Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Price: $59.99 – Available Here
A couple of years ago, a game was released which many had not seen in a very long time. An unforgiving challenging title with a design focused around killing the player as much as possible in as many ways as possible. That title was Demon’s Souls and FromSoftware’s ability to create a deathly dangerous environment was honed to a razor sharp edge.
Now we have Dark Souls, best seen as a spiritual successor to the past title. With an entirely new world, new elements and their newly learned skill of punishing players we have a game that is something more than a game. It is a challenge and an experience that puts a gamer’s skill and puts it up against a spiked wall and then pours acid on it for good measure.
In the world of Dark Souls, the Undead are a bane on society and anyone marked with a ‘Darksign’ is sent north to be jailed until the end of eternity. You are one of these undead… but a mysterious ally provides you the means to escape this prison of death. Doing so will only lead you into a world full of so much death and chaos that perhaps the prison wouldn’t have been so bad after all.
Dark Souls is a game with a very subtle story, one that is relatively nonexistent at parts but still there. The player can easily go hours on end venturing through areas of the game before coming across the next plot point for the storyline. That isn’t to the game’s hindrance however. While most titles would suffer from the lack of an always present storyline, the world of Dark Souls is more than enough to speak for itself. The atmosphere that is constantly present and the places you will venture through speak volumes for the state of the world which is an immense accomplishment.
If there is one thing that can be said about Dark Souls, it is that FromSoftware must have a very interesting imagination when it comes to designing their worlds. While some companies would take the standard route of creating basic worlds but that wasn’t enough for Dark Souls. The design of everything in the game is twisted and grotesque.
The enemies you face at times are going to be unlike anything you have seen before in a video game and it never lets up for a second. The diversity of the areas you venture through range from tunnels in the earth, dark dungeons, rotting swamps and abandoned castles to name just a few. There is so much variety in the environments that venturing from place to place is always a treat, though one that is stained with your blood as you crawl onwards.
This all culminates on the fact that the open world of Dark Souls is amazingly large. Things that are seen in the distance are actually places you will end up venturing too at some point in time or where you have already been. The amount of detail is immense and worth every ounce of effort you will put in to see it all.
The atmosphere of Dark Souls is quite impressive. There is always some sort of noise occurring and most of the time it works perfectly to accentuate the place the player is traveling through. Hearing an enemy a distance away can heighten the tension like nothing else, especially when you are low on health and struggling to make it to the next bonfire.
On the other hand the voice acting for the characters you encounter is suitable and there is nothing really wrong with their acting but neither is it really it something that players will end up noticing or paying much attention to.
For those that have played Demon’s Souls not a whole lot has changed at the basic level. Upon starting the game players are given a chance to create their own custom character, including facial appearances, gender, build, a free starting item of their choice and of course their class. Selecting your class can be something quite difficult to come to terms with, as it determines your starting statistics, level and also your starting armor making the choice difficult for a game that already takes that word and brings it to a new level.
After creating your character and entering the world of Dark Souls the experience is one of pure evil. The world of Dark Souls is filled with brutal and vicious enemies who want nothing more than to spill your blood. That doesn’t even involve the world itself where traps are hidden everywhere and running around a corner to quick could easily send you falling down a cliff or hole to your death.
Death is almost an absolute in Dark Souls. Most games take death as a punishment and finality, but here in Dark Souls death is something that happens so commonly that you’ll quickly grow accustomed to what happens when you die. Upon your death you will leave a blood stain behind which will be covered with a green mist. In this mist you will drop all of your souls and collected humanity that you have one you.
The souls and humanity are extremely necessary, which I will mention momentarily, so obtaining what you have lost is a high priority. Players must venture to the place that they last died and touch their bloodstain to reobtain their lost souls and humanity, but although this may sound easy in theory it is far from it. If you die before you manage to make it back to your bloodstain then they will vanish completely forever. In a game where nothing is certain and even a simple enemy can be deadly this creates a challenging atmosphere.
Souls are the utmost important item in the game as they serve not only as experience points, but also money. Players can purchase new items from merchants with collected souls from defeating enemies or also put these souls into leveling up their character at bonfires. Quickly losing souls can not only be detrimental to your progression but also to your overall character growth at the same time making each challenge truly a struggle of life and death.
Now if you were paying attention you may see that I mentioned something called a bonfire. These bonfires are placed around the world of Dark Souls in certain areas and they serve as a sort of checkpoint and reprieve from the world around you. Players can sit at the bonfire to refill their health, replenish their supply of Estus (health) bottles, as well as let them level up their character if they have sufficient souls and even restore their humanity.
But there is one downside to the bonfire, and that is every time you rest at one the enemies in the world will respawn in their standard spots. This doesn’t pertain to bosses thankfully but this also means you cannot simply run away from a fight to heal and then expect to jump in against weakened enemies. Plus, the bonfires will serve as your respawn point, making for very long treks sometimes to make it back to your lost souls.
Now earlier I mentioned Humanity and restoring yourself to a human again, and this has its benefit. Players can acquire humanity in a number of ways, either killing fresh undead, randomly from enemies or finding it in the world. If the player restores themselves back to being human they will be more likely to find rare items and can also summon other players to help them in battle. When summoned players will appear and phantoms and this is extremely beneficial for difficult fights where two can make all the difference between victory and becoming a blood splotch on the ground.
Other player interaction is somewhat limited in the world of Dark Souls, though it is certainly intriguing. Players can leave messages for others to warn them of traps, difficult enemies or even provide strategies and help finding items. However there are also people who can simply put a sign up to try and get you killed as well, which always leaves a vague feeling of distrust whenever a message is spotted.
Still, playing online is certainly a must. As you venture around the world of Dark Souls you may occasionally see a silhouette of someone taking the same path as you, or resting at the same bonfire that you are. While I mentioned earlier that players can join your game to help, they can also do so to hurt. Players can venture into others’ games as a red phantom and can kill the player if they are human, though doing so can have their name listed on a public board called the Book of the Guilty where they can be seen for their murderous ways and have vengeance visited upon them.
I’ve mentioned it periodically, but Dark Souls is extremely brutal. Every step you take will be one that has been earned by battle and determination. There can easily be times that you will die multiple times before discovering the right path, or realize that you will need to face down these difficult enemies because that is the only way to advance.
Enemy AI is extremely impressive and the weakest enemies can still be threatening, especially when attacking in groups. Enemies will defend against your attacks, retreat to heal and do their best to end your life as best they can. But in the end, the difficulty never becomes so obtrusive that you will want to never play the game again. Perhaps you may need to take a break occasionally to let your anger subside but the true value of gaining a victory over a difficult opponent is never more prominent than after you succeed after several failed attempts. Still, there are enemies later in the game which will feel so unfair when you fight them that it definitely feels like the game is taking a cheap shot at your desire to finish.
That being said, there are also a few problems that players may encounter outside of the difficult game. That is the control scheme. Most attacks are performed with either the trigger or the shoulder button on the Xbox 360 version of the title. The shoulder buttons are barely used in most games, reserved usually for quick use items or similar things. Instead they are essential to combat which means, until you become accustomed to the controls, you may press the wrong button to attack and use a healing item instead.
Also there is a unique but frustrating feature in Dark Souls. That is the fact that the game has literally no pause option. Sure you can enter into your inventory or your statistics menu if you wish to, but this does not pause game time. Enemies can and will attack you while you are in your inventory screen which creates a hectic but extremely immersive experience. It isn’t like you would be able to freeze time and pull a new sword out after your old one broke would you? That would be too forgiving for your lack of preparation.
Dark Souls is a challenging game. So much so that it could easily be one of the most frustrating to be released this year and stand right up there with difficult titles from the past. Plus there is little to no explanation for a lot of the complicated systems, expecting the player to learn by doing or from past experience which only heightens the challenge.
With all of this you would expect Dark Souls to be a title that wouldn’t have a player coming back time after time but that is the wonderful thing with Dark souls. It does. The world that the game takes place in is amazingly in depth and quite confusing meaning there is tons of exploration and trial and error to be had. Plus the exhilarating feeling of needing to advance further and defeat that difficult enemy finally will drive you to put easily over fifty hours into a game that demands your sweat and blood at every turn.
I give Dark Souls