Demon’s Souls Review

Demon’s Souls is one of those games that’s hard to define. Sure people try, the most common phrase I hear describing Demon’s Souls, and all Souls games in general, is that it’s incredibly hard. While later Souls games certainly were about being hard at times, especially for marketing purposes (looking at you Prepare to Die Edition), Demon’s Souls wasn’t made to be difficult. The game has a strict set of rules that players have to follow, and it spends the first few areas easing the player into it. The tutorial is just a simple track for the player to follow and get used to the movement and combat controls, coincidentally it’s also impossible to die in the tutorial until the boss. After the tutorial the player is thrown into the first proper level. Later souls games would make it a point to beat the player senseless with an unexpectedly hard early boss or area, but Demon’s Souls unleashes only the most basic enemies on the player at first. The dreglings in 1-1 take upwards of six to seven hits to kill the player, and drop healing items nearly every death. From Software planned the first few levels perfectly, they treated it like an old NES game, where you couldn’t teach the players with long drawn out tutorials because cartridges didn’t have enough memory to account for it. Instead, developers would teach the players through clever little opening levels, that introduce each of the game’s mechanics individually, before they are thrown into the harder sections of the game. In the first level alone, Demon’s Souls introduces its players to mid level shortcuts, environmental interaction (things like cutting the chains in the tower with the cling ring to drop treasure), dodge and block timings, parrying, metroidvania elements (the locked door to the Mausoleum), traps, branching paths, dragon attacks, ambushes, consumables, and enemy elemental weakness; all without a single tutorial box popping up to describe how to use certain items. It also introduces the player to the most important gameplay aspect, and one that differentiates Demon’s Souls from its successors. Rather than bonfires or lanterns like later souls games, the checkpoints in Demon’s Souls are called Archstones, and they are only unlocked after defeating a boss. Rather than little checkpoints along the way to a boss like in the Dark Souls games, in Demon’s Souls you only have the one checkpoint until you defeat the boss and get the next. Due to this, From Software had to build each of the levels in a circular format with several shortcuts throughout the level. The level design of Demon’s Souls really shines because of this mechanic, it would have been easier for the developers to just have the levels just be a long line with checkpoints randomly placed along the way, but they chose to create these incredibly vertical, and believable levels that folded in on themselves time and time again.

Following the first real level, the player talks to a little being called the Monumental, and is introduced to the game’s plot. For the most part, a plot doesn’t exist. There’s a big fog covering the land, the player decides to jump in the fog to see what’s going on, now its the players job to beat all evil in the fog. But while Demon’s Souls lacks a plot, it excels at world building. Rather than having this complex story, From Software chose to create the magnificent world of Boletaria. Instead of searching for information about your current quest or what’s next for this kingdom, you search for information about what Boletaria was like before the fog, what each area was meant to be, and how each area turned into what it is today.. Demon’s Souls, much like its successors, is a game that is more about viewing and learning about the world around you, rather than following a set list of objectives.

I’ll touch on this subject only briefly because it stays the case in basically all souls games, and doesn’t just pertain to Demon’s Souls. While you do pick a class when you start a new game, your character isn’t limited down any one upgrade path. Souls games allow the player to specialize in whatever array of skills he wants, allowing for incredibly varied play styles, as well as a lot of replayability.

Regardless, the Monumental then opens up all of the Archstones for player use. This is where Demon’s Souls really shines. After only completing one boss, the player is given the ability to choose from five different levels to try next. I can’t imagine the nightmare that From Software must have gone through in trying to balance each of the archstones to be playable at early levels, but still challenging later, but they deserve an award because it is done incredibly well. The beginning levels of each archstone each have their own strength and cons to consider when choosing which one to beat first. If you’re playing a strength build, you can go to the Stonefang Tunnel and get the Crushing Battle Axe, if you’re playing a faith build you can go to the Valley of Defilement and get the Blessed Mace, or if you’re playing a magic or dex build you can go to the Shrine of Storms and get the Crescent Falchion. Speaking of the Shrine of Storms, first attempts at the level are always very hard to new players, because of the speed and relentlessness of the enemies. My first play through I spent death after death just trying to get up the stairs at the beginning of the level, and then one day, in my frustration I accidentally unequipped my weapon. Astonishingly, hitting a skeleton with my fist was insanely effective. After looking it up to make sure it wasn’t a glitch, I learned that the skeletons are weak to crushing damage, and since your fists are crushing damage and exceptionally fast, it just happens to be the most effective way of killing the mobs. Little things like that are what make Demon’s Souls so great. There’s always a simple, and relatively easy way to beat a level, and it all comes down to the player to discover that best way. For example, bringing up 5-1 again, but the first Shrine of Storms level takes the player on a long and hard trek, fighting many of the area’s harder enemies on the edge of cliffs; but if the player searches the level thoroughly, they’ll find a shortcut that cuts out ninety percent of the level, taking the player straight to the boss.

Speaking of bosses, this game has some amazing bosses. Sure, there are a few generic bosses, big fat dudes that are nothing more than a dps rush, looking at you Leechmonger and Dirty C

olossus, but for the most part the bosses of Demon’s Souls show some amazing creativity. There’s the Fool’s Idol, that can’t be killed until a mob in the level is killed before entering the boss fight, there’s Maiden Astraea, who if you kill her bodyguard/close personal friend in her  boss room before confronting her, she will simply kill herself and lament the player for being so power hungry. There’s the Old Hero, who’s blind so if the player wears the Thief Ring, the boss won’t be able to find them unless they are attacking him, there’s the Penetrator Boss Fight, where an NPC helper will pop in to help you if you had saved him previously.

Demon’s Souls isn’t perfect, however, some cases show some very questionable game design. Drop rates for pure upgrade stones are brutally low, meaning that some players will spend months grinding for an item that has a .1% drop rate. World Tendency is a wonderful idea that From Software didn’t implement well enough. If only your tendency didn’t immediately drift to the server average when you logged online, then it would be much more feasible to complete all of the Tendency events even while playing online. There are few other petty niggles in the game, the Dragon God Boss fight is a test of patience more than an actual test of skill, magic is too powerful, with one ability being able to two to three hit nearly every boss in the game. These niggles don’t amount to anything more than little spots on an otherwise stainless masterpiece. Demon’s Souls, and to a lesser extent all Souls games, created the perfect experience for a person who likes their games to be a little unforgiving, their atmosphere oppressive, and their combat varied.

Does it hold up? –Bioshock–

Continuing along the path of heavily respected video games of 2007, today is the day for a look back at a game that many consider to be the best game of the seventh console generation. Bioshock is revered for its complex story line and innovative gameplay. It is also the self proclaimed spiritual successor to one of my favorite rpgs, System Shock 2. I remember Bioshock quite fondly but I haven’t played it since I was like fourteen, and back then I thought sports games were fun. So I decided to pick the game up again and see if Bioshock really is a masterpiece, or an overhyped mess like Mass Effect was.

 

Presentation:

Despite it’s age, Bioshock is one of the most gorgeous games I’ve played. Lip syncing and textures can be a little iffy, but the game’s animations are masterfully done, with the opus being the water physics, which outdo some games made today. The one complaint I have about the water is that Bioshock thinks it’s clever and does the same thing a billion other games do, where walking through falling water will make the screen shimmer like you’re watching the world through a lens. I’m supposed to be looking through this fuckers eyes, not through a camera, I don’t need random waves blocking my vision when a big daddy is charging at me from across the room. That petty niggle aside, Bioshock’s impressive voice acting and animation mean that it’s presentation certainly still holds up today.

 

Gameplay:

Bioshock’s gameplay is extremely reminiscent to that of System Shock. Combat is divided between your weapons and your psi abilities (called Plasmids this time around). Unlike System Shock, however, Bioshock is a shooter, not an RPG. Rather than having to put 3 points into guns to be able to fire a shotgun, or a few points into strength to swing a weapon, the player is immediately able to wield any weapon he finds in Rapture. This theoretically adds more variety to a play through, but the lack of effort to obtain a weapon means it’s a lot easier to pick the one weapon you like and never use any other one. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the best weapon in the game happens to be the very first one you get. That wrench must have been made out of fucking titanium because it hits harder than a sledgehammer. After the first combat upgrade I found that increased the wrench damage, there was almost no reason to use another weapon. I saved my grenades and exploding shotgun ammo for the various big daddies, and then just whacked endlessly on the splicers while throwing around electro bolts. And this was on this hardest difficulty, I can’t imagine how much damage that wrench must do on the easiest. Enemies are probably killed just by you pulling out the wrench while you’re in their eyesight. This brings me to my first main complaint about Bioshock, much like its predecessor, it makes out to be a resource based survival horror game, meaning the player spends half of their time scavenging for supplies, and the other half frantically trying to win fights while not wasting all of the supplies they just got. System Shock 2 did this perfectly because the combat was unforgiving as hell, but Bioshock attempts to create tension in it’s combat where there is none. The enemy splicers are surprisingly varied for a shooter, but they never evolve from doing slight damage to you, while you two hit every single one of them. I enjoy the plasmid mechanic, and my god there are like a billion of the things, but a game needs to offer some sort of  challenge to make the player switch around his play style. Otherwise it is way too easy to fully upgrade one perk and one weapon, and let every other direction on the radial menu turn to dust.

 

Plot:

As basically every other person on the internet will tell you, the plot is where Bioshock really shines. It tells the story of what could happen if somebody were to try and create Ayn Rand’s perfect society. A place with no government, where day to day life was dictated by the “invisible hand” of a free market system. An incredibly interesting idea, and one that very few games have the balls to delve into. Adam is another interesting concept to the plot, being basically what scientists wish stem cells were, an all purpose DNA changer. It adds a lot to the plot, with plasmids and that one crazy doctor who was using it to do fucked up plastic surgeries in the hopes of creating the perfect face. The one problem is that it becomes a bit too convenient for the writers. What I mean by this is that at times, especially when it comes to the history of the main character, the writers thought of a super cool thing the scientists of rapture could achieve, and the only explanation given is Adam. I get that Adam is awesome and can rewrite DNA, but how exactly can it be used to control people’s minds? Also, how the fuck is it used to create the little sisters? And why are the little sisters the ones that gather the Adam and not the big daddies? It seems to be adding a useless middleman that does nothing but endanger the supply of Adam flowing into Rapture. Regardless Bioshocks plot is definitely something worth looking into; although it’s ending is absolutely awful. It’s surprising that a game about a player’s lack of choice, decides to give the player two vastly different endings based on one choice. And no, choosing to rescue or harvest the little sisters is not a ton of choices throughout the game. Nobody is going to be switching back and forth, people are going to see such a  blatant good or evil choice like that and go, “Oh I want the good ending” or “Oh I want the bad ending” and only chose that option throughout the entire playthrough. It’s the same problem I had with Mass Effect, splitting a player’s choice between two incredibly simple choices, and then basing the entire game’s ending on those choices, is just plain bad storytelling.

 

Conclusion:
After Bioshock’s second act climax, it just dribbles on until the player is given an ending where they are either jesus or skeletor. Playing Bioshock made me realize how easily a game can ruin what it’s built for itself. The world building of this game is unmatched by any game I have ever played before, and yet dragging through the final few missions, having a final boss that’s straight out of a shitty World of Warcraft dungeon, and then being given an ending based entirely upon the fates of the little sisters, which were a minor plot point at best, I found myself looking down on Bioshock. I still think everyone should play it, but Bioshock is one of the clearer examples of a plot that really loses sight of itself by the end. To be honest, if you’ve never played Bioshock before, I would play the game up until you reach Andrew Ryan’s Office and then stop playing. After that, continued play will only show you how repetitive the combat can feel at times. It throws a lot of variety at you from the very start, but never adds any new layers. You’re just given better guns or plasmids to kill the enemies with, and they’re given a handful of special traits and a slight health boost. It’s certainly the best of the Bioshock games, with 2 having slightly more fun gameplay and a much less intriguing plot, and Infinite having a plot that may be as good, but is horribly pretentious and is backed by the most generic gameplay I have ever seen from Irrational Games.

Mass Effect Review

The Mass Effect trilogy is one of the most beloved series of the seventh generation of consoles. Acclaimed for its interactive storytelling and deep mythos, this series has garnered so much attention that as of 2014, it had sold over 14 million copies. Is it actually as good as people say it is though? Does its storytelling still hold up today? Are these questions pointless hooks to attract audience attention to my very first review? To answer those questions in reverse order, Yes, Maybe, No. So without any more prattling, this is a relatively non in depth review of Mass Effect 1.

Graphics:

Mass Effect is nearing a decade old now, and that fact is beginning to show. The game has this eerie thing where every time your party boards an elevator, they all stand ramrod still equidistant apart and in a line. To make the situation even creepier, characters will still exchange dialogue while they’re spines are seemingly replaced with telephone poles. Facial animation, voice acting, and the lip syncing are also quite inconsistent. The Mako, a vehicle driven for large portions of the game, seems to have been designed by a man with flipper hands, because I haven’t played a game with such floaty vehicle controls in years. In spite of all of this, however, the combat animation of this game still stands up today. Enemies will be thrown violently to the ground by a close ranged shotgun blast, or rifle butt, weapons have satisfying weights to them, and enemy rag dolls are a pleasure to behold as they flop around on the ground like eels.

Plot:

Mass Effect followed the route of every space opera and attempts to tell the story of a galactic wide threat of almost unbelievable proportions. In this case, it happens to be a race of sentient robots who reappear every few thousand years to cleanse the galaxy of life, for some unexplained reason. Also taken from the Children’s Guide to Writing a Plot are 1. A plethora of alien races, each with one, maybe two, personality traits that seem to permeate every single individual of the species, 2. A story centered around a game of catch up, where the player character is always just one or two steps behind the major villain, but all confrontation between them is saved for the end of the game, and 3. A choice system that only amounts to being either very good, or incredibly evil. While Mass Effects plot is most definitely generic, that doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Sometimes a lack of creativity allows developers to really refine the ideas put into the game, or at least I’m sure that’s what the people at Bioware tell themselves. Even though I’ve spent nearly this entire paragraph shitting all over the different aspect of the games plot, it still somehow manages to be my favorite part of the game. Regardless of how generic the world is, it still feels like it’s alive. The game is jam packed full of lore and side plots, so whenever I got bored with one quest line, I could easily just hop in my ship and fly to a more interesting quest. Despite it’s flaws, there is enough merit to the game’s plot that I can consider it worthwhile, and maybe even intriguing if I’m feeling generous.

This is a note that doesn’t really have an effect on how good the game is, but I felt the need to complain about it anyway. Spoilers for those who for some reason still give a shit about spoiling a ten year old game. After beating Matriarch Benezia in a fight, she lays dying and says the words, “Where is the light, they always said there would be a…” then she dies. Are we to believe that every single species in the galaxy independently associated dying with the approaching of a light? And even more confusing, if they had all come up with that independently, than it would be almost assuredly true. It’d be like countless alien species all believing in Jesus, I’d be like shit, I guess that makes him real.

 

Gameplay:

Mass Effect attempts to marry the two gameplay styles of third person shooters, and party based RPG’s. A valiant attempt that sadly led to ruin. Most party based RPG’s give the player an isometric perspective of the game, allowing the player to easily see and assess the battlefield, and give controls to each party member individually. Much of this control is lost, when transitioning to a third person viewpoint. Attempting to cast area of effect spells accurately would be a nightmare from a third person perspective, and Bioware tried to compensate for this by having most of the abilities be either single target, or self target. The problem still remains, however, that pointing at an enemy and scrolling through a radial menu to command your teammate to cast an ability on it, is infinitely less efficient than simply pointing your gun and shooting at the enemy. I played Mass Effect on the hardest difficulty setting with party AI and aim assist turned off, which I believed would incentivize me to keep in constant control of my teammates, but that is nearly impossible. Player control over your two squad members is restricted to just equipment choice, the radial menu of abilities that is nearly useless, and three buttons on the D-Pad which tell your party to either group up, stay there, or push to a designated spot. Lacking the ability to fully control my allies, most of the fights ended in one of two ways. Either both of my teammates died early in the fight, leaving me to kill all of the enemies myself; or, my allies would become frustrated with my lack of care towards them, and trap me in a corner so that the enemies can get a clear shot at me. I would’ve had more of a problem with these flaws, if the game’s shooting hadn’t been so damn easy. The shotgun was two to three hitting every enemy right up until the end of the game; and from a distance too. I mistakenly thought I would need a ranged weapon to go with my shotgun, but I could slaughter people from different post codes with that thing. Despite all of this the combat is still somewhat fun, animation is well done, weapons have satisfying weight to their shots (the shotgun specifically), and enemies are reasonably varied. I just feel that the idea to make it a squad based RPG was ill advised. There is a reason that party based RPG’s are almost never from a third or first person perspective, but I won’t fault Bioware for attempting to change it up a bit.

What I will fault them for, though, is their radial dialogue menu. I know it seems to be something that people like about this game, and the trilogy in general, but that fact absolutely astounds me. Most of the dialogue in the game is restricted to three choices, paragon, neutral, and renegade; and each of these choices is wildly different. The player can either choose to be the world’s largest kiss ass, the world’s least emoting person, or the world’s biggest ass hole, with almost no middle ground. It amazes me that people consider that to be giving the player choice. Planescape: Torment, a game that actually does give the player choice, usually has six to seven dialogue choices, varying from sarcastic, to confused, to slightly rude, to incredibly rude, to sweet, to charismatic, etc. Some dialogue choices would even be the exact same, but the player would be able to specify whether they were bluffing or not. That is Role Playing. Mass Effect is following an incredibly presented mad lib.

Conclusion:

I was going to write a whole paragraph to summarize my thoughts here, but honestly the previous sentence really encapsulates my ideas perfectly. Mass Effect presents itself so well that it’s hard not to get sucked in, but at the core it has countless little annoyances that cause the game to be average at best. Somewhere hidden inside Mass Effect is a great game, but it’s buried under piles of weird design choices, and Bioware not really grasping the Role Playing part, of a Role Playing Game. It’s still interesting enough that I will play the latter two games of the series, but it’s definitely not the game it was made out to be.