One of the most common questions we got asked from people watching us play Dark Souls was "Should I play this? It looks cool." They were rightfully apprehensive, knowing how hardcore the game's reputation is. For your convenience, we've assembled a small visual battery test that should help determine if you're the kind of person that will enjoy Dark Souls. Answer honestly, yes or no, do the following images appeal to you?
Above: Quick! Answer yes or no!
If you answered mostly yes, Dark Souls is for you. If you answered mostly no, you might want to give it a rental before you commit.
While Dark Souls succeeds at most of what it sets out to do, the game still holds onto some of the clunkier elements from Demon’s Souls. Exploiting the enemy AI is possible, and though tricking opponents into falling off cliffs or peppering them to death with 500 arrows can be rewarding at times, it feels cheap in most cases. There’s also an overabundance of platforming, worsened by an unhelpful camera. The targeting lock-on feature is also problematic in close quarters combat, especially when facing multiple enemies. And while sporadic, we also noticed framerate issues from time to time; one encounter in particular brought the game to its knees as the animation crawled into single frame territory.
Dark Souls features the same sort of unusual passive multiplayer that the first pioneered, with players only being able to directly interact with one another in hyper specific situations. Players can summon direct help only immediately before boss fights, but only if they’ve used a rare consumable. More aggressive players can still invade other player's worlds and hunt them down, but there’s a major twist this time. Throughout the course of the game, the player may be given the opportunity to join a covenant. Covenants function like an online clan and can alter the way the player interacts with others online. One covenant allows players to not only invade other’s games, but infect their world with a detrimental curse that must be purged. Another serves as an anti-troll league, specifically targeting players who have been reported for repeatedly invading others’ games by sending members of its covenant to kill them. Don’t think joining these groups will be easy though, many of them are hidden far, far off the beaten path.
Overall, however, the level to which Dark Souls gleefully rejects every modern gaming convention is impressive. Its brutal old-school difficulty and disturbing visual design were well-advertised, but the game’s mood and atmosphere are just as unique. Dour, brooding and isolated, the player is a weak husk that must trudge through a dying world with little to no help. The few people you do meet are desperately grasping to their last few marbles, and that’s only if they’re not actively trying to kill you. It’s a stark contrast to the generally upbeat, action-oriented nature of most modern games, in which the licensed rock song guitar solo peaks over some explosions as your wisecracking sidekick cracks wise.
Above: One wolf moon
Dark Souls is having none of that. Dark Souls is your curmudgeonly old grandpa that never upgraded his Vinyl records to CD, much less MP3. He likes things the old way, dammit, and he’s not having any of your newfangled guff. In a way, that’s really who Dark Souls is for – the gamer that remembers fondly how this hobby used to be, before games were multi-million dollar investments expected to sell to every male aged 18-35 on the planet. It takes you back to the era when games were made to challenge, and beating them was all the reward you needed, Achievement or Trophy be damned. The fact that Dark Souls even exists is to be applauded, proof that crusty old gluttons for punishment can still exist in an industry that outgrew them ages ago.
Demon's Souls? Yes. Dark Souls expands upon everything that made Demon's Souls great, and enhances the fear of the unknown by adding exploration elements and an enormous world filled with secrets. It's the same beautifully bleak world you know and love (or hate), but there's much much more of it now. And in all honesty, we can't think of another game to compare it to, so we'll leave it at that.
The cure for the common Triple A title, Dark Souls takes every gloriously strange and punishing moment from Demon’s Souls and expands and improves upon it. While its fundamentals hew closely to the original's, Dark Souls is a completely unique experience with no direct competition on the market. For those who get it, it's undoubtedly one of the year's best.
Oct 3, 2011
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