Dark Souls Review
Play, persist and earn your reward.
Back when it was released, I reviewed Demon’s Souls and stated that it was the best RPG on the PS3 yet. Two years on and little has changed. Though not a game for everyone, Demon’s Souls provided a unique and challenging experience that was as engaging as it was difficult and had a risk / reward balance unrivaled in the world of gaming. Dark Souls is not a sequel but a descendent of Demon’s Souls. In some respects it is almost identical to its predecessor though its differences, as one quickly discovers, are substantial and can change the way you play dramatically. For anyone unfamiliar with From Software’s atmospheric RPG dungeon crawler, the marketing tagline on the box is perhaps the best advice one can give: “Prepare to die” – because whether you like it or not, die you shall.
Dark Souls is a action RPG that starts you off selecting your character’s class. This decision influences your starting stats and equipment but does not really close doors for you. Meaning, if you decide to start as a knight, you can still acquire sorcery later on in the game…and you can still become quite adept at it as well. Once your character is prepped up, it is time for Dark Souls’ tutorial, if one can even call it that. It’s important to realize that, like Demon’s Souls before it, Dark Souls is uncommunicative by design. Do not expect much assistance from the game along the way. There are no help menus, no loading screen tips, even the printed manual the comes with the disc will provide scarce tidbits of information…very scarce. The game requires you to figure things out for yourself either through trial and error or by utilizing the built-in peer assistance devices that make up the game’s online component, something I will get into later in this review. For the next few paragraphs however, I will discuss the game’s various mechanics in a nutshell. Skip on to the later parts of the review if you wish to keep Dark Soul’s convoluted systems a mystery to be discovered, as per From Software’s intentions.
Dark Souls plays alot like its predecessor, allowing you to assign equipment to both your right and left hands. Each melee weapon has a variety of attacks such as a basic attack, a heavy attack and two-handed attacks. Dark Souls is all about precision and timing, so no matter how powerful your character gets, you can still be eliminated by a common lowly enemy if you act rashly. Defeating almost any enemy in the game grants you souls, which acts as XP and currency. You can use souls to level up your stats, to buy spells and miracles, to re-enforce and repair equipment, even to purchase intel from dodgy NPCs. Souls are everything you will hold dear in this game. Upon death, you will drop your souls in the exact location you perished, giving you a chance to return to that location and recover them…should you die along the way, the older batch of souls will be gone. Therefore it is never a good idea to venture into the unknown with a wealth of unspent souls.
Those familiar with Demon’s Souls will recall how, from the sanctuary of the Nexus, one can select the world they wished to venture to, progressing slowly in each one, killing demon after demon. For better or worse, this system has been eliminated. The world is now a seamless phantasmagoria, one that may seem somewhat linear until you begin to discover pathways to other areas or shortcuts back to charted territory. The game does not require save points, as it auto-saves every single action you make almost instantly. In other words, your actions have permanent consequences, which is sort of the game’s mantra. There are however what one could call sanctuary checkpoints, known as bonfires. At bonfires, you can trade in souls for stat level-ups, you can attune your spells and miracles and a variety of other adjustments should you acquire the respective items or abilities. Bonfires can also be kindled (ie upgraded), which brings forth another important aspect of the game, and one that further distinguishes it from its infamous predecessor.
In Dark Souls, the use of health items and MP have been significantly altered or perhaps eliminated would be more accurate a term. Indeed there are no more health items to be obtained. Early on in the game, you will acquire an Estus Flask which has limited uses (starting off at 5). Using the Estus Flask recharges your health as a health item would. When your limited uses run out, you’ll have no way of recharging health and you will require a trip back to a bonfire. At the bonfires, your Estus Flask recharges and as the bonfire is kindled, your Flask quantity increases. This works similarly for spells. There is no longer a mana bar and each spell has a limited number of uses. This may significantly alter the way you play the game because you can no longer rely solely on ranged sorcery. When the spell uses run out amidst a gritty demon battle, its time to get up close and personal.