Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss Respects You

Tom Mc Shea explores how the recently released Dark Souls DLC avoids the problems so often associated with premium content.

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Dark Souls is defined by its difficulty. Death is an omnipresent threat in Lordran, so there's a sense of exhausted relief when you survive long enough to discover an area full of intriguing secrets and mysterious architecture. But to focus exclusively on the challenge misses the sublime beauty of this incredible experience. It's respect, not difficulty, that has propelled Dark Souls to such a hallowed place. Respect that you have the patience and perseverance to push forward, that a setback won't destroy your motivation. Contrast that respect with the excessive hand-holding found in most modern games, and you can understand why Dark Souls is so beloved. And that contrast is readily apparent in how Dark Souls handles downloadable content.

Respect doesn't often factor in to the publisher/consumer relationship. Entertainment, one of the most sought after resource for the buying public, trumps everything else, which puts game makers in an enviable position. Once they happen upon a formula that tickles the fancy of those with money to burn, developers can rely upon a steady revenue stream by breaking the experience into bite-size pieces and then selling it to their most loyal fans at an inflated price. It's an exploitative method of doing business that puts the financial burden on those who are most invested in the game, and developers have continually pushed to see how far they can take this delivery method without suffering a financial backlash.

Problems arise when extra content shows disrespect for the buying public. Multiplayer maps segment the user base into haves and have-nots, forcing people to shell out extra money if they don't want to spend their hours squaring off against an ever-shrinking pool of competitors. In series such as Call of Duty and Halo, developers have taken maps from older games and then resold them to players when the sequel hits. Charging players for the same content twice highlights the greed that is ever-present in downloadable content, and it's damaging to the long-term health of this relationship.

Story-driven games aren't exempt from this dilemma. In Mass Effect 2, important plot details were buried in downloadable content. If you were invested in this universe and wanted to know the outcome of the unanswered mysteries that surfaced during the adventure, you needed to shell out extra cash. Just playing through all three games in the series left many holes, so those who cared the most were forced to pay even more money to fill in the many blanks. This method is detrimental to players, who are nickeled-and-dimed between releases, and to the story, whose segmentation creates a state of confusion for those who only played the core experience. When developers don't respect their own stories enough to put them above petty cash grabbing, why should players?

There are more examples of how this disrespectful relationship has played out through the years, including season passes that urge you to shell out money for unannounced content and on-disc DLC that makes you pay to unlock content that's already on the disc, and it's clearly becoming a serious problem.

When developers don't respect their own stories enough to put them above petty cash grabbing, why should players?

And on the other side of the spectrum lies Dark Souls. It was originally released last October, but it wasn't until May that From Software announced that new areas would be sold to console owners for a premium price. This content debuted in August in Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition for the PC, which introduced sections hidden from all but the most ardent players, and then littered them with deadly enemies, puzzling secrets, and intense boss fights that challenged even those who had sunk hundreds of hours into the adventure. A couple of months after the PC version hit, Artorias of the Abyss became available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners. For $15, a new world awaited those who had been craving an outlet for their dark fantasies.

Exquisite level design and a bevy of unexpected events propelled Artorias of the Abyss to the heights you would expect from the Souls series, but it's not just the quality of the experience that elevates this content above many of its peers. Dark Souls was able to mitigate the inherent problem of charging more per hour of content than the initial package offers with a few steps that showed that this DLC was borne out of more than just a lust for more money.

Dark Souls, in both its game design and marketing, has a respect for its players that's sadly uncommon. Whereas many developers either detail the extra content months before the main game is complete, or hint strongly that there are premium features down the road, the creators of Dark Souls avoided this folly. As Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki told me in an interview, "If I remember correctly, it was about February or March 2012 when we began working on Artorias in earnest." Instead of fragmenting development early on, devoting prerelease resources to extra content that comes with an extra price, From Software completed Dark Souls before moving on to Artorias of the Abyss.

The form the content takes also differentiates itself from many of its peers. Artorias of the Abyss doesn't artificially segment the user base into niche factions or add crucial story details that illuminate missing plot points. Miyazaki explains, "We produced the original Dark Souls as a sheer stand-alone game the story of which ends in itself and that thought has not been changed. The Artorias of the Abyss version will give another dimension to the lore in the original game and will offer new game play, so I as the creator would like people to play the game but it does not mean that the original Dark Souls was uncompleted."

Dark Souls' story unfolds not through plot details but through lore, and the core game explains (or at least drops hints about) every situation you encounter. Backstory is told through the items you pick up and the way environments are laid out, so the careful observer can understand where Lordran has been and where it's going just by paying attention. Artorias of the Abyss expands on this lore, exploring a character infected by the darkness that's enveloping this land, but because this side story didn't factor into the main adventure, it doesn't feel as if you're missing important details by skipping the DLC. Because of this, Dark Souls doesn't leave you hanging, so desperate to tie up the loose ends that you feel compelled to shell out money for the new areas. Other industry blights, such as premium weapons and armor, are absent in Dark Souls, so there's never the feeling that you're getting a bastardized experience by keeping your wallet shut.

Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss is as uncommon as the game from which it sprung. From Software wasn't desperately trying to keep people from trading in Dark Souls at the used-game shop by adding premium content at a steady stream. It didn't divert resources away from the core development nor repackage areas from a previous game. It didn't segment the user base in damaging ways. Instead, it sold the extra content given to patient PC players to the console audience more than a year after it first hit store shelves, which makes the endeavor feel more like a $15 bonus than an insidious strategy to pad the company's coffers. The relationship between developers and players is a delicate one, and the only way it can thrive long-term is if both sides feel as though they're respected.

Dark Souls isn't the only game that expands the original experience without being disrespectful to the audience. What are some of your favorite examples of extra content that break away from the accepted DLC strategy?

Discussion

4 comments
dcarver
dcarver

Great article.  I hope other game makers would listen and respect their fan base and enjoy the long-term reward.

I usually don't pay for DLC because its over-priced, and when I don't have new DLC I loan out my copy of the game.

mikeyMKII
mikeyMKII

Platinum'd DS last year, and started up again once I bought Artorias of the Abyss. Just beat Manus tonight. All-in-all it's a very solid dlc add-on.

highlanderjimd
highlanderjimd

Dark Souls could be good had the controls been more responsive, the game itself is not hard, just takes time, and the controls are the biggest challenge. 


Snid Snid BORT!"

ropumar
ropumar

Burnout Paradise city had one of the greatest DLC of this generation. They released updates giving free stuff like bike dlc. And the paid DLC was cheap and full of content that had many hours of work after the completion of the original.

Borderlands 1, brought awesome DLC that were clearly produced after the game hit shelves.

Altough Borderlands 2 they now went the money grabbing route, releasing content as DLC that clearly was made in parallel with the main mission development.

 

Sword403
Sword403

Well I lost about 20000+ souls in the quelaag boss fight or however u spell that bi***'s name and I'm still going after her ass!!

Ratatoskr321
Ratatoskr321

@cboye18 - quite the contrary. It respects your skill and persistence as a gamer by not dumbing down your experience. My guess is you're a new gamer and haven't experienced the legitimately hard games of yesterday. Games today are made so that you don't have to try that hard to finish them. Dark Souls respects you more than that. It doesn't go easy on you.

 

As for the DLC question posed by the author, I liked Enslaved: Odyssey to the West's DLC. It was similar in that it was a side story from another character's perspective but felt unique and independent from the original game. I didn't feel like I was missing anything when I finished the first game but the new DLC provided new gameplay experiences and prequel plot points from a character I enjoyed.

ggregd
ggregd

My examples are Opposing Force and Blue Shift add-ons for the original Half Life.  They told the story of Black Mesa from the points of view of two other people involved, one of your enemies in the former and Gordon's security guard friend in the latter.  They were both long, completely new stories that enhanced the original without copying it or devaluing its experience.  Either of them could easily have been a stand-alone game.  

 

This is the kind of expansion ("DLC" if you must) that gamers who have been around for a while grew to expect, and why most of us detest the nickel and dime mentality that this article eloquently describes.

cboye18
cboye18

Jesus, i just bought thie game and lost more than 7000 souls after i fell down the stair (directly after Taurus demon).  Just turned of my ps3 of the anger and frustration i got pfff. Death in this game really  doesn't respect you, even for the slightest mistakes.

 

Ducez_III
Ducez_III

One game that is NOT an example of breaking away from the accepted DLC strategy is Final Fantasy XIII-2, and it pisses me off because I expected better from Square Enix. Lightning's Requiem of the Goddess DLC (basically the secret/ real ending to the game) frustrates me to no end.

 

Don't charge extra money and make the "true" ending to your game DLC.

Falru
Falru

I'm in trouble! Please recommend this message!

Rinku_Kiyoshi
Rinku_Kiyoshi

isn't Mc shea the same doofus who was playing skyward sword wrong if so, he lost massive credibility why does he still have a job, back on topic Dark Souls is one of my favorite games. Love everything about it i'm surprise this idiot played the game correctly 

Artek7
Artek7

Best article ever on any gaming site. My respect for Gamespot has been partly restored. ( Thank goodness it still has editors like Tom Mc Shea, who have the guts to call a spade a spade). I live in Poland where people earn on average about $500 a month but games cost the same as in the west. Nevertheless, I bought two copies of DS Prepare to Die Edition to show my respect and gratitude to From Software for being one of the very few companies who still treat gamers and especially their fans seriously. I'm getting more and more disgusted with today's console gaming : day-one patches, day-one DLC with content crucial to the main story (in other words, simply cut out of it) , omnipresent  greed (in-game stores for virtual goods), bugs, releasing games before they are truely finished, five-hour campaigns, treating single-player in shooters as something extra and not vice versa, pushing for digital-only distribution, games like DIABLO on an on-line leash, fragmented special content in dozens of different special editions and so on and so forth . In short, if gaming continues along these lines I'll probably find myself a different hobby. With growing tendencies like the ones above this will probably be my last generation of consoles that I buy. Oh, and one more thing, all those who in any way justify the above mentioned practices (like those that say that, for example, Bethesda's games must be buggy just because they are big) are brainwashed morons, and I pity them.

DFBTG
DFBTG

I cannot agree strongly enough with this article.  I truly wish more games were like Dark Souls, and handled its DLC the same way.  It truly pisses me off when I hear companies announcing DLC before the game is even released; more so when the content is already on the disc.  Games like that don't deserve to be bought full price, in principle (that is, mine).  In some cases, not even new.  Nickel-and-diming doesn't deserve my money.

GKRider
GKRider

I agree with some of the points in this article, except about Dark Souls being so amazing. A friend let me try it a few months ago and it seemed okay so I finally bought it myself about a week ago. Personally, i'm having trouble staying interested. I've had fun, I just tend to get bored pretty quick whenever I play it. Who knows, maybe something will click one of these days and i'll see what all of these other fans see.

AtheistPreacher
AtheistPreacher

No one is a bigger From Software fan and supporter than I am, and I've been so since I played the first King's Field game on the PS1 back in 1995.

 

That said, I found your comment about not "repackag[ing] areas from a previous game" odd, since a fair amount of the expansion was re-tread.  The first area was Darkroot Garden with a few cosmetic changes (right down to the area where you fight Kalameet).  The last area was -- forgive me -- a few stone walkways with absolute blackness in the background, which looked pretty much like the Tomb of the Giants/Gravelord Nito area.  The only truly original area was the middle portion -- Oolacile Township, which was great.

 

Don't get me wrong, it's still great DLC, especially considering the four all-new and totally original bosses, who all seem even tougher and more well-realized than the bosses in the original game.  But how much better would it have been if 2/3 of the DLC environments weren't re-treads?

Ark1of712
Ark1of712

Hey Tom, I didn't really like how you came onto the Far Cry 3 stream just to be a troll, so here I am to be a blatant troll in kind.

 

The only good thing about Dark Souls is that I get to watch your avatars die over and over again :)

 

COME AT ME CITIZENS OF THE INTERWEBS!

hellangel_boy
hellangel_boy

Great article, it speaks out what I have been saying for so long. Believe or not, that DLC will be the first DLC I ever buy, I have already decided that even before its release, simply because it has huge contents for a good price, moreover, it expands a game that's already filled with contents, and it was released at time when all the people who liked the game need more from it, though, I still even haven't got enough of the main game.

wicked_laugh
wicked_laugh

"developers have taken maps from older games and then resold them to players when the sequel hits." Nuke Town anybody?

BlackBaldwin
BlackBaldwin

great article, I have to bow to you Mr.Tom Mc Shea for taking my thoughts from my mind and placing them so generously on the web for all to see.  From Software certainly is one of my favorite development studios right now right next to CD Projekt Red and Starkock Entertainment. 

 

I gotta admit that the only dlcs that I remember purchasing that was worth any salt that I paid for them was the only dlc for Mass Effect1 (when bioware wasn't completely corrupted by EA) and  the add on back for Wizardry Labyrinth of Lost Souls from Acquire.  Hopefully a few other studios well arise in the years to come that present good business practices that From Software has shown and CD Projekt Red has..

SilentAssassin
SilentAssassin

Dark Souls is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

eliram1
eliram1

I greatly respect fromsoftwere for their honest buisnes philophy that dosent try to screw the players over. I  would also like to point out that imidiatly as astories as of the abyss came out, they relessed a disc reguler priced version of the game that already had the content ulocked,  rather then force newcomers to pay extra for the DLC.

 

 

kurisu2233
kurisu2233

good article! The respect Dark Souls had for player is what made this game great, no dumbing down the game for people who suck, Monster Hunter is a game that did this, though they betrayed me and sold out to Nintendo, I had to go buy a 3DS and now I gotta wait for the 3DS version

pcostix
pcostix

I personaly am aggainst DLC, let alone F2P, I much prefer retail expansion packs and I think that the Artorias DLC has enough quality and almost enough content to be one.

 

With a litle more content it could have been a 40€ retail expansion.

 

I'm glad I purchased the Prepare to Die Ed. otherwise would't have experienced it, the Artorias of the Abyss content was awesome.

DarkSpidey69
DarkSpidey69

This is so weird. My housemate and I were had a 2 hour long discussion last night about how the gaming industry is screwing consumers over with all this DLC and pre-order bonus nonsense. Even brought up how stupid the point is that if you pre-order a multiplayer game you start at a higher level or get better weapons. Even in single player games this does nothing but make the games a cake walk. ME3 for instance and its prothean DLC that gave you a plasma rifle that never ran out of ammo and destroyed everything, thereby taking away from the only thing that made ME3 stand out, the combat.

 

Regardless, at the end of our conversation my friend asked me if I knew any DLC that wasn't just some way for the company to grab a hold of the stupidity of gamers.....

 

My answer was Dark Souls :P

TenraiSenshi
TenraiSenshi

Hmmm. I'm not sure if I just somehow missed it, but this article didn't mention whether this DLC has an effect on the player base of Dark Souls and how they can interact with one another. For example, can those who do not have the DLC still interact with those who do (I.E. invade their worlds, play co--op with them, etc). If it does hinder play between players with different versions, then that fact alone would render this article somewhat flawed. If it doesn't though, then it would actually serve as another point to support the views of this article.

 

I don't have the DLC myself yet, but does anyone know either way which is the case?

tgwolf
tgwolf

I will hate you forever for making this M-rated, and I will volunteer to be on your jury in the Final Judgement so that I can ensure you all roast for eternity with venomous rhetoric and sweeping arguments to convict you FOREVER on the many solid premises on which this game could have and should have been made without it's M-rating! Heed my words!

Sanligo
Sanligo

Back in the good days, we simply had these things called expansion packs. They did exactly what was described here, until they were replaced with money-grubbing DLC.

blazeaglory
blazeaglory

@highlanderjimd 

The controls are very responsive! Just get naked (your character) and watch how responsive he/she becomes :-)

It all depends on your stats and what type or armor your wearing. Some armor slows you down greatly.

SevenStyx
SevenStyx

@highlanderjimd Disagree. i think one of DS's strengths is how well the controls respond which makes the combat while challenging very fair b/c u have a great deal of control over your character in combat

SevenStyx
SevenStyx

@cboye18 that kind of forces you to respect the game in a good way i think. everything is a bit perilous...so you walk as if you are walking on the edge of a real cliff

JLabeach
JLabeach

 @cboye18 When you get deeper into the game you'll realize that 7000 souls isn't really a lot so dont give up... I lost about 9000 souls after I killed the taurus demon and rage quit too hoping the progress wouldn't be saved

LocoBaxter
LocoBaxter

 @Artek7 Here here man. It is nice when you feel like some one made something for you to enjoy and experience, as opposed to other developers who make me feel like i just got conned into paying more.  And screw Bethesda, I used to love them, they were my favorite developers until they screwed me out of the DLC cause i own a playstation...........uhhhhhh im a sad panda.

Tygravius
Tygravius

 @GKRider Well for me, it was the intensity. Not knowing what was around the corner. This game, to me, required my full attention to the surroundings, etc. Although dying is a apart of the game, I didn't like it and would try not to. I don't know, this game really got my 'immersion' going like no other game. I think that's why people like it so much...the immersion one gets in Lordran and the on edge feeling of the unknown :) Not alot of icing in this game. Straight cake baby!! lol (NG+ is when you put the icing on)

Greylith
Greylith

 @Ark1of712 That was brutal.  Paint me the crimson of fury at that troll of legendary proportions.

arsenic911
arsenic911

 @TenraiSenshi I bought the expansion and played with a friend who didn't. The DLC is accessible through a portal, kinda like the painted world.

driftingsilvia
driftingsilvia

 @tgwolf Explain why a game with blood and gore in it shouldn't be M rated? It's a game clearly for adults and not children. I'm sorry you are too young to play it though.

BestJinjo
BestJinjo

 @Sanligo I think to compare the old practice of expansion packs to current DLC is almost an insult to expansion packs. Like take Starcraft Brood Wars. On its own, that expansion pack was an amazing game. Most modern DLC is useless items, consumes, or maps, not 20-30 new levels or a continuation of the campaign with a lot of new missions. It's usually now just 1 new mission or quest for $15-20.

kurisu2233
kurisu2233

I think Skyrim might be walking down a dark path like this, though I did enjoy dawnguard for a good 12hrs(which is longer than the Blops 2 campaign) and hearthfire was only 5 bucks...

DarkMellie
DarkMellie

 @Sanligo I wouldn't call them the good days... I've been gaming for 35 years and it only gets better and better. There's definitely a line between quality DLC and a company trying to take us for every cent we have... but there is absolutely a massive increase in cost to making games in this day and age. I totally respect the developers right to charge and maintain my right to choose.

Sword403
Sword403

@Zheph @cboye18 thats not cool

guitarman31978
guitarman31978

 @LocoBaxter  @Artek7 i agree. bethesda used to be my fave,but all they do now is spray a new coat of paint (sloppily i might add) on their last project. morrowind was revolutionary and amazing but all they do is re-(re-re) release that game and now the formula feels old and cheap (to me at least, just an opinion) and they get glitchier every time. bethesda will truly have to come up with a fresh idea to get another dollar from me.

Ark1of712
Ark1of712

 @TomMcShea Not troll really, you were just really cynical and you gave Kevin kind of a hard time. I know Far Cry 3 isn't really your kind of game, and that's cool, just like Dark Souls isn't really mine, but it was the first in depth look people who were really excited about it were getting. I guess I just wish they had found someone who was as excited as we were to help preview the game. 

 

I love cynicism, I really do, but I think there's a time and place for it, and only so much is really tasteful. You're the veteran of a thousand games and that's really awesome, but it really kind of dampens our parade when you come on and just trash it. If you don't believe me, go through the comments for the stream. A lot of people agree with me. And they aren't saying things like "Tom Mcshea is a ****ing ****" (well some are, but we can both agree that's rude and unfair), they're saying genuine things like "Tom McShea is beyond annoying and ruins the vid. Shame. The game does look really sweet"

 

Here are some samplers:

 

"He makes the stupidest complaints ever. Very frustrating to listen to him the whole video."

 

"He seems to have the imagination of a stale piece of bread"

 

"Oh my god !!!  What are you doing there?" 

 

"Tom, you are the most annoying person I've ever had to listen too. Your commentary adds nothing to the video and your humor harmonizes with the sound of crickets chirping"

 

"Don't invite Tom next time. For Chrissakes that was hard to watch. I think Tom just has a mutated annoying gene"

 

I think you get the point. So next time leave the trashing for the comments, like me, and please just leave the video alone?

 

 

 

 

 

TenraiSenshi
TenraiSenshi

 @arsenic911 Ah, thanks for the reply. I thought maybe different versions of the game wouldn't support each other but its good to know they do.

arsenic911
arsenic911

 @TenraiSenshi No problem! I think part of this is because everyone gets the DLC through the latest patch. You have to pay to unlock it though.