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Dark Souls Review

by William Schwartz

Back in 2009 many PlayStation 3 owners took up a massive gaming investment.  They picked up a game called Demon’s Souls, and their gaming lives were irrevocably changed forever.  At the time, they may not have known what they were getting into, but the PlayStation 3 exclusive found quite a following.  Now just two years later, From Software announced that they would be making a game that was “not a sequel”, called Dark Souls, and that it would be available on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

We might not ever get to know why this console exclusive found new life on multiple platforms, but what we do know is that for all intents and purposes, Demon’s Souls 2 is releasing this week.  The demanding combat system, level design, and gameplay of Demon’s Souls have all returned for Dark Souls, and alongside that, the gaming challenge that fans of the original have grown to love.   If you’ve played Demon’s Souls, you’ll know all too well of this challenge.  It’s not a myth, it’s not a gimmick, it’s what the franchise hangs it hat on.  From Software has decided to step away from conventional games and their streamlined approach to autosaving, health regenerating, and hand holding.

While the staples of the original return, they have been expanded on in the “sequel”.  Dark Souls offers more options than the original game from many standpoints.  Character customizations has added new classes like the Sorcerer, Cleric, and Pyromancer, giving old hands new ways to play the game.  For those that want a real challenge, From Software has gotten intolerable with their addition of The Depraved Class.  Here, you’ll start with no clothing and only a club for protection.  Don’t ask me why you would want to do this, but some just like a good old fashioned thumb blistering experience.

For those that are new to the world,  you’ll be in a very strange environment with Dark Souls.  Considering its unconventional nature, it can be somewhat confusing at the onset.  You’ll be dropped into the experience with little explanation of how or what your choices do or impact, with the game forcing you to learn, survive, and progress as you inch your way through the open world experience.  You’ll quickly learn that your sole objective is to survive by any means necessary, and while it sounds simple enough, it is anything but that.  Scavenging and purchasing upgrades with the game’s “soul” currency, is of utmost importance.  That is assuming you can hold on to these valuables long enough to spend them.

That’s where much of the heartache comes in to play in Dark Souls.  As From Software throws the kitchen sink at you on each step through the game, you’ll also be risking all of what you have collected on your journey with each enemy faced.   Die and you’ll drop every soul that you’ve collected and become “Hollowed”.  If you can make it back to where you met your fate, you’ll find your bloodstain, where you can recollect the souls.  If not, they are gone for good.  This dynamic in the gameplay is where the game is most rewarding.  It can turn what might otherwise feel like a mundane battle into one that has severe consequences.  When you do perish, which will be often, you’ll start off at your most recently visited bonfire.  These bonfires are the game’s checkpoint system, and they are littered throughout the game world to give you a jumping off point for your next crusade.  While there, you can level your character by sacrificing the souls on bettering your attributes.  This is vital to the experience considering that these enhancements will be your best chance of surviving longer and progressing further.

While Dark Souls can be a completely rewarding solitary experience full of challenge and triumph, the game has been completely revamped from an online perspective.  Dark Souls has a more interconnected feeling than its predecessor, where you can actively interact with others that are on the same harrowing journey.  On your travels you will find Bloodstains throughout the game world, that are records of travellers that have met their maker.  Watching for them can give you vital clues as to what lies ahead and how to possibly survive for yourself.  As cool a feature as that is, you’ll also see these ghosts that populate your game experience.  These are players that are currently on the same journey as you, and these players can be summoned by placing a pattern on the floor to call for their help in a particularly brutal battle that you may be having trouble with.  On the flip side of that, players can also invade your game world.  Instead of offering assistance, they can add to the challenges that you are currently facing.  It’s a dynamic world of PvP, cooperative play, or solitary punishment that is mixed together quite well.  Thankfully, From Software has tilted the game dynamics more towards the helpful player than they had in Demon’s Souls however.

Dark Souls is a game for those that like punishment, and players who live for the challenge maybe more so than the reward.  Your efforts will not be lauded with shiny cutscenes and brilliant vistas, but in a sense of accomplishment for each well played battle against even the non-threatening of enemies.  The game can be brutally heart wrenching for those that lose it all, but when resigned to the fact that it’s nearly unavoidable, you’ll appreciate the struggle. The story which is revealed at each turn, will let you fill in the holes that From Software so carefully leaves to you and the Dark Souls Community to spin for yourselves.  That being said, for those that play games for the victory of a cutscene and the delivery of rich and robust narrative, won’t find what they are looking for in Dark Souls.  Depending on your propensity to persevere through the worst of it, will dictate how much you get out of the game, puzzle solvers and creative thinkers need apply in Dark Souls.

The Verdict

It’s hard to say that Dark Souls is a game that everyone would enjoy, because it’s not.  It has a distinct level of challenge that not everyone is going to appreciate.  In a game that prides itself on pushing you to your breaking point of frustration, Dark Souls is a particularly rewarding experience for those that can take all that the game dishes out.  The question you have to ask yourself before getting into Dark Souls  is, “Are you up for it”, because the game will shamelessly make you confirm an affirmative answer at every step of your journey.

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  • Available On: Xbox 360, PS3
  • Published By: Namco Bandai Games
  • Developed By: From Software
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • US Release Date: October 4th, 2011
  • Reviewed On: Xbox 360
  • Quote: "It's hard to say that Dark Souls is a game that everyone would enjoy, because it's not.  It has a distinct level of challenge that not everyone is going to appreciate.  In a game that prides itself on pushing you to your breaking point of frustration, Dark Souls is a particularly rewarding experience for those that can take all that the game dishes out."
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