I’ll tell you what, I’ve been in heaven for what seems like ever now with the recent releases of so many lengthy role-playing games. I apologize upfront for taking so long to release these reviews, but I would feel like I’m cheating my viewers if I didn’t complete these games before giving the reviews. Enter Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to 2009’s retardedly difficult yet immensely rewarding Action RPG Demon’s Souls! Like its predecessor, Dark Souls induces plentiful amounts of nerd rage and vein-bursting increases in blood pressure that likely will only appeal to the hardcore game masochists.
The developers likely should have just called this Demon’s Souls 2, as the mechanics, graphics, music and sound are all very clearly reminiscent of those found in Demon’s Souls, minus a few interesting changes here and there. Unlike the hub-based game world found in its predecessor, Dark Souls is for the most part, a single massive area that never has any load times. To help maintain your sanity, bonfires are scattered throughout the world that when rested at, become a spawn point and heal you – and can allow you to level up, change your spells and repair and upgrade your gear. But From Software decided to be sneaky assholes and kick you swiftly in the nuts as all of the monsters in the world respawn every time you rest at one. So not only have I wasted all of my resources trying to get to this bonfire, barely escaping death on multiple occasions, but now everything that just kicked my ass is back alive and coming for more? Those fuckers!
See, Dark Souls takes significant strategy and actual skill from the absolute very beginning of the game. Newcomers to the series be warned, this is NOT a game that you can casually enjoy. It will suck the very essence from your soul!
A story does exist and is separate and in an entirely different world than that of Demon’s Souls, but it is often quite subtle and hard to understand. Essentially, a curse has been placed upon the world by the ancient lords, turning those who die into undead. You learn that you are the chosen undead that will bring an end to the curse, and that you’ve got to ring the two bells of awakening for some reason and that’s about it. The story builds upon itself a bit over time, but for the most part, you’re left in the dark without a mission or goal and are on your own to explore and figure out where to go and what to do. To me this was very appealing but I’m willing to bet there are gamers who require a defined path and they won’t enjoy the game.
I absolutely loved my play-through and I found the levels to be wonderfully designed offering a significant challenge around every corner. The epic scale really draws you in and it’s neat to see how all of the zones are intricately connected. My play-through took me roughly 70 hours to complete including what I believe to be a majority of the content. Now, I would have preferred to have a greater cut-scene at the end to really see how I affected the world, but after reflecting on what I saw, I found it to be quite clever considering the nature of the game’s mechanics… And of course, upon completion, a New Game Plus mode becomes available as well.
Overall I just loved the look of the game. Initially I found the graphics to be washed out and bland, but over time I came to realize that they were in fact quite beautiful, and it was the art direction that kept things dark, grungy and terrifying, which to me gave off a sense of hopelessness. Combined with the lack of music for the most part and the realistic and frightening sound effects, and you’ve got yourself an incredibly deep and immersive game world to engorge yourself in. While the presentation looks great though, there were times when I experienced some pretty significant drops in frames on the PS3 version of the title.
A pretty decent character creation system is in place to allow you to fine-tune your face and body type, as well as select one of the game’s ten classes, but those really only signify your starting gear and initial stats. You can build your character over time into whatever you like, as you could roll a Pyromancer and end up as a beefy plate mail-wearing two-handed warrior. Like Demon’s Souls, as you kill enemies, you’ll gain souls which are used as a currency to both spend to increase your level and your stats, or to be used to repair, upgrade and purchase equipment. And herein lies the same dilemma you faced before in that you must risk life and limb holding onto your souls and spending them wisely, as if you are killed, they are all lost and left at your corpse. If you die again while returning to the corpse, they’re gone for good.
A new humanity mechanic has been put in place that really keeps things interesting. When you die, you revert from human, to a hallowed. To return to human form, you must gather humanity from various sources including joining another game and helping them defeat a boss, or simply by invading another game and killing the player to steal their humanity for yourself! This is where shit gets serious and I imagine is where you’ll get the most replay from the title!
See, while human, you can summon both NPC and multiple human players directly into your game to assist you with the zone and its boss. As a hollow, you can make yourself available to be summoned, but you can’t summon yourself. Having additional players help you on a boss is a significant difference and it kind of trivialized several of the fights that I’d been struggling on for hours and hours. It’s not uncommon to wipe for 6 hours to a single boss until you learn the proper secrets to defeating them.
And herein lies another great feature to Dark Souls. The game is just LOADED with secrets, unknowns and simply a TON of hidden shit! There are hidden areas, zones, NPCs, items, gear, monsters, bosses… Everything. There are so many unknowns still and it was a pleasure trying to figure out all of the game’s mysteries.
Magic has been changed and while it’s still really powerful, you only get a limited number of charges for each spell that you may use until you rest at another bonfire. Healing herbs have been replaced with a flask system that also has a limited number of uses until you refill them at a bonfire. These mechanics together really make you have to strategize how you’re going to take down which enemies as you progress. Some new enemies can even curse you! This curse halves your life bar and persists through death until you find a vendor to sell you an expensive item to remove it. What makes it worse is that it typically occurs when you’re balls deep into a difficult dungeon and leaving to purchase the item means starting it all over again.
A guild-like covenant system exists in the game and is shrouded in rumors around the net. Joining one of the nine mysterious factions grants you access to some new gear and spells, but others have mentioned that they can modify your physical appearance and grant you unique abilities as well. You can both perform favors for and sin against each of these factions which have an affect on the way the game world will play out for you, but what’s really interesting is that one of the factions will be ordered to hunt you down once you commit a sin.
Now, I could go on and on about the things I loved about the game as, there really weren’t too many things I disliked about it. Dark Souls is mercilessly difficult from the very beginning to the point that I believe it’s even harder than Demon’s Souls. If you’re into the masochism of games that really test your patience, I absolutely recommend Dark Souls. I’m actually disappointed that I have to move on to the next game as I could just as easily go roll a new character and see how I could improve my play-through. I’ve said it before about the series and I’ll say it again… This game is hard as shit and fun as hell!
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: October 4, 2011
For Commentated Gameplay, check out: http://www.youtube.com/ZGRWhyUDead
Review Video: http://www.youtube.com/ZeitgeistReview
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