Dark Souls Review
Producer: Namco Bandai
North American Release Date: October 4, 2011
European Release Date: October 7, 2011
Trophies: | 18 | 20 | 2 | 1 |
In Demon's Souls, the spiritual predecessor to Dark Souls, it was stated in the prologue that the world was enveloped by a soul-devouring demon. To put this quote into context, Dark Souls is that soul-devouring demon, and the world is your life. Never has a game ever truly taken over my life like Dark Souls has. When I'm in class, I'm thinking about Dark Souls. When I'm sleeping, I'm dreaming about Dark Souls. The game has literally become an obsession, and very rarely will a game ever do that to you. This is Dark Souls.
Dark Souls is a game of little story, little to go off of in terms of gameplay, and the most difficult game I've ever played. It takes place in the mystical land of Lordran as you fight to banish away the demons and undead that have slowly taken over the once great kingdom. What lies ahead of you is death, but also satisfaction beyond your wildest dreams.
The core of Dark Souls' gameplay is retained from its predecessor, but there are a lot of new additions and twists that allow Dark Souls to feel like it's much more than a "Demon's Souls 1.5". While things such as losing all of your souls (the game's currency) upon death are back again to haunt us, new additions such as as bonfires, Humanity, and more, keep the game fresh and exciting throughout.
Demon's Souls veterans will feel right at home with the slick combat and it's easy-to-use, difficult-to-master control scheme. You're allowed a certain amount of items in your inventory, weapons and shields in your hands, and it'd also be wise to wear one of the numerous armor sets for protection. However, all of this weighs a certain amount, and because this is a hardcore action/RPG, you'll find yourself having to deal with equipment burden. Specific rings can help you out with this predicament, as there are some for increasing equip burden, but there are also others that increase spell damage, poison resistance, and others. It's a cruel world out there, and coming prepared is necessary for every battle.
Thanks to the sheer variety of enemy types, you'll need to form different strategies for every possible situation. You can't just run in guns blazing like in many other Action/RPGs, but rather you need to be careful and take your time with Dark Souls. When one slip-up in concentration could cost you your life and souls, you learn to take things slow and lure enemies out one-by-one. What's so great about this is how Dark Souls teaches you to play by its rules. Every death you have is a learning experience. Maybe you'll chase a twinkling lizard to get some upgrade ore, only to follow it off a cliff. Well next time you see a twinkling lizard, you'll know not to follow it too far or else you'll fall off a cliff and die. It's this simple method of learning from your prior mistakes that makes Dark Souls such a refreshing experience.
Bonfires act as safe havens and checkpoints.
Weapons, shields, and even armor can be upgraded this time around by using the plethora of different upgrade ores. The upgrade system is much deeper when compared to Demon's Souls, with different weapons being able to be ascended to give it different powers. A regular Uchigatana can become a Lightning Uchigatana after upgrading it a certain amount of times, allowing you to deal out extra damage with the weapon. This simple method of upgrading weapons quickly becomes an addicting mini-game of sorts, and with endless possibilities with all of the different options for ascension, there seems to be a limitless amount of upgrading you could do to come out with different types of weapons.
Of course, all of this does sound very similar to Demon's Souls. So what's new? Well the main new attraction here are bonfires. These bonfires act as checkpoints and safe havens that are strategically placed throughout levels so as to give you an amazing sense of relief to finally reach one after fighting off hordes of enemies. At bonfires, you can use your souls to level up, and all of your health, spells, miracles, and pyromancies are replenished. However, this all comes with a catch. When you rest at a bonfire, all of the enemies in the world respawn. It's very possible to have just barely escaped with your life after clearing out a ton of enemies, only to rest at a bonfire to have to deal with them all over again. More strategy comes to play here, as you'll need to choose when it's necessary to rest at a bonfire, and if it's worth doing so.
Of course, this wouldn't be a spiritual successor to Demon's Souls if it didn't have larger-than-life boss battles. This time around, there are many more bosses with levels being littered with mini-bosses, as well as overall area bosses. All of these unique enemies are insanely difficult, and it's necessary to learn their attacks and how to avoid them if you want to succeed. Again, it's a learning game. You might run up to a seemingly easy boss to whack at his ankles, only to be grabbed and thrown off the side of a ledge. Brains mean just as much as brawn with these boss fights, especially because they're so varied. Some may require defense against magic while others require defense against fire. You need to go in making sure you're 100% prepared, because if not you'll probably end up dead within the first few seconds of the battle. In total, there are about 20 main bosses and another 30-40 mini-bosses that you'll face, and all of them are fun, unique, and very challenging.
You get to fight a giant wolf with a giant sword?! YES PLEASE!
Whenever someone thinks of Demon's Souls, the first thing that pops into their mind is the insane difficulty. I never believed it was possible for a game to be even more difficult than DS, but FromSoft has proven me wrong. Dark Souls is without a doubt the hardest game I've ever played. If you make one wrong move, you die. If you lose concentration for a split-second, you die. There's so little room for error, and additionally nasty traps will be thrown your way to hinder your progress. In one area, if you're not watching your surroundings you could inadvertently fall into a room with enemies that spray curse at you. This curse halves your health and can stack, meaning that you could potentially have 1/8 your normal health bar. There's difficult, and then there's just plain sadistic. With that said, these nasty traps also force you to learn from your mistakes so as to not repeat them again. This simple formula, combined with amazing combat make the game fun, intense, and exciting, and once you finally defeat that level that you've spent half a dozen hours on, the sense of joy and satisfaction is unrivaled by any other feeling out there.
Usually a game needs a story to appeal to myself, and to many gamers alike. What's so strange about Dark Souls is that it can be enjoyed despite having little to no story; even less than that of Demon's Souls. Other than a cinematic cutscene acting as a prologue to your journey, there's literally no story to be found here. Normally this would be a major complaint of mine - and I still would've liked to have a seen some more it terms of plot here - but if the game had a straightforward plot it wouldn't have been as enjoyable of a game. What's so nice about Dark Souls is the freedoms you're given. The world is fully explorable and you can tackle its different sections in any which way you wish. If you were given a to-the-point story, this would not be possible.
It was said in the ancient times that one day an Undead would escape his imprisonment and fend off the horrible demonic monsters that were quickly enveloping the world. You are that Undead. You start off in an asylum where Undeads are sent to be locked away and eventually killed, and after completing the short tutorial level, the world fully opens up to you and you're free to explore to your heart's desire.
Being an Undead grants you special abilities. Upon death you will revive at the last bonfire you rested at, allowing a seemingly limitless amount of deaths. Eventually, you'll end up going hollow, meaning that you'll lose your mind and sense of humanity and go insane. This concept allows for the gameplay to truly branch out and become intertwined with the story, which is something that Demon's Souls failed to do.
Much like in Demon's Souls, you start by picking out a class. Clerics such as this one have early access to miracles.
I think what I loved the most about Dark Souls was its world structure. Each of the 18 areas of Lordran feels distinct from the next, yet they all feel as though they're apart of the same overall world. You'll find yourself evading traps in Sen's Fortress, defeating tree-enemies in the Darkroot Garden, and even walking on lava in Lost Izalith, and despite these drastically different environments, the game still succeeds in feeling like you're exploring one world and one world only. It's undeniably easy to be drawn into the world and become lost in trying to explore every nook and cranny there is to see, and this is one of Dark Souls' biggest draws. FromSoft wants you to explore, and it's vital to do so if you want to enjoy the game. Despite it leading to your possible demise, you'll find that it's worth it to take a leap of faith if it means seeing a new section of the game open up to you.
To put it in other words, the environments open to exploration are the driving force for you to see the game to the end, rather than the story. While different from the usual, you'll learn to appreciate this unique nature of story-telling. Sure, it would've been nice to have seen something more in terms of story to make the game just that more interesting, but for the most part the world and its structure make up for the lack of plot.
Many things from Demon's Souls' unique multiplayer have been brought over to Dark Souls, and I can't say I'm complaining about that. Once again the multiplayer is etched right into the singleplayer experience if you're logged onto the PSN. On the surface it seems as if the multiplayer has been copied and pasted from Demon's to Dark Souls, but once you discover new features, you'll realize that From has done enough to give Dark Souls' online a personality of its own.
Once again, you'll be able to write and rate messages on the ground. This time though, there's more of a catch. You don't start with the tool to write and rate messages; it has to be bought from a merchant met early on in the game. I question the design choice in this, as if you don't meet the somewhat-hidden merchant, it could be frustrating to not be able to write and rate messages throughout your experience. Ultimately, I'm being more nit-picky here than not, but it's still worth mentioning.
Also returning from Demon's Souls is the ability to be summoned or to invade worlds. Invading however, is more difficult to do early on in the game as you'll only be able to invade a limited amount of times before you run out of consumables that allow you to become a Black Phantom. Whereas invading occurs less, being summoned or summoning other players is plentiful; most especially early on in the game. You're given unlimited uses of your White Sign Soapstone, allowing you to help others out rather than hurt them.
Players can help one another out in defeating larger (and disgusting) foes.
The main new addition here comes from Covenants. Think of Covenants as the factions of Dark Souls' multiplayer component. There are 9 of these Covenants in all, and all are different and grant you different things upon joining and ranking up. Some Covenants like the Forest Hunter covenant allow you to be summoned into the Darkroot Garden to invade other players' games as they cross through the already difficult level. Others such as the Warrior of Sunlight Covenant are more focused on helping other players in their struggles, and their online phantom turns to gold rather than white. Covenants are not always easy to access, with the majority of them being hidden until you obtain a specific object. It's often very easy to betray your own covenant, which will count as a sin. These sins are taken down in the Book of the Guilty, an online play item that can be looked at upon purchase. If your name is down in the Book of the Guilty, then it's likely you'll find yourself tracked down and invaded by a specific covenant.
These covenants add a great sense of depth to the multiplayer. It isn't simply about invading or helping anymore, it's now about doing those things to rank up in your respected covenant and gain special abilities and powers. Without a doubt, this is the deepest and most unique multiplayer I have ever come across, and it bolsters the game's already high replay value.
Due to Dark Souls not being region locked, but rather have numerous different servers, it can be nearly impossible to play with or against a friend. While some question this design choice, I welcome it with open arms. The game is designed to be difficult, and not having the help of a friend only makes it even harder. Some may dislike this, but I personally like having to rely on randoms for help, rather than have a friend run through levels with you, and not allowing you to truly appreciate them.
From a technical standpoint, Dark Souls is for the most part stellar. Some things are great, but there are a few pretty major setbacks that can take away from the somewhat-false illusion of the game's technical prowess.
From a graphical standpoint, the game is unlike any other. The artistic style is unmatched, the graphics are nice and crisp, and the sense of scope is insane. There's a reason why one of the message options is "Gorgeous View", because they are plentiful. I've spent over five minutes before just looking out upon the ginormous landscape laid out in front of me from a skyscraping balcony. Not to mention, the sheer amount of different animations there are is astonishing. Every weapon brings with it a different animation, and considering there are dozens upon dozens of different weapons to try out, you can just see how amazing it is to know that there are potentially hundreds of different animations to look at. In addition, while it's difficult to make a beautiful-looking character, the different kinds of armor look amazing. At some points I've actually stopped in my tracks and just admired how cool my character looked in his unique armor set.
The sheer amount of attack animations are astounding.
The sound design is similarly brilliant, with every swing of your sword or block of your shield ringing in your ears. Sound effects on lightning and fire weapons are awesome, and it's a pleasure to just hear the simple crackle of lightning as you lay down a riposte on your enemies. The lack of music is also a unique aspect of the game, as it only comes during boss fights. Because there's no musical score, it truly allows you to get immersed in the world and it's different ominous and eerie sounds. Safe havens such as Firelink Shrine also have some music to accompany it, and leaving the area can be very unnerving with the sudden loss of a musical score.
Unfortunately, not everything is perfect. While the game is a technical masterpiece in terms of graphics, atmosphere, and sound design, it just simply isn't polished. There are numerous bugs that can be at times game-breaking, and the frame rate can be downright horrible at times. In places like Blighttown the frame rate can drop extremely low, and with drops coming so often, it's difficult to not get frustrated when these types of things can slow and hinder your progress indefinitely.
Dark Souls will arguably be one of the most difficult, yet rewarding platinums you'll earn all year. A lot of farming will be necessary if you want to achieve one of the numerous trophies based on upgrading weapons. Acquiring the dozens of spells, miracles, and pyromancies can also be very time consuming, but otherwise the majority of the trophies are gained for completing parts of the story and for defeating specific bosses. It's more time consuming than difficult, as it'll take a minimum of three playthroughs to obtain the plat. When the game clocks in at around 80 hours per playthrough, it can feel like a grind to go for the plat. However, it's a very rewarding one to get. There are more silver trophies than bronze, and the sense of satisfaction you'll get from obtaining the plat is like no other. It should also be noted that there's no cheating or duping here, so you're gonna have to do the plat legit if you want it.
Dark Souls is hard. It's sadistic, difficult, stressful, and it's not for the casual gamer. With that said, Dark Souls is easily the most rewarding experience I've ever had, and despite its insane difficulty, I don't think I've ever enjoyed playing a game more than I have with Dark Souls. It's not perfect; there's very little story here whatsoever, and the game just isn't very polished with its frame rate issues and it's numerous bugs. However, the good far outweighs the bad. Combat is satisfying and intense, and the sense of scope and atmosphere is amazing. The world structure is magnificent, and that's only helped along by the stellar graphics and sound design. The game will take you about 80 hours to complete, but with a New Game + option, you'll be coming back for more long after you originally completed it. Add in the amazing multiplayer experience, and I doubt there's a game that comes out this year that'll give you more bang for your buck. Dark Souls isn't for everybody, but for those of you up to the challenge, it's one of the best games you'll play all year long.
While difficult and at times even sadistic, the combat is solid and it's a very enjoyable game. The difficulty only enhances the game's strengths, and I love how often strategy must be used if you want to succeed.
While there's little story here, the environment and world structure make up for it. It's easy to get so immersed in Lordran that you'll find yourself searching in every nook and cranny for hidden secrets.
The new addition of Covenants easily makes the multiplayer component one of the deepest and most unique experiences out there.
Graphically the game is beautiful and the sound design and musical score are stellar. Unfortunately, some bugs and horrible frame rate do hurt the experience a bit.
Overall 9/10 Brilliant