Thought’s on this?
Good Design | Bad Design #1: Dark Souls
“The developer is teaching you something, carelessly going into sen’s fortress will kill you”
I dislike hearing statements like this. Carelessly going anywhere in Dark Souls will kill you. The thing they’re teaching you is, floor panels will trigger arrows. (though he does cover this immediately afterwards, so good on him) Then they’re throwing a fairly hard encounter at you, for the level of player heading into sen’s fortress. It’s nice that he notes that you can use the trap on the manserpents.
Also nice that it is noted that the manserpent on the walkway is essentially ramping up the challenge, and noting a few of the options that are denied to you on that walkway.
He makes a fair case with the silver knights. My kneejerk reaction is to say, “that was one of the most memorable moments in the game, how dare you say we remove it, it’s clever in a number of ways and has a lot of potential ways the encounter can go and possible solutions for the player, and they made it easier in a patch because people had so much trouble with it.”
There’s nothing introducing you to the silver knights previously or to dragonslayer arrows previously. The bonfire is really far off. And even if you do overcome them, the bonfire room is behind a closed door, you can’t tell which room it’s in, or even that it’s there at all, creating the potential that it could simply be missed.
To help introduce the Silver Knights, some of the demons on the ramparts could have been replaced with them, without significantly changing the character of the area. Those demons could potentially be relocated to the roof of Anor Londo for a mixed enemy encounter with the silver knights up there. Additionally, the bonfire of Anor Londo could have been placed at the bottom of the elevator instead of the top.
The trouble is, the Silver Knight Archers encounter is a strong piece of game design. This is perhaps one of the best examples why the “teach the player incrementally” school of level design is a negative influence on design.
When every level design tutorial is about slowly introducing players to the elements so you’re sure they know everything before encountering anything really hard, then yeah designing for just a straight challenge is going to be seen as an enigma.
This is roughly the halfway point of the game. The player can handle a challenge by this point. Maybe it’s a bit weird that the difficulty curve is backwards here, but if you remove a moment like this from the game, then you’re cutting out one of the best parts that they never really recreated in the others. This is a unique type of challenge that never really appears in the rest of the franchise. Isn’t it a valuable strategic space unto itself?
The Silver Knight Archers have a number of components to the encounter that contribute to it being a fair and deep challenge. First, you have a big platform on which you fight two demons, and the knights’ arrows can actually hit you here, but you’re given two pillars to work with. You know the demons’ pattern, so you gotta deal with them and these two additional projectile users in a space where if you get hit, you won’t be knocked off. This is arguably a really hard encounter by itself. You can skip the demons by running past them, which makes the next section slightly more difficult.
You have the initial run up to the column that acts as cover from the knights. On this stretch, you have a little fence that both protects you somewhat (though not completely) from the arrows, and prevents you from running off. If you didn’t kill the demon’s below, they can throw electric spears at you, hitting you from behind. I’ve been hit this way, running serpentine usually safeguards you. You can see both archers and their position while running on this stretch, then you get a big pillar/tower that acts as cover before you have to do the real thing. The next ramp up has no railings, it’s the real thing, so from then on, you need to move without hesitation, setting a different tone for this encounter than most other in the game. Going around the tower to get to the ramp up is itself a risky proposition, but less so than the ramp itself. You’re under fire from one of the archers, and have the ramp/wall to brace yourself against if you’re hit.
Going up the ramp with no railing, the archer on the left has two towers in their way, that can act as cover from one of the knight’s shots. So in some positions you only have to worry about one knight. From the top, you can access both knights. Fighting the knight on the left first will give you a lot of cover from the knight on the right, but it means fighting on another ramp with no railings against an enemy you’re unfamiliar with. The unfamiliarity with the moveset of the silver knights is perhaps the biggest point of unfairness here (because honestly, the arrows themselves are really simple and slow projectiles).
Moving close at the right archer will prevent the left one from firing on you when you reach the top (because the tower is in the way), giving you time to dispatch the right archer. The walls give you a point to brace against the right archers fire with the archer’s outcropping angling him so your back is slightly tilted towards the wall. As you get closer to him, this advantage increases, and you get a corner to work with. There are a lot of ways to beat this silver knight, parrying him, finding a way to push him off, or fighting.
Staying between the two archers at the top of the ramp is the only position where they can both fire at you simultaneously after getting to the top of the ramp. The key point is, you’re not allowed to hesitate here. You need to make a decision and commit to it.