Dark Souls is an action RPG from a company that is lesser known here in the states, FROM Software. If you have heard anything about this game, then you have probably heard that it is HARD. Not challenging, but downright hard and extremely unforgiving. In my opinion that does not detract from the games appeal, but in fact only adds to it. It is not unfair and that is important to understand. When you die you will know why.
What is it?
Dark Souls is the spiritual successor to the sleeper hit Demon’s Souls. It is not necessary to play Demon’s Souls to appreciate Dark Souls but it is certainly worth picking up if you have the time. But be prepared to have a LOT of time because these games easily weigh in at over 40 hours for just one play through. While the games follow a lot of the same mechanics and fighting systems, the games vary greatly in some key aspects which allow them to play as distinctly different games. Many folks have stated that Dark Souls is harder than Demon’s Souls but with over 70 hours of Demon’s Souls played and probably 30+ of Dark Souls, I can not say that is definitively the case. There are certainly challenging areas in both games but Dark Souls is more forgiving in certain areas where Demon’s Souls was outright punishing. Yet the non-linear design of Dark Souls can easily lead you astray into areas where you do not belong to face foes who out match you by factors of 10. This can at times be frustrating as the games design does not always make it clear you are overmatched going into an area. You could simply be using an incorrect tactic on a new foe or missing an obvious environmental tactic. But that is how this game teaches, through trial and error and repetition.
You control a single character which you can fully customize both in terms of looks and gender as well as skills and play style. While you can choose from a number of ‘classes’ at the beginning of the game, all characters can be built to suit any play style as you gain levels and apply your skill points to the attributes of your choosing. You can choose to play as melee, magic, ranged or any combination of the three to play Dark Souls in the manner that fits your tastes best. I chose a melee heavy magic user which has proven itself out reasonably well but I maybe could have spent some of my points more wisely. Fortunately, the style of the game does offer areas where you can ‘grind’, or repeatedly kill enemies to gain souls for leveling up or to upgrade a weapon to get you through that tough spot.
All combat is real time with your foes giving you no quarter, many foes charging you with shields raised and swords at the ready. Others will use their wits and cunning to parry your attacks, snipe at you from range or lure you into traps and attempt to crush you with giant castle gates. Whats important to know about combat in the Souls’ games is that you must have patience. Your character’s ability to block, dodge and attack is based on a stamina gauge that is depleted with every action and refills while not performing any of the previously mentioned actions. Prudent use of your stamina will separate success from failure as you will soon learn.
Weapons and armor are all just as interchangeable as your characters stats and ‘class’, with the ability to upgrade and change weapons as needed. I am a sword and shield person, while many folks prefer to go with a spear and shield and some folks will even use a two handed giant sword with no shield.
Your experience and currency are one and the same and come in the form of Souls. Almost all enemies you will will reward you with souls which you can spend at merchants or at Bonfires, which also serve as respawn/check points, to buy equipment, upgrade weapons or armor or increase levels. It is important to make your spending decisions wisely as souls do not flow freely and death can rob you of all the current Souls you are holding. Keep reading to see how...
Death and Dying
The hardest hurdle to overcome when breaking into Dark Souls is accepting that you will die; often. You will die to the easiest enemies. you will fall off of cliffs. Traps you did not know where there will kill you in one shot, but at least you know for next time. Dying stinks sure, but Dark Souls brings you the joy of the corpse run, with a twist (a corpse run is running from your respawn point back to the point at which you died to recover gear or items you dropped). Upon death, you don’t lose any of your gear, but you do lose all of your souls and your Humanity. The souls are not lost, they are sitting in a small glowing blood stain for you to recover. Unless you die trying to retrieve them. If that happens your new death location containing all of the souls you had at that point is your new ‘corpse’. Chances are that new spot won’t have much if anything in it. All the souls from the first death; gone. Again, while that is certainly a frustrating aspect of the game, it is part of the design and keeps the them of slow and deliberate pace. Don’t rush. Don’t hurry. Be careful. Be mindful of your environment. Don’t take any enemy for granted.
Dark Souls handles multiplayer in way that is unique to itself and to Demon’s Souls. Unless you explicitly unplug and play offline, you are always online and will see ghosts of other players as you travel the realm. you cannot directly interact with these ghosts but you can offer your services to be summoned into their worlds by putting a soul sign on the ground. Any other player who is human can summon you for you assistance, particularly when fighting some of the challenging Bosses.
PVP however, is handled in a different manner altogether. You can actively attack other players who are in human form by using items to invade their world. Once there you can seek them out and try to kill them before they defeat the boss of the level they are currently working through. If you are successful you will gain souls and humanity and have the distinction of possibly being placed in the book of the guilty. The book could then make you the target of others seeking a bounty upon your head. I have had little interaction with other folks up this point but I assure you, I plan to get my name in that book at some point.
Why would I buy this?!?!
Because it’s a great game. Despite it’s harsh and unforgiving nature, it’s a fun challenge. It has an expansive world to explore with secrets and hidden items and paths that will take multiple play through to find them all. It is a nice departure from everything else out there right now. No regenerating health bars, no instant heals, no overpowering all the enemies cause you grinded out a bunch of levels.
Dark Souls offers a very well done dark and gloomy atmosphere to serve as a backdrop for a well crafted game. though the storyline can get lost or confusing it is intriguing to worm through the bits and pieces you are provided to piece together what is going on. Sure it may be hard, and it may use some strange mechanics and it may be a little old school, but it WORKS. It works well.