The Sequel Staircase: What Dark Souls 2 needs to fix

FromSoftware’s Souls series will forever hold a unique position in the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 era. It is one of few titles that treats its players with respect but simultaneously harasses them at every corner; that provides myriad tools and options but cannot be solved without great contribution by the player; and that tells its story by not telling its story. It is a cobbling of contradictions, neatly bound by a nigh-infamous level of difficulty without which it would surely fall to disarray. And fortunately, it shows no signs of relenting.

Dark Souls 2 is but a few weeks away, and Souls fans are already polishing their systems, stretching their thumbs, and reinforcing their soon-to-be-thrown controllers in anticipation. But for all the surprises we hope to see from Dark Souls 2, on top of the many wild cards we’ve learned of thus far, there are a number of lingering issues the sequel needs to address. It’s exceptional, sure, but we cannot call the original Dark Souls perfect, after all. And as much as we love its identifying quirks and beauty marks, there are some things that are simply broken, incomplete, or at worst, absent. Let’s start with:

The mod/hack abuse

It’s tempting to call the invasion of modders and hackers of the PC version of Dark Souls karmic justice given how shoddily FromSoftware and Namco supported the platform. However, the troubles don’t stop there; PS3 and Xbox, too, fell victim to infinite health, spawnable souls and power-leveled characters, floating and invisible invaders and other such nonsense. It’s virtually impossible to plug every hole in a game and put a stop to the dubious ingenuity of those who wish to “recolor” their experience, but given its rampancy, it’s clear that FromSoftware left the door open for such abuses.

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At least there's one solution to hackers.

The result is the same as for many games: A ruined experience for those on the receiving end. Those hacking may be on the amused and no-doubt cackle-ridden end of the deal, but for vanilla (read: fair) players, running into a truly insurmountable obstacle—one not intended for the game—is a proper kick in the teeth. The effect is only worsened by the fact that Dark Souls prides itself on a difficult but wholly fair experience, which renders otherwise slightly annoying hackers truly frustrating. It robs it of its charm. As such, especially given that the development team is now undoubtedly aware of this problem, Dark Souls 2 needs to do away with the aforementioned hacks and cracks, whether by punishing users who make use of them (my vote’s for Athenian ostracism) or the obvious choice of putting bigger locks on the doors.

The PvP

Imagine it: An array of armaments that would leave The Elder Scrolls green in the face. An archive of specialized spells, eager to be cast as needed. Combat mechanics designed from the ground up to emphasize timing, skill, patience. A mix of spontaneous combat and dedicated arena fighting, adding depth and variance to the PvP experience.

So what the hell has to happen to turn all that promise, potential and diversity into a trivialized, repetitive and aggravating experience? Lag and backstabs, enter stage left.

Addressing the writing on the wall first: Dark Souls PvP is abysmally laggy, its most obvious and infamous flaw. However, it is also the simplest to correct, and therefore boring. A few more powerful and dedicated servers and we’ll be on our way.

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The true face of Dark Souls PvP: 'Come at me bro'

The more subtle thorn in the game’s side is its damage system, specifically its approach to critical hits—not that wonky hit boxes aren’t bothersome, but again, we’re not here to talk about lag being lag. No, the greatest culprit is the almighty backstab.

There’s nothing wrong with allowing players to exploit the openness of their opponent with a devastating hit, nor is it unreasonable for a medieval combat system to embrace the art of literally getting behind an opponent. Things become problematic, however, when those concessions obviate the countless blades and hammers driving that combat system. The versatility of the Claymore, the raw power of the Zweihander, the spry Estoc, the inescapable Black Knight Halberd—none of these matter once backstabs are introduced. Instead of asking players to master their skillset and hone their fighting style, PvP devolves into round after round of “pin the backstab on the phantom,” and all weapons are rendered nothing more than stat-sticks, wielded solely to determine the power of your critical hits. This completely undermines the otherwise deep combat of Dark Souls and, coupled with persistent lag issues, can make PvP terminally unenjoyable.

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This Dark Souls 2 invader looks to be having a particularly bad day.

As such, Dark Souls 2 will need to rework its PvP systems, ideally in a way that punishes failed backstab attempts and significantly neuters their power in general. Otherwise, the many new weapons and spells we’ll be brandishing will quickly vanish from importance.

The customization

It almost comes as a relief that, true to its past, Dark Souls 2 will include the same unorthodox character creation that we’ve come to know and love. From noses so pointy that they more closely resemble beaks to characters too androgynous to make out from a distance, our Undead heroes and heroines will surely be a colorful lot. However, a character creator alone is shallow imagination for an RPG such as Dark Souls 2, especially when compared to its shockingly deep well of canon. While the Souls series has always been more about the adventure than you as an individual, there are two big ways for the next installment to expand its actual role-playing—neither of which have been fully fleshed out.

The many Covenants of Lordran comprise a network of allegiances, of factions hell-bent on maintaining order, breeding chaos or defending their territory. But strangely, as the higher-ups of each Covenant boast about their accomplishments and history, and even after you elect to join one, it’s clear that who you ally with has virtually no impact on the world or storyline. There are a few exceptions, of course, namely the Forest Hunter Covenant, which reinforces the importance of PvP interaction; and that of the Darkwraiths, which foreshadows one of Dark Souls’ two endings. Ultimately though, your character is just that, a character, a template devoid of personality used to beat the game.

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Now this is an adventurer with style.

This uniformity is only amplified by how easily equipment is chosen. Weapons and armor in Dark Souls ironically share the same problem of action-RPGs such as Diablo and Path of Exile: Unarguable superiority. What point is there in selecting an outfit that fits your aesthetic or a different weapon of your favorite class or a shield of exceptional craftsmanship if you’re lugging around an undeniably stronger set of gear? Role-playing isn’t about deliberately avoiding the best equipment just so you can feel special; it should allow the player to build their character (or party, and so on) to meet their vision without skipping on effectiveness. I’m certainly not asking light armor sets to be put on par with full Havel’s, but rather to insist that greater parity among like items would better condone player creativity. There will (and should) always be strongest types and variants, but adding unique functionality and aspects to others would deepen Dark Souls 2’s position as a role-playing game, adding replay value and diversifying its player base.

What else?

We at GameZone have countless hours of Souls under our collective belt, but we know we’ve missed something. Let us know what  you want to see fixed, added or just plain changed in Dark Souls 2 in the comment.