Title: Dark Souls
Platform: PS3, 360, PC
Release Date: PS3, 360 – October 4th, 2011
PC – August 24th, 2012
Genre: Action RPG, Adventure
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
– Rewarding and very challenging gameplay
– All equipment have weight and consequences
– Interesting and unique multiplayer
– Large open world
– Tons of replay value
– Frame drops in certain locations
Price as of November 27th 2012
Reviewed by FrontalSpy
Demon Souls has a small place in heart, even after it ripped it out and stabbed it repeatedly. It is no doubt that the game has made an impact with the industry with its hard difficulty and tough situations, and finally called in the spiritual successor- Dark Souls. Like Demon Souls, it will defeat you relentlessly, cause broken pieces of equipment and many tantrums but, it is still addictive and wonderful to play. Many have stated this game to be a pure game- focusing on gameplay rather than the epic scores, touching stories or fantastic cutscenes- resonating back to older games. Dark Souls isn’t any easier than Demon Souls, so prepare for the worst.
Dark Souls like its predecessor isn’t story driven, but that doesn’t mean it lacks one. In very ancient times, dragons ruled the earth in everlasting darkness. But as darkness kept ruling, fire was born which brought disparity, heat and cold, life and death and light and dark. And from that flame were the souls of Lords; Nito, The Witch of Izalith, Gwyn and Seath. The dragons were no more and thus began the Age of Fire, but it will burn no longer. Born into this age is an undead- your created and customised character- a prophesied undead that would relight the flames and remove the affliction of the Darksign and travel the land of the lords-Lordran. This undead must ring the bells of awakening and defeat the lords.
The story is present but It is very vague and mainly left up to the you to interpret your actions throughout the game. And in the game, you will meet many mysterious characters that have little backstory but enough to stir some trouble. Many of these are NPCs found throughout the devilish world in hard to reach locations and usually sell usual items and equipment to you. These NPCs are usually from the lands beyond and have much to tell you about how they survive or about the current conflicts in the world. They too give you more questions than answers.
The main focus of Dark Souls is its ridiculously hard yet rewarding gameplay- the meat of any game. Very similar to Demon Souls, Dark Souls is what’s called a ‘Dungeon Crawler’ – finding your way to the exit whilst fighting enemies and collecting loot- and also requires very precise and tactical combat. The game teaches you the basics of movement and attacking by placing you into a gruesome asylum guarded by a demon multiple times larger than your created character. But other than those basics the game throws into the open world with no specific objective, giving you the freedom to explore the dark fearsome Lordran.
The key core gameplay mechanics for Demon Souls was that it was very minimalistic but had a great impact on every play style. Every piece of equipment in Dark Souls has some sort of weight attached to it. This means heavy weapons will swing very slowly, heavy armour will cause you to saunter about and decreases both your running and rolling speeds, and weapons that require a wide long swing will have a setback in narrow corridors hitting the walls repeatedly. This tough yet simple mechanic will cause you to rethink about everything you do in-game. Your play style or build will affect the types of equipment you’ll be using and upgrading as well as different tactics to tackle in difficult and different situations. This means that everyone will have a different style, use different weapons and armour and fight quite differently. It is this core mechanic- no philosophy, has made what essentially the massive popularity of Demon Souls and once again in Dark Souls.
Your very life depends on two bars, the health and the stamina. Your health bar is the most vital and obviously the one to notice more often. Meanwhile the stamina bar is twice as important if you are playing a role that requires either movement or attacks that uses a melee weapon. Your stamina bar will deplete with each action that requires excess calorie burning, ie. Dodging, sprinting, blocking against attacks and attacking with your weapon. The stamina bar itself will replenish quite quickly if you aren’t blocking with your shield, but it doesn’t mean that you can wildly swing your weapon about. So you will need to time out your attacks, when to block and when to let go, when to dodge and when just to sit back.
Timing is very key in Dark Souls, if you time attacks, heals, spells or blocks wrong, you can pretty much be certain that your dead or close to it. Some major factors to consider are the two types of attacks that deal massive damage; parry and riposte, and backstabbing. Parrying and riposting will require you some very key timing. You need to be able to parry (L2- with a parry shield) successfully and then attack the foe quickly. This is the most difficult to pull off but can deal massive amounts of damage to your foe. If done incorrectly, you have a chance of losing the rest of your stamina and damage from the attack. Backstabbing is a safer and more successful technique to deal more damage. Essentially, you need to circle around behind the foe and attack. Sounds simple right? Not when the foe can basically turn with you, preventing the attack and also warranting an unexpected attack. Although both deal massive damage, they can only be used on humanoid enemies.
The open world is an overhaul to the hub connecting to various worlds in Demon Souls. While the game is described as an open world, it really isn’t very open but rather multiple areas and districts connected to other areas and districts- just able to freely travel between them at will. Traveling to the deeper and harder areas requires a lot of backtracking through passed areas which could be a problem, unless you find the many hidden shortcuts that make things much easier. One main area you’ll be returning a lot to is the Firelink Shrine, the only safe haven devoid of enemies and connects to multiple important locations. Many NPCs that are either met or rescued set up in the shrine but they do tend to journey from location to location unaware that you need their wares. There are covenants-hidden and scattered throughout, to join that reward you for your services and continued loyalty. These covenants can have some benefits such as new equipment, secret shortcuts or bonfires. Leaving covenants or betraying them can lead to some risky consequences.
The Firelink Shrine is also very important since it has the most accessible bonfire in the entire game. Unlike Demon Souls and traditional RPGs, you cannot buy potions to regenerate health or mana but rather get a set amount of ‘Estus Flask’ which only heal your health to a certain amount. This set amount will run out very quickly, so be wise about your consumption of the flask. Each time you visit a new bonfire, it needs to be lighted before use- where then you can rest and restore your health, replenish Estus Flasks and recharge spells at a basic level. But each time you rest at the bonfire, all normal and typical enemies are respawned and reset. Advance-wise, you can kindle your bonfire which increases the amount of Estus Flasks that can be replenished but requires you to be human and an extra humanity.
There are two important pieces of items dropped from fallen foes: Humanity and Souls. Humanity is very rare to obtain and are dropped by certain enemies and all NPCs- if you wish to slaughter them. Humanity is primarily used to revive your undead from back into human and to kindle bonfires to increase the maximum amount of Estus Flasks at that bonfire. Humanity also has many good stats such as increasing the drop rate and curse resistance. Souls on the other hand are dropped by all that breathe the evil air of Lordran, and are used as currency to NPCs. These souls can also come in consumable items that are either found throughout the world or off bosses. These consumable souls usually yield large amounts of souls into the thousands, while the souls from bosses can either be consumed as the soul currency or combined with specific weapons- choose wisely.
Souls are also the only way to level up your soul level. Your soul level increases each time a stat is purchased with souls, and the amount increases the higher your soul level is. The stats influence your gameplay dramatically, affecting your style, weapons and spells. So choosing the right stat is very vital in the style you are going for. The soul level also affects the black phantoms (other players) that appear in your world. If you are at a higher level, then players at higher levels would invade you and the same principle if you’re a lower level.
The inhabitants of Dark Souls are all both gruesome and majestic. You will meet large revolting masses, beauties beyond your wildest dreams and those who are beauties that turned monstrous. Every area in Dark Souls has a very distinctive theme and style to both the architecture and design of the enemies. The expansive city of the Undead Burgs are filled with doomed, twisted hollows that live without cause, the remains of the New Londo Ruins are filled with ghost that avenge their forgotten memories, the deep depths hold home to the disgusting curse bearing rats and frog, and many more gruesome yet stunning areas yield their weight in enemy designs. All the organisms- enemies, friend or boss are top notch designs with great attention to detail. You will never see anything this haunting and dark in many defining RPGs.
All monsters have unique abilities, tactical weaknesses and strengths, as well as different approaches for the best outcome. When you do meet a new foe, it is best to stay back and watch its moves to determine the length of its attack, the type of attack- whether or not it is melee, magic or both- and the time of openings. This invokes multiple different tactics on movement, timing and the use of the environment. Many enemies are weak to elemental statuses but are not clear to show which ones. Experimenting is a big part of Dark Souls, poking in and out testing out techniques and different weapons to find weaknesses or more effective ways to deal with the enemy. Most of the time, you’ll be paces away from the enemy hiding behind a shield or just slowly retreating as they recklessly try to attack you. Be careful since this game can punish many mistakes.
Dark souls has an amazing soundtrack that immerses you into its dark and gloomy world. Each boss has its own unique track that represents both its design and the possible lore connected. All the tracks are grand and tell many stories just in tune. It isn’t all dark themes, with a few of the tracks being very majestic and provide some hope into the false world. Although the bosses have their own theme, the rest of the game will have a silent desolate backdrop, making you really feel alone. The voice acting is top notch with a variety of voices from innocent trapped women, to large demonic giants.
The game does have the same problem from Demon Souls, unstable frame rate in certain locations. The game uses the Havok physics engine which induces ragdoll and real life physics. In areas with many barrels and boxes, you can’t shake the urge of destroying them and in doing so will drop the frame tremendously. Also, in Blighttown the rates seem to be constantly low. There may have been a patch to fix it since the launch, but nonetheless will hinder the experience and enjoyability of the game.
Singleplayer Score: 95/100
The multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls is identical to Demon Souls with only one or so change. You can leave messages behind to help other players out of trickery or for tips, you can summon other players to your world as phantoms, you can summon other opponents to fight in an arena or get invaded by a black phantom. These are all minimalistic and don’t require any lobby or matchmaking, just straight summons and placements. This is a unique take on multiplayer with players on their feet when an invading player would randomly appear during a difficult time, or requiring assistant against a tough boss. Helping another player doesn’t give you any clearance on your own fights, just some nice gestures.
Of course not everyone can be invaded or be summoned, or else less skilful players will never connect online ever again. To participate in these rituals (apart from sign marking) you need to be in human form, which requires humanity. To invade, you also need to be in human form but if you want to be summon for help, you can be whatever you want. Invading players have a disadvantage since they cannot use any Estus Flask when invading, while the host can use all he/she wants. But defeating the host will allow you to reap all the hard earned souls, so don’t be shy and screw some people up.
Leaving messages behind can be a great help and liability for many players other than yourself. You can warn them about ambushes that would mean instant death, you can give hints about bosses’ This pseudo multiplayer mechanic lets players help indirectly, creating a revolving world. The multiplayer for Dark Souls is identical to Demon Souls, but is much more refined and tuned.
Multiplayer Score: 95/100
Dark Souls is truly a successor to Demon Souls that surpasses it in every respected form. Opening the world to a more open-ended style lets you re-explore areas to grab the more risky loot near tough enemies or just to farm certain items. The gameplay is still very solid and tight, adding more elements and diversity to gameplay. The world and multiplayer are both large and mysterious, yielding many surprises both good and bad. The game recommends more and more playthroughs of the game with New Game Plus and a total of four character slots. This will allow you to collect all the items and equipment and play differently and more challengingly than the first time around.
Dark Souls is a perfectly balanced game that rewards the wise and punishes the rash. You will die many times in Dark Souls, but after each time you learn a little more about this demented world- wish to learn more about and in turn, conquer it.