The lights are on
As long as I have been playing video games, no other game has left me as overwhelmed by its atmosphere, stunned by its design, or enthralled with its gameplay as Demon's Souls. I played it about a year after it released, and it instantly shot to my "Top 5 Games I've Ever Played" list. No other game has come close to the amazing sense of achievement, discovery, dread and excitement as Demon's Souls.... until Dark Souls.
Dark Souls managed to take the Demon's Souls formula: a challenging, immersing and unforgiving RPG in which every death is fair, and every enemy a challenge, and fine-tuned it into one of the absolute best gaming experiences of my life. Discarding the linear level design of Demon's Souls for the open-world setting of Lordran was a huge change for me. The areas are connected in devious ways, and everything you can see from the outset of the game will be a place you'll explore later. Some areas that a fresh adventurer should not dare tread are placed diabolically close to the starting area, encouraging exploration, and forging one's own path through the game. Many routes are possible, as the story leaves much open to interpretation.
Dark Souls has done away with the "go here, do this, get this item and bring it to me" or "collect ten of this herb or monster organ" quest structure most RPG players have become accustomed to, and the quest simply becomes "slay your enemies, defeat the demons of the world, grow in power, and survive." The story of Dark Souls still largely remains a mystery to players almost a full year after its release, and the game has generated more speculation and discussion than any other I've played.
I've read some reviews that decry Dark Souls for breaking the golden rule of Demon's Souls: every death is fair. However, I've come to believe that this rule is not only unbroken in Dark Souls, it has been fiendishly improved upon: every challenge, however insurmountable it may seem at first, can be handled easily one way or another. The archers of Anor Londo are often cited as an unfair point of the game. They can easily be dispatched by careful timing and positioning. Some complain about the Tomb of the Giants forcing you to trade your shield for a lantern... but few know about the crown in Lost Izalith that allows sight in this dark place while allowing you to use your shield.
The challenges presented in Dark Souls took everything I thought I knew about RPG conventions and not only destroyed them, the game split them in two, set them on fire, and tore apart their souls. Dark Souls is the first game I've ever played that his given me a legitimate adrenaline rush. It's the only game I own that forces me to take a breather and prepare myself mentally, physically, and emotionally for every session.
The time I have spent playing Dark Souls has been some of the finest gaming I have ever experienced, and I cannot wait to play the expansion when it is released for consoles. From Software has shown us that RPGs do not need to follow a conventional formula, and the difficulty of their games is equally matched by the sense of accomplishment they give the players when those challenges are met.
Dark Souls will remain in my personal Pantheon of the best games I have ever played.
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