- Publisher: Namco Bandai
- Developer: From Software
- ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
- Genre: Action RPG
- Pros: Great visuals and sound; satisfying, addictive gameplay; huge world with lots to see;
- Cons: Occasional framerate problems; clunky controls; difficulty makes it not for everyone
Dark Souls is the multi-platform follow-up to the PlayStation 3 exclusive title Demon's Souls. Knowledge of Demon's Souls isn't necessary to enjoy Dark Souls - the story stands on its own - but you will have an advantage as far as understanding the gameplay and general design of the game. For Demon's Souls fans, this is an improvement in many ways over its predecessor. For newcomers to the series, well, prepare to die a lot. Like, a whole lot.
Dark Souls is a medieval-era action RPG where you explore a huge world, fighting zombies and knights and monsters and dragons with your character armed only with swords, shields, magic, bow and arrow, and any other weapons that fit the theme. The enemies are very powerful, though, and the pattern of the game for the first time you go through a new area is pretty much to die at each new enemy encounter. The enemies are always in the same places, and follow the same patterns though, so the next time you go through a section where you died you should be able to survive. That is why you never really get too frustrated even when you die dozens upon dozens of times. You always do a little better the next time you play, and the promise of a new area ahead or new loot to find keeps you motivated and having fun. Pretty ingenious, really.
We Don't Love ...
At first, the combat will feel kind of awful. Your attacks are slow, the enemies are powerful and can stagger you when you block, leaving you open. You die a lot and will curse the controls because they are undeniably clunky. But you get used to it. After a while you figure out enemy patterns and know when and how best to attack, and the slow clunky controls won't bother you anymore. The first few hours of the game can be frustrating, though, before you get to that point.
The difficulty of the game cannot be understated. I know there are super bad-ass hardcore gamers on forums everywhere puffing out their chest and telling everyone how great they are because they don't think the game is hard, but it is hard. And it is frustrating. Which means it isn't for everyone. If you are easily frustrated, or don't like difficult games, chances are you won't like Dark Souls. Because of that, I have to recommend Dark Souls as a rental first, and then buy it if you find you like it. That way you won't waste $60 on something you can get past the first area on.
I know I said above a lot of the fun here is figuring things out for yourself, but you literally go into this game completely blind and major mechanics of the game are never fully explained. It sure wouldn't have hurt the experience to at least have some idea of how certain things work. Things like being hallowed (undead) or human. What using humanity actually does. How to use and learn magic. A lot of items you can use are incredibly vague and you don't know what they actually do. Even leveling up is a bit of a crap shoot because it isn't clear what any of the skills you can apply points to really do. Eventually you do figure all of this stuff out (or check the Internet or read the awesome Future Press guide for the game), but it is kind of crazy how much you don't know when you first start out.
What Makes Dark Souls Great
There is a lot to like here as well, though. The satisfaction you get when you do figure the mechanics out, or when you pass a tough boss or tricky section, is really indescribable. It is one of the most satisfying experiences on the market right now. Opening up a new area of the game and tip-toeing around because you're (correctly) scared that some new enemy will jump out of the shadows and insta-kill you is a thrill. A lot of the game is absolutely gorgeous as well, and seeing each new area, and each new vista overlooking some beautiful part of the world, is really great motivation to keep playing. The game beats you down, but also does a great job of lifting you up and motivating you.