Disappoint ≠ Bad

Destiny is the greatest version of “Follow the Dot” I’ve ever played. You sure do a lot of looking at your radar, running straight towards the objective and forgetting exactly where you are. Don’t get me wrong; the graphics are nice and all, but the level design doesn’t matter.

I can’t recall half of the missions I’ve even done in Destiny. I do side missions in the same area and I don’t even realize it. When I log on to help my friend, I can’t even guide him through an area I’ve previously completed. I end up relying on the dot and everything else is blank.

On the other end of the spectrum, I recently played through Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. I wasn’t enthralled with the original, but I honestly forgot how lackluster the level design is. It may not be “Follow the Dot,” but the interconnectivity makes no sense.

You’ll go from a woodland setting, up an elevator and enter some lava pit. How is lava existing above a forest and not seeping down? For that matter, why is warping at bonfires such a prominent feature? I can’t remember where I’ve been and what bosses I’ve finished, despite being level 240.

Oh no…Not you two again…

The pedigree that each developer had before making these games makes them all the more disappointing. How do you go from Demon’s Souls and end up with Dark Souls 2? Where does the idea of Halo becoming an MMO go wrong?

Is either game bad, though? Honestly, no. I’ve managed to beat Dark Souls 2 four times and I’m currently still playing Destiny. I didn’t even want to give Destiny a shot, but my friend persuaded me into it. Logging around 24 hours is pretty good for being indifferent.

Even if most of the package is lackluster, both Destiny and Dark Souls 2 get their core mechanics right. It’s fun to pick up a gun and shoot in Destiny, while Dark Souls 2 makes the act of timing your attacks, item usage and defensive tactics engaging.

Dark Souls 2 may lack the art direction, world design and enemy design of it’s predecessors, but fighting is incredibly awesome. There are new moves, a slightly faster speed and an extensive amount of weapons (though some are basically copies of each other).

Destiny has horrendous level design, a pretty garbage story and a lack of enemy diversity, but the speed, weight and feel of firing your weapon keeps you coming back for more. The loot system is captivating, the quests are quick and plentiful and the PvP harkens back to what Bungie did with Halo‘s multiplayer.

YES! ACTUAL GAMEPLAY!

The small hub areas are pretty pointless and all the “emotes” are regrettably locked behind a microtransaction system, but finding friends and embarking on a short quest is fun. It feels different to experience the typical MMO mold from a first-person viewpoint.

I can’t disagree with any of the haters of either game; they make a lot of valid points. Both titles feel like they are resting on the laurels of their creators. Even more, both games kind of reverse the mentality that was set up with their predecessors.

Demon’s Souls was all about making the world feel oppressive and deadly. You died quickly to make a point; death matters. In a world where dying throws you back around 5 seconds, Demon’s Souls would cause you to lose your experience if you died. That heightened the tension as you now needed to really pay attention to everything.

Halo was about adapting an old-school FPS design into a console format. Due to limited buttons, you were given two weapons. Since split-screen was such a big feature of consoles, co-op was added to the campaign in a way similar to Doom. Multiplayer was based more on skill than any kind of level system or perks.

Dark Souls 2 feels like it is making concessions to get more people interested in the series. Hardcore fans will breeze through the game while newcomers won’t understand what the fuss was about.

Doesn’t look all that appealing.

Destiny is basically Bungie’s take on Borderlands. It also reeks of forced online connectivity. There is no reason why the game could not be made offline and with split-screen. Those were core features of the Halo games that helped foster the community that exists today.

What hurts the most is that both of these games could be better. I hate enjoying them as much as I do, but their foundations are so sound. If industry trends hadn’t become so prevalent, I feel like Dark Souls 2 and Destiny could have been so much more.

Either way, these two games prove that being disappointing doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is bad. It could even be quite awesome.

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I’ll Never Cross That River

Nature nurture heaven and home
Sum of all and by them driven
To conquer every mountain shown
But I’ve never crossed the river

Puscifer’s song “The Humbling River” pretty much sums up my experience with Dark Souls. While I’ve cleared a few areas in one try, instances like that are countable on one hand. Most of the time, I approach something and fail numerous times.

Often times, my brushes with failure would lead me to a dark path. I would lose hope in the face of peerless strength. I’d ask myself, “Why can’t I beat this fucker?!” It’s tough to rationalize to yourself why you’ve been able to tackle gigantic wolves and minotaurs, but you make blunders in the face of a tree.

So while I’ve been around most of the world in Dark Souls, there are still certain areas where I tremble a bit. Every time I enter the sewers of the Depths, I fear that I’ll run into the cursing toads. When I trek into the Tomb of the Giants, I become paralyzed at the thought of those giant skeletons (a closet fear of mine).

Brave the forest, brave the stone
Brave the icy winds and fire
Braved and beat them on my own
Yet I’m helpless by the river

Braving every kind of environment doesn’t prepare one for the horrors of the bosses. While some areas are more intimidating in appearance, others actually prove quite deadly. Sen’s Fortress is a prime example of a cautionary area. Walking too fast will see you slammed by a boulder or sliced by a swinging axe.

The Catacombs are also home to many a pit. Falling drops you into areas where you are surrounded by skeletons. What makes this worse is how the skeletons won’t die until you find the sorcerer conjuring them. As if pitfalls weren’t bad enough.

The Demon’s Ruins are also littered with lava and flames, making travel extremely frustrating. Failing to take your surroundings into account will lead to a very untimely and disheartening death.

Angel, angel what have I done
I face the quakes, the wind, the fire
I’ve conquered country,crown, and throne
Why can’t I cross this river

When times get tough, I sit and ponder my actions. “Why am I failing? What am I doing wrong?!” Dark Souls requires me to carefully plan my attacks and attempt different things each time. Repeating what is safe often ends up with wasted efforts.

I think back to previous successes and my rage builds. I will myself to continue and lull myself into a false sense of security. I tell myself, “This is it!” and I press on. When I see the boss, my heart begins to race and I start shaking.

I take a few hits and shrug them off. The adrenaline surges and my eyes widen. My grip tightens and my breathing ceases. I flinch every time an attack comes at me and swear loudly when it connects. I pray that this will be the time.

And then I lose.

Pay no mind to the battles you’ve won
It’ll take a lot more than rage and muscle
Open your heart and hands my son
Or you’ll never make it over the river

I rest my head in defeat, ready to give up for the moment. I then remember that Co-op is a valid option. Others must surely be having the same struggles as I, so why not lend a helping hand?

I drop my soul sign and wait. While this usually yields nothing, sometimes I’m summoned and the two of us hike forward. Upon entering a boss arena with another person, I calm my nerves and allow them to tank.

While they are going to town on the guy, I’ll draw agro slowly and surely. As the boss winds up for an attack, I make a few quick jabs and draw its attention. I then retreat and allow my new best friend to continue his assault.

Still, he is only human as well and shares my same fears. He falters and takes damage. I see a dramatic drop off in HP on his bar and cry in fear! Unable to heal him, I desperately tackle the boss and give it my all.

I’ve failed again!

It’ll take a lot more than words and guns
A whole lot more than riches and muscle
The hands of many must join as one
And together we’ll cross the river

Nearly at wits end, I revive myself to human form and look for multiple compatriots. Three is always better than two, so I ease my own fears when I see an NPC and human coming into battle with me.

We sprint at the boss and begin to whittle his health down. Now that I have an extra ally, my own inhibitions are set free and I’m able to strike without fear. Nothing holds me back.

My actions become a second nature. No more guessing whether R2 does strong or L1 blocks. Instincts take over and impulses flow. Swords clash with flesh and blood sprays into the air.

My comrades are all on their A games and the boss begins to tremble. His health bar depletes faster by the second and we all close in. The three of us continue our assault.

We finally cross that river!

That ultimate victory is what makes Dark Souls something incredibly special. No game I’ve played give me this kind of rush. While the failures are strong and their impact often makes my question my skill, sticking to your guns and pulling through is a feeling that is unparalleled in gaming.

Still, since I’m not finished with the game, I will be staring at that river yet again. Nito, you’re going to make me cower. I’ll curse, I’ll shake, I’ll tremble and I’ll doubt, but my strength will get me to cross that river.