Four months, 112 hours (47 hours and 65 hours on two different characters), and 257 deaths later, I have finished Dark Souls. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I am finished with Dark Souls. There are a few side things that I didn’t completely wrap up, a few monsters left unchallenged. I took a quick look at some of the dlc, but I have done nothing of note in Oolacile. All in all, I think I’m satisfied. I have drunk my fill of Dark Souls, and I don’t really feel like heading back for more any time soon. Maybe I’ll feel differently the next time the Steam sale rolls around.
If you don’t know anything about Dark Souls, it is a game where you ferry a clumsy warrior made of jerky through Lordran, a lavishly set designed, but sparsely populated medieval heavy metal fantasy theme park. It’s all of the Barad-dur parts of Lord of the Rings and none of the Shire bits. I’m not tearing it down, I played the thing for 112 hours after all, but if that description doesn’t appeal to you, there may be other games for you.
There are a spare few games that I have ever put that sort of time into. The last would probably be Mass Effect, but that was 3 games spread over a few years. Dark Souls does feature a Wolf the size of a semi truck swinging an equally enormous sword held sideways in its mouth, but viking metal attitude and ridiculous epic visuals can’t be the only reason I stuck around that long. I felt that the game was probably too long by a third, and some areas (looking at you Lost Izalith) existed only to pad out the length. Like poor B-sides to an otherwise solid album. Match that with the way that I play games these days, half and hour here, hour there, two hours at a stretch is a rare luxury, and Dark Souls seemed to roll on for ages.
During the late days of the Playstation 2 a game that had a total play time less than 16 hours was considered a waste of money. There wasn’t really a venue for a game that could express its complete experience in under 8 hours, let alone the three or four hour range that a lot of celebrated indie games currently occupy. Often a game would have only a few hours of real content, but that content would be repeated to the point of tedium to satisfy the notion that play time means value. The worst offenders of straining minimal content to the point of boredom is the RPG.
RPG games can linger on into the 100s of hours, while making the player do essentially the same things over and over again. Dark Souls likens itself to a RPG, but I think, at it’s heart it is some other strange hybrid of action game, fighting game, and adventure game. Making an experience that last for 60 or more hours shouldn’t really have been in the games mandate. At the time it was made the short length indie game had not yet caught on as a trend, so it would have been tough for them to sell the game as tight 10-20 hour experience that you can return to for its variety of play styles and fast, challenging combat. A price point of $30-$40 just wasn’t an option. And so, they stretched.
I’ll be honest though, I don’t know that I have ever played a game that did the stretch and the padding quite so expertly. Areas and enemies are always changing and varying well into the later hours of Dark Souls. Often there will be an enemy that you will encounter in an area that is complete unique, if not in behavior, then at least in appearance. The unqualified shit ton of art created for Dark Souls is absolutely staggering. But does that make the game better than a focused experience that gets to the point and wraps up in a reasonable amount of time. No, no it doesn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I obviously enjoyed playing Dark Souls quite a bit, but I think there is something to be learned here about not creating games that overstay their welcome, or in this case, inch right up to that line and linger at the edge.