It’s no secret that I don’t like the PS5 DualSense controller. Compared to the beautifully simple Xbox Series X controller, the DualSense has a lot of wasted space, some questionable button placements, and a few strange connectivity limitations. The biggest deal breaker for me, however, was that I found the innovative haptics more distracting than compelling. Or at least I did, until I reached the last level of Demon’s Souls.
For those who haven’t played it yet Demon’s Souls is easily the best game on the PS5, and possibly the best game I’ve played all year. (Granted, it was also one of the best games of the year when it first came out in 2009, but I digress.) Like the PS5’s other exclusive launch titles, Demon’s Souls makes extensive use of the subtle haptic feedback from the DualSense.
But unlike Spider-Man: Miles Morales, I didn’t find it grating here. While it took a while to grow with me, the DualSense ended up facilitating one of my very favorite parts of the Demon’s Souls Remake.
PS5 DualSense: How It’s Different
Just in case you haven’t tried out the DualSense controller yet (I know the PS5 is not very easy to find at the moment), it’s very different from the DualShock 4. The long handles make it look like an Xbox controller, while the light bar is now on the front of the controller so you can see it while playing. The main difference, however, is that the DualSense has extremely sensitive haptic feedback.
Rather than just varying degrees of vibration, the DualSense lets you “feel” subtle effects, from different weights on each side of the controller, to resistant triggers when you fire a gun. It’s very difficult to describe until you get your hands on one, but the DualSense can mimic subtle sensations of movement and action; other controllers can only mimic varying degrees of impact.
While the DualSense has received a lot of praise overall (including in ours PS5 review), I’ve been a bit more reserved about it than most. My feeling is that anything that puts distance between you and the onscreen action is more of a gimmick than a gameplay feature. This includes gesture controls, touch controls and, yes, even vibration itself – although vibrating controllers have been around since the N64 days, so I’ve begun to accept them reluctantly.
In Miles Morales, I didn’t understand why my trigger locked halfway every time I wanted to fire a web, or why I had to blow into my controller in Astro’s Playroom. The Nintendo DS tried some similar things when it first launched, but overall the best DS games were the more traditional fare – not the ones that leaned on the console’s odd operating scheme.
Granted, if you don’t like the DualSense haptics you can always just turn them off, but I left them on, just in case I found a really justified use case for them. Demon’s Souls did not disappoint.
The blue dragon
The following section has minor spoilers for a late-game level in Demon’s Souls, so read on at your own risk.
For most of the game, I found the haptics in Demon’s Souls just as disturbing as Miles Morales. When playing without headphones, you’ll hear a ton of sound effects through your controller, from whizzing arrows to crackling magical spells. Plus, the controller vibrates differently whether you’re crossing swords with an enemy, crossing a crumbling bridge, winding a crossbow, and so on. Demon’s Souls is a very difficult game, and one that demands your full attention. It’s exactly the kind of situation I mentioned earlier, where haptics – however innovative – can distract you from what’s happening on the screen.
It wasn’t until very late in the game – right before the final boss, in fact – that I realized that the DualSense can really accomplish some things that a simple vibrating controller can’t. Late in the game, you will have the opportunity to rescue a powerful hunter named Biorr of the Twin Fangs. When the terrifying Blue Dragon blocks the entrance to the final boss room, Biorr selflessly runs up the dragon’s path and proclaims that you will fight the beast together. It’s an exciting moment in what is often a very bleak game.
Any veteran of the Demon’s Soul knows that the best way to fight the Blue Dragon is with a bow, so I let Biorr draw the dragon fire and ran right under the huge beast, where the fire couldn’t reach me. As I drew my bow and let go of my arrow, I noticed three very subtle things happening at the same time: each time the dragon blew fire, the bottom half of the DualSense rumbled a bit, simulating an earth-shaking impact behind me. At the same time, every time I hit an arrow, the right trigger was locked halfway and released when I fired. Finally, the controller speaker played a “whoosh” followed by a “thud” to let me know the arrow had landed.
Taking down the Blue Dragon was a time consuming process, but in the end, the DualSense made me feel like I was really fighting off a mythical beast rather than simply doing a repetitive, effortless action. To be completely honest, the Blue Dragon fight is not one of the better boss fights in Demon’s Souls as you just stay in one place and press the same button over and over until you win. But the DualSense has at least elevated it to something exciting.
My stance on the DualSense has been softened, but only slightly. Demon’s Souls is a 30 hour game and I can only mention about five minutes where the PS5 controller made it significantly better than its PS3 predecessor. Still, it gives me hope that developers can continue to fine-tune the DualSense and find unobtrusive ways to integrate it into gameplay.
I don’t know if one excellent encounter in one excellent game is enough to completely change my opinion of the PS5 controller, but I can say it’s at least a good start. If the DualSense can deliver more magical moments like the Blue Dragon encounter, it may justify the odd design choices of the peripherals.