The Dark Souls series is a unique beast in the modern gaming landscape. It eschews all common conveniences, pushing the player's skills to the very limit of their ability. Instead of being turned off by the extreme difficulty, many embraced the challenge; so much so that Dark Souls has become one of the most revered series of recent years.
The struggle players go through almost always feels fair, save for several moments where the series feels like it's inflicting undue punishment on us. To that end, here are five ways Dark Souls is fair with its difficulty, and five ways it is unreasonable in its treatment of players.
10 Fair: Losing Health With Death
Players will die a lot when playing this series, so they shouldn't feel bad if their character hits the grave constantly. It doesn't come without consequences, however. With each life lost, a small amount of maximum HP is taken. With this mechanic in place, it forces the player to always be on their toes, since carelessness means more than just being sent back to a checkpoint.
Fortunately, health can be restored with an item. Some view it as irrational, but it becomes less of a hindrance once one gets into the flow of the game.
9 Unfair: Traps That Kill In One Hit
Traps are abundant in the games' world. This is expected from a series that encourages exploration and discovery. Where it starts getting annoying is when these traps take someone out in one hit.
Treasure chest traps are the worst offenders. If the player has enough health, they may survive, but first encounters with these almost always lead to death. They are avoidable if you read the clues left by other players, but should they really kill in one hit?
8 Fair: Leveling Up
The player starts out fragile as a newborn baby and with equipment to match. The first enemies faced can usually take the character out in just a few hits. This may immediately turn some off from the game, but it is only temporary.
Souls are both currency and experience points, letting the player steadily increase their stats. The fact they are also used as money tasks the player with balancing buying supplies and leveling up. Each level requires more and more souls, making them more valuable and infrequent later on.
7 Unfair: Bosses With Gimmicks
The boss battles are a highlight of the series. Most of them feel like honest duels with especially powerful foes. A small handful rely on gimmicks, however, and these tend to be the weakest ones. Mytha, The Baneful Queen is a shining example of this.
She awaits in an inescapable pool of poison, and fighting her this way is nearly impossible. However, one can drain the pool, making the fight a cake walk. Players who missed this opportunity will find the boss nearly invincible, but fortunately they can still go back and drain the pool.
6 Fair: No Invisible Walls
Many games feature invisible boundaries preventing players from falling into pits. Dark Souls resorts to no such hand-holding, letting players leap to their death if they walk off the edge. This idea is a perfect metaphor for the game's philosophy.
FromSoftware respects the player and won't baby them to the point of putting guard rails on cliffs. Of course, some people curious enough will take the leap of faith, but then they learn not to do it again. Death is a teaching tool in this game.
5 Unfair: Losing All Souls With A Second Death
The idea behind this is sound. Losing all souls provides meaning to your character's death, and permanently losing them upon a second death raises the stakes even further.
However, one can argue this goes too far. All fans have stories of being just a few steps away from collecting their souls before a projectile gives them another game over. If one dies before collecting the souls, the currency is forever lost. When it gets that close, it just seems like undue punishment.
4 Fair: Hardest Challenges Are Optional
Some of the areas and bosses are truly intense bouts that take every ounce of skill and endurance at the player's disposal. Thankfully, many of the toughest encounters are purely optional endeavors.
Of course, the game doesn't say which ones are and aren't optional, but that's what the Internet is for. If a boss seems too extreme, it is a safe bet that it is not mandatory. Completionists may have a hard time skipping these, but there is no shame in not defeating every enemy and boss.
3 Unfair: Sometimes Being Too Obtuse
Exploration is key to the game's success. Gone are waypoints and minimaps. Players need to commit the map to memory and search through every nook and cranny to find out where to go next.
At its best, this makes the player feel like a true adventurer. At worst, it is obtuse and confusing for the sake of perplexing people. No-one likes wandering around a map for hours, scratching their heads. Most don't want to search the Internet for walkthroughs, either, but the game forces this sometimes.
2 Fair: Open Design
The game world is open, allowing players to travel one of several paths from the get-go. Each road varies in difficulty, meaning players may accidentally choose a challenging path first. Fortunately, one can always go back and start progressing through a different part of the map at any time.
This design prevents people from getting stuck and makes grinding unnecessary, as there is always a new avenue to explore. By the time the player goes back to the place they were previously stuck at, the once frighteningly challenging boss is now a piece of cake.
1 Unfair: Not Explaining How All The Mechanics Work
To its credit, a help button is constantly present on all the menus. Even with this, however, some things aren't explained clearly enough for players. Part of the fun is unraveling all the game's secrets, but it is less fun when complex systems lead to a more difficult game.
It's not uncommon for players to restart their file after a botched first attempt. The idea of limited resources and carelessness making the game harder is novel, but this happening due to a lack of understanding on the player's part is not.