Game: Dark Souls
Available On: Xbox 360 (Review), Playstation 3, PC
Genre: Action RPG
No, this game isn’t as hard as they make it seem. This game’s tagline of ‘Prepare to Die’ is accurate, but not because the game is unfair or impossibly difficult. The game is actually really dang easy when you take the time to learn your weapon and the enemy patterns. That’s pretty much it. The difficulty of this game comes from the need to actually play the game; it’s unlike most other games you’ve played before in your life. The combat is slow, the game is demanding, the enemies are persistent and everything is trying to murder you. Everything. I mean it, there are falls, monsters, skeletons, traps, zombies, dragons, demons… EVERYTHING IS TRYING TO KILL YOU. Everything, everywhere. You will die and you will die a lot. You won’t find it unfair, you’ll find it a welcome challenge. You’ll enjoy every victory and you’ll feel the skill grow as the enemies that once slaughtered you now fall like flies.
You will die. You will die a lot. But you know what? Dark Souls is one of the best video games ever made.
That’s quite a boast, I am very aware of that. I’m completely honest with that though, this game is truly master class game design, especially considering with how cookie cutter and simple games have become recently. This game has a thick atmosphere to it and a very distinct style throughout. The game also has a habit of not exactly telling you much. In fact, in a slightly comical fashion, the first NPC that gives you your back story and mission is later corrected by another NPC because apparently the first guy didn’t know much as it is. The lore for the game is also hidden deeply within item description and the art design and to truly figure out the games deep and epic lore you’ll have to do some digging– or spend some time on its wiki; your choice.
The alienation that this game makes you feel is phenomenal. A friend of mine had to quit playing the game because of how alone it made him feel. He was at a depressed point in his life and this game just reminded him of how sad he was and piled mounds and mounds of poo all over him. Now, I know, you’re probably thinking ‘how in the hell is that a selling point?’ — Creating a mood like that on purpose is an accomplishment. The whole point of Dark Souls is finding beauty in life even in its darkest periods. The game is pessimistic, cynical and most of the characters are depressed, but that’s the point: it was designed to be like this. To make something like that your goal and achieve it so accurately? That deserves praise in any form of artistic medium.
Now I think that’s enough babble on the ‘idea’ of Dark Souls — now how does it function as a game?
As I stated above, you’ll be dying a lot when you play Dark Souls. That’s expected though, and it’s up to you as a gamer to not let it get to you. This game is about trial and error and patience and succeeding through the hardships. As aforementioned, it’s about finding beauty in all things abysmal, so when you finally make your way through a challenging part without dying the pride you’ll feel in yourself is unparalleled. There’s no satisfaction in beating something that is just handed to you– Dark Souls makes you rip victory out of its fist and reminds you exactly what satisfaction in gaming is. Truly, as gamers, we forgot exactly what challenging gaming was.
The combat is probably the games best feature. There are a variety of weapons and fighting styles and every single weapon is unique. Every sword, every axe, every club– they all play differently. This makes learning your weapons attacks very important because you don’t want to get caught doing a horizontal attack in a tight catacomb, causing your sword to embarrassingly bounce off the walls, thus causing the enemies to respond by punishing you. And trust me, they’ll punish you and you’ll die for it. Go back to the section on preparing to die a lot. This also makes the game fresh and challenging in the fact that every time you upgrade to a new weapon it’s always tough to say goodbye and move on from your old one. It’s a tough decision to make, move on to a new weapon with MUCH better stats or stick to the move set you know?
The monsters are diverse and you’ll always find something new and terrifying around every corner. There are standard armoured zombie-like creatures (that will no doubt kill you the most because of over confidence), badass dudes dressed in badass armour (that will no doubt kill you because they are badass) and then there are other various enemy types. They all hit hard and on New Game Plus they hit even harder. They will be the entities providing the fear that will make you not want to turn every corner, but when you master their moves you’ll be ready for them and killing them will soon become fun. Unless of course you become over confident and they slaughter you instead– trust me, it will happen.
A game like this is also built on its bosses. If the bosses aren’t glorious set-pieces then what’s the point? If the enemies can terrify you to the bone, then it would just be a giant case of through-line-of-action blue balls if the bosses were cute and cuddly in comparison. Thankfully, the bosses hit harder and will make you wet yourself– repeatedly. The bosses require even more patience and foresight than the enemies, learning their attack patterns and tells is a must. This game has great bosses though, the build up and environment leading up to them is always amazing and the battles themselves are always tense and get the adrenaline going. When you actually beat a boss that trumped you for the longest time (I’m looking at you Capra Demon) the joy you’ll feel is overwhelming. Back to the whole theme of finding beauty in shit, huh?
The environment you travel through in the game is just as amazing as everything else. It’s unique, overwhelming and awe-inspiring. The Video Game Rage coming up this Saturday I’ll go into further detail into the world of Dark Souls, so I’m not going to say too much about it here. Bluntly put: it’s amazing. One of the coolest features in its world is that it always exists all the time. You can stand at the bottom of the world, look up and see the Bell Tower you made your way when you first got to Lordran. Everything is connected by short cuts and when you get to the deepest parts of the world you’ll still find that even the depths are all connected somehow. It makes the world seem real and the scope of it truly makes you feel even smaller than it already made you feel before. That’s a feat in and of itself.
The multiplayer portion is unique, whether it be co-op, pvp or ‘invading’ there’s a lot there for everybody. If you grab the game and play with a buddy you’ll feel a lot less alone and it will probably make you enjoy it more. The odds will be stacked a bit more on your side and that’ll make you feel safer, but the challenge will still exist. Fair compromise, in my opinion. The messages, ghosts and bloodstains around the world also showcase just how many people are running through this world, trying to reach their goal– you’re not alone, no matter how much the game reminds you of it.
I know this review isn’t really a ‘review’ and more of an ‘analysis’ but I honestly don’t have much negative to say about this game. It truly was one of the best games I’ve ever played and sits easily in my Top 5 games. The amount of times while playing that caused me to say out loud ‘I love this game’ was in the hundreds. Seriously, there’s even no hyperbolic Justin in that statement. Dark Souls is a game I’ll recommend to anyone immediately, even if I know the challenge would be too much for them. This game is about overcoming challenges and succeeding. This game wants you to struggle and it wants you to reap the rewards. There is some DLC coming out soon, I am dying for it to be released. Anything that expands on this universe and its lore is welcome, and anything that adds to the environment and gives me more places to explore is even better.
Go get this game if you like gaming. Stop thinking about it. Go buy it and… prepare to die.
Dark Souls: 10/10