Warning: Dark Souls is not for the casual player or for those who have weak constitutions. You will die many, many times. You will grit your teeth in anger and frustration. You will want to throw your controller to the ground and smash it, so if you value your controllers and your sanity, then leave now. But for those who are brave (or foolish) enough to endure the high difficulty and punishing enemies in a world full of demons, ghosts and dragons, then read on. Pepare to die in the world of Dark Souls, you poor soul.
Dark Souls is the spiritual sequel to the 2009 surprise hit, Demon's Souls. Demon's Souls brought back old-school-hard difficulty; forcing players to be on their toes when exploring, rewarding them when the quest at hand was completed and punishing them when they died by sending them all the way back to the beginning of the stage. From Software, now with the help of Namco Bandai, hope to bring that same feeling of accomplishment and failure to a much wider audience with Dark Souls, while adding a new world more monsters and making it much, much harder. Can Dark Souls live up to, or even surpass the expectations set by its predecessor?
Dark Brooding Atmosphere - The sound of steel boots clanging on the walkway. Screeching and clanging on the walls echoing throughout the hall. You walk slowly down the corridor, shield up and your sword at the ready not knowing what could be behind the next corner. This is what it feels in Dark Souls. The game gives off a type of atmosphere that only a few games can deliver. Save for the boss battles, there is no music at all during the game. No overworld tune and no traveling music; just the sound of your steel boots clanging on the ground and the creatures lying in wait to ambush you. There’s something about having no music playing while I’m exploring a section of an area that really tensed me up and put me in a state of alert, giveing it an extra level of excitement.
Satisfying Gameplay - Gameplay, for the most part, in Dark Souls hasn’t changed much, with blocking and parrying on the left triggers and attacks on the right triggers. Even so, the combat encounters are a satisfying experience. From the lowly foot solider wielding a sword and shield, the “experienced” undead warriors who will try to out maneuver you, to the boss fights with giant monsters that can easily kill you with two swipes, gameplay is most satisfying. Yes, you will die many, many times, but within these deaths comes knowledge of what to expect. Soon you’ll be killing demons left and right without a sweat, only to be killed again by a hidden enemy. No matter how many times I died and had to kill the same enemies over and over again, it never lost its fun. Like Demon's Souls, this is also remnant of many classic hard games of the 80’s and 90’s where memorization and a steady hand were keys to winning.
Vast Seamless World to Explore- A big step up from Demons Souls’ Nexus hub world, Dark Souls takes place in one huge interlocking area. When arriving at the “hub” called Firelink Shrine, at first it seems to be only the ruins of a shrine. Upon closer exploration, there are three routes that players can take. One leads to an underground cavern that ghosts and other unholy beings call home. Another path leads to a cemetery and the entrance to underground catacombs. The last path leads to an undead burg where a dragon, once thought to be dead, sits atop of a castle waiting for those who would dare to venture near it. Each of these areas has their own sub areas where players can explore farther, adding to the already seemingly huge land they are in. Even better is that as players explore deeper, they will discover that each of the three paths connect to each other.
Bonfire Check Points- To make things just a tad bit easier on players, From Software added in a checkpoint system that uses bonfires. Here, players can take a brief moment to rest, have their health and potions refilled, level up and collect themselves before venturing out once more. If the player dies, this safe zone is where the player will respawn. No more going all the way back to the beginning of the level like in Demon's Souls. There is one catch, though. Each time the player lights and rests at a bonfire, all the enemies that were killed on the way to the fire will respawn in their original spots.
My Friend, My Enemy- Multiplayer returns to Dark Souls with the same conditions that were put in place for Demon's Souls: kill the area boss and you will return safely to your own realm with all the loot you found. Die and lose everything. New to Dark Souls is the ability is to invade a player’s realm and screw with them. It’s bad enough when there are already demons and other monsters out to kill you, but throw in a live human opponent who is actively hunting you, and the game gets even more tense.
Replayablity...If You Can Beat It- Just as in Demons Soul's, those who endured all the way to the end of Dark Souls have a new game+ waiting for them. But with three large, expansive areas and DLC content/events in the works, players will have a hard time reaching the end.
Frame Rate/Freezing Issues - The one and only real problem that I had with Dark Souls is a combination of the frame rate slowing down, my camera locking up and the game occasionally freezing up. There were some points of the game when I was in battle with an undead enemy when the game would freeze up for a minute and then continue. As for the frame rate, slowdown would occur when larger creatures and boss monsters would jump on screen. Now this doesn’t happen often in the game, and it isn’t a game breaker. From early reports, the Japanese version of the game also had a few day one bugs and was quickly patched up. I suspect that when the game gets officially released we will also see that same patch.
Dark Souls is a game that needs to be played by those who are brave enough to withstand its punishing monsters and grueling bosses with satisfying gameplay and a dark, brooding atmosphere. Online play is still good from the previous game and the addition of invading another player’s game gives it a really nice touch. The frame rate and freezing issues are not deal breakers and should be patched. Add in DLC content, events and Dark Souls is a game that you will be playing for quite a while. If you’re looking for something different this year and are up to the challenge, pick up Dark Souls and prepare to die while having fun.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*