- Created on 14 November 2011
Platforms: PS3 and Xbox 360
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: From Software
Release Date: Out Now
Review Author: Jamie Kimpton
Storyline and playability
Dark Souls is a game as heavy as its name. A frank and unforgiving portrayal of a lone warriors quest to do…something. The story in Dark Souls is purposefully vague, alluding to hints of a quest to escape the un-dead world and challenge its masters but never out rightly explaining itself. Things become a bit clearer as you progress deeper into the world but in many respects it’s the anti-thesis of the typical RPG narrative. You are not some square jawed hero destined to save the world from its impeding doom, rather the lonely protagonist praying for survival in a harsh and unforgiving land.
Starting out as one of several pre-defined classes, you can set level in anyway you see fit. Slaughtering monsters nets you souls, the games form of currency, and these souls can then be spent on equipment, upgrades and character progression. Here lies one of the games primary punishments: the currency is shared amongst all of the potential upgrades forcing you to choose which upgrade or piece of equipment to purchase next, limiting your choices and preventing the opportunity to power level. Die while carrying these souls and you are respawned at your last bonfire sans souls. It is possible to reclaim the souls you have lost by fighting your way back past the respawned enemies to the blood stain left by your demise, however die on the way to reclaiming these lost souls and they will be gone forever.
Acting as a central hub for your quests are the bonfires spread throughout the game they are the closest thing to safety that Dark Souls offers. Here at the bonfire surrounded by the ghosts of other players (if you are online, other players appear as ghost like vestiges running around the land) is where you will spend a lot of time. Mainly because you will die frequently but also because they act as a spot to upgrade your character, recover health or repair weapons before moving on to the next area . There is a drawback though: every time you rest, all the enemies you have killed, with the exception of bosses and mini-bosses, are instantly reborn to trouble you all over again.
Dark Souls presents one of the most fully realised and lavished fantasy worlds since gaming begun. Its presentation is equal measures of joy and sorrow, exploration offers tantalising views from castle roofs to claustrophobic caverns, deep, dark and dismal in their display. The further you travel through its rich and detailed lands the more impressive and revealing this open world becomes, it is definitely a testament to the immersion that a beautiful landscape can have on a game.
The audio is an ultimately forgettable affair which is neither good nor bad, residing somewhere in the mediocre demographic. Monsters grunt and weapons clash with ferocity but the voice acting is lacklustre and overall the sound effects do little more then give a sense of depth to the environment. The soundtrack serves its purpose well, highlighting the sheer depression of the game well with dank minor chords harking melancholically as you traverse yet another trap and get that little bit deeper into the next level.
Dark souls offers a unique challenge in gaming. The combat at first glance seems the traditional hack and slash of other action oriented RPGs. However you will quickly realise that there is a very deep system in place here. If you die it will not be due to poor combat mechanics or an unruly camera but rather because you fell for another one of the games many hidden traps and ambushes, or perhaps you become over zealous lunging for an extra sword thrust when you know damned well that you should be blocking. It’s a punishing but deeply rewarding system, there is little that compares to the feeling of accomplishment after vanquishing a particularly tough boss or even a group of enemies that have been giving you problems. It is a system that is entirely based around player’s skill and patience and as such it feels both unique and challenging and is a welcome breath of fresh air.
The online ‘social’ aspects are original and engaging. Players can leave and rate messages on the ground for others to read, ranging from the helpful ‘ambush ahead’ to plain frustrating annoyances. As an example on my first tour of the un-dead burgh one of the games starting areas a message atop a roof top encouraged me to jump off the roof, with the idea of some secret treasure hidden well out of sight I gave it a running leap of faith. I died. But here in lies the beauty of the system, rather then pallid hints and tips that most games provide through pop ups are here instigated from the players end, for better or worse is entirely dependant on what kind of person left the message. It is also possible to enlist other players help for tough battle or to even summon other players and challenge them to a duel. In a solo experience such as this it incorporates multiplayer while never breaking the feeling of isolation that Dark Souls tries so hard to instill.
The overall difficulty will be the downfall of many players perseverance. Dark Souls purposefully keeps instructions vague and makes the player decide on the appropriate actions they must take to succeed here, some will see this as a virtue by contradicting modern gamings tendencies to hand hold the player throughout the game, others will see it as an annoyance with its openness stretching too far creating a non stop uphill battle that some will just not have a the heart to climb.
If you find yourself able to cope with the difficulty and relish the challenge Dark Souls provides, you will still see that death screen a lot. In a game of stark and brutal loneliness it is your one constant companion and you will hate it.
4/5 - Whilst Dark Souls is a great game with a rich fantasy world to explore, the difficulty will just be too high for a large portion of players. Not for the faint of heart but those willing to put in the time and effort will be rewarded with one of the years finest RPGs.