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!