by Alex Khlopenko
With Decay of Logos, Dark Souls affirms its role as the Diablo of 2010s.
You see, growing up at the turn of the century and not living in US or EU you had three types of games you could play – CounterStrike 1.6, Fifa, and endless, nameless clones of Diablo. Having a favorite Diablo clone (mine has always been the idiotically vanilla but wild in places – “Sacred”) was the like having a favorite band or football club. Every developer saw the formula, saw the success of the franchise, and saw Blizzard Entertainment, hesitant to drown the market in a torrent of sequels. So they did it for them.
At best those clones had aesthetic differences – ancient Greece in Titan Quest, steampunk in Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, heroic fantasy in Sacred, weird Beyond Divinity, whatever the hell Blade&Soul was, these days we have Torchlight and more – you name it. And we played all of them cause the formula worked, for better or worse. But none of them were Diablo.
Let’s jump almost twenty years and we see every asshole with a gamepad and a devkit trying to do what only one man did – make a Souls game. You see, Dark Souls, a spin on rogue-like games itself, is a dull game, it is slow, clumsy, it has no proper central narrative (at least in the western tradition of videogame storytelling), and on paper, it should not be a fun thing to play. But Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team made sense of it all, every aspect of the game was scrupulously designed, every stylistic, storytelling, and mechanics decision served each other and made this leviathan of a game work like nothing before. And oh boy, does it work. To prove that the concept of Souls game is alive and well, after four games that were exactly the same, FromSoftware produced Bloodborne and even dared to reinvent the formula in Sekiro. They proved – as long as you have Hidetaka Miyazaki and his bunch around, SoulsBorne game will work.
Copying someone’s homework
They say that mimicry is the highest form of praise and that’s how new genres are born (more on that here from Mark Brown). What kind of pretentious developer wouldn’t want to ump on the hype train of the uber-difficult games with weird narrative and make one for themselves? Creators of Lords of the Fallen, Ashen, The Surge, Nioh, and the godawful, absolutely terrible Imortal: Unchained all decided that they were not above such notions. Those games worked, one way or another. None of them provided the depth or the thrills of a Miyazaki game, to be fair, and will be quickly forgotten. And now we got Decay of Logos.
Decay of Logos is the opposite of a Souls-like game in everything. When Dead Souls was sentenced to death on arrival, on paper Decay looked like a smash hit – a combination of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Dark Souls. Add to that the potential of becoming an indie darling – made over the last 3.5 years by four people, that in itself commands respect. But that’s where all the positive sides of the game end – right there on paper.
[it should’ve been a subheading but I hired the writer from Amplify Creations to do it, so here goes nothing]
Playing as a nameless protagonist with an elk for a mount, you start your story by exiting a house and fighting a dark dude with a sword. That is the premise. This game has no story, no narrative, no lore, no characters, and thus character development. Decay of Logos feels like it has no writer whatsoever. And that is the core of all of the following problems. The lore of the Souls games justified the game design the stylistic choices, the gameplay mechanics, the classes you can choose, the messages you can leave for other players and etc. The story of the lonely shinobi Sekiro justified everything. Take that away – and you have a clumsy, slow game, that beats you into a pulp for not following its obscure rules. That’s exactly what Decay does. Why are we traveling? Your guess is as good as mine. Why are these dungeons here? No idea. And I’m not interested in finding out.
Game design hard
You may say, Doom is not an example of Booker prize-nominated storytelling either, the fuck with narrowmindedness, Alex? But I’d easily parry that with the simple fact that this game is not interesting to play. The mechanics are the exact copy of the Dark Souls, without any interpretation or adaptation, but and without any balance to it. No matter the weapon and gameplay style you’re slow and enemies are fast. There is no way around it and if there is – it’s simply no fun to search for it.
The game thinks it encourages you to explore – praise the sun the graphics and Zelda-style aesthetic are pleasant on the eye, – but when you do, unsurprisingly, turns out there is nothing to explore. Every dungeon is the same, every enemy is the same, there is no lore or puzzles to piece together. It feels empty. It feels dull. Even leveling up doesn’t feel satisfying – it just makes the previous locations easier to traverse. Decay of Logos doesn’t understand what it is and gets wrong what it wants to be.
Once again, the effort of four people to make a game like this deserves respect, but I still can’t get back nine hours I spent on it. I got exactly no enjoyment out of anything.
And that brings me back to Diablo clones. Sacred and Titan Quest worked because they were interpretations of Diablo, a certain twist on the formula that made it distinguished from other clones at least. Neither of them felt like driving a stolen car on stolen, on a completely separate occasion, wheels. Because those developers understood what made Diablo work. Creators of Hyperlight Drifter understand. Creators of Spelunky do, too. Amplify Creations don’t. Too bad for them.
I occasionally feel nostalgic about Sacred and might even find the old disc to install it and create a new build before forgetting about all about it. That game feels good. It makes me want to play it and also play Diablo 2. Decay of Logos doesn’t even make me nostalgic about Dark Souls. It makes me think about doing my taxes instead of playing it.