Dark Souls: When You Can’t See

Sometimes, Dark Souls prevents you from seeing stuff. I think this is my biggest complaint about the boss fights: Most bosses are immense, and if you’re primarily a melee fighter, you have to get really close to them to fight them (which also tends to make a lot of their attacks pass harmlessly over your head). So you have this beautiful artwork doing impressive animations, but the camera is just a few feet away from its flank where you can’t see anything happening. I don’t think this was a deliberate design decision, but it’s what happens.

There are, however, places where interfering with visibility is definitely deliberate. In the Tomb of Giants, things are very dark. You find a lantern early on, but it only illuminates a very short range (basically, just long enough to keep you from stumbling into bottomless pits), and in addition, you have to be wielding and using it to get any benefit from it at all. What’s the difference between “wielding” and “using”? Using a lantern means holding down a button to keep it upraised, just like you do with shields. Note that executing an attack always lowers your shield or lantern, and doing a two-handed attack for extra power requires you to manually stash anything in your off hand (which can be done with the press of a button). So in the Tomb of Giants, basically every attack is done blind. Fortunately, you don’t need light to use target lock.

The Demon Ruins take the opposite tack, blinding you with excess light. The lava pools emit an intense glow, and everything else fades to silhouette, thanks to HDR lighting. There doesn’t seem to be a lantern-equivalent for this area, like glare-reducing sunglasses or whatever, but you can deal with it somewhat by looking away from the lava wherever possible.

Whether with glare or with darkness, reducing visibility has one practical effect for the level designer: it helps to hide graphical sins. The Crystal Cave and its hilly immediate exterior lack the graphical fidelity of other brightly-lit outdoor areas, like the Firelink Shrine, being made of distractingly coarse polygons. Perhaps the Tomb of Giants and Demon Ruins are like that too, but you can’t tell as easily.

1 Comment so far

  1. anonymous small fact provider on 9 Apr 2022

    the very over-the-top glow from lava is almost completely gone in the remaster, which would mark it down as something the creators consider a mistake. but i have a friend more knowledgeable in the ways of dark souls who insists that one of two or three very minor gameplay tweaks in the remaster is a complete botching of the original, so who knows whether it’s good or not.

Leave a reply