If you saw the Dark Souls 2 announcement trailer when it premiered at the VGA’s this weekend, you likely had one of two reactions. One, you leapt up from your couch with a yelp of glee, eager to tackle the sequel one of this console generation’s true masterpieces, or two, you hugged your knees to your chest and began rocking back and forth, mumbling something under your breath about dragons and crippling hopelessness. Oddly enough, both reactions are appropriate. After all, the first Dark Souls, and Demon’s Souls before it have slowly been making a name for themselves over the past four years as a critically acclaimed series of hardcore action RPG’s with a level of difficulty beyond anything the average gazme is used to. And yet, for whatever reason, both titles sold incredibly well, enough to merit what is now this series’ third game in five years.
I know what you’re thinking. Popularity is the one thing that’s almost guaranteed to water down something great for consumption by the masses. Already, we’ve lost Hidetake Miyazaki as director, the new trailer seems to imply much more of a plot-centric game, and Tomohiro Shibuya, one of the game’s new directors, has gone on record saying that it is his intention to make this entry into the franchise much more direct and accessible. That’s a lot of major potential changes, especially for a game that leans so heavy on the hardcore gamer audience, a group notorious for being resistant to change. All is not lost yet, however. The trailer looks awesome, most of this “bad news” is hearsay or conjecture, and the last game was already nearly perfect. Here’s what we want to see from Dark Souls 2 that would make it even better.
A Pause Button
Look, we get it. The game is hardcore, and because of it’s ingeniously integrated always online functionality, you can’t pause the game. Ever. Not if you have to grab a drink of water, or answer the door, or use the bathoom, or literally any other totally justifiable reason you might have to get up for a second and do something. In theory, it’s a cool idea that keeps you from ever feeling fully safe, and a neat solution for being able to keep everyone online at all times, but in practice, at least for us, it ends up feeling more just like a logistical inconvenience, forcing the more nervous of us to quit the game completely whenever the pizza we ordered shows up.
What I propose instead is not simply your average pause button, but one with caveats. For example, when you do pause the game, you cannot un-pause it for at least 60 seconds. This will add just enough weight to the act that conceivably, someone might still opt not to pause it, which I think is a more elegant idea than just eliminating the feature completely. Also, if you’re playing co-op or someone has invaded your world, pausing comes back off the table. There’s still gotta be risk when other people are directly involved, after all.
Keyboard support in notes
It’s also high time we were able to fully express ourselves in our notes. The list of pre-chosen phrases is robust and totally useful, but even if it was a super-expensive late-in-the-game item you needed to unlock it, being able to type whatever you want within a short character limit would be extremely gratifying, and add to the “team effort” feel of this essentially single-player experience.
Plus, if the limit was 140 characters, it would be fun to be able to tweet your messages right from the game. Admittedly, this is more just for novelty’s sake than enhancing the gameplay, but it could conceivably get #DarkSouls2 trending from time to time, and if there’s anything we’ve learned from Wii U’s WaraWara Plaza, it’s that people enjoy seeing the stuff you write about the games you’re playing taken completely out of context. I realize that seemed like a joke, but it’s a real thing, if not a bit inexplicable.
A “Metroidvania”-esque Map (SmartGlass)
The Souls series is, in a lot of ways, the last word on exploration in video games. Unlike a game like Zelda, where much of the level design is literally based around the specific way the Link will travel through it, the world of the first Dark Souls exists on its own, totally indifferent to the actions of the player. This creates a real sense of isolation in the player, who, because of how badly dying punishes you, begins to act more like an astronaut carefully spacewalking through the map than a hardcore gamer with an insatiable appetite for adventure.
The addition of a world map which reveals itself as you move through it would go a long way towards eliminating some of the feelings of aimlessness this game can sometimes generate, even if it’s really just in your head. It would enable the player to feel a little bit more like they had a plan, without really impacting the game’s difficulty too much, and it would make memorizing every twist and turn in the game less necessary. Again, even if this was an expensive endgame item, the simple knowledge that it even exists could totally transform the play experience of someone who might not pick up the game otherwise.
I know some of you might not agree with all of these ideas, but the main idea I wanted to get across is that you don’t necessarily have to eliminate the extreme difficulty and unforgiving attitude Dark Souls is famous for in order to broaden the game’s appeal for a larger audience. Will this series ever become the next The Elder Scrolls? No, not by a long shot, but as long these new directors don’t lose sight of what’s so special about these games, and focus on streamlining that pre-existing experience instead of creating something totally new for more casual gamers, I’ll happily plunk down sixty bucks for every Souls game that comes out til’ the end of time.
Anything you think I forgot? Something you take huge issue with? Totally unrelated thoughts flying through your brain? Write it all down in the comments section below. I’ll answer you if it seems like you really mean it. I know how excited we all are about Dark Souls 2.