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Dark Souls Review

Review; Dec. 13, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Kyle James Hovanec
Yep, it's hard

A fair warning: Everything you've heard about Dark Souls up until this point is entirely true. This game isn't a game you enjoy; rather, it's a game you survive. It is not meant to make you feel powerful, nor is it meant to make you satisfied as you tear through enemy after enemy. There is no strong narrative, no interesting characters, and no motivation to continue -- only the sense of pressing on and surviving one more encounter. Living one more day.

Dark Souls

If you are a gamer who shies away from challenge, who grew up in this privileged age of linear difficulty and cookie cutter level design, do not try this game. You will not like it, you will not survive, and you most certainly will not want to complete the game.

For those of you left, those of you looking for a new type of challenge, for a game with one of the most dark and oppressive atmospheres in the history of gaming, or for those who are old enough to remember the challenges games such as Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden brought along with them, then stick around, clear your schedule, and prepare to be killed. You're about to enter the brutal world of Dark Souls.

Dark Souls is the spiritual sequel to the the PS3-exclusive Demon's Souls. If you are already familiar with Demon's gameplay, then Dark will seem like a brutal welcome home.

Dark Souls Screenshots
Click the image to view game screenshots

You start out left for dead in an asylum, nothing more than a walking corpse, your skin leathery and dry, your clothing little more than tatters, with a basic blade as your only protection. After being released through mysterious circumstances, you're thrown into the world of Dark Souls with no guide, no tutorial, and no map. In most games, this is an unfair disadvantage, but in this game, the rules are different. Death is an inevitable and constant way of life in Dark Souls. As advertisements have said many times, prepare to die, as death will come often, sometimes with little to no warning. Even veterans of Demons Souls still find death a frequent and brutal reminder that even the experienced are not safe from the challenges this game presents.

Most of the time, death will come from the various enemies you encounter. Sometimes enemies will come en masse, making them difficult to defeat in close quarters. Sometimes enemies may fight one-on-one, using different patterns for you to exploit when they let their guard down, and sometimes enemies will bring about a series of status effects that, if not treated quickly, can lead to a sudden decrease in health or in some cases, instant death.

If you die at any time during the game through an enemy encounter, environmental trap, or boss encounter, you'll lose the "souls" you gain through pillaging treasure chests or killing enemies. You have the option to go back through the level and retrieve these souls, which are the equivalent of currency in this game and, in many cases, are more important than a simple monetary system. Souls allow you to customize your character and his abilities, purchase weapons and armor, or learn new magic abilities and spells. Dropped souls stay at the location of your last death as long as you are alive. Die on the way to picking them up, and suddenly, all of the souls will disappear, leaving you with the burden of starting over again and remaining soulless.

Dark Souls Screenshots

Along with dropped souls, enemies and chests may also yield another important element in the Dark Souls world: humanity. Humanity can be reclaimed at various checkpoints throughout the levels (called bonfires) and restore your character to a human form, rather than the zombie-looking soulless form your character retains after death. Humanity is not just for cosmetic purposes; it increases your chances of picking up rarer items, souls, and even more humanity. With this humanity, you can "stoke" the bonfires and increase their potency, yielding more healing items and a stronger resistance to status effects. Perhaps the most important function of humanity is the ability to summon, invade, and be invaded by other players. Summoning other spirits and players will allow you to take an additional ally (either computer or human controlled) into battle to help you fight the different enemies or bosses along the way. This can prove to be an incredibly useful feature if a certain boss is giving you trouble or you need an extra hand to take on a large or powerful group of enemies. On the flip side, though, other players have the ability to "invade" your game and challenge you to a one-on-one duel to the death. If they win, they not only gain your souls, but your humanity as well. However, just as easily as they can invade your world, you can also invade theirs, making it a nice risk/reward part of the gameplay that adds an extra dimension of paranoia and challenge to an already difficult game.

So how in the world could such a challenging and unfair game ever be fun? The simple answer is the fun lies in the heart of the challenge, the sense of exploration, and the immense satisfaction of being appropriately awarded for your struggles. For every enemy that seems unbeatable, each death will yield a new technique to defeating them until you get to the point that a once-unbeatable enemy can be eviscerated in seconds. For every area that seems imposing and filled with traps, a ton of powerful weapons, armor, and secrets await those who plumb its depths. For every boss that seems larger than life (which is, well, all of them) an easy solution to its defeat awaits if a player is patient and observant. Foolhardy gamers who slash first and ask questions later will surely always find death as company. Those who take their time and are attentive to the environment, enemies, and clues will still die, but will eventually come out with a much more rewarding experience. If Dark Souls punishes those who foolishly stumble through the land, it surely rewards those who take the time to absorb and explore it.

The amazing visuals make each land memorable and distinct. The excellent enemy design trumps any other fantasy release this year (yes, that includes you, Skyrim). The customization for your character, weapons, and armor is amazing. Each facet of the game shines with such an incredible level of quality and scope that other games seem lazy and meek in comparison. While some might bemoan the lack of story or central narrative to the game, it -- like everything else -- must be unraveled by exploration, conversation, and a willingness to explore this dark and desolate world. Nothing is handed to you here. What you get out of it is exactly what you put into it.

Dark Souls

Dark Souls is not for everyone; in fact, it's probably not for most people. That's fine. For the rest of us, it's a game that can exist without hype, hyperbole, or the grasping hands of marketing. It's a game for gamers, a game that brings back the core pillars of gameplay from long ago dressed in the latest and greatest technology that modern gaming has to offer. It is a game that one can spend hours in and still not scratch the surface. It is a game that, above all else, serves as an experience that shows the world that imagination, the sense of challenge and discovery, is not dead, and that no matter how casual or mainstream games become, the heart of gaming, the essence, the very soul of why we game, is still alive and burning white-hot. Even if that flame is buried under 90 hours of darkness, despair, and overwhelming challenges. 

Comments

Review Score
9.8

Mature

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

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