New Things Are Scary
In the Forest of Giants the game plays with your expectations. You are fighting infantry men, short zombie like guys who pose a threat in a group but not much one on one. Then at the end of a long corridor you see something new. It’s thin and tall and look like it has a large sword. Immediately you start thinking about what this new thing will do. It’s tall and skinny – probably fast. Terrified I used up my throwing knives and barely survived the fight. Ten minutes later I’m slashing identical enemies apart with no thought. The initial moment of something new made it scary. It felt pretty badass later being able to ignore that threat.
Combination of Circumstances
Difficulty in Dark Souls is infamously high. But in some places its surprising how little it increases – instead it combines. In the dark cavern of a pirate den you face two main enemies. A weak infantry man who you’ve seen before. They flail around and sometimes shoot arrows – in this zone the arrows are on fire. The second is a bandit, bigger and quicker than the infantry. When far away they throw bottles of oil. Neither enemy is too hard. But when you’ve been splashed with oil and catch a fire arrow, you suddenly lose all of your health. Difficulty then is increased not because of a harder enemy but because of a combination of factors.
Let Players be Clever, but Make it Cost
Dark Souls is difficult, but it also lets you remove that challenge in many ways. In the pirate den there are blind creatures that flee light. Using a high cost item you can light a huge lantern that will make the creatures run, removing them from your path. Otherwise you have to conserve your torch fuel and scare them off by hand. Either way you can manage to scare off some of the most dangerous monsters in the area. But it costs. Dark Souls is always about choices, use up an important item here, or keep it for later. You can be clever, but you’ll have to use your resources to do it.