Initial Release: September 2011
PS3, Xbox 360 and PC
Dark Souls will probably be the most difficult game I’ll have to review, mainly due to its love/hate appeal. How can I really recommend a game that will probably lead to controllers being smashed, rage quitting and shouting matches with your hands for failing you during the games numerous boss fights? Oh, because it’s probably one of the best games of the last console generation. Okay you may be thinking ”What could this game be about? How could it be better than the Last of Us or Bioshock or any of the other brown military shooters?”. I’m getting to it.
Dark Souls is a JRPG ( Japanese Role Playing Game ) with hack and slash elements set in the puzzle-like open world of Lordran, a cruel yet beautiful depiction of Purgatory. You take the role of a cursed human, who is chosen to leave the Undead Asylum ( A prison full of zombies pretty much ) and embark on an adventure across Lordran which will lead you to various boss battles where you must defeat them and collect their soul. The game is extremely minimalistic, Namco Bandai has no intention of giving you exposition except for maybe a handful of short cut scenes. It’s up-to-the player to discover the story for themselves using item descriptions, NPC dialogue and by observing the world. You must piece these clues together if you want to get an understanding of the history of the land and its inhabitants. That’s totally up to you however, though with such a beautiful world you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny.
The Lovecraftian atmosphere is complemented by its stunning world and enemy design, from giant scaleless Dragons in their crystal covered castle to terrifying eight headed Hydras hidden by the cover of the forest. The world is really a joy to explore, though with the games difficulty it can become a horrific trek through lands unknown, with death waiting around every corner. That is the real sticking point for people, the game embraces death and failure. It will throw everything at you, to make sure you fail. You will die and die and die and then when you think you know exactly how to defeat the boss it’ll unleash an attack you’ve never seen it do and it’ll force you to adjust your game plan. The game is also a non-stop experience, with no option to pause while you play, so bathroom breaks should probably be planned out. Oh, and in-game, people can invade you while you play and kill you at pretty much any point. I’ve lost you haven’t I, you’re thinking “What kind of sick masochism is this? Why would anyone ever play this?”. let me explain.
The game can be difficult and in its harshest moments it can feel unforgiving as if the developers are giving you the finger and laughing at your expense. Honestly, it is not unfair as you might be thinking. Yes, people can invade and kill you but to be in that position you must turn human using a specific item in the game. Though it leaves you vulnerable it also increases your chances of getting rare items and allows you to summon online players into your game to help you defeat bosses and even other players. That’s not so bad now is it? Though you can’t pause the game, every section of the world has cool down points where you can’t be seen by enemies and you are able to leave your character there safe in the knowledge he won’t be lying in a puddle of their own blood. In every area of the game, there are bonfires which serve as the game checkpoints, used for levelling up, resting and fast travel. ( Which is unlocked after a certain point in the story ) Every time you rest at a bonfire all the enemies in the area respawn, which can be frustrating but also useful for gaining souls ( Experience Points ) which can be used for levelling up and buying weapons and armour. As far as difficulty is concerned, Dark souls is special. Avoiding the needless hand-holding of modern video games in favour of its trial by fire approach.
So why is it one of the best games of last generation? Well unlike Bioshock and The Last of Us and any of the other great games last generation, Dark Souls won’t tell you a fantastic story and it won’t make fall in love with it’s characters. It’s not trying to be a cinematic tour de force. It’s trying to give you the feeling of triumph you haven’t experienced since you were a kid. When you would wake up on a Saturday morning trying to beat Mario or GTA or Metroid or pretty much any game you played in the early years of your gaming life. Back then we were still learning, we would be stuck on a mission for days, getting annoyed with ourselves for not being good enough and feeling like we would never reach the end. But then we would succeed. We would jump out of our seats, filled with excitement and pride. Playing Dark Souls was the closest I’ve come to replicating those feeling playing a video game. Every boss battle felt like a war, dying over and over again until I learned from my mistakes and kicked ass. Every moment was a challenge, but with every death and occasional rage quit, came a high that not many games can come close to replicating. It’s most definitely not for everyone and this review hasn’t even scratched the surface of everything Dark Soul has to offer, but for those curious, don’t hesitate to take the plunge, you may just discover one of gaming’s most rewarding experiences.