Dark Souls Review
You have to go into Dark Souls with a certain mindset. When a game's entire advertising campaign relies on telling you that you will die, not to mention has the official site name be www.preparetodie.com, you just know it's going to be hard. Trust me when I say that's an understatement. Dark Souls is the spiritual successor (don't call it a sequel) to Demon Souls, the PS3-exclusive, hardcore RPG that had people fixated to their controllers, despite its steep learning curve. Now, Dark Souls has made its way onto both the Xbox 360 and PS3. It continues to terrorize players who are willing to take the plunge into its twisted world of demons.
Dark Souls is an Action-RPG that has players assuming the roles of several classes. With no quests to worry about, the only thing on your mind is regaining your soul and restoring your humanity. The game drops you in the middle of a monster-infested world, and it's up to you to not only figure out how to proceed, but how to survive. Things are never as easy as coming up to an enemy and slashing it to death. Act too fast and you'll find yourself smothered on the floor. The approach to enemies has to be systematic; studying their movements and effectively guarding and dodging are the keys to success. Who am I kidding? You will die, and you'll die a lot.
This guy has a friend who also wants you dead
Dark Souls is the type of game that purposely wants you to suffer and is unapologetic about it. Things like discovering new areas in games are usually events of joy and bring a sense of accomplishment. In Dark Souls, all you get is the feeling of dread; the dread that something is waiting behind the corner, waiting to strike you down in one swift blow. Also, each death brings the complete loss of all collected Souls (the game's currency for shops and leveling up), and the only way to get them back is to reclaim them from your last point of death. It's an easy task if you die because you weren't careful enough fighting that undead soldier the first time around, but a nigh impossible task when you die from a swipe from a giant Drake, waiting for you to come back and do it again. Dark Souls' intentional punishment is what separates the men from the boys, and this is where a lot of gamers might feel the burden a bit too much.
This is because Dark Souls harks back to traditional days where there was no hand-holding, no waypoints to guide you to your next destination, no NPC's willing to lend a hand in battle, no regenerative health--nothing. It's you, your equipment, and your wits against the horde of monsters waiting to kill you. If by now I haven't scared you off, then consider yourself a great candidate for this game. No matter how many times I've died in battle or how many times a giant boss tossed me around like a wet rag, I've constantly wanted to keep going back for more, improving, learning how different monsters move, and adapting to the environment to eventually succeed. There hasn't been a game (besides Demon Souls) that had me jumping up and down with excitement, or that's given me such a sense of accomplishment after beating a tough enemy or an epically large boss like Dark Souls has. Of course, you also have to take into account that these moments are very few and far between, and mixed in between those are moments of pure rage and frustration.
Prepare to be chewed up and spit out
One big change from Demon Souls is that the game world is now open and seamless instead of being separated into hubs. Though it seems daunting at first, once you spend a good number of hours running around (dying in the process), you'll find many shortcuts that will make traversing the world much more manageable. The only sanctuaries players rely on, and usually cry with joy once they come across them, are the scattered Bonfires. Not only do those act as the place where you respawn after you get butchered, they also let you regain lost health, spend your souls to level up, spend humanity and turn back into a human, or kindle the fire. Kindling the fire is super helpful, as it gives you five more Estus Flasks (the game's health potions) for a total of ten to take with you. Reverting back to being human also has a few benefits, such as increased health, but it also allows you to set down Summon Signs, which is how the game handles co-op play. These sessions are temporary; they last until you die or until you defeat the boss of that area. Even that doesn't save you from certain doom. Players who join your world can have a different agenda and could just be after your humanity, which they can obtain by assassinating you. It's just another way Dark Souls wants to make you feel uneasy and unsure whether you really want to opt in and have other people join you on your endeavor, or just risk it and go it alone.
It's always better with a buddy, but you'll still get wrecked
What makes a return is the creative way you and other players interact. Once again, bloodstains let you see the last few seconds before another player's unfortunate demise, and Orange stones let you leave messages that will allow certain words to be put together (obviously to make sure no one uses any foul language) that can be of great help. For instance, they can warn players of impending doom, a trap, location of useful items, and reveal boss weaknesses. However, mischievous players can use these to mess with people, such as writing there is a trap ahead, only to find yourself inching forward and expecting something to swoop down on you when there is really nothing there. It essentially boils down to being the in game's strategy guide, meaning it's an extremely useful tool to help other players, as well as getting help yourself.
The world is absolutely littered with awesome and powerful loot. Much of it is hidden away in clever areas and requires some backtracking, and some powerful and legendary weapons require you to face your fears by cutting off the tails of Drakes. Rest assured "Loot Whores", you won't be disappointed. It's almost scary (literally) how great this game looks. From Software really took their time with not only having elaborate character and monster design, but making each area drastically different. The environment almost becomes a character of itself. From the ghost-infested New Londo Ruins and the eerily beautiful yet completely dangerous Darkwood Garden, to the pitch black underground caves of Blighttown, each location is bound to send shivers down your spine.
These things will literally make you tear up with joy
The only minor setback that I experienced through my time with Dark Souls is that there can be a little bit of slow down here and there. There is nothing worse than being surrounded by a bunch of monsters with gigantic swords and trying to dodge out of the way, only to find yourself dying due to some slow down. It doesn't happen often enough to be a dealbreaker here, but it's certainly something to watch out for.
Dark Souls is brutal, it's thirsty for your blood, it's cruel, it's savage, it's...well I think you get my point. Regardless of this game being ultra-hard, it's an absolute blast. There is quite a barrier of entry here, as this game is definitely not for everyone, but for those who dare take on the immense challenge of acquiring back their humanity, rest assured, you will definitely not be disappointed.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]