Dark Souls Review

Demon’s Souls is one of my favorite games on the PS3.  The game was punishing, dark, and downright intimidating. At the same time, however, it was one of the most rewarding, beautiful, and innovative games of its time. I know I’m not the only one who has high regards for that game; during my time in college, I met people who played that game religiously and have beaten over a dozen times. For a game that never had any DLC, that’s impressive. Three of my top five boss battles of all time took place in Demon’s Souls. So when it was announced that From Software was creating Dark Souls, I was quick to grab to get in line for it. But does it live up to expectations set by that amazing PS3 exclusive?

We’ll start with the story,  or lack there of. While the game does have a back-story to it, it’s not really what drives the game forward. To sum up, you’re an undead being stuck in what is essentially Hell. You must survive and fight through the environment until you either save it or rule it. This, as is everything in this game, is up to you.

This game is an RPG, and it accomplishes this magnificently. How you go about this game is up to you. You can become the beefed up knight; using combat weapons like swords, spears, whips, and bow and arrows to take out your foes. Or you can use magic with pyromancy, sorcery, or white magic. Scattered throughout the world are armor sets, unique swords, and special NPCs that greatly affect your game depending on how you interact with them. And did I mention that you (with you picking the stats to level up), your weapons, and armor could be upgraded as well?

Despite the level system, this game is still hard. Even fully leveled up, you will struggle if you don’t take this game seriously. For the uninitiated, like Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls gimmick is that it may in fact be one of the most challenging games of all time, if not the most challenging. Every enemy, from the zombies to the final boss, requires strategy and tact to handle. You try to run through this game all gung ho, you will die. In fact, that is the whole marketing campaign behind the game: “Prepare to Die,” and dying has its consequences. For every enemy you kill, you get some souls. Souls can be used as currency, and the means to level up. When you die however, you lose all the souls you had at that time. While the game does give you the chance to head to the spot you died to reclaim them, they disappear for good if you die before you can reach them. This can be frustrating, as I’ve lost at one time 100,000 souls thanks to this. At the same time, though, its through death that you learn to play the game.

While death can be a frustrating thing in games, it’s less so in Dark Souls. Every time I died, it made sense. I made a mistake, and I learned not to repeat it. After awhile, you learn more and more, and become really good. Before you know it, those enemies you struggled against for so long against become easier. It’s this rewarding experience and feeling of accomplishment that makes this game stand out as much as it does.  Sure, getting killed by the Bell Gargoyle is frustrating, but that feeling of accomplishment when you finally kill it is oh-so-rewarding.

Dark Souls also makes for an interesting online experience. Players can actually see afterimages of all the other players around them at all times. On top of this, they can also write messages on the floor, like warnings or tips on upcoming challenges. Or, you can enter another player’s world as a Phantom and help them tackle the enemies and bosses. Or you can be an evil jerk and invade another’s game to kill him. I love the online community for this game. The challenge of this game is so great, it actually will unite people to take on this game. On top of several friends I play with through some difficult parts, I also have a friend that I text back and forth with giving each other tips on how to get past certain parts. It takes me back to a time when you needed all the help you could get to beat a game.

As much effort is put into Dark Souls’ visuals as its difficulty. This game is actually one big open world, a world with one very unique rule: If you see it, you can get there. That castle you see on the cliff? Yes, you can get there. That forest you see on the horizon? You will eventually traverse through it. No two areas are the same, either. Ice caverns, citadels, castles, underground sewers, forests, and fire caverns are all examples of areas in which you will die repeatedly.

Along with the locations, a lot of detail went into the characters as well, especially the weapons and armor they hold. The amount to detail done to every unique character, armor, or weapons is very impressive. However, the real credit has to go with the look of each enemy. I’ve been playing video games for over 20 years, and some of these monsters are in this game are some of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen in my life. And jump scares will abound, as these guys love to just jump you out of nowhere. The enemies not only look incredible but also have some interesting attacks as well. I have to tip my hat to the developers.

The sounds of the music really add to the atmosphere as well. You’ll hear monsters in the background, dripping water in sewers, footsteps behind you, and more. It adds to the whole feeling of loneliness you can have if you tackle this game alone.  This game admittedly doesn’t have too much in music, as its saved for boss fights, but the music goes a long way in making those fights feel even more epic.

As much as I like this game, there are some problems. With everything that’s going on with the screen, you can expect there to be some slowdowns in the screen from time to time. These slowdowns have led to my game crashing on a couple of occasions. The good news is, the slowdowns occur very little.

While one of the things I enjoy in this game is the difficulty, that difficulty is a double edge sword to this game. There are a couple times in this game where that difficulty crosses the line from “A Great Challenge” to “This is Bull$%&t!” territory real quick. One story I heard came from someone who was hit with a status called curse, a condition that cuts your life bar in half. The kicker is that the effect can stack; this person was hit eight times, and at this point just one hit could kill him. His only cure was 2-3 areas away. Imagine having to traverse that far in a game this challenging with one hit point.

On top of this, they make it really easy to permanently mess up your game. Kill a boss without getting that rare weapon, better luck next game. Accidentally strike a merchant, and he will never sell to you again. This, unfortunately, happened to me. I was gathering souls to buy items to upgrade my armor, and I went back to the merchant to get more supplies. I approached the merchant and it happened: my knee hit the attack button and I struck the merchant. He no longer would sell to me, and I was stuck. The game autosaves the instant something big happens, so loading a previous save is a no-go. I lost this merchant for the duration of my game. I honestly wish the game had a way to go into a “Non-hostile” mode or something to prevent this, but this is a risk you will take in the game.

In closing, Dark Souls is a stand out game like its spiritual predecessor. Its a no-nonsense game that doesn’t hold your hand, and forces you to use your head to defeat your enemies. The feeling of satisfaction that you get when you defeat a boss that you thought was invincible can not be described — you simply have to experience it. If you’re more of a casual gamer, than this is not the game for you. However, if you consider yourself hardcore and want to try something that’s more of a challenge, get this game.