Reviewed: October 9, 2011
Released: October 4, 2011
There comes a time in every gamerís life when they come across a title that is so demanding or addictive that they find themselves hopelessly hooked or on the verge of breaking their controller against whatever happens to be in the vicinity of their favorite chill spot. There was also a time when games were not so forgiving and developers didnít sell a game on visuals and easier gameplay. From Software, the creators of the nightmarishly tough, Demonís Souls, has that era of gaming on lock with the release of Dark Souls for Xbox 360.|
Dark Souls is the spiritual successor to Demonís Souls that released exclusively to the PS3 almost two years ago this week. In those two years From Software has been crafting one of the purest forms of gaming that Iíve ever had the joy (or misfortune) to tackle in my life of gaming. Players will embark in this dark and twisted third-person dungeon crawler that will test your sanity, skills and patience for many long hours after your first brutally unforgiving death.
After getting freed from a dank dungeon by an unknown undead warrior, you must make your way through some of the bleakest and disheartening locales in a seamlessly open world. After you get out of the game's ďtutorialĒ you are tasked with ringing two bells as the story subtly unfolds. The only thing stopping you from doing just that is slew of evil, disturbing things that want you dead in the worst way. It wonít be long before you are impaled, poisoned, crushed, sent off a cliff or roasted alive by giant flying lizards. But they are the least of your worries as you will go up against massive bosses that will make you wish that you had a one shot magic missile up your sleeve.
Dark Souls allows players to choose from 10 different classes, each with different stats and abilities. Each character will eventually receive a weapon or two by the time you leave the starting location. But like Demonís Souls itís always a wise choice to pick a ranged weapon and whatever else tailors to your play style. You can even pick a gift that imbues your character with certain abilities. There are a few classes like the thief that come packaged with a handy little master key to get you into certain areas.
Combat in Dark Souls isnít just a seemingly boring grind but an exhilarating experience where every encounter is a fight for your life. Each successful kill will gain you souls that you use to arm yourself with various means to vanquish future foes. Everything from weapons to armor and even repair kit items can be purchased for a price. Souls also serve as a means to level up your character at the Bonfires scattered around Dark Souls world.
Bonfires, which replaced the nexus from Demonís Souls, are the somewhat safe zones and act as your respawn points when you die. For those that eventually make it through to the next one it may seem like a small task, but itís actually a huge achievement, as you never know when you're going to bite it. Bonfires will also allow you to revert back to human by sacrificing gained humanity. The double edged sword to the bonfires is that it respawns every enemy except defeated bosses. So half the fun of playing Dark Souls is choosing your strategies, as you fight your way through enemies over and over as you progress a little bit farther each time.
In addition to a greater difficulty level, Dark Souls gains a few improvements from the previous iteration. The first is the improved menu system that is much easier to navigate than it was in Demonís Souls. The other thing is the noticeable improvements to the sound and graphics, which are especially impressive given the scope of this presentation. The visuals are gorgeous, from the moment of seeing sunlight for the first time after being stuck in a dungeon for what seems like an eternity to the moving at a snailís pace in the terrifying eeriness of tight constrictive corridors. Every creature looks menacing and I know Iíve turned and ran away from some newly discovered enemies that caught me off guard once or twice on looks alone. Iím also a huge fan of the giant seamless world and its decent draw distance. Itís amazing that you can stand atop a tower and point out the paths you had to take to get there.
It doesnít help that Dark Souls features exceptionally good audio that lets you know exactly what is about to spell your demise before you even see it. You know the moment you hear giant expansive wings beating off screen that your current survival rate is going to take a nose dive. I also love the environmental sound effects such as being able to tell what kind of a surface youíre walking on or the type of armor youíre wearing. The voice acting by the NPCs is also pretty good and more than a few are quite unnerving.
As with Demonís Souls, Dark Souls features some online capabilities that complete the experience. If youíre playing this title offline youíre going to get the feeling that youíre up against the world and to a degree youíd be right. However if youíre connected to the Internet, you realize your not alone and there are other souls out there in the same struggle as you. You may even have to call upon their assistance under the right circumstances to aid you in battle when one person is not enough. While not an MMO by definition there is a shared experience taking place when you are playing online. From time to time you might hear a bell ring across the land and you know somebody, somewhere, has conquered a major part of the game.
You can even leave helpful (or deceiving) messages in the world for others to find to give them a leg up. You can also invade or be pulled into another playerís world, which can be exceptionally educational for future endeavors. The invasion part however, allows you to enter other playerís games and assassinate them for souls. Helping others is the preferred tactic in Dark Souls though. Writing ďwatch out for trapĒ after youíve become involved by a drive-by axing can save someone a big headache.
Dark Souls offers over 60 hours of unrelenting, brutally fair gameplay that steps over the line a few times more than I care to remember at the hand of various curses and hordes of enemies between you and the glowing green orb that is your preciously gained souls. If you die before retrieving them they are lost forever. The thing that kept me playing and will continue to do so long after this review is that drive to get a little bit farther each time and learning the tricks, shortcuts, and tactics to get me through.
I have to say that I highly enjoyed Dark Souls. Iím a huge RPG fan and this is one of the truly exceptional pieces of hardcore gaming available for the console. This is not a game for everyone as it can be quite brutal and demands a lot of time to fully enjoy it. Dark Souls is not for the casual gamer looking to kick back and relax after a hard day. There will be much swearing, heart pounding, and victorious moments of joy if you choose to embark on this amazing journey. So if you are ready to die and accept that fact then I absolutely recommend picking up Dark Souls today.