I’m a gamer. That term comes with both positive and negative feedback. Positive if you’re discussing the love of your favorite past time with a fellow gamer who shares your appreciation or negative if it’s time to take out the garbage and your wife is standing over you asking for the third time. It comes with the territory and I’m proud to consider myself part of that club. The great part about being a gamer is the ability to experience all types of games ranging from different genres with many different levels of difficulty. I’ve played some serious games in the past but it wasn’t until now that I ran into a beast of a game called Dark Souls.
The team from Software and Namco Bandai set out to create a game, a sequel to Demon Souls, that will take a gamer by the hand and the drop you off a cliff. Sounds rough? Well that’s exactly what Dark Souls is; a lesson in dying. Dark Souls is an action orientated RPG with elements of looting and dungeon crawling set in a large open world environment that you become the master of your destiny. There is a quest, albeit a vague one, where you take the role of an undead character who early on in the game takes on a mission set by a dying warrior. Essentially you are carrying out their last wish and quite possibly playing a part in a much wider prophecy.
Escaping from the prison might seem like a simple task to begin with, but not in Dark Souls. In this game there is only one difficulty level and it can only be classed as hardcore and that is the key premise behind this title. Build a game which offers a huge challenge to anyone playing through it and see if they have what it takes to live in our world. A world that becomes extremely dangerous and addictive that when you’re not spending time there, you’re thinking about it. Never have I played a game that I enjoyed living my characters life. Never knowing what lies around the next turn, what will I find or how long will I survive?
To aid in your quest there are a few key game mechanics. First, the combat is aided by a lock on target which allows you to press the right stick and focus your attacks on an enemy, maximizing the damage they cause. Next you will quickly learn about bonfires. Scattered throughout the world are bonfires which act as save points and a place where you can perform tasks such as refilling your health and leveling up throughout the game. Bonfires will soon become your best ally and you will find yourself searching for them every chance you get. The presence of these restart points and the ability to refill our health might sound ideal but this isn’t necessarily the case. They come with a twist. Every time you use a bonfire, whether it is because you died or decided to rest, all previous enemies you have killed will re-spawn. That’s a low blow for typical gamers who are used to linear games, and forces you to change your gameplay style from what you are normally used to. I cannot tell you how great it feels to finally find a bonfire as your health is borderline death and to fully recover, but as soon as you turn around your enemies have returned and are ready to turn the tables on you.
This game almost seems sadistic but still fun at the same time. Once you play it and die often enough, and you will die, you do realize that sometimes you need to stop thinking of this as a dungeon crawler and more of a puzzle game. Whenever the game bumps up the difficulty to sheer craziness, there’s usually a relatively simple way of getting past it. So instead of getting frustrated you start thinking about how to get passed this foe and that’s the wonderful thing about Dark Souls, you’ll want to keep playing. Sometimes it’s finding that escape route which suddenly makes you realize you weren’t supposed to be fighting that beast in the first place. That’s something you may find a lot in this game. If something seems too hard to beat, move on. Find something or someone your own size; literally. A major part of this game is that it’s an open world that acts as if your character is real. This game preys on your feelings and is very skilled at manipulating them. Make no mistake, it takes a certain kind of person to stick with it and enjoy this game. Anyone who loves linear games or gets frustrated easily, look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a beautiful game with an amazing feel of accomplishment when you pass an inpassable area, this is the game for you and I urge you to play. Dark Souls does what it does extremely well and it should be applauded.
There is no doubt that the graphical aspects of Dark Souls are hugely impressive. It is incredible to witness yourself work your way up to the top of Undead Burgh just before meeting a boss and then look down over the city distracting you from the task at hand. The mere sunshine, as we gaze up into the sky, is breath-taking. Dark Soul’s engine creates many awe-inspiring moments. Additionally the animations of the main character and multiple enemies are extremely smooth and well rendered. The developers seem to have pushed the visuals so far which results in some very noticeable details in environments, such as glistening walls to shining armor; very realistic. However, the camera angle can occasionally be a bit troublesome in some areas but nothing that ever leaves you feeling cheated during a battle.
As for the audio, the hacks and slashes resonate well throughout the game from piercing your opponents armor in an intense battle or enjoying the ambient sounds during serious dungeon crawling. Every aspect of the game seems to be complimented by a wonderfully written musical score. Plain and simple, the game is very engrossing and the audio only adds to your enjoyment of your adventure making it terribly difficult to walk away from this wonderfully dangerous world.
It doesn’t matter what weapon you pick or play-style you prefer, everyone is as equipped to survive the harsh areas of this land. In fact, with an equipment upgrading system that rewards sticking with the same weapon, it’s likely you’ll discard everything but the most powerful tools in favor of a trusty axe or sword that you’ve been swinging from the first moment you landed in the game. Whether you decide on slinging arrows, hurling fireballs or prefer the weight of a double-handed sword, Dark Souls is so smartly crafted that the choice of weapon boils down to how well you wield it rather than it’s physical capabilities.
Dark Souls does offer multiple player online capabilities but just as the rest of the game’s tone it doesn’t come easy. I won’t spoil anything for you hardcore gamers but just gaining the ability to engage in online play is a chore. You’ll need to locate some elements and perform a few things before the game even lets you think about playing with your friends. I understand that Namco Bandai wanted to make this hard but I think I would have enjoyed summoning my friends on first notice to take on a boss that I might be having trouble. The game already adds a tremendous difficulty level as it is, it just seems like it would be a smarter move to make questing an easier task. Again, nothing that deters me from enjoying the game but maybe something to think about for the future.
So with nearly no story line and limited cut-scenes scattered throughout the game, Dark Souls greatest feat is the story; a story created entirely by you and your reactions to the world. That is what makes this a great and truly rewarding journey that everyone should at least try to experience for themselves. Dark Souls may not be for everyone but that seems like it’s only downfall. This could be the game that you never play which could easily hold up to game of the year consideration.
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