Jan 2016

Is Dark Souls Fair?A look at a very difficult game

Short answer: No.

But I won't make it that easy on myself, so let's look at the reasons why. By the way, the game is still fun!, even though it's unfair.

What is fair?

According to Google: treating people equally without favouritism or discrimination

In a game, of course, the player is *always* advantaged over the NPCs, since otherwise you couldn't win or be the hero. So let's focus on how the player is disadvantaged.

Complex Controls

The controls in Dark Souls are quite complex and have very unique interactions with all of them. Blocking, parrying and even combo attacks are something not easily done as opposed to most similar games.

What makes this a problem is more so for new players than for existing ones. Though I'm sure that a lot of players don't know the full range of abilities that one has.

The game is unforgiving

Every mistake you make is punished, instantly, to a quite severe degree. Let's look at a few examples:

No action cancelling

Every button you press is continued until the very end, not allowing you to change your mind half-way. This means that in a battle, pressing the wrong button means not only that you get hit but also that your own action is (likely) cancelled by their attack.

High Damage

Now this is a double-edged sword. I quite like high-damage type games, since it means combat is fast and intense. The downside is (see previous) that mistakes are very costly. It is possible to kill some enemies with one heavy attack, but if they manage to land anything on you...

Environmental dangers aren't telegraphed

The game is actually very good at telegraphing attacks. It has to be too, since the game is so unforgiving. But environmental dangers are not hinted at most of the time and you die the first time you encounter them. Even worse if you have no idea of where to go instead (dragon on a bridge)


The control scheme, lack of in-game map, the levelling system and loss of XP on death if you don't retrieve it, combine to make the game difficult.

And I'm not saying that difficult is bad, but the lack of margin for error makes the difficulty very "unfair". However, the rush after victory is still very present and the toughness of the game is very unusual in today's "let's put a marker for everything in your view" type gameplay. So it's a good deviation from the norm to show that a bit of challenge isn't a bad thing.

Is the game fair? I don't think so. Odds are definitely stacked against the player.
But the game still manages to be fun because you 'overcome' those odds.