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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 [email protected]#$ing n00b!!"?

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Nicaragua1585d ago (Edited 1585d ago )

I remember really enjoying this section but your right in that it does have a few annoying bits.

The main bit where i died a squillion times was were you have to run up a thin ledge to the rooftop just before entering the main castle, all while under fire from archers who you cant necessarily see, it really did my head in.

I didnt mind the fact that this area is ripe for invasions. I actually love that aspect of the game as it adds in a great sense of tension/horror/risk/reward. There are loads of places to hide in this level while you wait for allies to summon in, so yeah i think you unplugging the internet is a bit noobish.

The end castle was a bit boring in its layout but the hallway just before the boss battle was great, i dont remember having the problems you suggest with the sentinel knights. I just used to get them to follow me to the stairs on either side, run up the stairs and then drop off the ledge onto their heads for a massive attack, 2 of those would kill them no problem. I actually used this area for farming souls.

So while its by no means my favourite level i thought it was pretty good.

SilentNegotiator1585d ago (Edited 1585d ago )

My big complaint is simply that getting back from the bonfires takes too long. Way too long.

It's the area that I had more trouble with than any others and I'm waiting for and on an elevator EVERY TIME I DIE. If it were a normal level, I wouldn't be as bothered by the invasions (as long as I didn't get invaded every minute like in Anor Londo - I don't mind an occasional invasion, but not constant ones).

JoySticksFTW1585d ago (Edited 1585d ago )

For the lightning damage complaint, you do have shields to mitigate the damage as you've pointed out. So why not just use it when fighting the winged demons?

It's not like in Demon's Souls where you had both item AND equip bonus to manage, so take it with you.

As you're a Souls fan, I'm sure you know much of the difficulty in these games can be overcome by patience.

You don't even need to be "dedicated" to your bow (though I like playing a stealthy sniper). Just carry along a few poison arrows to combat the Silver Knights trying to snipe you, no special upgraded bow or godly stats needed.

This isn't a game where you race through the areas, BUT once you unlock the Anor Londo short cuts, like most every other level has, you can race to the boss by-passing all enemies. Especially if you have a human player for co-op (you may need to kill those royal guards, if you plan on summoning Solaire. He might stay behind and fight them instead of following you to the boss).

I'm not calling you a noob or anything, but I think the level design is great. Like a giant puzzle you have to piece together. And once you do (unlock short cuts, know enemy positions, aggro range, and capabilities), the game becomes almost too easy.

And the place needed to be big. Giant gods once lived there. It would be disappointing if the place was smaller and less grand.

SilentNegotiator1585d ago (Edited 1585d ago )

I didn't describe dealing with the batwings without mentioning the infamous dragonbow ledge snipers for nothing; I'm well aware of the shortcuts. I thought I made that clear, but apparently not, since multiple people are "informing me" about the shortcuts.

"And the place needed to be big. Giant gods once lived there. It would be disappointing if the place was smaller and less grand"

Level design has to serve gameplay first and foremost. You could justify a lot of things with story, but if it's unreasonable for the gameplay, I don't accept it. They should have made the bonfire somewhere more reasonable, not stuck behind that annoying elevator and stairs.

JoySticksFTW1585d ago

ah well. to each, their own

I thought the level conveyed a sense of grandness, and there was an allure of trying to navigate the layout.

After the shortcuts are opened, it's a short run to the boss. I'd just advise any new player to be careful until then.

I'm not saying your feeling towards it isn't valid (others also seem to share it). I'm just saying that this being a Souls game, I don't have a problem with the bonfire placement here. And it really cranks up the nerves (and cautiousness hopefully) until you unlock those shortcuts.

The game really is fair in giving you tools to overcome (an even by-pass most encounters) already.

And I'm in the camp that think bonfires make the game easier than DeSouls anyways (even with limited Estus flasks, but I rarely need more than a few a level, and usually none if I've attuned Heal or am having a particularly good run).

SilentNegotiator1584d ago

Demon's Souls was definitely harder. But when you transported to a stone, you were never far from the action. I didn't mind being killed because I knew I would be right back into the action quickly.

I liked the open world design of Dark Souls, but the constant backtracking before completing Anor Londo, crap like the elevators in Anor Londo, etc really make me prefer the Demon's Souls method of level design and "checkpoint" (or whatever you want to call the bonfires and archstones) placing.

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frozen-assets1585d ago

Demon's Souls really forced me to change my stance on 1 thing. NEVER "cheat" on the 1st play-through. I got the collectors edition which came with a large book that was full of juicy DS gossip. After my 100th death I had to say F this and used the book and got on the internet and did what I had to do to survive and succeed.

I skipped that particular moral ambiguity with Dark Souls and went straight to the internet when I came to a bit I needed strategy help with. I actually found Dark Souls pretty easy compared to Demon's Souls. Not sure if the difficulty changed or just me. Only took me a bit over a week to get the plat trophy.

TopDudeMan1584d ago

The following may be a spoiler, but...

At the part with the 2 knights with the bows, you can run right up to the one on the right, wait for it to put it's bow away then step back a bit and he'll walk right off the ledge (just don't lock on or you might fall off, too). I realised this on my second playthrough and have found anor londo really easy since then.

zerocrossing1585d ago

This (stair)case study could extend to a few other games I'm sure.

I know exactly what you mean when it comes to that mountain of a stair way and the lift you have to wait for, although funny enough I never once got invaded by another player in Anor Londo, it used to happen all the bloody time to me in that sewer area with those damned basilisk though.

Having to run all the way back down those stairs and waiting for the lift was very annoying, but the one place that really got on my nerves in Anor Londo was having to run across that ledge where the archers start shooting at you after you get past the batwing demons and the two sentinels, it was by sheer luck I got past the dark knights during my first play through, the one on the right fell off trying to attack me which was pretty funny.

I never thought about taking the boss out with the help of another player, I managed to solo it in the end but it does explain why it took me so long, lol.

JoySticksFTW1585d ago

The two Anor Londo snipers seems to be most people's most intense moment in the game (Maybe O&S fight, and 4 Kings ng+ are up there with it).

I cheesed them with poison arrows. Because screw rolling / fighting on tight ledges to fall to your death while being shot at by two bowman with arrows the size of spears. :)

Roccetarius1584d ago

Yeah, i used Poison Arrow as well. It made things easier for me.

sear1585d ago (Edited 1585d ago )

Maybe you need to realize that attrition actually matters in Dark Souls and that you can't just run from the bonfire to the boss in 5 seconds. Anor Londo, next to Sen's Fortress is the first truly difficult level in Dark Souls because it relies on you having to carefully manage your resources. If you think Anor Londo is bad, I can't wait to hear you reach the later levels.

Let's also not forget that there are shortcuts you can open (such as the various doors inside the palace), and that after beating the boss you get the Lordvessel, which lets you teleport anywhere.

Also, perhaps you need to learn how to run past enemies. Most enemies in Dark Souls can be avoided entirely if you simply run away using light armor. You can always make a dash to the boss and the enemies won't follow you into the battle. Even the Royal Sentinels can be easily dodged around with almost no effort.

I agree that the outside area is just a little overly large, but I think the goal was to convey the size of Anor Londo and to provide something substantially different for the player to look at for a change - the twilight city of a faded empire. I can forgive 30 seconds of extra running for that.

Oh, and if you don't want to be invaded: play in offline mode. Genius!

SilentNegotiator1585d ago

"Maybe you need to realize that attrition actually matters in Dark Souls"

I've beaten the game before on Ps3, as well as Demon's Souls. I think I've grasped the concept of the game, thank you.

"I agree that the outside area is just a little overly large, but I think the goal was to convey the size of Anor Londo and to provide something substantially different for the player to look at for a change - the twilight city of a faded empire. I can forgive 30 seconds of extra running for that"

But it's a game where you're supposed to get killed often (and thanks to people that dedicate their lives to invading on Dark Souls in Anor Londo with a purposefully low level for the items that they've procured, I do), so I'm doing that stupid climb every 5 minutes. It's a waste of time.

DragonKnight1585d ago

It sounds like your frustration has more to do with dying and replaying too many times than it does with the level design. You could literally say the same thing about any other area in the game. Hell, Sen's Fortress only has one bonfire in the entire level, and if you die just before getting to it and haven't unlocked the cage shortcut, congratulations you get to go through the entire B.S. level again.

The only parts of Anor Londo I personally didn't like were the church rafters since you have to go slower than normal and the walkway with the Silver Knight Snipers. But after that there are so many shortcuts (I know you know about them, I'm just saying) that I found a few different ways to get to the boss from the second bonfire that didn't cause any fuss.

SilentNegotiator1584d ago (Edited 1584d ago )

But I can get through Sen's as a hollow (the boss HARDLY demands that I call on a partner). And once you get to the cage, you have a shortcut almost directly to the boss; one that doesn't demand that you fight falling asleep while waiting for it to just arrive and then dealing with regenerating enemies with faulty shield hit detection.

And the snakepersons' dodge animation doesn't make them impervious for a silly amount of time (if at all).

"Were you getting ganked by invaders?"

Constantly. And always when I was in the middle of duking it out with the royal sentinels. Always by someone with a weapon ridiculous for someone in their 30s level; there's just too many people who play the game solely to invade.

SegaSaturn6691584d ago

I found that fortress before anor londo was the hardest spot in the game...well maybe blighttown as well. Were you getting ganked by invaders?

Blacktric1584d ago

I'm pretty sure getting ganked in Anor Londo is nearly impossible as a host unless you try to summon some player to your world through red signs. At least, over the course of 700+ hours of gameplay on PC, it never happened to me. Only one invader.

Blacktric1584d ago (Edited 1584d ago )

Anor Londo is literally the part when Dark Souls, in terms of level design, falls apart. Everything after it (Duke's Archives, Tomb Of The Giants and Lost Izalith) is also a nightmare.

"With the level boss basically requiring a partner"

git gud

(I'm so sorry but I had to say it since it's sort of become a tradition)

Joking aside, try taking on Ornstein And Smough solo one day. I'm pretty sure after dying no more than 5 times, you'll end up learning the basics and end up killing them both in a short amount of time without dying. I suggest focusing on killing Ornstein first since he's usually the most agressive one and can travel large distances in a short amount of time, giving you a good enough window to deal damage before Smough catches up. And try to upgrade your Pyromancy Flame past +10 at the least before reaching Anor Londo and having at least two combustion spells (32 total casts) since it makes that fight really easy.

Nicaragua1584d ago

Yeah O & S arent that tough at all. I solo'd them on my 2nd attempt.

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