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Dark Souls Review.  I came.  I saw.  I conquered.
Dark Souls
 How Hyped are you? 
Publisher: From Software
Release Dates: 10/04/2011  9/28/2011  10/08/2011 
Platforms: • PS3 • XBOX 360
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Dark Souls Review.  I came.  I saw.  I conquered.
Buri on March 08, 2012 at 12:07 pm
Soutas Pop

133 hours 47 minutes and 43 seconds.  Dark Souls… DONE!

It’s been quite a journey.  But alas, the day has come that I have completed my quest.  There were many trials I had to face along the way.  The biggest difficulty I faced was that Dark Souls has no pause button and I have a newborn son who is learning how to crawl and needs all kinds of things like baths and diaper changes and sometimes he decides he’d rather stay up and cry rather than go to sleep.  There’s a pretty good portion of that 133 hours that was really just my character hiding in a safe corner somewhere, while in real life, I was walking a baby to sleep.  My son is awesome, but dads beware, NO PAUSE.  But of course, there were many nights after everyone would go to bed, I’d get my comfy PJs on, make my cup of coffee, turn the lights down and get lost in the world of Lordran.  In the end, it all worked out.  I was a satisfactory father, husband (barely), and saved the world.  Someone give this guy a pat on the back.  Anyone?

Dark Souls is the “spiritual successor” (not sequel) to From Software’s 2009 sleeper hit Demon’s Souls which gained major props in the gaming community for being utterly relentless and unforgiving.  For anyone who has complained that games are too easy these days and simply hold your hand and put you through the motions, you need to pick up a copy of Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls and prepare to be punished.  

If you’ve played Demon’s Souls before, I have this to say about Dark Souls.  They’re pretty much the same game.  And that’s not bad! Both games are practically identical graphics wise.  They both use the same engine.  The game play, levelling system, combat system, reclaiming lost souls upon death, playing alive or dead and multiplayer aspects are virtually the same.  A major difference lies in the lack of the Nexus (main hub).  Instead of having the Nexus to launch into any level in the world from, as in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls is linier with an open world to explore.  There are bonfires spread throughout the game where you can rest your character and pretty much do whatever you would need to do in the Nexus.  Level up, upgrade weapons, refill your energy, etc.  Plus the way that it ends up working out is that there is an initial area you start out from that is sort of like the Nexus, and you can easily branch out to all the different parts of the game from there.  As you progress through the game you unlock shortcuts that will allow previously conquered areas to be accessible so you can travel quicker and don’t have backtrack too much.  Eventually, probably about 60%-70% through the game you acquire the ability to warp between selected bonfires making travelling that much nicer.  So no Nexus, but the new bonfire system is more immersive and overall works better.  There are a few other tweaks, but they’re generally just different ways of doing the same things you could do in Demon’s Souls like the Estus flask or humanity.

If you’ve never played Demon’s Souls can you jump right into Dark Souls?  Of course, without a doubt.  But it’s a situation comparable to Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 or the Uncharted games.  If you play Uncharted 1 first you’ll love it.  Then after when you play Uncharted 2 you’ll be blown away.  But if you play Uncharted 2 first then go back to Uncharted 1, it just won’t seem as fun, maybe a little dated.  The same might hold true to Demon’s Souls and Dark Soul’s.  Demon’s Souls is spectacular, but you can tell they ironed out a few kinks in Dark Souls and made it a little more of everything.  Dark Souls is a longer game, there’s more variation in enemies and attack strategy, weapon upgrading is more complex, and magic is more complex.  So I would almost recommend playing Demon’s Souls first then jumping into Dark Souls so you can get the most out of both games.  But if you just want to jump right into Dark Souls, you definitely can.

This game is gorgeous.  The landscapes are lush and totally fleshed out and it’s awesome looking off into the distance from some cliff and being able to see way far off in places you’ve been before (or need to get to).  There are some pretty creepy enemies and the bosses look spectacular.  You have castle ruins, green forests, underground lava, snow, it’s all there and beautiful.  The detail and creativity are superb!

The lighting is done very well no matter where you are usually, when you stop and pause, even in the lowliest of dungeons, you can see everything you need to.  (Except in the Tomb of the Giants, which is supposed to be dark.  Have fun with that one!)

Presentation is tricky.  One of the things they try and do to add to the challenge of the game is that they don’t really tell you… well… anything about what you are supposed to do.  This is a decision the game developers have made.  So you can say that the menus and weapon/equipment upgrade system is confusing and explained poorly, but that’s the idea.  You need to figure it out.  If you’ve played Demon’s Souls, you’ll pick it up quick.  If this is your first time, have fun.  I recommend the Dark Souls wiki.

Your on-screen info during game play is all where it’s supposed to be.  Important information (health, stamina, etc) all non-intrusively and intuitively placed.  One thing that I really liked that more and more games are doing nowadays is that when I equip a ring or consume a performance enhancing potion/plant, there are visual animations to my character showing that there is in fact some kind of effect taking place.  In some games you may put on a ring that might make you silent.  But after a while with no animation you forget it’s equipped.  In Dark Souls you get a very prominent animation on your characters feet that let’s you know you are in fact wearing that ring and benefiting from its effects.

One complaint, where I think they need to improve on, is the scrolling menus for weapons and armour.  As you start getting through the game and picking up more weapons and armour, it all starts adding up and the only way to access them is to scroll down.  All weapons and shields are in one category and if you want a specific sword you have to scroll through a really long list to find the one you want.  A little more organization here would have been greatly appreciated.  Spears, piercing swords, long swords, bows, crossbows, etc as well as heavy armour vs. light armour categories in the inventory screen would be a very welcome system indeed.  As it stands now I have to scroll through everything for like a minute to get the one piece of equipment I want.  And if I’m in the middle of a fight and decide I want to take the risk to try an arm a new weapon in the heat of battle, forget about it, I’m screwed.

Despite having to scroll endlessly for weapons and armour near the end of the game, and having to figure out the menus on your own, they take a complicated system and make it easy to use.

Just about every weapon has its own sound effects which can change based on environment (echoes in caverns).  It’s this attention to detail that really makes the game feel so good. 

The music is minimal, but due to its lack, when you get to a boss fight and the orchestra kicks in, it really gets the heart pumping.  And when you’re deep in a dungeon, it’s more intense just having the ambient sound effects and enemies rather than having some score that keeps looping for no reason.

Once again, like Demon’s Souls, the NPC voices are great.  Everyone has European accents and everyone seems like they’re a little bit crazy.  However, there was one instance when I found the blacksmith in the Catacombs where it sounds like they used a poor recording and his voice was all distorted.  Not in a purposeful way but in a “we screwed up the recording levels” kind of way.

This is how the game play works.  When you kill enemies you get souls.  Souls are the universal currency throughout the game.  You can use them as money with merchants to buy new equipment and blacksmiths to upgrade your weapons and armour.  You also use them as experience points when levelling up your character.  When you die, you lose all the souls you have earned.  You have one chance to get them back.  You have to go back to the spot you were killed (signified by a bloodstain) and pick them up again.  On your way to get them back, you’ll find all the enemies have re-spawned, including the guy that killed you.  If you’re killed before you can retrieve your souls, they’re lost forever.  There are no “banks” where you can save your souls up.  You gotta earn ‘em and spend ‘em.  As your character progresses, the number of souls required to level up increases.  So there becomes this certain tension where you’re walking around with a boatload of souls and you can either head all the way back to the previous bonfire to spend them which in turn re-spawns all the enemies again, or you can opt to keep moving forward hoping you don’t get killed and can find a new bonfire soon.  It’s a difficult choice, and many a time have I lost an uncomfortable amount of souls, trying to push my luck.

The combat is sweet.  Everything affects everything.  If you wear heavier armour, your guy physically moves slower suggesting you take a blocking strategy, and conversely lighter armour allows you quickness to dodge hits much easier.  Different swords behave differently, spears and halberds behave very differently, daggers, bows, crossbows.  Everything has its advantages and disadvantages, unique feel and fighting style.  You’ll have to keep switching up weapons to find a style that is comfortable for you.  But depending on what armour you wear, what weapons you equip and what attributes you choose to focus on while levelling your character up, the game will play very differently.  That’s one of the things I like the most, everything matters cause you can feel it in the game play.

This is in no way your button smashing hack in slash.  It is on the very opposite end of that scale.  Every single enemy, every time you face him or her, you need to understand how they can react and how you’re going to attack them.  One slip up and even the most basic zombie can cut you down.  This is where the “hard” comes in.  You need to focus, and every swing or block you make is a very deliberate decision.  You just can’t burn through an area.

When I played Demon’s Souls, one of my complaints was that it seemed that the bosses were amazing easy, especially for such a difficult game.  Dark Souls has “fixed” this problem.  There are a few cupcakes, but there are a lot of guys who gave me a pretty hard time or forced me to readjust my entire equipment load out and strategy.  The final boss was perfectly balanced between hard and satisfying.

The Multiplayer co-op aspect is very unique in this game.  You can’t go to a main menu and go to a lobby and hook up for some co-op.  But instead you need to get an in-game item and when your character is in human form, he or she can summon another real world random player who is also in human form (you can switch between zombie and human throughout the game) and two of you can get together on the same level and help one another in a section.  I mostly played the game alone, but there was one instance where there was a boss fight that actually had 2 bosses.  I tried for about 3 sessions to beat them solo and eventually ended up summoning another player and we knocked it out together with no problems. 

As mentioned above, by default you start out as a zombie and by use of an item you can gain your “humanity” back.  Enemy drops are more frequent and I believe your character’s defence is stronger but you also run the risk of being invaded.  Yes.  Being invaded.  Only when you are in human form, other players can invade your game, come find you, and kill you and steal all your souls and humanity.  Being invaded sucks and there is a total feeling of real dread when the invasion message appears on your screen.  It seems that the people who do the invading are pretty bad ass, because you get smoked almost every time.  This is an awesome and controller throwing frustrating aspect of the game.  I did beat an invader once and it was sweet!  I ended up getting all his souls and a bunch of rare armour off him.

The story?  Was there one?  It seemed like there was some lore and there was supposed to be some kind of plot with characters that you meet through out the game.  But it became difficult to follow character stories after long periods of playing and not seeing them.  In the end I wasn’t even really sure what the plot even was.  Just getting through the game and getting to the next bonfire and levelling your character, kept me 100% motivated and entertained and kept me coming back day after day.  It might have been nice to have a cohesive story, but in the end, it didn’t really matter.  Just play it!

The character progression and levelling up is practically designed for a second play through.  When you finish the game it starts all over again except you retain all your weapons and souls and the enemies are more difficult to kill.  But there is plenty or room to upgrade your weapons and armour in the second play through.  And since you’re starting the game with everything and you know how it’s going to go, you can change up your whole strategy and play the game a totally different way.  

Me?  I’ve had enough for now.  But if you want to keep playing, they still keep it interesting even though you’ve been through it once before.

I’ve played a lot of games in my time.  And by no small means do I say this.  But this is one of the better games I’ve ever played.  Highlights include:  actually physically shaking when exploring a new dangerous area carrying way more souls than I should have.  The concentration and focus in the late hours of the night.  Exploring and tip toeing around every corner with shield raised having no idea what may lie beyond.  Having my wits about me knowing that one small slip up or false move would spell certain death.  Being stuck, then seeing a little hidden pathway that opens up a whole new area (Darkroot Basin).  FINDING A BONFIRE!  Succeeding in these things will cause you to feel the elation and joy of Dark Souls.  Failure brings frustration, despair and broken controllers. 

I recommend this game only to the strongest players out there.  Its challenge is second to none.  It’s long and it’s difficult.  But the way that you feel when you finally pass, that section or boss, unlock a secret area, or find that bonfire carrying 30,000 souls is the most rewarding feeling you can have while playing a video game.  It’s tough but it’s worth it!

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