I don’t know if I’m going to make a series out of this, but I might as well set my self up just in case. Anyways, this should be a quickly.
The Covenant system is both one of the biggest differences between Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, but also one of the least polished parts of the game. While everything functions to a somewhat acceptable degree, there is clearly room for a lot of improvement. That said, it was probably time rather than effort that lead to such a flawed covenant system and I’m sure many of the things I mention were at one point planned or talked about. Doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it, though!
Also before anything else, let me just say that every covenant would benefit from the changes I suggested in my in-depth review. Lower level cap, better matchmaking, etc. So I’m not going to bother talking about any of that unless it’s extremely relevant.
Way of the White
Lets start with the most boring. Clearly this is the least spectacular covenant. You gain nothing material — simply matchmaking and, by virtue of the dedicated server-less lobby system, less of a chance to be invaded. The covenant has no rank and little purpose, outside being the baby version of the Warriors of Sunlight. Perhaps this is fine, as it is the first covenant that you encounter and can be seen as a way to coddle new players. I would speculate that the coin Petrus gave you would have been a covenant item in the same way as the sunlight medals would be. Due to the complete emptiness of this covenant, it could be improved any way someone wanted (sunbros-lite, story based covenant where you level up by doing things like getting the rite of kindling and kindling bonfires, etc etc). Any of these would work. Personally and fluff wise, kindling bonfires seems like the best way to level up this covenant.
Almost, but not quite as unspectacular. This covenant gives us some direction. I would imagine both the miracles that are exclusive to this covenant would have been given as covenant items (perhaps using the gold coins, but that is entirely speculation). Clearly the way to improve such a covenant would be more support miracles (a spell like the channeler’s dance, mayhaps!), but the question remains: How do they gain covenant items? In a way this is the same problem that plagues Way of the White. Do we need three different sunlight warriors? Perhaps they were to function in the same way as the darkmoon ring, before it was decided that it was a better fit for the Blades of Darkmoon (probably due to them having a hard time getting matches). That said, I think, assuming the way of the white had a non co-op leveling system, that it would be okay to have a second style of Sunbro. While the Sunlight Warriors gain offensive spells, the Princess’s Guard gains healing.
Blade of the Darkmoon
These guys are so broken. They have a naturally hard time finding matches and their covenant rewards require an absurd amount of kills. Obviously that can be fixed, but that’s not mechanical. Two things would particularly help though – the level cap I said I wouldn’t get into (but it would make being summoned into Dark Anor Londo less of a joke), and, humorously, making it easier to be a Darkwraith (but we’ll get to that later). Blades of the Darkmoon SHOULD be able to invade and be summoned to any sinner, anywhere, but that clearly doesn’t work well with the lobby system. Perhaps another system that might be workable would be using the book of the guilty to display players that are currently playing and then selectively invade them. Problem there is while it is probably possible (in the same way the lobbies share messages with each other) but would probably be too much of a network burden. Invading darkwraiths who are alive, regardless of whether they defeated the areas boss is probably the best solution, though that could create a chilling effect among darkwraiths. Perhaps what would be the funnest, but most technically challenging solution is ALSO having the ability to “counter-invade” and come to a phantom’s aid. The biggest difficulty would the host getting offed before you can connect, so the idea is sadly probably not workable.
To make the ‘invading darkwraiths anywhere’ thing work, I think it would have to be linked to the Darkwraith invading. Perhaps a way to do both is that an invading Darkwraith leaves a mark (or may, depending on their current level of sin?). By touching the mark, the Darkmoon can either invade the Darkwraith OR whatever game the darkwraith is currently invading. Perhaps a little difficult to implement, but it would certainly be fun.
Warriors of Sunlight
One of the few fully functional covenants in my opinion. The Sunbros are pretty great. They have great rewards, a great requirement and are all gold and awesome. No changes required, outside of more rewards for later covenant levels (Solaire’s stuff without having to kill him plz). Jolly Co-operation is apparently its own reward, though.
The Forest Hunters
I always have mixed feelings about the Forest Hunters. The forest is one of the goofiest and most unreliable PVP zones as far as ‘fairness’ is concerned and the only places that the zone attracts is trolls. That said they have some of the best rewards and an amazing merchant. I think the best way to make the covenant work would be to make it possible to invade players who are hollow and nonhollow and to have the invasions occur regardless of the state of Sif. If you litter some more goodies throughout the zone and make it an even better place to farm souls, then it should receive the attention it needs from non-troll characters.
Clearly a lot was planned that never came to fruition. Straight forward leveling mechanic with only sporadic rewards, a lot of room for more fluff an d a servants roster with no particular purpose. If I were to guess, an original purpose of the covenant would have been to infect online players with eggs. Instead of having another redundant PVP covenant, they made it a rather lackluster one. You pay 30 humanity and get two spells and a shortcut. Linking it to Queelana may have helped make it more valuable but would make less sense for fluff. Perhaps another zone like the Forest and Dark Anor Londo would be good, where infection gives the rewards of humanity. It could almost be seen as taking Queelag’s place. Though what this covenant more needs is a bit more story progression and more spread out rewards. Temporary plot driven covenants seem like they would be both fun and a good alternative for players who aren’t much interested in the online elements of the game.
Ouch, if only this covenant worked as well as everyone hoped. The concept is so cool, yet it has no tactile feedback. This is the first issue. Originally everyone thought you gained souls by having people die in other worlds and this should be brought back. It gives tactile feedback and could come with a message (“Player XXXX was defeated at the hands of your minions”). The sign should also be visible and show how many worlds you have infected, just to let the gravelord know it’s working. I have a suspicion though that gravelord infections and invasions are not perfectly interconnected. I think it may be possible that if you invade a gravelord through a symbol, you might invade ANY gravelord in the area, not the one that was infecting you. Upon success, you would get a flag that you’ve successfully defeated a gravelord (thus stopping any BP enemies). If this is the case, giving you souls would be extremely difficult. Gravelords in an area would either have to help communally or we’d have to deal with the broken system we have now. Perhaps Form feared that such a system would plunge the game into permanent “Pure Black World Tendency”. If these limitations are true, that’s a shame, because this covenant NEEDS tactile feedback to be successful.
One way to also do this would be to let the gravelord lay down multiple signs that each spawn BP enemies in their vicinity. Since we know how White Soap Stones work, we can assume this method would also work. This would add to the level of planning a Gravelord could do and make sure that gravelords weren’t ‘hiding their summoning sign’. What would make this a homerun would be if the Gravelord then could go to his symbols, collect the souls and eyes they collected by killing players and perhaps then even watch a bloodstain of that players death. I’m sure From would have loved to do something like that, so we can only hope they succeed at it in some other game (or.. in DLC D:).
Path of the Dragon
The Path of the Dragon functions and gives some of the coolest rewards. If the game threw in a few dragon weapons in the covenant rewards, things would be perfect (outside of matchmaking issues). While those matchmaking issues can be problematic, for the most part this covenant works as intended.
Mechanically, Darkwraiths work great. They even have a full reward tree! The problem is, they don’t work for everyone else per-say. To re-iterate what I said in my in-depth review (since it IS extremely important here), being a Darkwraith SHOULD be easy. This makes it so worse players are invading. This makes more sinners, for the Darkmoon Blades, and this leads to less curb stops. Combine this with a reasonable level cap (so Darkwraiths also don’t get mercilessly stomped themselves) and you create a healthier ecosystem with less incentive to twink (again, if you beat the four kings at a low level, you’re ALREADY twinked, so why would you ditch your gear?). This still isn’t the perfect world where gear factors into matchmaking, but it helps.
Anyways, that might not be the most interesting thing I ever wrote, but it only took a little bit and was fun to think about.