Dark Souls Review

By on October 20, 2011

Play, persist and earn your reward.

Good: Engrossing and challenging gameplay; Elegantly crafted atmosphere and enemy design; Well implemented online play; Fantastic sound design; A masterclass in game design
Bad: Occasional slowdown in certain areas; Infrequent delays in character response time that can prove fatal
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First Impressions
My reaction is

In addition to souls, Dark Souls introduces another element to be constantly coveted: humanity. The game’s humanity system is difficult to grasp at first, and you may very well go through the whole game not quite understanding how you earned your humanity or the entirety of its effects on your experience. What is clear is that you start off as “hollow” or, for all intents and purposes, undead. Unlike Demon’s Souls however, you do not traverse the world as a glowing phantom but as a grotesque corpse you’ll quickly want to cover up with as much armor as possible. You can use humanity to reverse hollowing and revive your human form which has many benefits such as the ability to kindle bonfires, however, that will require the shelling out of even more humanity.

Dark Souls’ online play has been slightly tweaked since Demon’s Souls but remains largely the same. Anyone new the the ‘series’ will find it quite unique and in many ways it will remain so, because only such a game can really pull it off effectively. Dark Soul’s base online component is the ability to post messages on the ground for other gamers to read. Messages can be constructed from a predefined set of words and phrases in order to assist, mislead, taunt or share moments with fellow gamers. Messages can be rated as well and receiving positive ratings rewards you with humanity. In addition, players can touch bloodstains which will show the ghost of another random player in their final moments before death. These bloodstains can help you foresee ambushes or adjudge if a certain fall is fatal.

Dark Souls also features both competitive and cooperative online gameplay but its system is quite ingenious and unlike anything else out there, barring its predecessor of course. Players in Hollow form can lay summon marks, visible to other. When a random player in Human form sees this mark, they can summon the bearer of the mark to their game to assist them in their plight. If both are successful in defeating the demon of that specific area, the summoner is able to progress and the summoned player is rewarded with humanity. It is this system of peer assistance that allows the folks at From Software to sleep well at night, knowing that while they produced a gruelingly and punishing world and gave us little to no guidance on how best to approach it, they provided a platform for people to help each other overcome the outstanding odds. Yet it is not always about holding hands and singing Kumbaya at the bonfires, because while some players will come to your game to help, others may invade your game as a ‘black phantoms’ and just like that – a formidable foe out of thin air. Killing a ‘Black Phantom’ has its rewards but dying means its back to Hollow form… and time to go pick up those souls again.

Visually, Dark Souls is not a technical masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but the developers clearly put emphasis on certain facets that make the world and atmosphere quite stunning overall. Character animations and enemy designs are impeccable as are various areas in the game as well. Ultimately its never a question of polygons that make the difference, rather touches of genius spread out in a way that makes the world of Dark Souls a place difficult to leave unimpressed. After traversing a claustrophobic tunnel in fear, you may step out on a steep cliff overlooking a scenic view that subtly triggers an emotional response or a feeling of hope after moments of despair. The way the game also alternates between usage of music and raw sound effects works to that same effect as well. The sound design in Dark Souls is quite superb. You’ll walk for quite a while hearing only the clinking of your armor as you make your way, then you’ll step into a church and the sound of your armor will create a haunting echo bound to bring a chill to your spine. Or you will be walking in fear having just faced a plethora of foes and you’ll hear the faint sounds of a blacksmith at work, giving you the sense that there is help and safety ahead. Dark Souls is scattered with such brilliance at absolutely every corner.

The key to enjoying Dark Souls is to embrace death and defeat because both will come often. With almost every death, there is a lesson to be learned – where to stand to avoid the dragon’s fire, what attacks are better evaded than blocked, what enemy ambush lies ahead and the list goes on ad infinitum. For those claiming that Dark Souls is unreasonably difficult, all one can respond is that is that they are sorely missing the point. The reality is that Dark Souls is not too difficult rather most games today are too easy. It is perhaps the most balanced game one can play. To survive, one must have patience, persistence and a high level of concentration…nothing is spoon-fed or handed to you on a silver platter. Satisfaction and success must be earned and it feels infinitely better for being so. At around 70 hours of intense gaming, Dark Souls is hardcore and anyone without an innate interest in RPGs will find it inaccessible and masochistic. However, any RPG fan that yearns for the days where progression and success were not guaranteed just by starting the game and giving it hours of your time, is in for a immense treat and one that seldom comes around.

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As an opinionated young gamer many years ago, I made three predictions: 1- Sega would dominate the console wars for 50 years. 2- Simon's Quest would be remembered as the definitive NES game. 3- I would be gaming even more as an adult. I suppose one out of three isn't bad.

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  • Rami

    Nice Review! :)


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