Dark Souls is an action-RPG developed by FROM software and published by Namco-Bandai Games. It’s the spiritual successor and sequel to the PS3 exclusive “Demon’s Souls” and is available on the PS3 and Xbox 360 (Excluding Japan, for which it is a PS3 exclusive). During the game you play as a character of your own creation that has unfortunately turned into an undead, the world is in the ‘age of flame’ and the resulting fire is holding the darkness at bay but the last flames are being snuffed out, causing the darkness to rise. Only you and the spirits of warriors before you can keep the darkness from spreading. With a broken hilt and an elusive dark ring on your skin, you escape your prison and see the new darkness filled world. As far as the storytelling in Dark Souls go, it’s pretty non-existent with the opening cutscene setting the scene of the game with the rest of the story being told in the actions you take and the people you meet. There isn’t a book of the world’s history or any clear directions of the events your actions will take; all you really have to go on is the advice of the people that live in the same darkness filled world. It’s fortunate then that the story isn’t the defining feature of Dark Souls. In essence, you’ll be too busy trying to save your own life much more than the worlds. The overall goal is very vague and for the most part encourages you to explore the world to figure out the situation by yourself, the characters comments to you regarding it are very fleeting and vague too, they just give you a direction to go and tell you to “see for yourself”. There’s no explained reason for you to go out and do anything for them and after playing for a few hours, you’ll soon forget about it anyway.
Dark Souls is a fairly good looking game as far as dark-fantasy RPGs go. The textures are very crisp and the lighting looks very good on the armour and weapons you’re carrying. The game doesn’t hold back in terms of effects of battle; when you roll, dust rises from your landing; when you get hit with an arrow, blood pours out of the wound whilst the arrow stays inside. The battle sequences are very well designed and presented, but considering the amount of times you’ll have to experience said battles, it would seem pretty wise to put all that effort in. Even though you start in a dank, rotting cell in a castle, the environments get very different despite keeping that harsh, gritty feel. Large broken towns, rotting brown swamps and magma filled tunnels are all there waiting to be explored for the treasures and horrors within. It gets to a point where after extended time within an underground tunnel, you go outside because it’d be far easier to see safe zones rather than being in the dark, going into potential death time and time again. It’s a shame that all the detail put in to making this an immersive land of fear is somewhat short-lived. This is simply because in some cases the technology can’t handle it with FPS slowdowns being a occasional occurrence. It’s very irritating to be on the verge of victory with a dark knight only for the game to lag or slow-down so you miss-time your roll, causing the last flame of life to be snuffed out, once again.
Upon creation, each character in dark souls can have its own class from a selection of 10 including a knight for taking blows, a cleric to heal and deal damage with maces or (if you’re feeling brave) a “deprived” class armed with only a club and a wooden shield to start with. Each class has their own set of starting stats which are upgraded by levelling up. After choosing a name, sex and look for your character you’re presented with a “starting gift” consisting of various tools and items that can help you on your way including a key that opens all basic locks or a pair of binoculars to see dangers way before they become hazardous. As with Demon’s Souls, you have a health bar and a ‘stamina bar’; the former being your biggest enemy and the latter being the only tool to help you keep the former bar full. The stamina bar decreases with everything from running, attacking and rolling, it recharges fully in seconds if you aren’t using your shield but it’s a precious commodity, a majority of the battles will revolve around keeping the stamina bar filled enough to be able to fight effectively. To that end, even monsters that are lower level than you can take you out if you’re reckless, in all cases, the game punishes you for carelessness; this isn’t a game to take lightly. Due to the nature of every monster being a threat, the game gives you the tools to keep up with it including the use of a targeting system, the ability to roll and that’s really about it. The rest of the effectiveness of the battles you face will ultimately be on you to decide when best to attack or retreat or how best to tackle a situation. The game even punishes you for this however in the sense of trial and error, the first time you tackle a challenge more often than not will see you dead. Learning from that death is the key to Dark Souls. In terms of your equipment, the majority of it comes from drops and killing the bigger monsters, there are vendors but there are only a few with their locations sometimes being a 10-20 minute walk away with all the associated monsters and awkward fights to accompany it.
The controls on Dark Souls are pretty solid with most commands being easily identifiable and easy to use in a pinch. If a monster takes a swing at you, all it takes is a quick tap of the B button and a movement of the control stick to roll out the way. Attacks are split into two categories; ‘weak’ for situations where a quick hit is required for quick movement and stamina conservation and ‘strong’ for situations involving the enemy staggering or lowering their guard for a healing potion. You can mix and match the two attacks for effective combos depending on the enemy which (when performed correctly) is a fantastic feeling to do, especially if you’ve been killed by the enemy several times prior. The menus of the game are pretty simple to understand with different boxes for each of the different items available including arrows, armour, rings, consumables etc. These can be changed on the fly, even during battle (though that isn’t recommended). Dark Souls doesn’t have save points, it only has checkpoint ‘safe zones’ known as bonfires. At bonfires you do most of your character development including levelling up, repairing equipment, using items to change your character etc. The bonfires are few and far between and are the first point of call upon death. Resting at a bonfire or dying and returning to one results in every monster in the game (except bosses and minibosses) respawning, meaning that if you die a long way away from a bonfire, you’ll need to run back to that point, killing all the monsters previously to go and reacquire your souls (the game’s currency). If you die at any point in the return trip, the previous death is discounted and the souls with it destroyed. It’s recommended to not carry a large amount of currency with you at any one time for this reason.
Despite having to fight alone physically, Dark Souls has an interesting multiplayer set of mechanics. Firstly, players are able to leave messages on the floor of their worlds that people (such as you) can see in their world. This is useful for seeing traps before they happen or to be aware of a large monster coming up. Messages are made up of certain phrases such as “be wary of ”, “ ahead” or simply “” where is a set of words from actions to objects in the world to monsters. The messages can be up or down-voted with up-votes causing the leaver of the message to be healed, a great incentive to help your fellow adventurer. In addition there are bloodstains on the floor that (when touched) summons a ghostly image of a player on a different world to yours. The bloodstains show the final moments of their life, making imminent danger seem apparent. Seeing a ghost of a different player run to a hallway then immediately fall to the ground from an upper force is a good indicator of a trap nearby. Both these messages and seeing the bloodstains of others deaths are a great help to keeping yourself alive in your world. It’s also comforting to see others struggle with the challenges you face, it brings a fleeting sense of community within essentially a single player game. There are other multiplayer aspects to the game aswell including white signs on the floor allowing you to summon a player from another world to help with a boss fight and (later in the game) the ability to invade others worlds to make their worlds harder at the cost of your own humanity. In addition, effects of other players worlds impact on your world too including a player ringing a certain bell after a boss being heard in all players worlds, alerting everyone that someone else has beaten the challenge that you may be stuck on, pushing you to do it too. As a multiplayer game in this regard, the pausing system doesn’t pause the game; it only brings up the menus. There is no safe haven for real life in Dark Souls, you’re always liable to be attacked and killed and the only way to truly be safe is to quit the game.
Whilst the story of the game is fleeting and vague, it helps personify the feeling of exploration. The monsters are varied, inventive and horrifying across the board, keeping to a very strict art style but still keeping a wide door open in terms of creativity. It’s a real joy to see what monster will kill you next.
The game looks very good with lighting being a key factor in how the world looks, the castles look grim, the swamps look dank and murky and the lava looks hot an vibrant. The characters and monsters animate well and are rendered in great detail. There is noticeable slowdown in parts though, lending to the idea that some of it was a wasted effort, especially in busy areas.
As a fantasy game of swords, shields and magic, the sound is fantastic. The music is fitting to dark fantasy, the sound effects are realistic, atmospheric and fit each environment perfectly and the sound effects of battle really bring a feel of energy to each fight you undertake.
The combat of the game is like no other, with strategy and skill taking the forefront in pretty much every case. A lot of the battles involve trial and error but being able to work out the strategy and execute it perfectly after countless deaths is a feeling like no other.
Because of the game’s scope and difficulty, the game will see 60 hours of content minimum; this doesn’t include additional exploration, multiple routes and additional challenges. There’s a “new game +” for players that fancy an extra challenge on the second play-through and the multiplayer mechanics make every challenge fresh with new strategies and ideas to examine. Sadly, the NG+ isn’t a full new challenge with only the difficulty of the monsters being the major difference.
Dark souls is a very strange game; most recent top-selling games seem to link the definition of “a good game” to mean constant waves of instant gratification coupled with as many special effects as you can put on screen at once. ‘Dark souls’ doesn’t have any of that with satisfaction being earned rather than a requirement and special effects being on the backburner. The game isn’t a game to relax with like say ‘Battlefield”, it wants you to die and become frustrated to push you towards your goal even further than before. If you can take the idea of a game challenging you to the point of not playing for simply “fun” anymore, then this is a must have. If you want to sit and play it, expecting to have a few hours of satisfaction, this may not be what you’re after; elder scrolls will show you the door.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.