Review: Dark Souls
Dark Souls is an action RPG that aims to challenge and frustrate you. In that frustration, you will find enlightenment and a huge sense of satisfaction.
- Worth The Time?Definitely
- Things LovedChallenge, sense of accomplishment, multiplayer components.
- Things HatedStory, narration, English translation was horrible.
- RecommendationYes, if you're patient. It's a great game with some great mechanics and a hugely satisfying core. It makes sure to challenge to your last dying breath. So it'll challenge you a lot because you will die a lot.
- Name: Dark Souls
- Genre: Action RPG
- Players: Singleplayer (1), Multiplayer (Potentially anyone online)
- Multiplayer: Yes
- Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Fromsoftware
- Publisher: Namco Bandai
- Price: R579 (though it does vary according to retailer)
- Reviewed On: PS3
I pose these questions to you. Would you like to die a whole lot and potentially develop a hernia through pure frustration? Do you mind terrible narration and a rather pointless plot? Does the occasional slow down and wonky rag doll physics excite you? Well if you answered yes to those questions, I have good news for you. Dark Souls is here and oh boy is it hard.
Dark Souls, from the developers Fromsoftware, is the spiritual successor to Demon Souls and all the pain and frustration it entailed. So what is Dark Souls? Well basically, it’s a no nonsense, all difficulty, RPG that challenges the player to get through its MMO like world and setting in one piece. The game doesn’t hold your hand and makes sure to punish you for each and every single mistake you make. That’s it really. I mean, yeah there’s a story and I suppose that adds another purpose to the game, but I wouldn’t bother with that. For one thing, the story is about as generic, Japanese and badly translated as one can get and isn’t worth buying a game for. I would try and explain the narrative to you, so that you could decide whether it’s worth the attention but that’d be impossible. Honestly, I didn’t bother to pay attention and even when I did, I really couldn’t explain the intricacies of it. Let’s just say that you play a warrior destined for adventure and to save a land from something and well… that’s about it really. I’m sure there’s more but Dark Souls’ narrative really isn’t its strong point. What does make Dark Souls worth the purchase is its uniquely challenging and infinitely satisfying gameplay.
The way the Dark Souls works is that it’s a 3rd person action RPG that involves combat according to a more action driven system; a bit like Oblivion if you will. Dives, rolls, parries, blocking, magic, potions and attacking at the right time are what matters in Dark souls. Though it does maintain a very deep RPG mechanic that revolves around a quite in depth stat and inventory system. Initial character setup tasks you with choosing the standard stats defining class, gender and then a gift item with which to start the game. The problem is that the initial setup is more an initial need to check an FAQ and was about as vague as you can get; offering little to no information in what I was doing or choosing. I don’t mind the challenge in game but having to fight the game mechanics is never good design. Just because the Japanese have a tendency to ‘be quirky’ is no excuse for a game that already punishes you in every other aspect. Luckily, I’m an RPG fan and had a general understanding of what each stat meant and how the class system worked. Good luck figuring out the gift selection without reading online guide though. Actually, I should warn you now, this is one of those games that will go down better if you have a guide on the stats and mechanics of things close by. Without which, you’ll be constantly guessing and may end up regretting a choice that you made much earlier on. I’ve probably oversimplified it but the video I’ve included in the review really does speak a whole lot more words than me trying to explain it.
Once you’ve figured Dark Souls out though, you’ll have an absolute ball playing the game. You’ll die a lot, lose all of your souls on numerous occasions and be tempted to break your gamepad; but I’ve never had so much fun being so angry. Don’t worry too much, the game isn’t impossibly hard, it certainly is finishable and just takes some patience and perseverance to complete. Besides, it’s such a unique and rewarding process that every time you defeat an enemy after your 8th or 9th try, there really is no other sense of accomplishment like it. Just remember, Dark Souls tends to favour patience and planning as well as knowing the specific ins and outs of yourself as well as your enemy. This makes boss battles, despite some of them being enormous and malevolent things, a lot more manageable. While the times where you need to think fast and require a more precise movement, like getting trapped between a few enemies is much more difficult. I know this is starting to sound more like a game guide than a review, but that’s the point. Dark Souls is the type of game you play for the unique experience only it can provide, despite its technical niggles.
As an RPG experience, Dark Souls asks you to level up by means of the souls you have accumulated along the way. However, souls are also the currency with which to purchase equipment, upgrade your inventory and create new objects. It’s no surprise then that spending, saving and not losing those souls is a constant battle in Dark Souls. Especially because dying means you drop them and if you cannot reclaim them before dying again, you lose them all. You do keep your equipment though; otherwise the game would be impossible. Just because the game is meant to be difficult, Fromsoftware did not want that difficulty to make the game impossible. Speaking of which, remember strategy is king and there’s no shame in retreating or grinding. Fighting everything in the area and healing at the bonfire, only to reset and respawn the enemy hordes so to rinse repeat is one of my favourite strategies and is thoroughly encouraged. While there is no shame in these tactics, there is however shame in blindly running in and hoping to brute force your way though the hordes of enemies. If you think that might be your approach to Dark Souls, quit right now and do not buy it. Speaking of bonfires, I know I mentioned bonfires somewhere; the bonfire is a very important part of Dark Souls and acts as a sort of general purpose base camp. They completely heal you with use and so is a heavenly sight to behold. They also provide the hub for levelling up, creating new equipment or magic (what Dark Souls comically calls sorceries) and it offers some other great features.
As you might have noticed by now, Dark Souls is very combat driven experience and in that aspect it is brilliantly grounded and has solid mechanics. Even at low levels, and with the right skill and process, something I lack, you could probably defeat the last boss. That is if you don’t rush in, where even a pair of lowly skeletons will give you a huge amount of grief. Actually, on the topic of the game design within Dark Souls. I know it’s going for the whole MMO feel and so removing pause seems like a good idea. The thing is though; a lack of pause is annoying. I’ve died a few times, not because I couldn’t match the enemy’s ability or level but because I needed the toilet and the game wouldn’t pause. Even if you press the PS or Xbox guide buttons, the game will keep going and unless you’re in a safe spot, you will die.
The multiplayer component of Dark Souls is the cause for this pause issue. The game aims to mimic an MMO and so allows for PvE invasions of another person’s game or PvP co-operation. The mechanics are quite deep and work very well if you meet their requirements. You can also do other things like leaving messages for others to learn from your mistakes or just troll them. The problem right now is that you need to be the same (or a similar Lvl) to someone else before you can work together or fight each other. That’s great in terms of balancing the experience, but does mean that there is a large disparity between Lvl’s right now. This means it might be tough to find someone worth challenging or that you want to work with at your Lvl. Just give it some time though. Dark Souls, like Demon Souls before it, will soon have a strong multiplayer following of people who take it quite seriously. I’d try to explain the specifics of multiplayer more but it’s too difficult to do in such a short space of time. Just know that whether online or offline the game works well. It’s just that much better, and in fact easier, unless you’re under constant PvP invasion, in online mode.
In the aesthetics department, Dark Souls has some very cool cinematics, despite their pointlessness in regards to providing a story. I’d advise you to ignore the narration and subtitles and just enjoy the aesthetics and visual style Dark Souls envisions, which is actually very cool. The visuals of the actual game aren’t nearly as impressive but they have their moments and more than anything else work towards the whole setting of the game. In any other game I’d say they look bad, in Dark Souls they work quite well. What’s weird is that while some of the NPC’s have really bad voice acting, others are quite well done, especially when compared to the story narration. It’s like Fromsoftware really did try but because of localisation issues they weren’t able to distinguish the good from the bad for a Western audience.
Before I finish, let’s just address some of the impressions I’ve probably given of Dark Souls; that the game is broken or heavily bugged. It isn’t, it actually works quite well and is whole bag of fun. Dark Souls has some surprisingly quick load times, especially after each death; a sure sign of a well coded game. I suppose though, the quick load after death was a requirement for the coding team knowing that everyone playing Dark Souls will die a hell of a lot. I also encountered relatively few bugs in general; the gameplay just needed a bit more tweaking for its Western release. That being said, it’s like an idiot, so me basically, programmed everything outside of combat and in such cases, the AI is a bit daft and the physics is wonky. Yet as soon as you enter combat, the AI becomes brutal and has no problem ending your life. It’s funny that after death the rag doll physics makes enemy bodies react as though they’re floppy and about 20 grams. Maybe their souls are made of lead and once you take them they become as light as balloons.
Look, I could go on and on about the fulfilling experience and uniquely challenging gameplay, but you already know if you’re getting this game or not. And if you’re not sure yet and like a challenge as well as an intricate combat RPG experience; go and buy it. If not, or if you get easily frustrated or are impatient, stay away, far, far away.