Dark Souls: Nightfall is Dark Souls but not as you know it. For a start, the total conversion mod’s new two hour-long demo (opens in new tab) kicks off in Demon Ruins, not Undead Asylum. It begins deep within the bowels of the crumbling runic complex, not as you emerge from Quelaag’s Domain. You ascend towards the Chaos Witch’s lair, and not downward towards Ceaseless Discharge and its rivers of molten lava. When you do eventually climb to the apex of the spider queen’s cocooned boss battleground, you wind up in Darkroot Garden which, to your mind, has no business being here. And your head is spinning.
PC mods that mess with enemy placement and the geography of Dark Souls – a game renowned for its masterful vertical level design – aren’t new, but Nightfall twists the formula just enough to keep you guessing; and not too much to confuse or overwhelm. And that’s not even its crowning feature. Two-handing your weapon, a conventional mechanic in vanilla Dark Souls that allows for heavier attacks by literally holding your weapon in both hands, instead executes a Majora’s Mask-like power surge that lets you dash and dodge at unreasonable speeds, all at the expense of being able to heal. It’s a subtle tweak to a combat suite now over a decade old, but it’s wonderful.
Set in the immediate aftermath of Dark Souls, Nightfall extends the timeline of the original game’s Dark Lord ending on the cusp of the Age of Dark. The same-but-different familiarity of the world is owed to the series’ longstanding time-looping conceit, which makes Nightfall as much a fully-fledged sequel as it does a hobbyist player-made mod returning to the well. With that, it’s ambitious, and while originally scheduled to launch in full before the arrival of Elden Ring (February 25, 2022), the tireless dev team recently announced that while close to completion, more time was needed to get the project over the line.
Having spent just over two hours getting my arse kicked by Nightfall’s new bosses and baddies, I’m more than happy for the developers to take as long as they damn please. With new canon-friendly classes, new items and appropriate coinciding descriptions that double as lore, and new bastard-hard boss encounters, Nightfall is easily the best, most polished and well thought-out Dark Souls story mod I’ve ever played. Despite having barely scratched the surface, I cannot wait to play more.
I remember the dizzying high I felt on my first runthrough of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin – the updated version of the original game for the PS4 and Xbox One console cycle – when discovering its new enemy layouts and their altered behaviour patterns. Suddenly, everything I’d committed to muscle memory, to routine and trial and error, was turned on its head as I found myself falling to even the humblest of hollows. Who’d have thought dropping that big burly ogre smack bang in the middle of the Forest of Fallen Giants would have upset my rhythm quite so much, but it did.
The entirety of my two-hour stretch rooting around in Dark Souls: Nightfall was littered with similar moments. The aforementioned Demon Ruins transition was a big one, so too was sprinting away from a couple of Great Stone Knights between the trees of Darkroot Garden, or across the bridge that’d otherwise activate the Moonlight Butterfly boss fight, bounding up the stairs at the catwalk’s end, and discovering that, in this world, Andre the Blacksmith must have once resided here on account of his tools being strewn around on the floor, and the fact that a floor-standing chest contained the Crest of Artorias.
My heart then sank when I realised I was required to double back whence I came, to face the music with the two Stone Knights who’d chased me up there in the first place.
Familiarity plays such a key role in Dark Souls: Nightfall, that I’d even argue it’s as much an enemy to the player as any of the game’s hollowed aggressors. For example, the demo’s first boss encounter occurs a couple of minutes in, within the same stretch of corridor that houses the base game’s Firesage Demon. Blistering Demon, as it appears here, adopts a similar move-set in battle, but can unleash a brutal fire-driven area of effect attack should you spend too much time snapping at its ankles.
It’s here that Nightfall’s pièce de résistance first comes to the fore, its alternating speed-shifting combat mechanic, that lets you dash, instead of rolling, to and from your enemies’ close-quarters. Again, you cannot heal while in this state, which makes balancing risk versus reward – something which underpins the entire Souls series’ combat systems – all the more vital to success. Do you dash forward, chip off some health and retreat; or do you dash backwards, heal and go again? Get caught on the back foot while transitioning between statuses and you are, well, fucked. This is Dark Souls, after all.
Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt – something I certainly felt when succumbing to the demo’s second boss encounter a few times more than once. Staged in Sif’s graveyard, Kin of the Black Dragon is a pretty simple set-to with three miniature Sif-likes who, once drained of their own respective health bars, vacate a third of the main boss health bar at the foot of the screen a la the Four Kings. Once overcome, the second stage of this battle sees Calamity Wolf Gurya storm the field – a similarly-sized Sif-styled wolf, huge sword gripped between its gnashers and all – with red demon versions of the previous critters backing it up. Here, things get hectic, which saw me frantically juggling the super-dash mechanic and healing with the elegance of a tightrope walker wearing flippers.
After many, many, many, attempts, I dispatched Gurya, cursed aloud, and praised the sun. I snuck around the back of Artorias’ headstone, interacted with a glowing orb, and was transported to a snow-swept Ariandel-like realm where I faced the demo’s final boss: Frozen Saint. After this one was finally toppled, I was presented with a ‘Scroll of Valor’, whose item description read:
“Thank you for playing! We hope you enjoyed this look at Dark Souls: Nightfall. Feel free to continue exploring, or let us know your thoughts online.”
And so, here I am, sharing my thoughts about Dark Souls: Nightfall online as per that request. In short: it’s great, and anyone looking to bridge the gap between now and the release of Elden Ring should absolutely give it a spin. From what I’ve played so far, that advice may even be selling Nightfall short – I reckon this total conversion mod is the perfect standalone companion to FromSoftware’s next action-RPG venture, and not just the side hustle to keep you busy between times. Either way, I want more. The less familiar, the better.