From Software think that modern games have gone soft on us. It thinks that gaming nowadays panders too much to the casual market and yearns for days gone by; when deaths in video games made you want to slam your controller into the ground instead of being a minor inconvenience. That’s why From Software made Dark Souls.
Dark Souls is a sequel of sorts to the Playstation 3 exclusive Demon’s Souls. While being set in a completely different world to Demon’s, the combat and style of the game remains. You play as an undead in a world named Lordran with a couple of initial goals and not much else. The plot is purposely kept to a minimum; the player is expected to use their imagination to interpret many of the events in the game. In a single player game you might feel this is sacrilegious, but it works well here. That’s because Dark Souls is all about the experience. Few moments in gaming are as glorious as entering Anor Londo for the first time, or downing the Capra Demon on your 45th attempt. In order to reach these highs however, you need to be prepared for a fight.
Combat in Dark Souls is a constant punishment. Enemies will hit you hard if you give them the chance. Your every mistake (a mistimed parry; allowing your stamina bar to drain) will be countered swiftly with a blow to the face. By now, you’ve probably seen the variety of YouTube videos covering this. Make no mistake; it’s as unforgiving as it looks. There’s a variety of weapons and play styles at your disposal, from sorceries to ranged attack and good old fashioned shield and sword, offering something for every type of RPG fan. Bosses in this game range from huge demonic creatures to a magical butterfly but almost every single one will leave you cursing. They take a lot of skill and practice to defeat but offer the most satisfying feeling when you finally see their health deplete.
Perhaps the most interesting mechanic in the game is how death is handled. Whereas dying in a game like Halo will put you back a couple of rooms to a checkpoint, in Dark Souls you could end up right back at the beginning of a zone, all because you took an arrow to the back. You respawn at bonfires which are used as resting zones. While there may only be one or two bonfires per zone, they offer a range of services such as refilling your Estus Flask (potion); upgrading weapons and armor; restoring humanity to your undead self (which has a variety of advantages) and just offering a symbolic safe spot from the world of nasties right around the corner. Resting does have its consequences though. Every enemy in the zone will respawn once you rest at a bonfire (with the exception of bosses and mini-bosses, thankfully) making your leave from a bonfire just as dangerous as when you arrived.
Levelling up is handled at bonfires as well. You use souls as a currency to buy levels, allowing you to upgrade skills like vitality (health), endurance (stamina) and weapon associated skills like strength and intelligence. Souls are also used as a currency at various vendors throughout the game, so forgoing a level up to buy some arrows is a constant occurrence. Death has further consequences here by making you drop every soul you are carrying. While this is close to the perma-death mechanics of older PC games, you do have a chance of redemption. Upon returning to where you died, you will find a green orb. Picking this up is called a ‘retrieval’ and will return you all of your dropped souls. Die again before you make a retrieval? They’re gone forever. Yes, it’s frustrating, but it’s shaping you up to be a smarter, more cautious player. See, Dark Souls does want what’s best for you.
Perhaps the best aspect of the game is how online is handled. A warning though; if you’re in an Xbox Live party, you cannot access Online mode. In Online mode you can find messages scrawled on the floor by other players. Occasionally these will inform you of what lies ahead, with messages like ‘Bonfire ahead’ or ‘Amazing chest ahead’. Never trust anyone though, as some messages are left by players to lead you to your death. Often you might find an accompanying message reading ‘Liar’, which will make you second guess any messages you come across. Co-op is also in the game, though not as you might expect. Players can leave summon signs on the floor for other players to use, pulling them into their world as a phantom; usually to help defeat an upcoming boss. PvP is also a key part of the online world, with players having the ability to invade another player’s world. These will appear as dark phantoms and will usually result in your poor low levelled character being slain within seconds. This has proved so popular amongst the gaming community that it was cited as an influence on Resident Evil 6’s Agent Hunt mode. It’s this constant feeling of danger that makes Dark Souls such a unique experience.
Your enjoyment of Dark Souls will ultimately lie in your patience. You will die a lot, that’s a certainty. The true skill lies in your ability to come back stronger and better. Some areas will have you screaming in frustration, but beating them and finding a bonfire hidden round the corner brings such a wave of relief. This isn’t a game that you pick up and play. It’s a game that you let take over your life and force yourself to get better at. With the Artorias of the Abyss DLC set to release on consoles this week and the Prepare To Die edition released on PC a couple of months back, it’s not too late to begin your afterlife in Lordran. Who knows, maybe you might even enjoy it.
What did you think of Dark Souls? Let us know in the comments!