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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Dark Souls

Where do you go now? You’ve just taken down a monumental boss that dwarfed the ruins it dwelled within, not forgetting the close encounter with its colossal, jagged sword. A trip down a crumbling cliff side and through a steaming, stinking shanty town later and it hits you that you might have bitten off a little more than you can chew. You’re lost, surrounded in darkness, with lumbering, vicious beasts just meters away from your face. It’s decision time; press on through the unknown, sharpening your senses to detect even the slightest hint of danger on the treacherous path ahead, or backtrack to the safety of a bonfire. Either way, every step you take will have to be cautious and calculated; you don’t want to lose those souls.

DarkSoulsII_1Dark Souls has taken the world by storm. Like Demon’s Souls before it, From Software’s brutal action RPG transcended its initially polarizing difficulty to present one of the most intelligent, engaging and all-round best titles of the previous generation of consoles. It’s an incredible journey that combines a systematic combat mechanic with ground-breaking multiplayer innovations and a simply unmatched atmosphere. The chance to take this memorable journey armed with a virtual reality (VR) headset is something that the developers shouldn’t pass up.

VR compatibility would fit in perfectly with the title’s sense of place. Take Blighttown, for example, a festering maze of rickety ladders and poisonous swamps that swallows the player whole as they descend. It evokes a unique sense of being cut off from just about any means of salvation. A VR headset like the Oculus Rift would do wonders to enhance those feelings, as you bring this unpleasant environment to life. Imagine stepping onto one of the unstable wooden supports and inching your way down as your abuse the head tracking technology, scanning every section of every wall for threats.

There’s plenty of room to enhance that atmosphere in other ways. Spending time at any one of Dark Souls’ bonfires provides a moment’s respite in which you see other players online fade in and out of sight. It creates a rare sense of togetherness, and experiencing it in first-person as you huddle round the gentle flame could greatly strengthen that emotion. It could even break down the barriers that menus put up. Perhaps instead of sifting through a long list of armours and weapons, you’d simply lay them out by the bonfire and fit them yourself.

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The real test would be how the title’s laboured combat meshes with the illusion of really being in control of your character. Every animation in Dark Souls is something to consider; the time it takes to swing an axe might not compensate for the extra damage it provides over swords, for example. But with these elements out of your control, the feeling of being there in the moment might be lost. In shooters it’s as simple as pulling a trigger, but that’s not the case here. And adapting the very mechanics would disturb an already excellent balance.  And then there’s the boss fights.

Boss fights in Dark Souls require a certain degree of courage. They are the culmination of all the challenges and trials already faced, requiring expert timing and an in-depth knowledge of how your opponent operates.  In VR, being able to time the dodges and attacks yourself while scanning the hulking figure in front of you for giveaways on what his next move will be would undoubtedly be one of the most intense, engulfing experiences available on the platform. Standing at the feet of the Iron Golem or hanging onto a cliff side while sparring off against the Ceaseless Discharge are moments that could define the added immersion that VR provides.

More than anything else, Dark Souls makes you believe in who you are. If you choose to be an archer then you live as one, fighting from afar. If you’re a sword-wielding soldier then you adopt the role of a warrior that bravely rushes into impossible odds. VR offers the chance to complete that link between you and your character, making your movements and vision one and the same. But it’s also about where you are, delivering a magnificent sense of place that VR has already proved time again it can improve on. It’s as if the title has already done the legwork of making an immersive VR experience for you.

Dark Souls is an experience you get completely lost in and there would be no better place to do that with than VR.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.