The designers of Dark Souls hate you.
This might sound like an absurd statement to make, but it’s a revelation that almost everyone that plays Dark Souls will come to at some point in the game. I realized it after my 20th time fighting the Capra Demon, one of my friends realized it early while fighting the Taurus Demon. The insane level of difficulty and brutally unforgiving learning curve caused me to throw my controller so many times that I’m actually surprised that it still works. Profanity flowed from my lips with as much grace and skill as Homer used while composing the Iliad.
Yet I kept playing.
That’s part of the magic that they’ve touched on with Dark Souls – there’s just something about it that drives you to keep playing. Maybe it’s the feeling of “How the hell did I just die? I can do better than that!” Or maybe it’s the amazingly rewarding feeling that you get when you take down a particularly hard boss. Or maybe it’s just the desire to see more – no matter what it was, it grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go.
If you played Demons Souls when it came out (either by importing the Asian release, or getting the International release after) than you’re one step up on other people, and know what to expect; for those that didn’t, the game pretty much works like this: When you kill an enemy, you’re rewarded with “souls”. Souls are essentially currency and experience all rolled up into one, and are used for basically everything in the game. Want to repair your armor or weapons? That costs souls. Want to buy some items or spells from a vendor? That costs souls too. Want to level up your attributes? You guessed it – souls.
The whole “one thing used for everything” concept wouldn’t be that bad or increase the difficulty by itself, but it’s what Dark Souls does with it that will leave you cursing up a storm. When you die, and I say when because there is no if, you will lose EVERYTHING. You then have one chance to ma,e it back to where you died, and touch the bloodstain to get back all of your precious souls. Die before you make it there and you’re shit out of luck – everything you had is gone, replaced by your new bloodstain. It’s this brutally hardcore system that has many gamers turn their back on this game.
One mechanic that’s new for Dark Souls is the inclusion of bonfires, which are essentially checkpoints. When you activate a bonfire, after you die you will respawn at that bonfire. The bonfires are also where you can swap out magic, level up, and once you buy the appropriate items you can also repair and improve your weapons. Unfortunately, they are normally spread pretty far apart, and nothing is more frustrating than fighting for thirty minutes and seeing one, but dying before you can activate it.
Another new gameplay element for Dark Souls are the covenants, which are basically “factions” that you can join up with in the game world. There are nine in total, each representing a particular alignment a la Dungeons and Dragons, spanning all the way from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil (and everything in between). Inside each covenant, you can level up to unlock different abilities and such, and each one has a different effect on how you play. The Path of the Dragon for instance, allows you to challenge other players to PvP, and the winner takes the Dragon Scales of the other. The Gravelord Servant on the other hand lets you completely mess up three other random player’s games. They’re a lot of fun to play with, and really add a lot of depth to an already deep game.
One thing that is the same as it was in Demon’s Souls (albeit slightly tweaked), is the multiplayer. Not multiplayer in the traditional sense (as Dark Souls is still a single player game), you’ll see ghosts of other players doing things constantly. You’ll also be treated to messages that player leave for each other, and occasionally a bloodstain will be on your screen that you can touch to see how another player died. If that’s not enough for you, you can summon players to your world to help you in tricky spots (provided you’re human and they draw their sign), or invade another’s world to try and kill them. Half of the fun in Dark Souls is having these interactions with other players that you’ll never know.
The dialog and story in dark Souls, while nothing special, are decent enough to keep things moving. You’re not buying this game for the gripping plot though, you’re in it for the action. Calling Dark Souls an RPG is kinda like calling Portal 2 an FPS – yes they have some qualities in common, but there’s so much more. Dark Souls is more in the vein of being a Survival Horror game with RPG elements than a full on RPG.
Graphically Dark Souls is amazing – though you may not initially think that when creating your character. While those few initial creation screens (and I mean the face images) look like something from the Sega CD, the rest of the game is simply immaculate. There have been plenty of times I just let my character sit somewhere so I can take in the amount of detail they’ve put into the world. Speaking of the world, there are a ton of areas you can go to, and each looks different from the next. While that’s not a super feat, the fact that even though there’s no in-game map you’ll still have a hard time getting lost, is. That’s because the separation from one area to the next is so well done, that you can easily remember where you’re going once you’ve been there.
The Bottom Line: “True” hardcore gamers will love the challenge, but anyone else should prepare to be frustrated to the point of foaming at the mouth.
You can pick up a copy of Dark Souls for the PS3 or XBOX 360 game consoles from Amazon for $56.99.
- A game world this beautiful and detailed is rarely seen
- The combat flows naturally and intelligently
- The elation you get from finally defeating a boss is something I haven’t felt in ages
- The difficulty and learning curve is insane
- Some invaders will irritate the hell out of you
- There are a lot of times you’ll get killed cheaply