PREPARE TO DIE…
Never before has three simple words so accurately described a videogame. Forget everything that you thought you knew about games and enter From Software’s world of Dark Souls. This game would test the patience of a saint, steal away your faith, then slowly feed it back to you in little severed droplets of hate.
Dark Souls has been around for little under a year now and is the spiritual successor of Demon’s Souls, unfortunately only available on the PS3. Set in a dark and deadly open-world universe, you aimlessly venture forward from your beginnings in a rotting dungeon cell, with little more than the clothes on your back. This brutal third-person action-RPG makes no apologies in explaining very little, the storyline throughout is very minimal. There’s no obvious tutorials and you wont find many cinematic cut scenes here, you can’t even pause the damn game!
The back bone of Dark Souls is simply about survival. From the very first boss encounter, the colossal Asylum Demon (and perhaps before) you will die. A LOT. What you take from death however, is knowledge. This is the key factor within Dark Souls, almost every cautious step you take should be regarded as a learning process. When all hope seems lost and you feel yourself about to break, progression gained through said knowledge eventually comes knocking at your door. It’s these magical moments of elevation that truly make Dark Souls a gaming experience like no other.
You start out by selecting a character type from several classes, of which include:- weapon expert warriors, light-fingered thief’s or magical fire casting pyromancers. Fear not though, the game doesn’t restrict you in your chosen class and you are free to level up your stats in any way you wish. You could, for example, be a formidable knight who is capable of casting powerful sorcery spells. Potentially, there is a ton of different combinations available in which to develop your character.
Your gradual navigation through this vast seamless decaying world takes you from rotting asylums to derelict old towns. Into the deapths of murky swamps and above to the highest roof tops. Deep into the heart of a trap filled fortress, castles and beyond. Forests alive with danger and then a sunken village full of ghosts. Far beyond hell, with molten rocks hissing at your feet. My words really can’t do justice in describing the immense creativity of the many varied locations within Dark Souls.
The feeling of dread is only magnified with each enemy encounter, all of which are capable of ending your quest within the blink of an eye. We have undead soldiers patrolling the grounds, giant poisonous rats in sewers below. Sinbad style rickety skeletons, lost souls-ghouls and ghosts, giant toads, multi-headed serpent bosses, a giant laser firing butterfly. Deadly demons, flying bell gargoyles, A magnificent dragon and of cause, Ornstein and Smough.
Upon defeating the many vivid creatures that stand between you and your forward momentum, you acquire souls. Once you’ve made it to a bonfire you are able to use these souls as currency. Anything from upgrading your XP to repairing your weapons and armour is advisable, as is replenishing the Estus Flask – potions to restore your health.
These small flames of sanctuary act as the only safe areas within the game and also allow the player to rest. As is the twisted nature of Dark Souls, in doing so, all enemies (excluding defeated bosses) respawn.
Beware though, should you be insane enough to overlook these bonfires (in favour of continuing on your quest) and then die, all your hard earned souls will be lost. Furthermore, you will respawn right back at your previous bonfire save point. Intriguingly, there is the option to fight your way back to your death bloodstain and recover all of your lost souls. If you fail in doing so, then your souls are lost forever…
Along with collecting ‘Souls’ the player will also acquire ‘Humanity’. Humanity is like gold dust in the Dark Souls universe. You start out as an Undead, known in game as a Hollow. Upon defeating mini-bosses and main bosses, you will gain Humanity. Again, visiting a bonfire will enable you to use Humanity. In doing so, the curse of being Undead is reversed and you will be restored back to human form. The benefits include; a significant increase in item discovery-essential for collecting the rare weapons available, but more importantly, online play.
Online play is another shining jewel in Dark Souls’ crown. Your path will regularly give way to chalked messages, these scribblings are left by other players. Messages can either be left to warn you of what perils lie ahead, or throw you off the scent completely. You are also able to leave signs of help, deciept or summonings. Ghosts will randomly appear throughout the world and these visions represent other players in the same area as you. Only when in Human form are you able to call upon others and ‘Summon’ them into your game world. This will give you the upper hand in defeating the next herculean boss. More sinister though, is the ability to invade ones game world as a ‘Phantom’. This can make for some truly awesome battles. Here you are tasked with the primary goal of killing the host of the world. If you succeed, you steal all the Souls held by the other player and gain Humanity. Should you fail, then the same happens in reverse and you are promptly banished back to your game world. This ingenious aspect of multiplayer was something I had never experienced before playing Dark Souls. My heart would pound with fear every time I heard the rusty drag of metal and was greeted with the words – You Have Been Invaded. Multiplayer in Dark Souls does not give way to game chat, instead the only means of communication is via pre-set gestures, thus adding to the loneliness of the whole experience.
Dark Souls unfortunately suffers some awful slowdown during the Blight Town area. Determination and the will to see what was around the next corner kept me soldiering on regardless. At times I could have literally snapped the disk in half, due to sheer frustration. As a friend of mine put it “Never have I loved and hated a game in equal measures”. But on the flip side… I loved the dark, brooding, morbid, dungeons. I loved staring into the setting sun that reflected upon the next vast unexplored land. I loved the silence of a world full of death, only to be pierced by the eerie whistling of the wind. I loved meeting the strange, peculiar, none playable characters that are sprinkled around the world. I loved the majestic, gigantic creatures. I loved the shield and sword tactical combat. I loved casting magical spells and bringing foes down with my fire glowing hands. Needless to say, I loved this game.
Having read lots of negative comments regarding the harshness of Dark Souls’ difficulty, something became apparent to me. The more I played, the better I got. It’s not so much about Dark Souls being a hard game, but more like the team at From Software being a sadistic bunch of developers – that take great pleasure in punishing the gamer. Having said that, the more cautiously you approach Dark Souls, the more rewards you reap from the experience. Dark Souls is definitely an acquired taste, for sure. But with Namco Bandai announcing the eagerly anticipated Artorias of the Abyss DLC for the end of October, I for one, will be once more venturing back into the forbidding world of Dark Souls.
I would just like to finish by saying that I feel there is a word that’s often overused in the videogames industry. It is only now though, one year later and 100+ hours spent playing Dark Souls, that I feel justified in proclaiming Dark Souls to be… EPIC.