Dark Souls is a phenomenon. It’s the bar by which many games are judged, an uber-popular game within the streaming community. And, it has been a massive influence on game design over the past few years.
The Souls series is notorious for being difficult, relying heavily on a slow, methodic combat system and enemies with distinct attack patterns. The Dark Souls world is bleak, feelings of despair and madness permeating its ruins and wild lands. Because it is so multi-faceted, it has influenced games in a number of likely-and some unlikely-ways, ranging from the combat systems in fellow RPGs all the way down to the architecture of consumer hardware.
Prepare to Fight
The main interaction between a player and the world in Dark Souls is combat. You have only limited interaction with NPCs, and almost every living thing in the world is hostile. Elements of trial and error are also present, with most encounters requiring multiple tries for the player to learn the proper method of approach. Many games are inspired by this idea, including some of the most recent.
Destiny developers at Bungie have cited Dark Souls as an influence in the online shooter’s combat encounters.
"We’re building lots of encounters…where it’s not immediately obvious what you should do and in fact, you’re going to fail,” Bungie’s Tyson Green told GameInformer prior to the game’s release.
The Witcher 3 plays on these ideas in a way much similar to Dark Souls, requiring players to engage in multiple encounters with deliberate enemies and methodical attack patterns.
Indie developers have especially been influenced by Dark Souls, using its punishing difficulty and unique design to spin off into their own take on the format.
Yacht Club Games’ indie darling Shovel Knight borrows ideas from the Dark Souls format, specifically the combat. As said on their original Kickstarter page, original Kickstarter page the team loves “the rhythm and combat in Dark Souls, and the way you feel facing the unknown. The soul upgrading and death mechanics in the game are also refreshing and wonderful. That palpable tension that comes from fear of death."
Titan Souls borders on a soulslike experience, but it leans on conventions different enough from Dark Souls to make it feel like its own idea. However, Dark Souls’ influence on the combat is unmistakable. As one lone warrior armed with a bow and arrow, the player stumbles across large, challenging bosses, each with different attack patterns and styles.
Below’s love for killing off players in a merciless manner is reminiscent of Dark Souls’ punishing difficulty, and its bleak, lonesome world captures the atmosphere of Dark Souls’ Lordran.
What’s a 'Soulslike'?
Some games borrow ideas and elements from Dark Souls, and others take the entire formula and tweak it slightly to make their own adaptation. Soulslikes, as they’ve become known, are a subgenre all their own, offering similar experiences with varying levels of difficulty and accessibility.
2014’s Lords of the Fallen adapted the Dark Souls formula and created a slightly more accessible experience deemed totally competent by the review consensus. It may not have done enough to create a splash on par with Dark Souls, but it’s another offering for those craving challenging action combat and a world to explore.
Salt and Sanctuary is one of the best examples of a soulslike, coupling the difficulty, bleakness, and gameplay of Dark Souls and packaging it in a 2D platformer with gothic, cartoonish visuals. It’s like a bite-sized Dark Souls, with plenty to explore and several challenging fight encounters.
Perhaps the most notable soulslike of them all is Bloodborne. Yes, it is developed by the same studio, but Bloodborne is not one of the games in the core Souls series. Instead, it’s a side one-off, a stirring, more combat-heavy version of the Dark Souls games with a deep emphasis on atmospheric Lovecraftian horror. Bloodborne re-skins a lot of the same conventions and ideas of a Dark Souls game, but its encounters, environment, and interactions with other players make it a game all its own.
Into the Real World
Even the design of the PlayStation 4 was influenced by Dark Souls. Speaking in an interview on the PlayStation Blogcast, Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida spoke about Dark Souls’ captivating player-to-player interactions, saying “Lots of things these games-Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls-did, like leaving the messages to other people asynchronously so you feel connected but not really connected at the same time, all of these things inspired us when we were designing the system features for PS4.”
A game advertising its extreme difficulty and taunting the player to give the challenge a go is not going to be a win for everyone. Dark Souls appeals to a very esoteric portion of the gaming population. However, its influence is evident, and the foot print it has left on the creative works of others will persist for years, long after the final boss in Dark Souls 3 is vanquished.