Dark Souls 2 vs Dark Souls: IncGamers Debates the Merits of Each Title

Peter [Parrish]: Now that Tim and I have both finished Dark Souls 2, it’s only right to decide which of the original and sequel is the better game. Nothing has meaning unless it is being ruthlessly graded and categorised, so in this battle of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls titles there can only be one triumphant winner and one pathetic loser who may as well not even have been created.

That’s crazy nonsense talk of course. Both of the games are spectacular in their own way and, in leaving a mark on the cultural discourse of the medium, achieve what few other titles do. The two Dark Souls games are somewhat different however, and these differences in design invite some discussion. THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE. Just so everyone is clear on that.

Originally, I was kind of hoping that Tim was going to lean slightly towards preferring Dark Souls 2 and myself towards the first game. As it turns out, I think we both favour Dark Souls a little more than its follow-up. We’re not excising Demon’s Souls from history by the way, it’s just that I’ve not managed to play that one.

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I find it quite sad that the Cleric starts with no shoes.

Anyway, Tim, during the first few days or so you were preferring Dark Souls 2, but then gradually changed your mind. I have a theory that this is because the game shows a lot of its mechanical and, if you like, “gamey” improvements up front, but don’t let that colour your answer. How was it winning you over in preference to Dark Souls and what changed?

Tim [McDonald]: I remain surprised that you haven’t played Demon’s Souls, you know. Considering how much you appear to love the Dark Souls games, I figured you’d have committed heresy and bought a cheap second-hand PS3 by now. You really would like it.

Initially, I did indeed like Dark Souls 2 a bit more than its predecessor. A lot of that, I think, was down to the PC port actually being really rather good. It looked nice; it ran well; the controls seemed tighter; the combat felt faster-paced and a bit smoother. In short, it felt like a significantly more polished and less clunky experience. That’s not to say that the original was clunky (because it wasn’t) but my initial impressions were really, really positive.

Some of it was likely also down to a bit of a tone change. Dark Souls had some glorious vistas, but the early game areas of Dark Souls 2 – Things Betwixt, Majula, the Forest of Sleeping Giants, and the Tower of Heide – are all utterly gorgeous, spectacular areas that feel huge. The Undead Asylum, Firelink Shrine, and the Undead Burg, conversely, are narrow and grey. Wonderfully designed (and you can probably argue better designed, too) but not hugely impressive from an art standpoint, barring a few rewarding locations. Honestly, I don’t think I really went “ooh, that’s pretty” until maybe Darkroot Garden, or perhaps a few later bits of the Undead Peter Parrish. Whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable, because having Gorgeous View Ahead as a reward was quite nice, but Dark Souls 2 certainly set out to impress from the off.

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Slight clipping on the sleeves aside, it does look lovely at times.

And, yes, some of it was likely down to the change in mechanics that made things a bit simpler. I liked that I could write messages from the menu without having to find an orange soapstone. I liked that durability replenished immediately at bonfires, so I didn’t have to remember to check my weapons and armour regularly. I was more wary of a few other changes, and my opinion changed quite a bit as I played on, but we’re talking initial impressions for now.

Before we get onto the other, more controversial changes, I want to ask you what your initial impressions were. I don’t think you ever compared the two until you’d actually finished both, so I’m curious as to whether you preferred Dark Souls right the way through or if your opinions flip-flopped like mine.

Peter: I have nowhere to put a PS3, so I guess for Demon’s Souls I’ll have to rely on the impossible situation of Sony saying “oh go on then, do a Director’s Cut version for all platforms.” Yeah … not going to happen.

Here’s the problem with answering your question: I’d already seen (or read about) some of the opening areas of Dark Souls 2 because publishers are bastards and like to ruin everything, even for games that would benefit from secrecy. So the comparison is very difficult, because I went into Dark Souls totally blind. Those early areas in 2 are pretty nice looking (Heide’s especially, I think Forest of Fallen Giants looks a bit washed-out at times,) but I think in spite of how grey it is I liked the grim, oppressive feeling of the Undead Burg and the Undead Me. It reflected the bleak tone the game was trying to create.

To an extent that’s true with Dark Souls 2 as well. There, it seems they’re trying to build a more varied set of levels from the outset, I guess to make your journey feel more wide-ranging, maybe? Dark Souls is “you are trapped in this place, find some bells if you can” for quite a long time. In Dark Souls 2 it’s more “seek the four Ancient Souls – they could be anywhere, go look!”

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Found one!

Mechanically, yes, Dark Souls 2 on PC is better than the first (even with Durante’s title-saving mod.) The user interface is less terrible, and you have all these nice quality of life changes like being able to shimmy quickly up a ladder and pop multiple souls at once. I’m not sure I’d go along with combat being “smoother” though, especially while your character’s Agility rating is low in Dark Souls 2. The animation in the first Dark Souls was just about perfect, and although it’s very good here it does have a habit of looking a bit strange against the ground textures. Like your character is kind of drifting over the surface. I got used to that, but for a while watching my chap run up hill was an odd experience.

Tim: Yeah, tonally speaking the earlier areas of Dark Souls (assuming you weren’t a lunatic who went straight for the Catacombs or New Londo Ruins, in which case, YOU probably DIED) were fantastic. They were bleak, and grey, and washed out, and horrible. They indicated exactly what sort of world this was, and that was important. But! The fact that it worked incredibly well for establishing setting and atmosphere doesn’t mean that they weren’t fairly generic grey fantasy areas – at least on first appearance.

Compare the start of Dark Souls to the bit in Dark Souls 2 where you leave Things Betwixt, and just see this beautiful shining light and this golden, open, plains area overlooking the sea, though. It would’ve meant a lot more had Things Betwixt not been an insultingly easy tutorial area – easier by far then the Undead Asylum – but the jarring dissonance between the cramped black area full of bottomless pits you just went through added a sense of genuine relief. And then, because it’s Dark Souls, muted terror. I mean, something’s going to be fatal.

I didn’t have the same problem as you, though. Barring two trailers I watched and one brief experience in the closed beta, I knew basically nothing about Dark Souls 2 going into it. All of those early game areas were completely new to me, and it was nice to have a wholly different opening experience to that of the first game. If it had just been a washed-out grey stone facade, I’d likely have just thought “Yes, I’ve been here before.”

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I guess some parts are still quite grey.

I suppose we’re running into two problems here – would we think differently if we’d played Dark Souls 2 first? And would you think differently if you’d gone into Dark Souls 2 blind, but had seen most of the opening areas of the first game? Alas, this is a question that science cannot answer! Unless you consent to me bashing you about the head with a hammer in an attempt to induce retrograde amnesia. And let’s face it: for the opportunity to experience Dark Souls for the first time again, I’d hope you’d be up for that.

Peter: It’s possible that may also cost me the hand-eye coordination needed for Dark Souls, so I’m not sure I want to risk it.

Here’s where I think the sequel makes a mistake though: bonfire warping. In Dark Souls it was a feeling of immense triumph to place the Lord Vessel and be able to warp around the place. However, like activating a cheat code, it also sparked a slight downward curve in the game. Some of the absolute greatest moments in Dark Souls are finding things like the elevator down from the first Blacksmith to Firelink Shrine after struggling and battling your way that far. Suddenly you have easy access to your hub area and a guy who can upgrade your stuff. It’s amazing!

Dark Souls 2 allows you to warp from the very start, so it doesn’t even attempt anything like that. Somewhere like The Gutter can’t compete with Blighttown, because you’re not trapped there. You can leave whenever you fancy. And although some levels have handy shortcuts, none of them are really quite as rewarding as the ones from Dark Souls which give you such a sense of relief as well as making you marvel at the world lay-out. When you finally emerge from Blighttown via the water-wheel exit and discover that it comes out at Valley of the Drakes and can wrap back to Darkroot Garden, your mind should be blown. The sequel has a lot going for it, but it doesn’t have that.

Tim: Bonfire warping is something I feel very conflicted about. On the one hand, you’re right: Dark Souls felt far more oppressive and lethal because it didn’t have it. Going into Blighttown or the Tomb of the Giants was a genuine risk because you’d have to actually fight your way out (and, in the case of the latter, find your way out) if it proved too much of a nightmare. Likewise, if you got all the way down there, died repeatedly, and decided you wanted to try somewhere else, you’d have to trudge a long way back to find another area to visit. I wholeheartedly agree that Dark Souls went downhill pretty fast as soon as you got the Lordvessel, but then, Dark Souls was built around not being able to teleport.

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Bearer of the curse, step into my magic teleportation device.

But… well, it’s almost a quality-of-life addition, here. It means you never really have to use the words “trudge” when talking about Dark Souls 2, unless it’s a long way from bonfire to nineteenth boss attempt. What the game loses in atmosphere and trepidation, it gains in being a lot less irritating, and Dark Souls 2 was built around the continual teleporting. Each stretch, from bonfire to bonfire, felt like a level in its own right. I guess there’s something of Demon’s Souls in that, but then, you never played that game. It’s a weird trade-off that makes it feel a bit more “game-y” at the expense of losing some of its atmosphere and world building. The question is whether or not that convenience – which arguably makes it a better “game,” but a less threatening and bleak experience – was a worthwhile trade.

Peter: I don’t think it is! But I like suffering and struggle, it makes the eventual victory more rewarding.

Dark Souls 2 has quite a lot of “videogame sequel” changes. You’ve got more stuff in general; more armour sets, more sorcery options, more (meaningful) Covenants. There’s also more point to New Game Plus because it has additional items and changes to bosses, like Flexile Sentry getting a couple of vicious little helpers. It ties in with the game’s over-arching cyclical themes as well. That’s all positive, I approve of all of those expansive changes, but it’s all a bit conservative. It’s the predictable thing to do in a sequel – add more things – and Dark Souls should strive to go beyond that.

Having multiplayer options that actually work is a huge plus point in Dark Souls 2‘s favour though. Yes, PvP is still laggy (and with the kind of precision involved may always be so to some degree,) but I love that you now have a couple of dedicated PvP Danger Zones (the Rat Covenant and Bellends.) Co-op is more reliable than its ever been and remains an absolute delight. It’s a shame that the Blue Sentinel idea doesn’t really seem to be working as it should, because the idea of an anti-invasion police force is pretty good. Problem is, when newbies are wearing their Blue ring of protection they’re not all that likely to be invaded, and by the time they might be, they’ll be in other (more interesting) Covenants.

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See, look how joyful this co-op crew are.

Adding breadth doesn’t work quite so well for the individual levels, because you get this kind of disparate effect that I never felt with Dark Souls. There, everything fit together more or less in a way that made internal sense. With the sequel I get less of a sense of place and more of a feeling that the designers said “okay, let’s do a forest level now.” Nowhere is as shitty as Lost Izalith though, so I’m grateful for that.

Somewhat ironically, I’d probably recommend the sequel over the first one just for how much more refined the technical areas are. It would be difficult to go back to the terrible (maybe non-existent on PC with the whole Games for Windows Live situation) multiplayer and rubbish UI of Dark Souls, I can’t deny that.

Tim: I’d largely agree with basically everything you just said, which is sort of annoying because it doesn’t make for an exciting conversation. I’m genuinely undecided on the Bonfire travel thing – mostly because Dark Souls 2 without it would be a very different game, with an entirely different set of design challenges. It’s a fundamental part of the level design. I guess I’d prefer it if it removed Bonfire travel until later in the game, again? But only if there were more shortcuts and interlinking areas, and… yes, well, you see the problem.

I really like most of the level design, and I really like a lot of the nods to Dark Souls (and Demon’s Souls, for that matter, but we’re not talking about that). I kept finding myself comparing bits of Dark Souls 2 to bits of the original – the first big courtyard area in the Iron Keep made me think a lot of Anor Londo, for instance, though not as much as the Tower of Heide (which is probably the most obvious nod in the game – not least because of the bosses!) The Gutter is an utterly horrifying cross between Blighttown and The Catacombs. Brightstone Cove Tseldora is just like I have no idea because I didn’t go there at all on my playthrough. Fuck spiders.

The multiplayer actually working is marvellous, although that might contribute a little to my feeling that the original game was harder. I went through Dark Souls with absolutely no physical co-op, partly out of sheer stubbornness, and partly because the netcode was more like notcode. Dark Souls 2, though? I summoned people for a fair few boss fights, and then went back and assisted others with more. It was fun! It was a little easy – and a little embarrassing when I summoned two phantoms, went through the bowing rigmarole, wandered into the boss arena, and immediately died – but fun anyway! I love the PvP zones, too; I had a great time becoming a Bellend and then murdering people who were simply trying to get to the end of an interesting new area.

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SunBros? More like SunPose …rs.

Do you know what I really don’t like about the game, though? The story. That might seem odd and petty, because that’s something that barely matters in the wider context of the game, but when I realised where it was going I was genuinely disappointed. I love the little lore nods, and the hints at the terrible things that led up to the current state of affairs, and the individual bits of history you can guess at when exploring areas. I look forward to the massive, overarching theories people will build out of two item descriptions and a piece of scenery. I just really, really wish they’d gone in a different direction for the main plot than they actually did. I like the cyclical nature, but I hate the fact that it is – and I can’t go into any real specifics without spoiling, but consider this a fairly large spoiler anyway – essentially a rehash of the first game’s plot. Surely there’s more than one interesting story that can be carved out of this game world?

But for all of that, and for all of the mixed feelings I have about almost every decision they made about the game, and for all the things I wish they’d done differently or wish they’d played a little less safe, it’s still a bloody fabulous game. The warping means there’s less of a sense of place, sure, and barring a few areas there isn’t much sense of progression – most of what leads on from Huntsman’s Copse feels pretty organic and natural, but the rest not so much – but that barely matters when the actual raw game is as good as it is. I haven’t started New Game Plus yet because right now I’m more interested in trying an entirely different playstyle, and there aren’t many games that really make that a feasible option while simultaneously making New Game Plus so enticing.

In fact, I want to go and play it right now.

Peter: In that case I’ll let you do that by wrapping this up.

Yes, the story. I’m actually not sure how I feel about it yet. It does have some strong themes, but they’re quite familiar at this point. I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be more impressed by it once 5,000 new, hidden pieces of lore have been uncovered. When I came to Dark Souls on PC, a lot of that background stuff had already been discovered and speculated upon, which is another slightly unfair advantage it had over the sequel.

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Wait until you learn that this guy is actually the most important person in the series.

I do like a lot of the individual NPCs though. There’s maybe no-one quite as hilarious as Solaire, but I have much affection for Shalquoir, Crestfallen Warrior 2.0, Benhart, Licia and the chap who sells you ladders. Lucatiel’s plot line is a pretty harrowing, if lightly sketched in that Souls way, picture Alzheimer’s or general memory loss. There’s plenty of good stuff there again. A quick mention of the soundtrack too which has come under some criticism but which I think, again, is the equal of Dark Souls’.

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Considering this sequel had a brand new director (not unlike Majora’s Mask after Ocarina of Time) plus a fair few other new FromSoftware team members, and considering my expectations after Dark Souls would be almost impossible to meet, I think it’s an absolutely outstanding effort.

But the first game does feel like something you only get once a decade or so. It’s a unique experience, whereas Dark Souls 2 feels to me like an iteration (again, I haven’t played Demon’s so perhaps Demon’s to Dark felt like this for some too.) It’s a hell of a strong iteration, but that, to me, is always going to be inherently less impressive than creating something truly isolated and special.

You can read the IncGamers review of Dark Souls 2 here. We’ve also put together a guide for the early hours and some help with co-op play.


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  • Maximilian Sterling

    Hey, great blog, I would like to comment with you my thoughts about the game, I Played Blind all 3 games, as I always do, because internet Spoils Everything, and as an old school gamer (we had no internet in ocarina of time times) I learned my lesson.-
    I play OoT , Gothic Series (1 and 2+notr), and for a long time I had nothing, till Miyazaki comes with Demon Souls (DeS from now on)
    Miyazaki capture all of my imagination about what a game could be (not only mine as I later discover :D) and put it a a BD named Demon Souls, this is all I was I wanted from a game, and still it was not, but you will get my point later, hope you don’t get bored.-
    Demon Souls is, like a book, everything you NEED to know/look/feel about the game, and leaves the door open, for imagination to fill in the Blank Spaces, this is no easy task, as in contrast to books, Here you have a Lot going on in the Screen, But miyazaki manage to do just that.-
    When you jump to Dark Souls, there is a lot you imagined in the first game, that come to Life, (You are given the chance to walk from the Nexus to every other level in the game, you could walk a lot more, and you could use the armors of the defeted bosses, so there was not a lot to imagine, and in this regard, the game looses some points, because there is no greater thing than your imagination, but still, manage to show, What I believe, everything possible from Miyazakis mind (Artorias Story is the best Story of any game I Recall), and still, this is fulfilled with you doing everything in the game, and wanting Things that couldn’t be possible (More Ground to walk, is my first Request here) 🙂 I spend more than a Thousend hours playing this game, as I did with the first, always imagining what could it be like walking Over there, in Annor Londo, or in the Faraway Forest, your imagination stills run fluently in this game, And As I played 700 Hs on PS3, without the DLC, 1 year later, I enjoyed more than ever, when I purchased the game for pc, not only for the Gorgeous graphics (DSFix here :)), but because I knew there was somewhere hidden, a new place to WALK, to my surprise, it was in one of the areas, I Imagined walking more and more, and the DLC plus Story was Beautifull, It gave meaning to the name of that Place, that I love so much (DARKROOT GARDEN :)), It was EPIC, now, we jump to Dark Souls 2.- please tell me, where are this feelings I mentioned early?
    In the rebooted bosses?, rebooted Story?, Sandbox Style “Primal Bonfires”?
    You see, when you reach this parts, you feel, as if it was the end of the level, you CAN NOT imagine anything else, its a BOX, at the end of the level, with a switch to return to majula!, its LAME, it lacks all form of imagination, and you CANT imagine yourself, what on earth happened, that there is a BOX, at the end of the level, with this switch, its SHIT, And this is not the same, as reaching the end of the levels in Demon Souls, because there was some coherence, and you couldn’t see anything in the wrong place, but here, you open a door, and there is a SQUARE with something called PRIMAL Bonfire¡?, give me a break, how did they manage to do such a PERFECT SQUEARE , in the PRIMAL ages?, this is the worst thing the game has, and when they disconnect you from their world like this, your imagination shuts off, and start thinking in how they did this game, rather than imagining ,. what the world looked like, or why is it there, I don’t know if you will manage to understand this feeling, but that is what I feel, and may be well, the reason for all fans to NOT like this game as much as the other two, because in this game, the things are planned differently than in the other two games, there is no heart involved, no imagination, no feeling, they just followed the rules the 1st game did, and draw some things to go along (Much like Butterfly Effect 2), I don’t blame the director, although I believe is the main reason for this to happen, but I Don’t blame him, because he didn’t get this feeling, and this feeling, is no easy achievement, so I really hope, Miyazaki is working in Demon Souls 2, or Dark Souls 3, because I want to get that feeling again, that feeling of adventure in the unknown, and imagine the rest, and maybe just maybe, will become real sometime.-
    Miyazaki is a real artist, and the reason I know he is, is because he follow for real whats in his mind, and don’t care what people said nor wants, in the other hand, we have a director, that tried to put a lot of the things the audience ask for, subtle, but FAIL, we didn’t need this list, that i believe was a request from people to lazy to get RIGHT the first game:
    1.- A Normal/Hard Option (Champions Covenant).- We just needed something in betwixt this , and you would had have a true Dark Souls)
    2.- A Streamlined MoveSet for all the Swords, This is what I hate the most, the moveSets in Dark Souls where Perfection, they where a LOT, and there were a different one, for every need, or situation, or for the ones that really enjoyed how they Move, and there were OPTIONS, in dark souls they Streamlined this, so you couldn’t get it wrong, the first shortsword is just the same as the last long sword, and the first 2H is equally dull as the Kings Ruler (And what’s with that animation, where the sword or mace circles around EVERY MF Movement you do, I hate it) they only needed to Add some more, or just let the moveSets they HAD and change the Model, For god sake)
    3.- We DONT NEED the option of Fast Travel from the beginning, and as some of you said, this is a needed thing now , because you can only level up in Majula (I really Hate this place by now), this was a Patched Thing that need not to be patched, we had our trainer in the Bon Fires if you remember…
    4.- and No “Option” in the End of the game, I can accept that, if it is Story Driven (don’t like it, because it was an option no matter what) BUT, again, you made a SWITCH to a New Game Plus in the bon fire, once you finish the game?. Really ? you put away all imagination, I imagine how was this decicion in the Department:
    New Director: ” Don’t put the player in the new game plus without warning!!, they will have to start all over and it will be difficult, because maybe they forgot something in the 1st PT”
    Developer: we have no choice, if we put an option, they will know when or where is the final happening
    New Director : You are write just put an option in the “Far Bon Fire” to start new game plus
    Developer: If we do that, we will have to come with a new reason, piece of lore, or something, because it DOESN’T MAKE SENCE to have an OPTION to start again!
    New Director: I don’t give a FUCK, just put it, and milk it already….
    That’s how I felt, and I Believe a lot of the fans, or players from the First two games felt liked, because here, there is no room for imagination, they don’t want you inside the game, they want you outside, and that feeling is shit, and it is not what Miyazaki intended in the first games, I recall some ideas from miyazaki, wanting his Dark Souls to Last forever, and they Almost achieve that, because they left a lot of doors opened, I would be happy to buy a DLC for the First Dark Souls, not so for the Second (Although As I really like the combat, I Would) but what I really want is the first one ?
    I really don’t know, if anything, would be understand from what I Just Wrote (English is not My primary language), so feel free to correct things, that don’t make sense, if you publish or like my words, by today there is no perfect game, but dark souls would be the Most close to it in my imagination (I just want more Ground to walk and NPCs to talk) ?
    Demon Souls : 10
    Dark Souls : 9
    Dark Souls 2 : 8
    Nevertheless, dark Souls is good, next to ANY game I played so far in 2014, and I don’t think, there will be anything that comes close, until DeS 2 or DaS 3
    Hope you make it through till now, if So, Praise the sun! , I love the series! GoodBye!
    PSN: MaxTheMiracle

    • MessiestMessi

      I don’t completely agree with you about the warping. Who wants to go and get 60,000 souls from a boss, and then die trying to get all the way back to Majula to level up and lose your hard earned souls? Not me. And I don’t see why you hate Majula, Maximillian, because it creates a place that’s home, and also a home for other useful NPCs. From your comment, it sounds like you hate Majula and teleporting, so let’s pretend neither of them exist. if you find a merchant who sells you arrows, you buy some, and continue on your journey, without teleporting, and without that “awful” place Majula, but just trudge along to the next boss area, but you run out of arrows. Now if you want those arrows, you’re gonna have to go all the way back, walking, to the merchant. With Majula and teleporting, a lot of merchants will move to Majula, making it easy to get resources, and if they don’t move, most have a handy bonfire close by, so it’s just a warp away to get your precious arrows. If you want to have to waste an hour walking and fighting just go get to a merchant, then so be it, but dark souls 2 was built around those 2 things. Teleporting and Majula. Get over it or play a different if you hate it so much.

  • Tek

    Very well said Maximilian, i concur. I wonder if this is becoming another cash milk from the work of an artist.

  • MessiestMessi

    Also Max, I think they could make a square as a room. So what it’s the PRIMAL ages, there are pharos contraptions, elevators, zip lines, bridges, and castles! If they can’t make a room that is a SQUARE or a BOX, then their civilization is screwed, because they can’t make a basic architectural shape. I don’t want to be rude, and I know English isn’t your first language, but you sound really stupid in most of the things you were complaining about, and not because of the grammatical errors. And also, guess what? Miyazaki isn’t a part of FromSoftware anymore, so get over it. Yeah he made some good games, but move on. It sounds like you would be DTF with Miyazaki if given the chance, and that’s pathetic. Finally, how did Dark Souls 2 get rid of imagination? First off, Dark Souls, captured my imagination, but not nearly as much as you said it did. Dark Souls 2 got my imagination. Wondering things like, “How long has the Emerald Herald been waiting in Majula?” Or “How did they put that massive hole in Majula?” Or “how am I only fighting 3 dragons, when there are hundreds flying around” and finally, “Is this world, Drangleic, linked to Lordran… Are they the same continent, just many years in difference from the 1st game to the 2nd?” Just cuz Miyazaki encouraged imagination in his games, doesn’t mean you can’t use yours in the 2nd game without the help of the director. Next time you comment on a post, make it something understandable and worthwhile. Please.