (the “living” player) may make progress in their game (though everyone does get experience).
Since these are pretty much standard in other online environments today, the fact that they’re not included must mean that that they were deliberately omitted by design. It is amazing to me that a design with such limited accessibility was allowed to exist, but the developers have managed to create a very compelling world. Still, that doesn’t mean they were right, and I still question some of these design decisions.
I think that the online functionality was probably thought about early in the design, but From Software wanted the game to still basically be a single player game. Reading messages other people placed would sort of be like an in-game message board. Summoning other players to your game would kind of be adding an AI henchman to your game, only the AI happened to be human. It’s a pretty odd way to think about things, but in the context of the game it works.
The problem is, its still an online game, and when you make an online game, people like to socialize and strategize. If I had to pick one design choice from above as my biggest gripe, it would probably be the lack of voice chat. People want to communicate with each other, whether its their first time through a level or your guiding someone else through it. It is extremely annoying losing your group when in multiplayer mode because you have no easy way of finding them. And its even more annoying when you’re fighting a boss for the first time and have no way of communicating with your ally to discuss strategy. The only way of communicating in game now is a pre-defined list of about 10 gestures, but they are also extremely slow to use and completely worthless 99% of the time. I have literally had to use PSN messaging with a few people just to discuss options, and when people are resorting to using a slow-ass, out-of-game virtual keyboard to send messages to each other, maybe it’s about time to just give the players what they obviously want. I hope that it gets patched in, but I doubt it will.
It might be nice to see some sort of “Casual” mode too that allows for players to party up and play the game in a group as they like, but I’d understand if they didn’t put something like that in. It might stratify the community too much, and maybe not enough people would be playing the “Normal” mode.
Overall, despite its difficulty and lack of online features, I’m actually quite enjoying the game. Perhaps that will change as the stakes for dying get ever higher as I progress through the game, as you need ever more souls (experience/money) for each level you gain. Its easy to see how dying could literally make you lose hours worth of work, and that’s something I probably won’t relish.Posted in Impressions, Jeff, PS3 |