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As the spiritual successor to one of the toughest titles of the next generation, Dark Souls tests the might of anyone willing to give it the time and effort needed to best this unbearably difficult game. Developed by the guys at From Software, Dark Souls is not the direct follow up to their previous Playstation 3 exclusive, Demon’s Souls (2009), but it still retains its unforgiving nature and brutality it became notorious for. This time along, Xbox 360 gamers are called to the fray as both dexterity and patience become two of the most valuable characteristics this game forces you to adopt. Being a Role-Playing game at heart, the campaign can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 45 hours to complete whilst maintaining the consistent difficulty leaving many gamers wondering if they’ll ever get to see the credits roll. The story of is minimalistic in the sense that it rarely shows its face after the initial cut-scene. You are a hollow, or undead, and in order to free yourself from this world you have to become human using humanity. The story is more of a background; let me research that later, sort of 0thing, however.This isn’t your run-of-the-mill hack-n-slash per say. There isn’t one sole path to follow (no pun intended). As opposed to the overused linear swordplay game, Dark Souls lets you choose which direction to venture forth on. The game literally drops you into the middle of the world and won’t prevent you from going left, right, back or forth. Granted, depending upon the direction you take during the first 10 minutes, you may find out rather quickly that you’ve made the wrong decision. In other words, some areas are noticeably more difficult, though not impossible. This makes the games replayability even more interesting now that you know what lay ahead each path. Being a third-person action game, the controls are quite simple. Defend, attack, and roll/dodge are all there with only variations of the few to add a slightly wider array of abilities. An item menu remains letting the player choose what they want to wear and wield based on what they’ve acquired throughout their journey. The amount of items hidden across the seamless world is quite astonishing and the weapon combinations can seem overwhelming. This is especially so when you find several different sets of armor and weapons that suit each conflict differently. Unfortunately for those classic hack and slash fans, there isn’t that “kill-all” God weapon hidden in an obscure location. Though the multitude of weapons span a wide spectrum of statistics, it’s all about upgrading, forging and tweaking until you hit that niche that fits your play style best. The term “Souls” becomes prevalent during gameplay as a form of cash, known as, well, souls. These souls are obtained as you vanquish enemies upon each encounter with increasing amounts depending on their threat. Not only are they used as in-game currency, they are also points that allow you to level up your overall character based on several statistics (known as skills) varying per class (Kind of like Skyrim). The acquisition of these souls is what makes this game extremely difficult and to some, frustrating. Upon dying during a demanding battle or unfortunate fall, all the souls you’ve accumulated are reduced to “zero.” Lucky for you, you get an opportunity to retrieve them. This can be fairly easy or damn near impossible depending on your situation. For instance, those who decided to run through a difficult area resulting in an untimely death may find they lacked better judgment. A major point to be added about this feature is the fact that if you die without retrieving the souls from your previous body, they will be gone… forever. It won’t be unlikely to lose the hundred thousand souls obtained from a boss who took several attempts to slay after forgetting to save immediately following the fight. Unfortunate, but this makes you contemplate the reward in terms of the risk. Along with souls is the use of humanity. As you regain your human form, you acquire slightly more souls per kill and as you acquire more humanity you can gain weapon and armor power-ups beneficial to some fights. This is also where the multiplayer mode reveals itself. As you run around the world in human form, you can invade other player’s worlds, and be invaded yourself. On some occasions other players can be significantly more difficult and sometimes impossible to kill at earlier stages. PvP becomes a more entertaining feature as your character level increases and you grow to take a few more hits. There is also an intriguing message system between players. Before walking upon a trap, you can leave a message for another player to warn them, or take the more devious route and lie about the dangers ahead. Likewise, you can read other players messages throughout the world, which add to a slightly more immersive experience. It’s a neat implement but not necessary to completing the story. A devilish addition to the game is it’s save system. As opposed to the commonly used “pause then save” formula we’ve all conformed to, From Software have tried to separate themselves from the norm and include an uncommon, yet successful, feature. Bonfires are where the player saves, rejuvenate, and reorganize as you come across them in arbitrary spots throughout the game. They are so relieving, however, you may cry when stumbling on one after a tricky battle. They also act as spawn points when you die. Though it is quite obvious we are deceived into believing that this is a successful way of flipping the script, it is also clearly implemented in order to give the game an illusion of being even more difficult. This is especially so after resting at a Bonfire you notice the enemy you killed a minute prior comes at you again as if to seek revenge. In other words, most of the enemies (aside from bosses, and mini-bosses) respawn after you rest at a bonfire. This can be the bane of your existence or a blessing because as the enemies respawn so does your chance of obtaining a few more souls. Just be careful in your decisions, but you’ll understand this rather quickly. This series has redefined the term “tough” as it doesn’t necessarily share the same formula first introduced by both Contra and Mega Man (i.e. throwing hordes of enemies at the player as they navigate difficult platforming areas), rather it asks the player to constantly plan for the next fight and tweak their tactics as they fail. On the back of the box, three glaring words stare you right in the face; “Prepare to Die.” And unlike many other games, this isn’t just a marketing ploy to make you think this is going to be a terribly difficult game. It is a terribly difficult game, and you are going to die… A lot. For those of you who’ve cost your parents hundreds of dollars in property damage due to the frustration caused by video games; this game is not for you. Trial and error is a major theme here and part of what makes Dark Souls fun, is the former. Thanks to From Software, this game never feels “cheap,” instead; the surprisingly precise controls remind you that it is your fault for dying. This point makes success all the more gratifying. However, some may feel they’ve abused the game through glitches. Unbeknownst to them, a common tactic employs the use of exploitation. All too often you will find yourself taking advantage of the enemy A.I. in order to give your character the slight edge. This is not to say the A.I. is sloppy, quite the contrary, in fact. The enemy will hunt you down, and sometimes even catch you off guard leaving your character with no souls and a broken controller. The enemies are so merciless even some of the more trivial ones that you’ve killed so many times can leave you scratching your head. What really make this game stand apart from the rest of the Medieval RPG’s out there, such as Skyrim and Dragon’s Dogma, is the infamous boss fights. From the launch trailer fans can see what they have to look forward to in terms of the bosses you are going to encounter during your journey. From undead dragons, to a massive Hydra, to a giant wolf holding an even larger sword in its mouth, the bosses are some of the most memorable of any game this past generation. Some can be as easy as a one shot kill to as hard as an hour long exchange leaving you sweating at your fingertips. No matter the fight, they all have their satisfying conclusions. “Victory Achieved” spread across the screen as you slay each boss adds to the affair as you pump your fist with fulfillment. Dark Souls is a commitment. The initial playthrough will take the average gamer around 45 hours, if they are willing to endure the strict punishment thrown upon you with each passing area. The world is seamless as you traverse the vast beautiful landscape. And although the graphics aren’t notably amazing, they still live up to generational standards making the games environments a site for sore eyes. Enemies are relentless and pose a true challenge; one that has been absent in the video game realm since its predecessor in 2009. Even the environments prove a threat. Upon reaching the end game you’ll face the toughest boss yet along with the some appropriately calm music keeping your nerves at bay and your controller away from the wall. Dark Souls is a feat many have taken on and those who have succeeded at remaining patient and diligent know the ecstasy felt and the sigh of relief as the credits roll of one of the hardest games of the decade. ~ Tim Bloom9 out of 10
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