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All I’ve ever wanted since coming to Waypoint is to find a reason to have Austin sit down and explain his love for Dark Souls 2. Though both Souls fans, we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to FromSoftware’s messy sequel to their breakout hit. It’s his favorite, and it might be my least. He’s avoided getting pinned down on talking about it because any and all Souls discourse can be exhausting, so when I pitched a podcast where we looked at the past, present, and future of the genre, it seemed my time had finally come.
At this point, it’s hard to remember an era when Souls wasn’t massively popular. When GameSpot named Demon’s Souls their game of the year in 2009, it was a legitimately shocking choice. But since then, Souls has become a trendsetter, and been forced to, over and over, reckon with its own legacy and popularity. It’s what makes games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Bloodborne so fascinating; in many ways, they’re a re-examination of their own past. And in 2020, we’re likely to get the future in the still-mysterious Elden Ring.
Before the future arrives, it made sense to talk about what’s come before.
Austin: I think both Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne are trying to address the same basic issue, which is everyone plays Dark Souls the exact same way. Dark Souls 2 does it by trying to open up inside of the same basic structure…
Patrick: …without rejecting a certain playstyle. Bloodborne just says “You can’t do this.”
Patrick: It gives you that crummy shield, which is extremely funny? [laughs]
Austin: There is a line in the wooden shield that is like an insult, right? [Editor’s Note: "A crude wooden shield used by the masses who have arisen to join the hunt. Hunters do not normally employ shields, ineffectual against the strength of the beasts as they tend to be. Shields are nice, but not if they engender passivity."]
Patrick: It’s for cowards, and you can’t use it. I mean, you can just like anyone can do anything in Dark Souls, but that’s a roundabout way of saying—I played Dark Souls 2 the same way that I played Dark Souls because, well I could. I don’t play them multiple times. Had I done that, then maybe I’d have done something different. A huge part of my attraction to Bloodborne is because it said no. It said “do something different.” It was specifically addressing how I played, how everyone played.
Cado: I picked up the katana in the Dark Souls and never put it down.
Patrick: Where do you find that?
Cado: In Undead Burg, there's a merchant that if you kill you pick it up early…!
Austin: If you just kill this merchant.
Cado: I used that sword throughout, tried to upgrade it as much as I could, try to keep holding on to it as much as I can. Because I loved the moveset and it was light enough and dexterity-based that I could have the fast roll, if I built it that way, which I fucking did.
Patrick: In Dark Souls 1, I think I used the hand axe for three-fourths of the game.
Patrick: It starts not particularly useful, but if you just dedicate the upgrades.
Austin: You were a pyromancer?
Patrick: Yeah, I did pyromancy with a hand axe, and eventually I gave it up for some big ass sword towards the end of the game but I had the hand axe for a long fucking time in that game.
Cado: I just used whatever katanas because they were fast and had a slash and a thrust option, so Sekiro is my fucking favorite because that’s how I wanted to play those games forever. And the whole posture system was just an added bonus of the speed I wanted from that game. I still enjoy Dark Souls, I’ve never played two, only one and three.
Austin: Go play two. After playing Bloodborne or Sekiro, I want people to go back and see how they feel about Dark Souls 2. They might still hate it. They might still hate it. But the thing is, you may have learned lessons of play that will change your experience of Dark Souls 2.
Patrick: Dark Souls 2, the criticism of it has softened so much over time, because I don't think people knew what they wanted from a sequel, and then this game didn't surprise? It came at a weird time in a weird space for people at a weird spot for FromSoft. Now, I think it's genuinely not beloved, maybe, but it’s liked.
Austin: It was also well-reviewed at the time. It was just one of those things where…
Patrick: Hey, man, they changed the lighting effects in that game. Remember that?
Austin: Oh my god, I do remember that. It looked dope. I would have loved that. But it turns out developing games means learning sometimes you don't have the resources to pull something off, right? Because a console can’t do it. I wish it was in the PC build! In fact, there were lots of torches in that game. It’s like, “Hmm, this used to be a bigger, more important feature, didn’t it?”
Patrick: I think that was part of the theory—there was some Torch Tech.
Austin: Yeah, totally. As always, I think people are allowed to have their taste, but I know mine. I think more Interestingly in this conversation is like—10 years ago, Demon’s Souls came out.
Patrick: Is it really 10 years?
Austin: I think that's correct. I want to say 2009. February 2009. 10 years later, a Star Wars/ Demon’s Souls game came out.
Patrick: Yeah, that's crazy.
Austin: That is unbelievable. Obviously, there are important differences, but in terms of the way Demon’s Souls was received by the widest audience that was like, “This is a bad game. This is janky. This isn't responsive enough for me. This is too punishing.
Patrick: It was legitimately controversial that GameSpot gave it game of the year!
This excerpt was edited for clarity and length.
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