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'Dark Souls' Have Mercy

Posted by Jason Rhoades on October 7, 2011 at 8:05 PM

"Dark Souls" - This review is based on my first playthrough which involved a mainly physical build that didn't rely on arrows or magic. There is a new game plus option but did not pursue it at time of writing. The review contains very few, if any, spoilers. 

All of a sudden, almost every game on my shelf seems worse. I don't really feel like playing any of them. What I really want is to erase "Dark Souls" from my memory so that I can experience it for the first time again. "Dark Souls" is easily the most exhilirating game I've ever played. The immersion, combined with the tension, got me addicted more than I ever anticipated. Buy it. Borrow it. If it's too hard then watch someone else play it. Do whatever you can to experience what this game is about. There is so much packed in this game that it deserves a look by almost anyone.

I'll start with what I'm sure is on everybody's mind: the difficulty. Some say that this is the hardest game ever made. While there are nit-pickers out there, and I'm one of them, who say that it's not the hardest ever, the game is still as hard as diamonds. Diamonds so hard that the most excelled gamer would have trouble cutting all the way through. The challenge is it's biggest draw to the hardcore gamer, including myself. I even took it further and did my first playthrough without online aid, arrows, and magic.

Take a good look at this picture because this is a visual representation of the game's difficulty.

I loved the difficulty. I adored how the game beat me down and never showed mercy. Progressively harder and more fascinating creatures lurk in the shadows leering with intimidation. I loved how grinding only slightly puts the edge in your favor because the game relies more on skill and memorization rather than stats. Sometimes even more emotional things like bravery come into effect when coming across a new enemy or area. Dying taught me to press forth. I've never had the grim reaper as a professor but I'm sure that this would be its method. In contrast with death, the best feeling comes from survival. Entering a room and leaving alive with all the other enemies dead is a feeling more pronounced in this game than any other, and it's this feeling that catapulted this to the forefront of games I love.

Anyone who's played "Demon's Souls" knows the amazing feeling of victory amongst a thousand deaths, but there's something new in "Dark Souls" as well. I'm talking about it's ridiculously expansive and varied open world. It's not an open world like "The Elder Scrolls" where it's a square plane that you can walk every inch of. Instead it's a geographical masterpiece of lush fantasy landscapes, haunting underground caverns, and majestic, intricate cities. When I first started, I underestimated how much of the distant land you would actually explore. While "The Elder Scrolls" is a fully traversable flat plane, "Dark Souls" is more like a cube where you explore every area within the entire volume of the cube.

You can go nearly everywhere down there, and even underneath the entire thing.

The world is simply awe-inspiring, sprawling and interwoven. Let me give you an example. Say you start in the center of this "cube." You can then proceed forward to the castle city. This place is already massive with hidden secrets and things around every corner. From there you can keep going forward to the inner sector of the city and into the main part of the castle. You can go down to the slums of the city where new, tougher enemies lie in wait. You can even go below the slums into the sewers and dungeons beneath. You can even go below that to a hidden underground city that's one of the creepiest things I've ever seen. Say you didn't go below the city though, but instead pressed forward. Then you'd end up at a forest that winds down into a massive basin that goes underneath where you originally started.

Way down past the gloomy caverns, even deeper than the pitch black, bottomless pits is this beauty.

The best part about exploring the world is what I call the "stumble upon" factor. It didn't have it much in "Demon's Souls" but in "Dark Souls" there is a lot of "stumble upon" moments, like that basin I just mentioned. As you approach the lake deep in the forest you can see a massive creature writhing in the water. This moment actually tops my list of the coolest creatures I've ever seen in a video game. It's huge, taking up almost the entire lake, and moving ferociously in the water. I didn't dare approach it for the longest time, but like I said, bravery becomes a factor in this game. I decided to take it on and after many tries, I slayed the beast. More than half of the bosses or major one-time creatures battles were just in their natural habitat and you stumble upon them. That sense of discovery and trepidation gave me a rush everytime.

Stumble Upon This!

Speaking of bosses, did I mention that there are tons in this game and that they are all awesome? There are a couple bosses that are forever burned into my brain because of how horrific and epic they were. If you reach the Gaping Dragon, you'll know what I'm talking about, but if you haven't, just think of a partially decayed dragon that can fold it's back in half. The final boss was exactly how I wanted, but I can't say what.  I will say that while every boss in most games tends to be epic, I always prefer the final fight to be with someone of similar stature or combat mechanics.

Complimenting all the amazing creatures and world design are the gameplay mechanics, which are the things that turn this game from an experience, to a playable adventure. The combat is even more refined than in "Demon's Souls." It's all in third-person, and every style of weapon has several moves you can use.  There's no combo system like "Ninja Gaiden" or "God of War," but instead it's a very realistic and precise game of dodging and using the right type of swing. Both games have always had great hit-detection as opposed to most action-RPG's, which is something I really appreciate.

The key to awesome, visceral combat: exploding skeleton animations.

The leveling and upgrading system is as hardcore as it's ever been. You level up with the same currency you buy things with. Upgrading weapons involves slaying a lot of the tougher creatures in the optional areas to get the items required. Normally this would be boring, but with the amazing creatures you discover while doing so, it stays entertaining. There are tons of weapons, armors, accessories, and other items where a lot of them don't even explain what they are for but have some secret use somewhere.

The biggest thing gameplay-wise with "Dark Soul"s is the online play. There is online co-op or player vs. player but it's not what you're used to. Instead it's situational, and requires the use of items. You can use items that bring players to your realm or you can invade other players' world's to do damage or help them on their quest. I do recommend using online play if the game gets too difficult, but there are a couple items out there that you can get if you're desperate that help the difficulty. However, most elitists prefer not to use them. Also returning are the blood spot replays that show a "phantom" tracing the players last few seconds alive so you can see how they died. You can also read messages that point out tips.

One covenant tasks you with attacking other players who venture deep into this forest.

Most of what I mentioned is from "Demon's Souls," but what's new are the covenants. This is definitely bringing the online play to a whole new light. While journeying you'll come across characters that can induct you into covenants or "guilds." Each covenant has different objectives and natures and you can progress through its ranks or defy your covenant if you choose. A lot of covenants oppose others covenants and ally with others, which sparks a lot of online play. It is a truly remarkable system that adds a whole new layer to the game, and an entirely different way to play.

If I was disappointed with anything, it was the ending video, because there wasn't much of one. Granted, the ending kind of built up on the way there, but I still hoped for something to match the prologue. There is a bad ending which I haven't gotten yet, so I'll have to try that, but I don't see too much variation with them. Besides that, new game plus isn't the drastic overhaul in difficulty that it was in "Demon's Souls." However, that's something you can do as a player. Instead just start a new game with less leveling or using the starting equipment. However, these two tidbits hardly put a dent in the glorious goodness that make up the rest of the game.

How does Dark Souls make me feel?

"Dark Souls" have mercy. You are almost too much game for me. Luckily you challenged me, and I rose above the obstacles and conquered you. As a result I had one of the best gaming experiences I think I'll ever have. This game is unrivaled in it's genre. A master in it's execution and near perfection in the eye of hardcore gaming. It's created a world that's beautiful and dangerous without sacrificing either quality. It vastly improved over "Demon's Souls" and is now one of my favorite games ever released thus far.


Difficulty - This is definitely a brutally hard game that takes a lot of memorization by repetition. It's not in any way, easy.  10/10

Multiplayer - One of the most unique online implementations for an action-adventure games I've seen.   9/10

Play Value - A first play through should take around 60 hours.  Every minute spent is a progressive process.  There are alot of different things to explore on multiple playthroughs such as different classes, the alternate endings, and mainly experimenting.  10/10

Better Than Before? - Yes, much better than Demon's Souls.  Harder than before by a fair bit, and definitely much more put into the world.


10/10 - Masterpiece

It's more than a game. It's a benchmark in the advancement of gaming.

Here's a wallpaper to celebrate!

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1 Comment

Reply LantisMcKavanagh
8:55 PM on October 25, 2011 
Great recension, mate.
Can't agree more with all you wrote. I loved other games before the arrival of Dark Souls, and now, with my almost 160 hours of gaming and New Game + unlocked, i can say that i'm not gonna tire easily!
Screaming in exhaltation after defeatinga hard as hell boss is something taht not many games got to get, and i'm positive, none gave me the same sensations as this, as you rightfully called it, masterpiece. FROM software is a GREAT software house, i also loved the Armored Core series.

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