Multiplayer and Demon’s/Dark Souls subverting my hatred of Co-op

So I’ve been playing Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls thanks to Too Much Talking listener Trynant, who was kind enough to buy me both of the games as a surprise. Despite knowing I’d like these games, I skipped on them due to time commitments and I’m glad Trynant basically forced me to play them (how can I not play something someone bought me that I know I’d like? That’d be like the rudest thing ever!).

So I beat Demon’s Souls and it’s probably my second favorite game of this generation (Behind Bayonetta) and might get bumped to 3rd if Dark Souls continues it’s wonderful pace and I have a lot to eventually say about both, but right now I just want to talk about the multiplayer.

First off, I am notorious among my friends for hating co-op, ESPECIALLY in otherwise single player games. Single player co-op mostly involves people getting in my way, or making it so I can’t pause and get a drink or take a piss without forcing someone else to wait. I have to play considerately. In games, I am willing to die many many times in a row to do things ‘my way’ or ‘the hard way’ or something. As soon as I made it to 1-1 in Demon’s Souls, I must have died 10 or 20 times in a row, just because I wanted to learn the parry timing, which is something I couldn’t do if I was playing the game with another person early on. I don’t get the joy other people seem to get from ‘doing things with friends’. I’d rather talk to them about other stuff than tell them what alien to kills.

Even in team based multiplayer games, things can be rough. I can’t stand MOBAs due to the roll of team work. Lots of “Cog in the machine” gameplay. Low player counts mean I can cause multiple people to have a bad game, or conversely, allow a friend to really piss me off…. and it goes on forever. I personally enjoy games with public servers, where players come and go freely and things are more relaxed. I enjoyed TF2 quite a bit back in the day because even if my team sucked, I could still enjoy rocketing people. I like my multiplayer teamwork to be ‘optional-yet-encouraged’. I’m a rather self centered gamer, in that regard. I prefer 1v1s, where my success and failure are all my own and that I can experiment liberally or basically just do whatever I want.

I’m in the minority on this one for sure, but I generally don’t feel bad about it. I just don’t play co-op in games and that’s that.

But then I was playing Demon’s Souls. Now I played through most of Demon’s Souls while dead. I had White Tendency, so I did more damage while dead and all I lost for it was 25% life and a ring slot. Being alive was nice, but I really didn’t care and as such, experienced very little multi-player content. I also never felt the need to invade anyone. White character tendency was nice, being alive was overrated, and fucking with some poor guy just seemed unnecessarily. Once I did the Old Monk fight, I got to enjoy sPvP and started getting curious about the multiplayer. On a whim I put down my blue eye stone, and did some co-op. Then I kept doing it.

I found this weird. A lot of my complaints about co-op seemed to still be true, but it seems that Demon’s Souls did enough other stuff to win over a salty introvert like me.

You and the Host are not equal. One thing I enjoyed about the co-op was that I was helping something. I wasn’t doing something for me. I didn’t have to worry about beating the boss. Becoming alive again didn’t matter to much, it was just fun to try and help someone out. I was expendable. If I died, oh well. I wasn’t needed, but whatever I could do would be appreciated.

No communication.These aren’t my friends. This works on several levels. First, this makes the interaction transient. When you play games with a friend, you generally play through a lot of it together. You’re involved. It becomes an activity. You plan for it. In Demon’s Souls case, I decide “I want to play with some other people” and I spend up to 20 minutes playing with another person with no commitments. If we beat a level, that’s it. We probably won’t see each other again.

The game is legitimately hard and the advantages of co-op are something that is earned. Co-op doesn’t seem like “This thing you just do to get through the game”. One of the real advantages of being alive is being able to summon help and staying alive is hard. When you’re offering your self as a phantom, you’re helping someone do something legitimately hard. It feels more rewarding than any L4D campaign I’ve forced my self to play.

My only problem with the game was the invasion system. Mostly skilled players picking on less skilled ones. You could go do some mutual PVP stuff with Old Monk or by using a Red Eye Stone, but that’s it. Dark Souls unfortunately suffers from some network issues relating to it’s lack of a dedicated server, but the multiplayer concepts intrigue me in theory. I haven’t experienced any yet, but let me talk about why I think it helps.

Firstly, your typical invasion is somewhat limited and requires a special item that is used up when you use it, adding a higher cost to the invader than what existed in Demon’s Souls. Secondly, more varied and interesting interactions are added to replace this. You have the Blades of Darkmoon, whom invade players who have gotten into “The Book of Guilt”, a book that lists players who have either betrayed characters in game or have ‘illegally’ invaded other players worlds. This gives players a guilt free way to go invade another person’s world. There are other covenants that protect certain areas of a game. So if a player enters such an area, you could be summoned to defend it. Another one of my favorite ideas (though it doesn’t seem to work well in practice) is the gravelords, who put down sigels that make the games of 3 other players in the same area as you harder. IF they die, you get half the souls they drop, and if they find the sigel, they can counter invade you. Unfortunately the difficulty change is minor and the sigels are usually so well hidden that you’ll never find them. Hell, you’ll never know that you’d even want to find them. But the idea is great. A Passive aggressive situation that allows your average player a guilt free reason to go PVP. He’ll want to PVP because you’re an asshole. That’s amazing!

There’s also other covenants meant to aid in finding PvE partners and reducing the chance of invasion (Apparently, due to the game’s mesh style peer-to-peer setup, this is done by making you more likely to connect with friendly nodes or something, which I find interesting). Hell, there’s a covenant about mutual PVP where you fight to become more like a dragon and this is all seamlessly integrated with a single player game.

There is just something appealing about this setup for me, as it gets me to play co-op, when I usually wouldn’t, and makes me play a competitive game without all the effort I usually put into learning how to play a game competitively. It’s just there!

6 thoughts on “Multiplayer and Demon’s/Dark Souls subverting my hatred of Co-op

  1. “He’ll want to PVP because you’re an asshole. That’s amazing!”

    PVP is one of those things with games.

    On the one hand, when you get to the point where you want to PVP, it’s because everything else has gotten old and dull. Not to mention it’s fun to hear kids cry. :D

    On the other hand, fuck you, you PVP assholes. Especially games that have unregistered PVP, or “PVP Zones” with mandatory quests, etc.

    So I thought that link you made was pretty interesting.

    Generally speaking, though, I don’t play a lot of Online games anymore due to my own behavior. To put it bluntly: I’m a griefer.

  2. I think one of the great things going on in Dark Souls (and to an extent, Demon’s Souls) is it capitalizes on players desire to grief. You can’t get rid of that desire, but if you give ways for players to be dicks to other players within reasonable boundaries, then their griefing can be translated into real gameplay. At the very least it seems like a better solution then just banning people. EVE Online is like this too. Piracy isn’t a great way to make a living, but a lot of pirates have a ball doing it and it adds a lot of charm to that game, even if it’s considered griefing.

  3. I agree with your statements on co-op. Demon’s Souls does a wonderful job of making multiplayer a supplement to singleplayer rather than a forced element or a mutually exclusive feature. On PvP, however, I would argue that black phantom invasions are a little less problematic than you make them out to be.

    The thing about a black phantom invasion is that is only possible to do against a player in human form, and that kind of goes back to how the advantages of co-op are earned, not given. Maybe that’s a little harsh that even if you’re alive, you can be invaded by someone with better gear than you and splat, but dammit, that’s what you signed on for when you decided you wanted to be a corporeal badass! Sure, there’s very noticeable imbalance and a few items that are far too griefy in Demon’s Souls, but the invasion system is meant to serve as a risk to the reward of co-op. Maybe that’s too much ontop of having to be alive and all, and I’m glad it got fleshed out in Dark Souls, but I see the reasoning behind it.

  4. I’ve been playing a ton of Dark Souls and, like you, I find the multiplayer and faction concepts incredibly intriguing, in theory.

    The connectivity issues are 1995-dial-up-connection abyssmal. Out of roughly 20 attempts, only two summons have worked; more than most of my friends. I have yet to successfully invade another player’s world, meaning I lost all of those precious orbs. When you consider things like multiplayer-based factions, including cooperative-focused ones and PVP factions you didn’t mention, Vagrants, Miracle Resonance, and Kindling, you realize how major multiplayer was intended to be. It really is too bad that Namco Bandai screwed it up so badly.

  5. @Brian

    Funny thing is, I tried summoning for the first time last night and had 2 out 3 work. Not to say what you’re saying is untrue, because by all accounts it is, I just got humorously lucky. I was actually streaming the game at the time and a few people were surprised that it worked out. :P

  6. I am sorry to read that you guys have had such issues summoning in Dark Souls. Maybe they have patched it since the last post because I have been playing with a friend through three play throughs and we have no trouble at all connecting. I have found that as you level up past say 120 and go into NG+ and up the availability of players to be summoned gets less. We will wait a few mins for someone to pout their sign down now.

    Rumor-I hear they are talking about a sequel (Dark Souls 2 )…stay tuned:)

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