The lights are on
I’m making my way down a corridor, having prepared
my spells, weaponry and gear for this specific area. I have two co-op partners
I summoned for the occasion, one who is a mage, and a heavy hitter with a dragon’s
head. I’m just about to go into the final boss area when a player who had
invaded my game earlier decides to ambush us with the aid of some of some
nearby enemies. As the host, I am the main target, and despite the efforts of
my comrades, he quickly knocks me down and finishes me off, sending me back to
the bonfire at the beginning of the area. In the world of Dark Souls, you never
really “win,” you simply do a little better each time.
The set up for the game is that you are one of many “undead”,
cursed with immortality and segregated from society until the end of the world.
The story is very minimal, but incredibly engaging if you can find the time to
look for clues and listen to the stories the characters will tell you. Your
motivations, though murky at first, start to become clear, but even towards the
end you aren’t sure of what you’re ultimate plan is.
If you’ve played Demon’s Souls you’ll already be
familiar with much of what the game has to offer. If you die, you drop all your
souls (the main method of leveling up and purchasing items) as well as your
humanity (which is useful for kindling bonfires for extra health and returning
to human form) at the spot where you died and end up back at the last bonfire
you sat at.
If you can reach the blood stain where you died, you’ll
regain access to your souls and humanity. Because of this, players are forced
into a more cautious playstyle, which the tough enemies and deadly level design
help enforce. This is definitely not the kind of game a casual gamer can blow
through in a weekend.
The combat is where Dark Souls sets itself apart
from other games, and is where the game is most thrilling. Different weapons do
different levels of damage, have differing ranges, have different uses against
different enemies, have varying speeds, use varying levels of stamina, and all
follow different upgrade paths.
Dozens of spears, swords, clubs, hammers, catalysts
and more are littered throughout the game, along with many different pieces of
armor and various projectiles, spells and single use items that all go well
with the different skills you can level to let the player decide how they will
play the game.
Players also have limited amounts of use for healing
items and spells at each bonfire, along with gear that diminishes in quality
over time, which adds to the cautious style of play the game wants players to
maintain. The game rewards smart thinking, using divine weapons against
skeletons weak against them is a smart move, as is switching to a thrusting
weapon to avoid catching your weapon on the walls in tight spaces, or timing
enemy attacks so you can dodge or parry them at the right time for a critical
The world of Dark Souls sets itself apart from Demon’s
Souls in that instead of a single hub area, the world is one massive
interconnected area that can be explored how you see fit. While the game does
have a basic “path” they would like you to follow, many of the areas can be
tackled at the order you would wish, and with a variety of secret areas,
alternate pathways and hidden rooms you’ll want to keep an eye out for what the
world might be hiding. One caveat is that high level areas are extremely easy
to get lost in, particularly since the game never points you in a direction or
gives you a map or indicator of where to go. Later on, you do get the ability
to warp to different bonfires and get some semblance of an end goal from a few
Of course if you do get lost, at least you’ll be
lost in some of the most beautifully realized levels you’ve seen, from a forest
full of deadly wildlife, to a swampland full of deadly creatures (and an
unfortunate crippling frame rate), all the way up to a beautiful city of the gods.
The best part is that any location you can see in the game, you can reach. If
you want to, you could drop a soul sign in some demon ruins, go all the way to
some catacombs and see the soul sign from what seems like miles away, or find
an alternate route to an area if you want to avoid certain enemies or obstacles
in the main path.
The online play really sets this game apart from
other similar RPG games, especially with the importance so many covenants place
on either helping or hindering players online. The game does allow certain
features (such as summoning and invading) to exist offline, with certain NPC
character available for both situations, but this is a game best played online.
The thrill of invading the world of a sinner as a
Spirit of Vengeance and taking out the host and his friends with an ambush, or
the feeling of camaraderie as you take down a boss with a couple of helpers make
Dark Souls unique. One problem I have is that the online infrastructure isn’t the best, with lag
killing me just as often as actual skilled players, and with some difficulty
existing in finding other people to play with, but the issues pop up rarely and
aren’t enough for me to recommend players go offline.
Dark Souls is a game made for gamers, it will not
hold your hand and can even be unfairly tough, but it is also one of the most
rewarding and engaging experiences out there and I highly recommend it to any
RPG fan or action gamer looking for something that breaks the mold. Days after
taking out the final boss, I still think of Dark Souls, even now I’m itching to
get back into New Game Plus to see what else the world might have to offer.
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