Thursday, June 20, 2024

Ranking the Dark Souls Areas From Worst To Best


The second game in the series, but as of right now the "oldest" if that makes any sense. It's the only one that doesn't look amazing. Though maybe its muddy grittiness is a plus, I'm not sure. Despite having masterclass-level stage design, this has slowly become my least-favorite of Fromsoft's big seven soulsbornekiros. Not as pretty as all of the others, more rudimentary, and just kinda dark and unforgiving. Which, for some, makes it perfect. After the more normal level and level select format of Demon's Souls, this game's world layout is pretty much the next evolution of the Metroid formula and would define their games from here on out.

#25 - Tomb of Giants (Gravelord Nito)

The worst area in this game is the worst by a considerable margin, and wasn't even in question. Hey kids! Do you like pitch-black zones full of things that want to kill you? If you get the Skull Lantern, the place is considerably more manageable, but that initial trek to the lantern is awful. The whole thing just isn't enjoyable, mainly because you can't see. This level is at the top of several reasons why Dark Souls is the only Fromsoft game I'd have trouble recommending, as great as the stage design, world layout, and art direction are most of the time.

#24 - Crystal Cave (Seath the Scaleless)

Invisible floors. Who thought this was a good idea? What could have been an awesome, unforgettable zone ends up being unforgettable for the wrong reasons.

#23 - The Catacombs (Pinwheel)

One thing is for sure about Dark Souls - the quality of the levels nosedives in the second half compared to the first half, the hallmark of an unfinished game. While the Catacombs are reachable right from the beginning, you don't need to go here until the second half. This area is abysmal, with skeletons that revive endlessly, spike traps everywhere, a confusing layout, and those damn rolling wheel skeletons that can absolutely murder you without warning. They never really made it into the rest of the series (outside of a cameo in Dark Souls 2's Skeleton Lords fight) and there's a reason for that. Add in that the boss of this area is usually a complete pushover by the time most players will reach it (and especially compared to the level before it) and this level is one part I never look forward to.

#22 - New Londo Ruins (Four Kings)

The cavalcade of second-half levels continues, with this horror show. Main issue is the incredibly annoying ghost enemies that can reach through floors and walls. It's a shame because the idea behind this level - the ruins of a lost city, half underwater and possessed by the spirits of its former inhabitants - is a really interesting one. It just isn't fun to go through.

#21 - Depths (Gaping Dragon)

As with many other levels so far, this is a potentially-good dungeon crawl with one major gimmick that ruins it. In this case, it's the blobs that fall from the ceiling and instagib you. Before long, you learn to look out for them, but still, very annoying. There are also lots of basilisks running around with petrify-breath that's difficult to avoid if you don't go on the offensive. Just a terrible area here. It does have that old-school "creepy basement dungeon crawl" thing going for it though and that counts for something.

#20 - Blighttown (Chaos Witch Quelaag)

The POISON SWAMP. Most people probably have this ranked as the worst area, and on the original PS3 version that may well have been the case with the terrible framerate. On the PS4 remaster, however, all of that is fixed, and this zone actually isn't the worst thing in the world anymore. It's got a very unique design and I can't say any other game has a level like this that I know of. That said, it's still a poison swamp, at the end of the day, so it isn't going to get very high on the list. The fact that several levels are worse than the poison swamp level is a testament to the issues with Dark Souls' back half.

#19 - The Valley of Drakes

A cool idea for a level, but it's really short and linear and the drakes themselves are more annoying than fun to fight with. Also there's no real reason to go through here and it's kind of a redundant path between more important areas. Like I don't think you ever actually need to see this area for any reason, except maybe for the platinum trophy since there are a couple of unique rings here. All in all, this zone just strikes me as a wasted opportunity to do something cool and important to the rest of the game.

#18 - Darkroot Basin (Hydra)

Another short area, and the Hydra fight is definitely one of the lamer fights in the game...until you figure it out, anyway.

#17 - Chasm of the Abyss (DLC) (Manus, Father of the Abyss)

The final area of the DLC (and thus the overall game, usually) is everything an abyss should be. Dark, spooky, confusing, and highly-dangerous. Manus is probably the nastiest boss in the game, and you can see how he could have slain Knight Artorias. Despite all that lore, this area is a bit on the empty side design-wise and not something I spend any more time with than I need to.

#16 - Lost Izalith (Bed of Chaos)

Interesting subterranean ruin that could have been a LOT more than it is if the game wasn't so unfinished. This definitely looks like one of the last areas they put together. It looks sprawling (and isn't) and looks like it has all kinds of secrets (and really doesn't). Also has the worst, most annoying boss fight in the series, the equivalent of the Crash Bomb wall turret boss in Mega Man 2. All of that said, it's a cool area that feels like there's more to it. Wish there actually was.

#15 - Demon Ruins (Firesage Demon, Centipede Demon)

Right before Lost Izalith, we've got this lava-filled zone, and it's also pretty unfinished. It's a little better, with a solid boss fight (Firesage Demon) and a pretty sweet battle gauntlet right before it. Course, the Centipede Demon is atrociously bad (most of the actual boss is having to fight the camera).

#14 - Painted World of Ariamis (Crossbreed Priscilla)

An optional side-area that can be entirely skipped. It's pretty cool and kind of a proto version of Cainhurst Castle in Bloodborne. It also, get this, feels unfinished. Yeah, I'm shocked too. Like the look of this zone a lot though. Any time Fromsoft gives us a ruined castle with light snow, you know you're gonna have a good time.

#13 - Sanctuary Garden/Oolacile Sanctuary (DLC) (Sanctuary Guardian)

Pretty zone full of mushroom-people, kinda feels like a modern Secret of Mana remake or something. The Sanctuary Guardian is one of the cooler bosses in the game and can be a solid challenge. This zone's also on the short side though, unfortunately.

#12 - Undead Burg (Taurus Demon, Capra Demon)

The first real zone in the game is also the first one on this list that I think is a genuinely really good area. It's actually finished and has a lot of things to find and discover. It's also a lot of fun, outside of the firebomb-throwing enemies who can totally go flip. Just a solid first area that teaches you how to play and doesn't pull any tricks on you. It does lose some points by how many times you need to traverse it over the course of the game because they didn't think to make the bonfire there a warp-able one.

#11 - Darkroot Garden (Moonlight Butterfly, Sif the Great Grey Wolf)

Lot going on in this zone, like PVP, stone knights with rare drops, and lots of those bush-enemies that hide out on the sides of the path. Sif is probably the most meaningful boss fight in the game, as Knight Artorias' loyal pet who patrols his grave waiting for him to return. Once you know the lore, you really don't want to have to fight this wolf. The good news is that Sif's spirit returns in the Abyss to help with the fight against Manus at the end of the game.

#10 - Undead Asylum (Asylum Demon, Stray Demon)

The intro stage of the game is a pretty solid self-contained zone. Later you can go back to it and fight a stronger palette swapped version of the first boss, Secret of Evermore style.

#9 - Firelink Shrine

The hub zone is solid in this game, with some shortcuts and NPCs. It also feels kind of disorganized though, requiring some gymnastics to actually get around on the upper level. As far as hub zones go, it's okay. There are even a couple of pathways from here to zones that you're not supposed to go to until later, which allows for some sequence-breaking for the initiated. And leads to death-traps for the uninitiated. Just stay out of the graveyard.

#8 - Oolacile Township (DLC)

It seems like this is mostly a PVP zone (even today), but it's also got an interesting layout with lots of ambush points (that are used by the foes). Just a fun, well-designed zone that has a purpose. It's also got some subtle lore with the goo trail of Artorias leading from his boss room all the way to the entrance of The Abyss.

#7 - Ash Lake

Memorable area with some gorgeous vistas...and not a whole lot else. Most people count it as a legit area, so here it is. It's entirely missable (and very easy to miss) and that's a shame because it's the kind of incredible-looking that most players won't forget any time soon.

#6 - Undead Parish (Bell Gargoyles)

This is where the game really kicks into gear, IMO. You meet the blacksmith here, start fighting more interesting foes, and get the first truly breathtaking vista in the game with the rooftop battle at the end. It's also an intersection of a bunch of other zones, and has several shortcuts and passages to discover. Just a very well-designed city zone that's kind of a preview for Bloodborne's city zones a few years later.

#5 - Royal Woods (DLC) (Knight Artorias, Black Dragon Kalameet)

Another forest, this one less dark and more traditional. Strong medieval feel to this zone. Also has the best (only good) dragon fight in the game, a fight that involves a zonewide storyline. The dragon menaces you in the forest, then ultimately meets you at the river for the actual battle.

The only way to take it down is to go talk to the giant archer in the nearby tower and get him to regain his confidence by shooting down the dragon that's been plaguing them. It's a great example of storytelling with the world rather than just telling us everything.

And that's not even the best story in this zone. Knight Artorias is the fallen hero of the realm who fought against the Abyss to the point that he became the very horror he was trying to hold off. Now he shambles about, leaving a trail of Abyss goo all around the woods, slaying any demons he finds in perpetuity. Also worth noting: Artorias' design is based directly on the Berserker Armor from Berserk.

#4 - Kiln of The First Flame (Gwyn the Lord of Cinder)

The final area of the base game is simple and linear, but it's one of the most incredible-looking vistas in the game. It looks like the epicenter of an apocalyptic event, which is what it is. The final battle, while pretty easy once you realize his weakness, is truly epic in every regard and has far-reaching ramifications over the rest of the trilogy. This area is memorable from the moment you walk in, passing numerous ghost-knights and spirits on the way down the steps.

#3 - The Duke's Archives

The #3 spot on the list goes to something that might be a bit controversial to anyone familiar with it. One of the most memorable locations in this game, and an interesting setting (basically a huge library). Wasn't too keen on the revolving stairway designs, and it's easy to end up going around in circles if you don't know the route. Also the mobs here are pretty annoying, especially the archers that seem to be able to aim at you from across the library with perfect accuracy.

I'm really not crazy about this zone, and yet I give it high marks for a few reasons. The atmosphere is outstanding, and the prison area of the dungeon has almost a Tower of Latria vibe to it. It's also a continuously challenging zone where you can't rest on your laurels and need to constantly use cover to avoid the sniper fire from Seath's lurking archers. This area is a legitimate puzzle of a zone that makes you strategize every move.

#2 - Sen's Fortress (Iron Golem)

One of the best dungeon crawls in Fromsoft's game lexicon. This place is SUPER dangerous and basically a challenge trial that gatekeeps the wonders of Anor Londo and the second half of the game. The fact that you have such a great area after this really makes the trial worth it. This is like the "Tomb of Horrors D&D module" of the Souls series. Now I'll admit that first-time players are gonna hate this zone. It's one of the several zones that earned this series the reputation it has for nastiness. It might even be pound-for-pound the toughest area in this game. However, when you know what you're getting into, it really is an awesome dungeon crawl. Few things feel as good as getting past the last of the traps and emerging at the top of the fortress, in front of the magnificent sunset of Anor Londo.

#1 - Anor Londo (Dark Sun Gwyndolin, Ornstein and Smough)

The best area in the game isn't even in question. In a word, this area is iconic. It's a gorgeous Victorian city on a high plateau. There's one weakness to this zone, and it's the one run up a rampart with an archer trying to snipe you off. Aside from that very annoying part, this zone is a memorable experience from top to bottom.

At the end is the game's most iconic boss fight, Ornstein and Smough. In retrospect it's a very simple fight that can be pretty easily broken nowadays by leveling more, bringing Solaire as backup, or just having an endgame weapon, but in its day it was a battle to be revered. This zone is the peak of the game in pretty much every regard (geographically and design-wise) and there's a reason it got brought back later in the series.

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