Tue. Feb 20th, 2024

The Souls series, developed by FromSoftware, is renowned for its challenging gameplay, immersive worlds, and intricate level design. Each game in the series offers a unique experience, with each world meticulously crafted to test the player’s skills and push them to their limits. But which game in the series boasts the best level design? In this comprehensive analysis, we’ll explore the most iconic locations from each game, examining the design choices that make them so memorable and discussing the impact they have on the overall experience. So, join us as we dive into the dark and dangerous world of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to uncover the game that truly has the best level design in the Souls series.

Factors Contributing to a Great Level Design in Souls Games

Level Layout and Environment

  • Interconnectedness of Areas
    • In the Souls series, level design is characterized by a seamless interconnectedness of areas, which allows for a more immersive and exploratory experience.
    • This design choice encourages players to venture off the beaten path and discover hidden secrets, adding to the overall sense of discovery and accomplishment.
    • By making each area feel like a piece of a larger whole, the interconnectedness of areas also helps to reinforce the sense of a cohesive world, making the game feel more alive and real.
  • Verticality and Hidden Paths
    • The incorporation of verticality in level design is a key element in the Souls series, allowing for a greater degree of exploration and strategic gameplay.
    • Hidden paths and shortcuts are often located off the main route, requiring players to explore their surroundings and think critically about their environment.
    • These hidden paths often lead to valuable resources, such as bonfires or chests, which can aid the player in their journey.
    • Additionally, the use of verticality can also add a layer of depth to the environment, creating a more immersive and believable world.
  • Environmental Storytelling
    • The Souls series is known for its rich, atmospheric environments that tell a story beyond the gameplay.
    • Environmental storytelling is achieved through the use of subtle details, such as the placement of objects, the architecture of buildings, and the behavior of non-playable characters.
    • These details help to flesh out the world and create a sense of history and depth, making the game feel more alive and real.
    • Additionally, environmental storytelling can also provide context and background information to the player, helping to immerse them in the world and make the experience more engaging.

Enemy Placement and Encounters

Enemy placement and encounters are critical elements in Souls games that contribute significantly to the overall level design. Here are some key factors that make for great enemy placement and encounters in Souls games:

  • Variety of enemy types: In order to create a challenging and engaging experience for players, Souls games feature a wide variety of enemy types, each with their unique abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. This variety ensures that players must constantly adapt their strategies and tactics as they progress through the game, keeping them on their toes and engaged.
  • Challenging yet fair placement: Enemy placement in Souls games is designed to be challenging yet fair. Enemies are strategically placed in areas where they can ambush players or force them to engage in close-quarters combat, requiring players to be constantly vigilant and strategic in their approach. However, enemies are never placed in a way that feels unfair or frustrating, ensuring that players always feel like they have a chance to overcome the challenges presented to them.
  • Boss encounters: Souls games are known for their epic boss battles, which are designed to be some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in the game. Bosses are placed in strategic locations, often acting as gatekeepers to new areas or rewards, and are designed to require players to use all of their skills and knowledge to defeat them. Boss encounters are carefully crafted to be challenging yet fair, requiring players to learn the boss’s patterns and strategies in order to defeat them, making them a highlight of the gameplay experience.

Progression and Difficulty Balancing

A great level design in Souls games requires careful progression and difficulty balancing. The gradual increase in difficulty is essential to keep players engaged without overwhelming them. The placement of checkpoints and respawning mechanics is crucial in ensuring that players can learn from their mistakes and continue to progress. Moreover, manipulating player expectations by introducing unexpected challenges or obstacles can make the level design more exciting and memorable.

One effective way to balance difficulty is by gradually increasing the complexity of enemies and obstacles as players progress through the game. This approach allows players to gradually build their skills and adapt to the changing environment. Additionally, providing players with checkpoints and respawning mechanics can help mitigate the frustration of failure, encouraging them to continue attempting difficult sections.

Manipulating player expectations is another key aspect of effective level design in Souls games. By introducing unexpected challenges or obstacles, players are kept on their toes and are forced to adapt their strategies on the fly. This approach also helps to maintain a sense of unpredictability and keeps players engaged.

Overall, effective progression and difficulty balancing in Souls games is crucial to ensuring that players are able to enjoy the game without becoming frustrated or overwhelmed. By carefully managing the pace and difficulty of the game, developers can create a challenging and rewarding experience that keeps players engaged from start to finish.

The Souls Series: An Overview

Key takeaway: The Souls series, particularly Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, feature excellent level design with interconnectedness of areas, verticality and hidden paths, environmental storytelling, enemy placement and encounters, and progression and difficulty balancing. Each game offers a unique and memorable experience, with levels that encourage exploration and strategic gameplay. The series’ level design is a testament to the power of creating a rich, immersive world that challenges players and rewards those who take the time to explore and uncover its secrets.

Dark Souls

The Original Game That Set the Standard

Dark Souls, developed by FromSoftware, was released in 2011 and kicked off the popular Souls series. This groundbreaking game established the formula that subsequent installments would follow, and it set the bar for level design in the genre. With its intricate world design, atmospheric environments, and challenging enemy encounters, Dark Souls captured the hearts of gamers worldwide.

Highlights

The Undead Parish

The Undead Parish is one of the earliest areas players will encounter in Dark Souls. It serves as an introduction to the series’ signature gameplay mechanics, such as character progression, enemy patterns, and environmental hazards. The level’s design is carefully crafted to gradually introduce players to the game’s systems, while also maintaining a sense of mystery and intrigue.

Key features of The Undead Parish include:

  • A picturesque church with interconnected areas, allowing for multiple paths and hidden secrets.
  • A balanced mix of undead enemies, from low-level to more challenging foes, preparing players for the difficulties ahead.
  • Environmental puzzles, such as the Bell Tower, which require careful observation and timing to navigate.
The Cathedral of the Deep

The Cathedral of the Deep is a sprawling, underground cathedral filled with dark, atmospheric environments and formidable enemies. This area is known for its intricate level design, which encourages exploration and rewards those who take their time to uncover its secrets.

Key features of The Cathedral of the Deep include:

  • A maze-like layout, with hidden passages and secret areas to discover.
  • Challenging enemy encounters, such as the Capra Demon and the Silver Knight, which require strategic approach and timing.
  • A unique boss encounter, the Kapelye Demon, set within a visually stunning environment.
The Tomb of the Giants

The Tomb of the Giants is a haunting, underground area filled with colossal, ancient ruins and formidable enemies. This level is renowned for its eerie atmosphere and challenging encounters, as well as its connection to the overarching story of Dark Souls.

Key features of The Tomb of the Giants include:

  • A massive, interconnected environment, featuring towering structures and cramped corridors.
  • Encounters with powerful, giant enemies, such as the Titanite Demon and the Curse-Rotted Greatwood, which demand strategic approach and careful planning.
  • Environmental puzzles, including the Slave Tower, which require players to solve intricate challenges to progress.

Overall, Dark Souls sets the standard for level design in the Souls series, with its meticulously crafted environments, challenging enemy encounters, and intricate world design. Each area within the game serves a specific purpose, gradually introducing players to the game’s mechanics while maintaining a sense of mystery and challenge. These iconic levels have become a benchmark for level design in the action RPG genre, inspiring countless developers to create immersive, challenging worlds for players to explore.

Dark Souls II

Expanding on the formula

Dark Souls II is a game that builds upon the successful formula of its predecessor, Dark Souls. The game improves upon the series’ trademark difficulty, complex level design, and rich lore. The game takes place in the realm of Drangleic, which is plagued by a curse that has caused the land to rot and decay. The player takes on the role of a hero who must defeat the various bosses and explore the intricate world to progress through the story.

Highlights:

  • Drangleic: The game’s world is a highlight of Dark Souls II. The world is vast and interconnected, with many paths and secrets to discover. The game’s level design encourages exploration, with hidden passages and hidden treasures scattered throughout the world. The world is also filled with dangerous enemies, making each discovery a risky venture.
  • The Lost Bastille: The Lost Bastille is a major location in the game, serving as a hub for the player to explore. The area is a large fortress that has been overrun by enemies, and the player must navigate through the fort’s corridors and chambers to progress through the story. The area is filled with traps, puzzles, and enemies, making it a challenging and rewarding experience.
  • The Crown of the Sunken King: The Crown of the Sunken King is a DLC expansion for Dark Souls II. The area is a sunken ship graveyard, with the player exploring the wreckage of ships and fighting against dangerous enemies. The area is filled with hidden paths and treasures, making it a challenging and rewarding experience for players who seek out every secret.

Bloodborne

A Lovecraftian twist on the Souls formula

Bloodborne, the third installment in the Souls series, is often considered one of the most memorable and innovative entries in the franchise. Released in 2015, Bloodborne takes place in the Gothic city of Yharnam, where players must navigate a mysterious and dangerous world filled with Lovecraftian horrors. The game’s atmosphere is palpable, and its haunting soundtrack further immerses players in its dark and foreboding setting.

Yharnam

Yharnam, the central hub of Bloodborne, is a labyrinthine city plagued by a deadly illness known as the “Blood Moon.” Players must explore the city’s twisting streets and decrepit buildings, fighting monstrous enemies and uncovering the city’s dark secrets. The city is divided into several districts, each with its own unique atmosphere and challenges. For example, the Cathedral is a sprawling, otherworldly structure filled with towering pillars and ancient runes, while the Sewers are a cramped and claustrophobic network of underground tunnels.

The Chalice Dungeons

One of Bloodborne’s most innovative features is its “Chalice Dungeons,” randomly generated dungeons that players can access via special “Chalices.” These dungeons offer players a chance to test their skills against new and challenging enemies, as well as uncover powerful weapons and items. Each Chalice Dungeon has its own unique layout and enemies, making each playthrough feel fresh and unpredictable.

The Cosmic Horror Bosses

Bloodborne is known for its challenging and memorable boss fights, with each encounter offering a unique and terrifying experience. From the grotesque and deadly Cleric Beast to the towering and enigmatic Lambton, each boss battle is a test of skill and strategy. These encounters are made all the more intense by the game’s atmosphere, which emphasizes the horror and danger of each battle.

Overall, Bloodborne stands out as one of the most unique and memorable entries in the Souls series, with its Lovecraftian setting, innovative level design, and challenging boss battles.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

A departure from the Souls formula

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice marks a significant departure from the formula established in the previous installments of the Souls series. While the core mechanics of combat and exploration remain, the game’s structure and level design differ significantly from those of Dark Souls and Bloodborne.

  • Ashina Outskirts: The game’s opening area, Ashina Outskirts, serves as an excellent introduction to the game’s mechanics and combat system. The level is designed with verticality in mind, allowing players to scale walls and rooftops, and encourages exploration to find hidden paths and secrets.
  • Sengoku Palace: One of the game’s later levels, Sengoku Palace, is a massive, sprawling castle that serves as a hub for several missions. The level is filled with secrets, hidden paths, and multiple areas that can be explored in any order, making it one of the most open and non-linear areas in the game.
  • Isshin the Slayer: The final boss fight against Isshin the Slayer takes place in a large, open arena that forces players to utilize the game’s mechanics in unique ways. The level is designed to encourage players to use their mobility and agility to dodge attacks and counter with precise strikes, making it one of the most challenging and satisfying boss fights in the game.

The Best Level Design in the Souls Series

Dark Souls III

Dark Souls III, the final entry in the original Dark Souls trilogy, is widely regarded as the most polished and refined game in the series. The game’s level design is a testament to this, with several standout locations that showcase the best the series has to offer.

Lothric

Lothric, the main hub area of the game, is a dark and foreboding castle that serves as a central point for the player’s journey. The level is designed with a sense of verticality, with multiple floors and hidden paths that encourage exploration. The castle is also home to a number of memorable boss battles, including the towering Dragonbarrow Knight and the menacing Slave Knight Gael.

Archdragon Peak

Archdragon Peak is a later level in the game that takes place on the back of a dragon. The level is designed with a sense of scale, with the player navigating the dragon’s spine and battling enemies both large and small. The level also features a number of memorable set pieces, including a thrilling battle with the boss, the Dragonriders of the Great Grey Wall.

The Ringed City

The Ringed City is the final level in Dark Souls III, and it is designed to be a culmination of everything the game has built up to. The level is a sprawling, interconnected city that is filled with secrets and challenges. The level is also home to the final boss battle of the game, a challenging encounter with the Soul of Cinder.

Overall, the level design in Dark Souls III is a masterclass in creating a sense of atmosphere and encouraging exploration. The game’s levels are designed to be challenging, but fair, and each one feels like a unique and memorable experience. Whether you’re battling your way through the twisting corridors of Lothric or soaring through the skies on the back of a dragon, Dark Souls III is a game that will leave a lasting impression on any player.

Dark Souls (Remastered)

The Remastered Version of the Original Masterpiece

Dark Souls (Remastered) is a testament to the timeless quality of the original Dark Souls game. This remastered version boasts improved graphics, updated multiplayer features, and enhanced gameplay mechanics that make it an even more immersive experience for both new and returning players.

  • The Undead Asylum
    • The Undead Asylum serves as the opening level for players, and it sets the tone for the rest of the game. The level is filled with dark and eerie atmospheres, making it an ideal starting point for the series. The level design is a perfect example of how the Souls series can introduce players to a rich and complex world without overwhelming them.
  • The Tomb of Giants
    • The Tomb of Giants is a massive, underground area that connects various locations in the game. The level is filled with towering pillars, colossal skeletons, and treacherous terrain, making it one of the most challenging and visually stunning areas in the game. The level design in this area is masterful, as it requires players to navigate through narrow passageways and overcome obstacles that test their skills and patience.
  • Anor Londo
    • Anor Londo is a beautiful, ancient city that serves as a hub for players to explore. The level design in this area is awe-inspiring, with intricate architecture, soaring spires, and breathtaking views. Players must navigate through winding staircases, dark corridors, and treacherous platforms to reach their destination. The level design in Anor Londo is a perfect example of how the Souls series can create a sense of wonder and awe while still maintaining a sense of danger and challenge.

Bloodborne (The Old Hunters)

The Old Hunters is widely regarded as one of the best DLCs in the Souls series, and for good reason. Its meticulously crafted levels, intricate design, and haunting atmosphere make it a standout experience within the franchise. Here are some of the highlights that make The Old Hunters such a memorable addition to Bloodborne.

The Hunter’s Nightmare

The Hunter’s Nightmare is a haunting, dream-like level that takes players on a surreal journey through the twisted mind of the game’s antagonist, the Cosmic Entity. This area is filled with nightmarish landscapes, including a deranged carnival, a grotesque garden, and a distorted version of Yharnam’s streets. Each area is filled with traps, puzzles, and formidable enemies, making it one of the most challenging and rewarding levels in the entire game.

One of the most memorable aspects of The Hunter’s Nightmare is its boss battles, which are some of the most unique and challenging in the entire series. Players must face off against the enigmatic Moon Presence, a giant, shadowy creature that requires precise timing and strategy to defeat. The battle takes place in a massive arena filled with floating platforms and a swirling, inky black substance that threatens to pull players under at any moment.

The Lost Chapel

The Lost Chapel is a somber, eerie level that takes players deep into the heart of Yharnam’s dark history. This area is filled with the ghosts of long-dead priests and scholars, all of whom are trapped in a never-ending cycle of torment and despair. The Lost Chapel is also home to one of the most challenging boss battles in the game, the fearsome Blood-Starved Beast, which must be defeated to progress.

One of the most striking aspects of The Lost Chapel is its attention to detail. Every corner of the level is filled with subtle environmental storytelling, from the crumbling architecture to the faded paintings on the walls. Players can find notes and journals scattered throughout the level, which shed light on the tragic history of Yharnam and the people who once called it home.

The Cosmic Embrace

The Cosmic Embrace is the final level of The Old Hunters, and it is a fitting conclusion to the DLC’s haunting, otherworldly atmosphere. This area is filled with grotesque, alien landscapes, including a twisted version of Yharnam’s streets and a massive, sprawling palace that seems to stretch on forever. The Cosmic Embrace is also home to one of the most challenging boss battles in the game, the formidable Blood-Veiled Fool, which requires players to use all of their skills and strategies to defeat.

One of the most striking aspects of The Cosmic Embrace is its use of light and darkness. The level is filled with vast, pitch-black areas that are only illuminated by flickering torches or the occasional glowing rune. This creates a sense of unease and disorientation, as players must navigate through the darkness, never quite sure what lies ahead.

Overall, The Old Hunters is a testament to the incredible level design in the Souls series. Its meticulously crafted levels, challenging boss battles, and haunting atmosphere make it a standout experience that is not to be missed.

FAQs

1. What is the Souls series?

The Souls series is a popular series of action role-playing games developed by FromSoftware. The series is known for its challenging gameplay, immersive worlds, and intricate level design.

2. What is level design in the Souls series?

Level design in the Souls series refers to the layout and design of the game world, including the placement of enemies, items, and obstacles. The level design is a crucial aspect of the series, as it contributes to the overall difficulty and playability of the game.

3. Which Souls game has the best level design?

Determining which Souls game has the best level design is subjective and can vary depending on personal preferences. However, many fans consider Dark Souls to have the best level design in the series. The game’s interconnected world, intricate level design, and atmospheric environments create a memorable and immersive experience for players.

4. What makes Dark Souls’ level design so great?

Dark Souls’ level design is praised for its interconnected world, where players can explore different areas and discover hidden paths and secrets. The game’s level design is also known for its strategic placement of enemies and obstacles, which requires players to think carefully about their approach and tactics. Additionally, the game’s atmospheric environments and iconic landmarks, such as the Firelink Shrine and the Undead Parish, contribute to the game’s immersive and memorable world.

5. Are there any other Souls games with good level design?

Yes, other Souls games also have good level design. For example, Dark Souls III is known for its challenging and dynamic level design, with each area offering unique gameplay experiences. Bloodborne, another game in the series, is also praised for its Gothic-inspired world and challenging level design. Demon’s Souls, the first game in the series, also has noteworthy level design, with its atmospheric and challenging levels.

6. How does the level design in the Souls series compare to other games?

The level design in the Souls series is considered to be among the best in the gaming industry. The series is known for its challenging and immersive level design, which requires players to think strategically and adapt to their environment. While the Souls series is not the only game with challenging level design, it is certainly one of the most influential and popular.

The Evolution of Dark Souls Level Design (and Bloodborne!)

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