Remember those old point-and-click adventure games like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle? There was one aspect I truly loved about those games: Discovery. As you solved their puzzles, their world would open up and expand, showing you the next trick up its sleeve.
I remember playing Grim Fandango and ending up as a skeleton Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Or ending up at a Mardi Gras in Monkey Island 2. That blew my mind: Behind these games were completely thought-out worlds, worlds I could explore and discover!
Nowadays, the only games that sometimes give me this giddy feeling of being an explorer are Japanese RPG’s. Unfortunately, the stories backing those up have been terrible at best – and when there’s no interesting story, the world-building falls flat. The Casablanca sequence in Grim Fandango only works because Manny essentially is Rick; the Mardi Gras only works because of the quirkiness of the Carribean setting in Monkey Island.
My only problem with adventure games: I don’t like puzzles. I don’t like to combine things, solve absurd problems, think outside the box or whatever. I don’t have the patience for it. I’d rather punch a hole in a door than combine a chicken with a piece of gum to pry it open somehow.
Enter Dark Souls 2.
I didn’t play the first one – seriously, a game trying to sell itself by saying how supersadistically hard it is is not my beef. Or so I thought – turns out Dark Souls has the power to suck me in and spit me out.
For those not in the know: Dark Souls is a series of games in which you and your sword explore a barren fantasy world. The game is ruthless but fair, killing you left and right, forcing you to be on your toes and deal with its many enemies, traps and pitfalls as puzzles. Find out how to deal with them and you’re golden.
It’s like an adventure game, only instead of combining chickens and gum, you’re learning motor skills. Be killed by a certain enemy enough times and you’ll start to figure out their pattern. You understand their timing. And all of a sudden, you’re not struggling with them anymore! Then, the game throws two at you and you’re back at square one. But you’re confident: You tackled one, surely you can deal with two!
Added to that, Dark Souls is one of the few game series with a consistent world to explore. There are no real levels, but a sense that everything is geographically connected. A village leads to a cave, which leads to an abandoned castle, which leads to a tower that in turn leads to a forest. From the tower, you can see the forest, and from the forest, you run alongside the wall of the castle.
I cannot stress how much fun it is to run inside a world that does not feel like it was designed as a video game, but rather a living world with videogamey obstacles in it. Worlds like the ones in adventure games, where design and world influence puzzles and not the other way around.