Decaying, hopeless, and alone is how you find yourself at the very start of Dark Souls. The introduction to this brutal game acts as a foreshadowing for the emotions that players will feel from the very start as From Software delivers one of the hardest retail games to date. From the outside the game looks like your average third person role playing game, but that is quite far from the truth.

Players start off like most other RPGs with the creation of a character; their looks, their class, and as an added bonus an additional item of their choosing labeled as a gift, giving the player the idea that they have the leg up in the world they are entering. After the player escapes from the cell they start in however, they learn just how wrong they are. Taking the role of a cursed undead, bound to life forever until you just become a shell of a person called a Hollow, you escape from the place where all undead are supposed to be locked up til the end of time. From there you learn of a prophecy of a chosen undead who is destined to ring the two bells of awakening and take off on your journey through Lordran.

Dark Souls is a game that can only be described as unforgiving. The controls seem smooth and seamless for the game. Running and using your weapons cost stamina, heavier weapons swing harder but slower than smaller ones, weight capacity limits what you can wear or carry, and even the magic in the game has to be used with specific items. With different weapon and weight classes the character possibilities are endless. The game goes beyond just running around and killing things. Even the simplest of fights take strategy or else you will find yourself staring at the cruel red "YOU DIED" message over and over. Your offense and defense need timing, battles should be planned out from afar, but then again Dark Souls does not always allow for this luxury. Enemies can pop up from above you, behind you, and even below you in order to always keep you on your guard. The floor you are running on can give out in an area that can drop you down into an unexpected boss fight.

Dark Souls offers check points and a level up station in the form of bonfires all over the land. These bonfires, with a few upgrades, also act as your basic upgrade station, repair shop, and portal towards using the online features of the game. The bonfires fully heals you, restores all your healing items, and is a safe place from enemies while you sit there. There is a catch of course; every time you sit at a bonfire all the enemies you've killed before reaching the bonfire get to respawn with a full health bar as well. Only some enemies and bosses will not respawn making the check point system seem almost as harmful as it is helpful. However, the bonfires will always be a valuable ally when trying to traverse through the different areas.

Repairing your items seems to be a formality as most equipment has extremely high durability and is extremely cheap to repair. Only some weapons later on in the game have abilities that require durability to activate will really take advantage of the repair system. The upgrade system is incredibly valuable once you find your perfect play style in making your weapon and armor of choice even better than before. There are a variety of ways that you can upgrade your weapons such as normal upgrades, upgrades that give your weapon elemental properties, or upgrades such as the crystal path that make your weapon much more powerful but takes away its ability to be repaired, meaning its broken and gone once its durability hits zero. However, most of the upgrade paths for weapons are obsolete and are best left to the normal path because of certain updates for the game. There are stat point scaling for many weapons in the game, meaning the higher a certain stat the more damage the weapon will do. Unfortunately, most other upgrade paths besides the normal one lower the amount of scaling for a stat in turn for more damage points overall. The difference between the damage output and the scaling level is not high enough to make players want to change their weapons into anything else if they want to keep the most powerful version of the weapon. [PageBreak]



In order to level up in the game you must kill enemies or use specific items in order to receive souls. The souls in turn are exchanged for a stat point and each new stat point raises your level. Nevertheless, to make things more difficult every cost in the game is paid via souls. Experience points and money were merged into a single system, thus making you choose between buying something or leveling up. Dark Souls won't let you off that easy though. Whenever you die in the game you leave a glowing orb behind that contains all your unused souls and another resource. If you die before you can reclaim your stuff you drop another orb and the first one containing all your souls is now dust in the wind, making dying far from a bonfire one of the most terrifying events in the game.

The aesthetics of Dark Souls is equally beautiful and somber. The locales in the game can be stunning, dreary, or a combination of the two. Examples of such places would be the grand city, where every building looks like a cathedral, but the it is deserted, or the dark and damp poisonous swamp. Each area has its own story to tell and is incredibly fun to explore. The levels are designed in a way that makes you want to explore each and every area so that you aren't missing any valuables and you will never feel lost on a pathway. Besides some locked doors, Dark Souls gives players the freedom of choice when it comes to which area they want to explore first. It gives the players a freedom that not many other games give. If you wonder into an area that you are not prepared for whatsoever and you could have taken a path to a different area well that is your choice. You can try and power through some of the areas and in some places you have the choice on whether or not you want to fight that mini boss or come back to it later. The music for each area fits fantastically with the environment and the music for boss battles are excellent and thrilling. They help push the game into that feeling of epic proportions and they almost want to make you stop and listen for awhile.

The game throws one more twist at you at the very end of your long journey. You fought so hard, died so many times, and even thought about giving up. When the game finally ends and you feel victorious at overcoming the challenge, the game offers you a chance to do it all over again...but harder. Dark Souls offers a "New Game+" feature that only stacks the more you beat the game. The enemies hit harder, have more health, and you want to cry knowing that this game can only keep getting more difficult the more times you overcome its challenges.

Dark Souls does have a work around for its difficulty via co-op. It has an interesting approach to multiplayer in that you can summon other players under specific circumstances in the game, but at the same time that you can invite someone in as a friend another can invade your world and attack you. Adding another player to the game almost takes out the difficulty out of it if you are working together. Dark Souls does not allow for friends to be invited to your game so you must rely on the charity of strangers. You may get lucky enough to pick up your friend, but it will take some work. Dark Souls also has special covenants you can join for some PVP battles besides just the regular invasion methods.

Dark Souls is a beautiful yet somber game that challenges you at every corner. It pushes you on the ground and kicks your teeth in making you try again and again until all seems hopeless. However, through all it's difficulty it provides a wonderful and strategic experience that makes you remember just how fun a challenging game can be.