Dark Souls

8.0 Overall Score

Great gamplay | Fantastic aesthetics | Oldschool feel

Uninteresting story | Occasional graphic glitches | Ugly faces

Written by on November 22, 2011 in [, , ]

Prepare to die, a lot.  Dark Souls is not for the faint of heart.  Patience is key if you even want to think about succeeding.  Otherwise, you will break many controllers as you throw them against the wall in frustration.

But what makes Dark Souls so difficult?  And why would anyone even want to play such a hard game?  Honestly, Dark Souls is not all that hard.  It’s difficult, sure, but if you have patience and take time to learn the enemies, a lot of that difficulty goes away.  Playing this game becomes an art.  You learn finesse and timing and will have to unlearn any button mashing habits from a lot of other hack-and-slashers.  It is indeed a game of discipline.  If you “run-and-slash,”  you will die.  If you get cocky, you will die.  If you think, even for a second, “I got this,”  you will die.  The point is, you will die a lot.  But unlike most games, that simply force you to restore your latest save file, or send you back to a checkpoint,  Dark Souls makes you lose all your souls and humanity (more on these later) and you “respawn” at the last bonfire you were at (again, more on these later).  So although you die a lot, you usually don’t lose much progress, and if you’re cautious, it could even be beneficial to die.  But however you look at it, death is an integral part of gameplay.

I mentioned souls, humanity and bonfires.  Souls, which you get by simply killing (most) creatures in the world are the currency.  You need souls to buy weapons, repair your equipment and level up.  You must pay to level up a certain stat, and each time the price increases with each level up, thus the higher level you are, the more you have to pay.  With humanity you can increase your healing potential and go human so that you can summon other hollows for help.  And, as I mentioned before, when you die you lose it all.  However, you don’t simply lose it, you can retrieve it again from your “blood stain” which is left after you die.  Just remember, you can only retrieve souls and unused humanity from your last blood stain, so if you die with a lot of souls, be careful not to die another time before retrieving those souls again.

Bonfires are your safe areas and check points.  At bonfires, your life gets restored, spells and healing items get recharged, and you get a chance to repair and upgrade your equipment.  However, when you rest at a bonfire, all of the enemies that you killed will respawn, save for bosses.

I talked a lot about death, but what about success?  How is the combat in Dark Souls?  In a nutshell: fantastic.  Most hack-and-slashy games I’ve played pay very little attention to the block button, and some don’t even have one.  But in Dark Souls, you learn to love your shield.  Most of the game you will have it up and ready to take massive hits from all sorts of enemies.  However, even if you always have your shield up absorbing most if not all the damage, you have to watch your stamina meter.  Your stamina determines nearly everything you do.  From dodging, to attacking and especially to blocking.  While your shield will adsorb the damage to your health, it will be transferred to your stamina meter.  While stamina regenerates fairly rapidly, if you take too many hits to your stamina, or attack too rapidly, which also depletes your stamina, you leave yourself wide open.

So aside from various shields, there is also a huge variety of weapons, from spears, to straight swords, to huge axes, Dark Souls has nearly any kind of weapon you can imagine.  The character I have been playing has mostly been using a spear with some magic to enchant the spear.  I have also dappled in claymores, axes, and curved swords like scimitars and katanas, yet the spear (and most piercing weapons)  has a nice trait that the slashing weapons lack, the ability to turtle, or keep your shield up while striking.  I have also seen others use a dagger and spin around their enemies looking for the back stab, and still others make full use of massive, heavy hitting and throwing caution to the wind (as much as you can in Dark Souls).  Aside from many different weapons, there are also many different powerful magics, pyromancies and miracles.  Thus you can create a powerful sorcerer or a righteous cleric who heals all wounds.  Each play style offers a different experience of the game and no matter which class or style you chose to play, there is hope of success, although death will, as always, be very close at hand.  No class is intrinsically better or worse than another, so its all up to you and how you want to play.  It runs a bit on the long side, and with new game plus capabilities, you may not feel driven to try a lot of different character builds.

Yet all of the despair of death, and the sense of caution are amplified by the masterful aesthetics of the world that From Software created.  While the over arching style is high medieval fantasy, From Software has gone all out to create a broken and depressing world.  You feel that the whole world is on the brink of death, and it doesn’t seem like there is anything you can do to stop it.

Each area is brilliantly put together, from early pristine Anor Londo, to the dismal depths of the New Londo Ruins to the irritatingly poisonous Blighttown, and each area feel distinct and each is gorgeous.  None of the levels, or areas, feel like copy and pastes of previous areas and each has its own unique enemies each with their own ways to kill you.

The character animations work well enough, with its own little glitches, like an enemy getting stuck in a wall or invisible walls hindering movement and attacks.  It has an odd bit of rag-doll physics that will get enemies actually stuck to you as you move around and you sometimes have to roll to get them off, but its just an annoyance and doesn’t hinder gameplay in anyway.  The character models’ faces are hideous though.  No matter how I tweak them, they simply do not look right.

While Dark Souls offers an amazing single player experience, there is, in fact, a robust online element.  It is unlike any online system I have ever seen.  The game explains it that each player is on a slightly different time-line, each off of a couple seconds from each other.  Therefore, you can see “shadows” of other players also playing, although they are just that, shadows, and you cannot interact with them.  You can, however, leave messages for others to warn them of impending danger, tell them of a treasure, or just mess with people. If you’re feeling particularly evil, you can invade other peoples worlds.  Here you get a chance to kill the opposing player and gain all their souls.  Its can be a nice haul, but if you die, you lose much more than the souls you’re carrying.

Another element of the online gameplay is to leave your “soul sign” for others so that they can summon you into their world.  When summoned, you are simply there to help the other people.  It is a great way to practice and gain more souls, because death when summoned only sends you back to your soul sign with nothing lost, and you still get to keep all the souls that you gained.  It is a real encouragement to help others. With Dark Souls online play, however, all voice chat and party systems are disabled.  You must rely on common.  This seems irritating, but because summoned players can only really help, it works pretty well.  It adds to the feeling that you are alone in the world and the people are still only shadows of their true self.  The only irritation with the system is that it is sometimes very hard to find people to help or people to help you when you need it.

All in all, Dark Souls is a a very interesting experience.  It is indeed fun in its own way, and if you can get through the frustrations, it is an enjoyable experience like none other.  While the story is pretty much non-existent, the random characters you meet comic in their own ways, as most of them have simply lost their minds.  Sometimes, the game can get frustrating in the actual gameplay glitches and restrictions, but it doesn’t deter much from how great the game is.  In my final thoughts, I would say that this game is one of a kind and definitely not for everyone.  However, I would still recommend it.  It is fun, challenging and has a very old-school feel to it that is missed in a lot of games today.

*Note-  I did in fact play Demon’s Souls, however I chose not to make this review a comparison of the two and to base Dark Souls on its own merits.

A copy of Dark Souls was provided to TMG for the purpose of evaluation and review.


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Author: Evan J Stark View all posts by

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