In a videogame era of numerous checkpoints, easily dispatched foes, and game endings on a platter, one retail release sits like a diamond in the rough. Dark Souls, the spiritual sequel to the critically acclaimed Demon Souls by From Software, proves that the game industry isn't completely afraid of challenging its player base. Yes, Dark Souls is difficult. You will die numerous times, you will be killed by malicious monsters, you will want to run away and hide, but in the end you will feel accomplished when overcoming these obstacles. This sense of accomplishment is what players of Demon Souls thrived on and what new players of the series and players of Dark Souls will learn to love. Quite frankly, it's what many games of this generation lack. If this all sounds like a breath of fresh air to you, Dark Souls is a must play.
Unlike its predecessor you now have quite a few more options and tools at your disposal. There are more spells, weapons, armors, and items than before. There is also a wider variety of character classes at the start of your journey. These classes determine your starting equipment and beginning stat allocations such as strength, dexterity, intelligence ect. As you advance your character these starting classes become a moot point, as you are free to allocate skill points to your liking and are free to use any piece of equipment obtained,so long as you can meet its stat requirements. The choice to build your character is very open, and many options are completely viable to success.
Another aspect to Dark Souls that is very open, is its world. Gone is Demon Souls Nexus, its hub area, in which you were able to choose which stage to warp to. Now you are free to explore the game world. This opens a whole new risk reward mechanic. Certain areas will be tougher than others, but all can be overcome and the rewards reaped. There are keys to obtain and back doors to open, which all create shortcuts to and from the areas you've traversed. If one area seems tough, you may try a different direction.and return later. It's a brilliantly built world and although the pathways to each new zone are ultimately linear, they are still very explorable. Dark Souls world is a giant intertwining maze full of tons of secret areas and hidden loot. Some hidden pathways literally look like a solid wall, and when you strike them with your weapon, they fade away revealing a new corridor. Unfortunately, there is no map system in the game, so it can at times become difficult to remember where to go or where you've been. However, there are markers that you can purchase for cheap through the games currency, souls, from a certain merchant found not far into the game. These markers can help to get your bearings in this mapless quest. Once you've accustomed yourself to an area, you'll find you'll be capable of breezing past a spot in a matter of minutes as opposed to the hour it may have taken you the first time
The world builds itself around you as there are no loading times to be seen as you explore. In fact, the only time you'll see a loading screen is when you die, and although death can be frequent, the loading time is short. Dark Souls uses bonfires as checkpoints and safe zones throughout its world. These bonfires act like an oasis in the desert, and every one you locate will feel like a triumph. They serve as little stepping stones to your overall journey. The bonfires restore your limited health recovery items and the uses of your various magic spells you've obtained. Bonfires also reset all of the monsters and creatures you've previously killed, with a few exceptions. This trade off allows players to "farm" an area for souls which are obtained from killing enemies. It works as an interesting gameplay mechanic, and the fact you're respawning the monsters you've tried so hard to defeat for a little moment of security is at times a blessing and a curse. Souls can be used to level up your character. Getting as many as you can keep your hands on is one of the keys to success. Unfortunately when you die, you drop every soul you currently haven't spent. Those lost souls can be recouped, and the spot where you've died will now be a pick up point. If you happen to die again on your way to your souls, they are lost forever. There will be many moments in which you'll desperately be fighting to regain your lost souls, and even if you lose a fair amount, you'll simply have to put your chin up and trek on. That's Dark Souls for you.
Dark Souls has some small control nuances, but otherwise plays well. You'll attack in various fashions depending on your weapons of choice which include typical medieval weaponry like swords, spears and bows. There are a few odd ball weapons to obtain like whips, claws, and even a lantern. Overall there are quite a few to choose from and all have different light and heavy attacks. Some weapons can be held in two hands, upping their power and changing their attack animations. Your button presses in Dark Souls are slightly queued up, so button mashers beware, only go in for a strike when you know it's safe and don't press your buttons more than needed. You also have a fair amount of defensive options to add to your repertoire. There are shields for blocking and parrying which in turn you may riposte, this in itself is a high risk reward system. You are also able to sprint and dodge roll. Depending on the weight of your gear, you'll either be nimble enough to avoid incoming attacks or a flopping mess of heavy armor. There are also three categories of spells belonging to Sorcery, Pyromancy, and Miracle techniques. Each has quite a number of offensive and defensive magics.The lock on and targeting system requires some finesse but is still as important as it is functional. Clicking in the right analog stick will lock on to the closest enemy to you and flicking the stick left or right will swap between targets. The target swapping will feel unresponsive at first but this is due to the fact that pushing the stick to change a target will not work, as you literally must "flick" it to make it operate correctly. This is a small blemish on an otherwise fine mechanic.
Even though some foes may seem insurmountable , they do have their weaknesses, and with so many tools at your disposal there is an answer to everything. If things get really tough, there is an option to even the odds. Dark Souls allows for co-operative gaming, but it is certainly not your typical multiplayer component. Like Demon Souls, there are two gameplay states, one living, one dead. Overall, they are nearly identical in terms of game play, but there are differences. If you die, you must use an item called humanity, obtained through various ways, to become a living character again. When playing as the living, you are able to summon the spirits, called Phantoms, of dead players to help aid your cause. You will generally summon fellow players in order to help defeat bosses of the immediate area. After a failed attempt or even a successful battle with a boss monster, your help will vanish, and be transported back into their own game. On the flip side, playing as the dead allows you to not only enter the livings game world in order to help, but it also can allow you to enter and attack random players. Through various means and an intricate player versus player system in the form of Covenants, players can attack other unsuspecting gamers in hopes of gaining more souls and even some items from their fallen prey. If an attack is unsuccessful you will lose your own souls. You can also have combinations of these friendly and nonfriendly phantoms in your game, which can lead to some fantastic multiplayer battles.
One rather unfortunate aspect to Dark Souls is that you cannot easily game with friends. Every portion of the multiplayer is meant to be vague and keep you just disconnected enough from normal communication with other players. This can be seen as a weaker aspect to the game, but it actually is part of its charm and uniqueness. There are hint markers that can be placed in any spot of the game world. You may only choose from a preset list of words to aid players who come across and take the time to check your hopefully helpful message. Of course, you can also attempt to hinder their quest by leaving messages that read "jump here" when jumping at this point will only lead to death. Another interesting way of communicating is through blood stains left by dead players. Upon finding a blood stain, you can see the final moments of another's demise. This will often give you hints of what lies beyond as you see their spirit run ahead only to be knocked away by an unknown force. Viewing this instantly warns you to tread carefully.When in another players game you are also able to use a preset gesture system to point, wave, and otherwise pantomime in order to communicate. There is no voice chat, and also no telling who may enter your game. There are a few stipulations in place to keep over leveled players from entering others worlds and picking on weaker players. You may only enter others games who have a soul level currently withing 10 levels of your own. There are ,however, a couple of previously mentioned Covenants that negate this rule but they are few and far between. This stipulation can also prevent you from ever having a shot at entering a friends game unless you plan to stay around the same soul level as each other. For those offline only gamers, there are simulated friendly and attacking Phantoms placed through out the game that offer a small taste of how the multiplayer operates.
Dark Souls is a looker. Its art design is outstanding and every local holds a wonderful atmosphere that will either make you bask in its gorgeous views or be to frightened to press on. But press on you shall because seeing the sights and surprises is part of what makes this game so addictive. This isn't a short journey, and although game mileage will vary greatly, expect around a 50 hour adventure along with the option to carry over all of your items from the first play through to a second more difficult one. The sound design in Dark Souls is also excellent and adds to an already graphically strong game. It is light on actual music and while good, it typically only plays during the boss encounters. The voice acting from the various NPCs (non playable characters) is also grade A work. There are some recurring voice acting roles from Demons Souls as well that fans of the past game will instantly recognize. The rest of the sound design is also top notch including the sound effects. When your weapon clangs against another's it sounds like a perfect harmony of metal on metal. Even though Dark Souls looks and sounds stellar, its frame rate tends to dip quite a bit. Its never enough to completely hinder your experience, but at times it can drop to sub 30 FPS (frames per second). It does happen frequently enough to be a bit of a shame though, especially in some areas.
One huge piece to every role playing games puzzle is its story.This is the biggest over looked facet to the entire game, those looking for a deep narrative will not find it here. There is a hidden tale to be followed, through secret meetings with the games characters and some side quests, but the majority of players will not even notice. Dark Souls is a game about playing a game. It harkens back to the older generations where cutscenes were few, and the entire journey from start to finish is what made a game memorable and worth your time. If you want a competent, well structured, and challenging video game this is it. It's not for the feint of heart or quick tempered, and certainly doesn't hold mass appeal, but if you're an experienced gamer it will be right up your alley. Seeing that Demon Souls was successful enough to warrant another game in the series, Dark Souls looks to be following suite. Here's hoping for more to come.