Anor Londo - A Case Study in Level Design (AKA "Staircases and Royal Pains in the Fanny")
(Spoilers - Duh)
I'm a big fan of the "D. Souls" series of games. I do very much like the challenge they present and the dark, mystical settings. What I gravely dislike is when it uses these two things in a diabolical manner that wastes the player's time. Unfortunately, this is something that Dark Souls tends to do a little too frequently; Especially in the area/level known as "Anor Londo"
For a level that basically just consists of a church, hallway, and another building, Anor Londo is gigantic. The background sprawls back a mile with other buildings jetting up from a base that's deep and dark enough to be unseen (Yes, it's an obvious old trick to reduce rendering, but I think that it's done pretty well here with the atmosphere). The interior of the buildings are a bit on the bare side, but detailed. From a purely aesthetic perspective, it's pretty well done.
However, from a gameplay perspective, this massive level leaves a lot to be desired.
For starters, the bonfires. Each bonfire will leave you needing to use at LEAST one elevator and/or gigantic staircase. Being a game where you are purposefully meant to die with frequency, this posts a serious issue. The elevators take a considerable amount of time to wait for. The staircases you must climb are veritable mountains. You might need to use the elevator a second time and then run your ass around 50 yards to the other side of the rotating, lifting island to climb a second mountain of stairs.
Besides very directly wasting your time with stairs, elevators, and more stairs, part this monotonous exercise leaves a major window to be invaded. With the level boss basically requiring a partner, you are stuck climbing several staircases, (likely) fighting off a several batwing demons, a silver knight, and two royal sentinels. Yeah, try not getting invaded in that amount of time, and not having your partner (or yourself) killed by a cheater or much more dedicated player, in the second most popular area to invade players.
The batwing demons have a pestering flaw; they dodge attacks even though the don't move very far to dodge. Once the animation starts, it doesn't matter if you have a spear wedged in them half way to sunshine before they move. Yet their attack's lighting effect is strong and tends to inflict damage whether you have your shield prepared or not (I'm know you can get around this with the right shield and/or spell, but for those of us not focusing on intelligence or with a lightning resistant shield, it's an annoyance).
Like the batwing demon's unfair pairing of dodging landed attacks and being able to hurt you so easily, the royal sentinels have their own pairing of difficulties; their shield extends beyond their physical presence and they can regenerate. You will again miss attacks that should have landed by all accounts, but instead of being hit back, the creatures regenerate almost all of their health. You will sometimes be robbed of hits and then waste an extra minute trying not to be invaded (so that you can manage the boss fight) by fighting a refreshed sentinel over again.
I have no major problems with the silver knight's abilities, except that it's used in a way that makes fighting both royal sentinels very difficult without going all the way around to fight him first, unless you're very dedicated to your bow.
There's being difficult and then there's having level design that wastes large chunks of the player's time with monotony and flawed enemy design. For the record, Anor Londo is the only level of a D.Souls game that has left me feeling cheated and wanting to stop playing. I've beaten it before, but that's when I was playing it on Ps3, where I would disconnect the internet to stop invasions on this particular level (I hate you, GFWL).
What do you think about Anor Londo? Do you agree that the stairs and elevators were aggravating? Do you think I should "go back to playing COD, you f@#$ing n00b!!"?