Monday, March 1, 2010

Demon's Souls, pt.4: Confusion

Perhaps the most striking first impression regarding Demon's Souls was not how difficult, but how devoid of information it was.

The game begins with a bare-bones tutorial that (probably) ends with you dying, and then dumps you into the main game with your head spinning with questions like, "where am I," "am I dead," "how do I return to life," and "where do I go next?"

As for the "where," it took awhile before the story clicked enough to get that the area was cursed, and that adventurers like myself were trapped in unlife until they could make progress toward defeating the super demon that haunted the land. The mood of the game is marvelously grim, and this bare-bones story comes across nicely. It's worth mentioning that from graphics to sound to control, everything blends well; representing a real, consequential, difficult environment that I was impressed by.

As for figuring out life and death, I was genuinely confused on the point of being dead for a good portion of my first play session. It seemed extremely aggravating to me that this rather important detail was a point of confusion, and it did quite a bit to sour my impressions.

Not knowing where to go next simply made it worse. I recall no NPC being clear about what I should do next. I could see a HUB point with labels on it, but no idea if it was the correct path. In fact, I was so used to going back and correcting wrongs in other games that I kept trying to find out how to get back to the tutorial level to fix my death. I didn't mind the idea of never going back, but I hated having no way to tell if I was moving in the right direction or not. There was a point later in the game where objective-finding became a problem, where in the HUB-world, you have to find a statuesque character among rows of statues with very little information about what you are looking for, and I actually had to look up an FAQ to find it after scouring the HUB environment about 3-times over; just to continue on the main quest. This was one of many times I felt like the game was daring me to quit.

Finally, my patience was also tested upon discovering the hard way that shopkeepers could be permanently killed, and at great consequence. I also had to discover that fact online, and restarted my entire game to fix it. I was beginning to wonder whether the lack of information would be the last straw, rather than its well-known difficulty. I saw the appeal in its rich atmosphere and realistic-feeling kinesthetics, but not giving the players enough information struck me as a dick move.

And I still wonder how to feel about it. It's interesting that the game had a tutorial level considering how mean it was about information otherwise. I can appreciate a game trying to be realistic and having actions with consequence, but it seems weird to do so without taking precedent into consideration. Players are antisocial by training from so many other games, and it seems like something the developers could have eased them into without ruining the mood. Frankly, if the game simply opened with a warning about its philosophy (your actions have consequence, death is a real part of this, we are giving you no information on purpose), I would have been way more accepting of the experience.

The chances of the game losing players is high, but all of these nuances actually helped with the experience of creating a realistically bleak environment, where odd game conventions have explanations with consequence. That, combined with a fantastic mood make for an impressive experience if you can get over its harsh, unconventional humps. And lack of information isn't the only difficulty. More on getting your ass whooped over and over, next.

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