The worst boss encounters in Dark Souls – Basically, I’m annoyed at Namco again

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Haydn

Dark Souls III is here and, if you know me, you know one thing: I freaking love Dark Souls.  I love playing Dark Souls. I love writing about Dark Souls. I love sitting alone in a windowless room just thinking about Dark Souls.

Given that I am flat-broke and can’t afford to buy Dark Souls III for a few more weeks, I decided to take a look back at some of the best bosses from the series thus far. I’m not joking when I say that I was on the second paragraph of that post when my goodwill towards the series was promptly soured once again by more PR bullshit from Bandai Namco, so I think I’ll take the piss out of the rubbish encounters instead.

For those not in the loop, let me direct your attention to particular offence that changed the nature of this post. In what should have come as a surprise to no-one, Namco have demonstrated an absolute disregard for health of the Dark Souls brand. Instead of seizing the opportunity to provide us with a genuinely nice collectors piece, some cretin in a boardroom signed off on this.

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For only $129.99, you too could own this abstract green lump. By simply harnessing the power of your imagination, it could be anything you want it to be.

The Dark Souls III Prima Official Game Guide was sold for $129.99 with the inclusion of an Estus Flask replica, an item from the game that it is literally impossible to find good replicas of, even on Etsy. So the promise of an official one was enough to peak the interest of everyone with an unhealthy relationship with the series. But Namco, clearly not content with the slow poisoning of the Dark Souls brand, decided to throw a healthy dose of false advertising into the mix, just to really drive home the point of how little they care about Dark Souls and its fans.

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The replica flask as pictured in the promotional material for the guide. It looks like a digitally drawn image rather than a photograph so the fact that it’s not representative is hardly surprising in retrospect.

You could call me petty for turning on the games I love simply because Namco are being terrible again. Surely, you might say, if I were to lambaste the Souls series each time Namco riled me up, I would have little time in life to pursue other interests, such as scouring B&Q car parks for free DIY supplies and waiting in train station cafes for connections I have no intention of taking. You’d be right to call me out like that, but I spend so much time gushing over the Souls games that I feel they deserve a gentle prod. Plus, a disproportionate number of the worst boss encounters are in Dark Souls II which isn’t even that good anyway.

To clarify, I’m looking at just the vanilla Dark Souls Dark Souls II. While I’ll not deny that both Bloodborne and Demon’s Souls have their fair share of less than excellent boss encounters, it only complicates things when you start writing about five different games from three different IPs.

The Bed of Chaos (Dark Souls)

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Totally bodacious, heavy metal tree monster with an interesting place in the lore. Also, a total shit-show from a game design perspective. 

Despite the superb visual design and strong core concept behind the Bed of Chaos, the actual encounter is insufferable. It plays much more like a set piece than a fight, with the player working to destroy barriers around the heart before diving into the writhing mass of flames and branches to slay the tiny but powerful being within.

I love the idea that something so small is responsible for such chaos, both in the room and the wider world, but the actual encounter is a tedious slog through instant death pitfalls and wonky code. Dark Souls was plagued with technical issues due to the sheer scope of the original game and Bed of Chaos is a prime example of where things went wrong.

Executioner’s Chariot (Dark Souls II)

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The screenshot looks like it was taken from Beta because Dark Souls II is ugly as sin. Also, it’s misleading because this fight almost looks interesting. Which it patently is not. 

Upon passing through the boss door, you’re immediately swamped by re-spawning skeletons which you must dispatch while avoiding the actual boss as it rampages continuously around the circular room.

Once you’ve been stun-locked into a corner and died a couple of times, you might make it through to the second phase where, after pulling a leaver, the chariot crashes and you have to fight the horse. The executioner died in the crash presumably but his horse lives on; obviously distressed that it can no longer spend its its days running in circles for seemingly no reason, it’s out for blood.

The actual fight is laughable and amounts to little more than a quick scuffle as you dodge its predicable attacks. The entire experience plays out like you’re committing some urban knife crime towards a horse while riding the London underground during rush hour. The only redeeming feature of this boss is that it’s entirely optional.

The Skeleton Lords (Dark Souls II)

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I was going to make some joke about Motorhead but the actually band had like 100 different members over the years and I figured the only one people would recognise is Lemmy, and then the rest of the joke wouldn’t scan.

Another boss encounter where the most difficult aspect is something other than the boss itself. The Skeleton Lords are three desperately weak and easy mobs that guard the path of progression. However, the skeletons which are summoned on mass upon their death are another question entirely.

With each lord you defeat, a small horde of weaker mobs will spawn and really put the word “cluster” into cluster fuck. The main offenders here are the bonewheel skeletons that zip around the arena at lightning speeds and will instantly pulp you should you not be playing as some sort of uber-tank.

I actually like the bonewheel skeletons as a standard enemy, but what I don’t like is when they appear in my goddamn boss encounters and quickly become the most threatening thing in the room.

The Royal Rat Authority (Dark Souls II)

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It’s like a rat, but it’s also like a dog. The best thing about this boss fight is the environment which reminds me of basalt columns found in places like Iceland. I can say that because I’m a prick and I’ve been to Iceland and I like to make you all think I’m really smart and know things about rocks.

You remember Sif, the Great Grey Wolf from Dark SoulsOf course you do. Well, the best way to describe this shambles is like Sif, if he was a gross rat-thing that destroys all your gear with corrosive sludge, is guarded by two needlessly difficult smaller rat-things, and completely lacked any atmosphere or relevance to the lore.

If you’re lucky enough to dispatch the two smaller mobs before the big fellow gets to you (which, spoiler alert, you won’t) the fight is very straightforward. It’s just a big rat-thing. It jumps, it bites, it pukes on the ground.

Given that you’ll probably fail dealing with the two smaller mobs in a timely fashion, you’ll get stun-locked and destroyed in about two seconds flat. On top of that, the corrosive rat-thing puke will have broken all of your gear so you’ll have to repair it – with the souls you dropped when you died which are… in the room with the rat-thing that just killed you. Do you see the issue here? Ultimately this is a classic example of artificial difficulty but one that is vastly worsened by the chronic item degradation.

The Royal Rat Vanguard (Dark Souls II)

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If you love giant rats, buckle your pants because this room is full of them. In the absence of giant rats, there are even statues of giant rats. 

“But Haydn, this doesn’t look like one of those infamous Dark Souls boss encounters I’ve heard so much about. This looks like a room full of giant rats, the weakest and most boring of all fantasy genre enemies, second only to goblins,” I hear you say.

Firstly, I’d question your ranking system if they’re second to goblins, and secondly I’d say you’re right about pretty much everything else. This boss battle is literally a room full of giant rats. It’s not difficult or cheap like the others on this list (though the sheer volume is quite galling despite being easy to handle), it’s just a room full of giant rats. That’s it.

“Well actually, it’s one giant rat and the others are all decoys-” shut up, you. It’s a room full of giant rats and it’s the second most lazy piece of boss design I’ve ever seen in a Souls game.

Belfry Gargoyles (Dark Souls II)

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I can only presume that this boss was born from over eager copy-pasting. No one realised that Danny the Intern had done it until it was too late. 

The Bell Gargoyle from Dark Souls was a great encounter wasn’t it? You tentatively step out onto the roof, the sky is a dreary grey with gentle spots of blue; it’s beautiful in its own miserable way. The camera pans over to a gargoyle on the ornate bell tower before you, it slowly cracks and moves as it springs into life and descends with frightening speed, smashing onto the tiled roof and letting lose a blood curdling howl.

It’s a pitched battle between you and an opponent with all the advantages; speed, flight, range, fire breathing, an axe for a tail. You get it down to about half health and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself when, all of a sudden, a second gargoyle appears. This one is already weakened and missing its tail but still, you’re outnumbered and things are looking rough. It’s okay though, you have plenty of room to maneuver and the time spent with the first gargoyle has clued you in on what to expect. This encounter is Dark Souls boss design at its finest. It teaches you the ropes, then makes sure you’ve been paying attention.

Such brilliance only makes the mere existence of the Belfry Gargoyles in Dark Souls II all the more baffling. It’s literally just the same from Dark Souls only this time there is six of them and the roof is a little smaller. Once again, difficulty in numbers takes precedent over clever design, a fact which is only made more aggravating by the clear misunderstanding of what made the original incarnation of this encounter so good. Simply adding more gargoyles does not a good boss fight make. It lacks intelligence, purpose, and grace and is the most artificially difficult encounter in the entire series.

Having replayed Dark Souls, Dark Souls II and Bloodborne recently, the absence of game director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, in Dark Souls II couldn’t be more obvious. Both Dark Souls and Bloodborne are on an entirely different level to Dark Souls II,  and the boss encounters are just the superior dressing on what were already vastly superior salads.

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Beyond Good and Evil 2 – You probably don’t want it as much as you think you do

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Haydn

Let’s travel back in time over a decade to the most culturally barren era in living memory – the early 2000’s. The wallet chain is an essential fashion accessory, Pop Idol is still on TV, and my hair is irresponsibly long. For some inexplicable reason, I have one particularly vivid memory from those darker times; I’m sat on the floor of my living room, probably wearing a KoRn t-shirt and wondering why life is so unacceptably awful in every single way when, all of a sudden, this advert pops up on the TV.

Immediately I deemed that Beyond Good and Evil was going to be shit. I can’t say why exactly, but I think it’s because I suspected that the combat would be an unforgivable mess. While time may have proven me right in that respect, the opinions of a 13-year-old boy should never under any circumstances be taken seriously.  It’s been a worryingly long time since those days and I don’t remember much else from those days but this one memory, or at least a broad interpretation of it, has stuck.

Presumably, millions of other people shared my same attitude to Beyond Good and Evil because it was a resounding commercial failure. Since then, however, it’s been blessed with the dubious honour of becoming a cult classic and a sequel was even announced in 2008. However, this second installment never appeared and Ubisoft has spent the last eight years coquettishly flirting with the fanbase as trailers emerge, rumors are denied, and Michel Ancel continues to make allusions to “interesting” projects when asked about the status of the Beyond Good and Evil 2. 

The latest news comes in the form of a trademark for Beyond Good and Evil 2 with the European Union Intellectual Property Office. A quick search fails to bring up any results however. While I’m unsure what the significance of that might be, the news has aroused modest levels of intrigue across the internet.

To me, the real question seems to be less about when Beyond Good and Evil 2 is set to materialise, and more whether we even want it to? Honesty, I don’t think fans of the original want a sequel as much as they think they do which sounds patronising, I know, but I’ll be the first to admit guilt when it comes to letting nostalgia hijack my frontal lobe. Far too often I’ve lost my ability to think rationally as I’m overcome by memories of an idealized past that never truly existed.

I first played Beyond Good and Evil nearly five years ago now. It served as little more than a tool to help my waking hours expire and I made no effort to analyse or critique the game. I simply let it wash over me and it was pretty okay. It also had a camera so bad I got motion sickness and things only got worse as it essentially devolved from a hearty action-adventure romp into Gerudo Fortress from Ocarina of Time stretched out over 10 hours. Y’know, that dreadful bit where you sneak around the visual and gameplay equivalent of cold, gelatinous porridge, questioning why you even still exist, unsure what lies beyond this mortal coil but certain it’s better than what you’re playing in that exact moment.

More recently I took advantage of the free HD remake on PSN. I activated the fondness modules of my brain and gleefully dove in. The bits I remembered liking were still there, but they were fewer than I recalled, and certainly not nearly as good. Spurred on by the few shining moments that did little to compensate for the cringe worthy dialogue and tepid story, I begrudgingly made it all the way up the the shamefully designed final boss.

I know it was 2003, but for a game that is so fondly remembered for it’s likable characters, I find myself at an utter loss as to what is so appealing about Jade, Pey’j and their thoroughly tedious plight. Any sense of intrigue in the world of Beyond Good and Evil melted away before the end of the first act. Any new addition to the series would likely struggle to reclaim what it already cast aside.

What is interesting about Beyond Good and Evil however is the genes that it passed on to other Ubisoft titles. Michel Ancel himself noted that “In many ways, [Beyond Good & Evil] is an inimitable game–it appeals to all generations of gamers and is an inspiration behind many of Ubisoft Montpellier’s past and future games.” You can certainly see the similarities when compared with Assassin’s Creed and Ubisoft Brand Videogame Experience. 

This is where we really get to the crux of the issue though (it took me nine paragraphs to get here, but it’s not like you’ve got anything better to do). We’ve seen how Ubisoft treats it’s intellectual properties in recent years; ceaselessly churning out one messy, identikit installment after another. Assassin’s Creed and FarCry have remained practically unchanged with each successive installment and new IPs are little better.

Perhaps you’re a big fan of Ubisoft’s endless stream of functionally identical games, and that’s fine, but the thing that endeared many to Beyond Good and Evil all those years ago was its uniqueness. Much like how AC/DC wrote only one song but kept successfully changing the lyrics , Ubisoft make one game but simply change the aesthetic of the radio tower you will inevitably have to climb.

That’s not to say that these games are bad. I liked Far Cry 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood but later installments in those same series lost any appeal after a few short hours. Why? Because they lost any sense of individuality, a sentiment that I have now extended to effectively all Ubisoft titles, even the Heroes of Might and Magic series; a franchise I adore and one that has been summarily pillaged by Ubisoft as they increasingly fail to understand what made HoMM good with each successive installment.

This isn’t the same studio that made that Beyond Good and Evil all those years ago. It’s the studio that releases a buggy Assassin’s Creed game every year and, when it’s not doing that, its outsourcing the IP to be bastardized by Hollywood. We all know how videogame adaptions turn out so lets not pretend this is going to be any different.

So what’s the appeal in a sequel? Is the story of Beyond Good and Evil so compelling that we need to experience the conclusion? Was the world so full of vigour and intrigue that we need to dive in once more? Was the game itself such an unmitigated delight that we simply must consume every drop we can? No. It was modestly interesting world let down by unlikable characters and a plot development so arbitrary it caused me emit a noise of genuine disdain. What few aspects of the gameplay that were enjoyable or interesting have since be chopped up and recycled in the mundane parade that is triple-A development.

It’s okay if you still want a sequel. It’s totally fine if you think I’m wrong and the original was the greatest game ever made. If anything, I envy your lack of cynicism, but  Beyond Good and Evil has been put on an unworthy pedestal and any sequel will only disappoint. Move on. Let go. Be free.