Platforms:  PS3, Xbox 360

Developer:  From Software

Publisher:  Namco Bandai Games

Rating:  “M” for Mature

Written by:  Nick Cohen

Platform played on:  Xbox 360

In lieu of an actual review of Dark Souls—I’m not sure I will ever be able to beat the game, which is necessary for a full review—I’m going to keep and update a journal of my time spent in Dark Souls.  I’ll give you my impressions of the game and also update you on my progress (or lack thereof) with each post.  Please note that spoilers lie ahead with each journal entry, as they’re necessary to tell you what I’ve been doing in the game.  I’m not sure how often I’ll update this journal, and some updates may not be too exciting since it’s likely that there will be periods of time where I’m not making any significant progress, but I will try my best to pump these out on a semi-regular basis for as long as I play Dark Souls.  Come join me on my ambitions adventure.

Dark Souls is hard.  It’s really, really hard.

Dark Souls is a game unlike any other, with the exception of its predecessor, Demon’s Souls.  Whereas most games nowadays are relatively easy compared to most games on the NES or even the original PlayStation, Dark Souls is actually harder than games on those classic consoles.  In my brief (roughly three hours) time spent playing Dark Souls so far, I’ve died countless times.  I’ve fell off cliffs, died twice in the game’s tutorial, been poisoned by rats, and been hit by exploding firebombs.  Yet, I still keep coming back for more.

You see, Dark Souls is extraordinarily tough, but it’s also a ton of fun and very rewarding.  When you die in this game, you know why, and it motivates you to do better next time.  A typical life in Dark Souls involves starting out at a bonfire—the game’s checkpoints.  These bonfires will heal you and restock your supply of Estus Flasks (re:  healing potions), but they will also respawn most enemies (only bosses don’t respawn).  You will walk for a few feet and get attacked by a swarm of enemies.  You will die.

You will respawn back at the bonfire with newfound knowledge of what lies ahead for you.  Maybe you will overcome this challenge; maybe you won’t.  If you don’t, you will respawn back at the bonfire and have to try all over again.  If you do conquer the challenge, you will continue on for a little bit until you run into a group of enemies or a trap that will kill you, forcing a respawn.  Things will continue on this way for a while until you eventually have the knowledge of what lies ahead and the skills needed to overcome the challenges necessary to encounter a boss.  The first time you encounter this boss, you will die.  Most likely, you will also die on the second attempt.  And the third.  It will probably take many failed attempts, but eventually you will defeat the boss and feel like the best gamer on the planet…that is, until you encounter the next challenge.

That’s how my first few hours with the game have been so far—I’ve died over and over again, but have managed to escape the tutorial area and defeat the first true boss (the Taurus Demon).  With each death, I’ve gained the knowledge necessary to progress a bit further—all it takes after that is good execution of a strategy to overcome the challenges.  My Warrior character (you customize your character before starting the game proper, choosing from a variety of classes with different stats) is outfitted with decent swords and a good shield, but he also lacks any arrows or magic spells.  This has forced me to attack each enemy up-close-and personal.

The Taurus Demon is the game's first boss. As a result, it only took me about 15-20 deaths to overcome.

Thankfully, the combat system in Dark Souls is topnotch.  Dark Souls may be an RPG, but the combat is better than in most action games.  There’s a certain weight to each sword strike that makes fighting both fun and strategic.  Since your attacks are generally pretty slow, you have to get good at blocking, evading, and countering.  You also have to know how to draw enemies away from each other—unlike in most games, if you’re attacked by three enemies up-close in Dark Souls you’re most likely dead.  Enemies will kill you in a few hits at most (plenty of enemies will kill you instantly), and some—like the giant rats and their ridiculously powerful poison—cause debilitating status effects.

Outside of the strategic combat, Dark Souls isn’t much of an RPG.  Your character has tons of stats to level up, weapons can break, and you can pull up menus that will make onlooker’s eyes pop with their complexity, but nothing except leveling up is mandatory.  That’s the thing; you can play Dark Souls almost like an action game if you want.  It will still be mercilessly tough and slow-paced, but you can choose to ignore most of the deeper RPG elements if you wish.  I often find myself forgetting that I’m playing an RPG simply because there’s barely any story and I almost never have to look at menus or stats.

Dark Souls looks fantastic, but there is a lot of slowdown at times.  The slowdown can certainly hinder you if you’re in a tough fight, but it’s usually not a big concern.  The music is excellent, particularly in the opening cinematic.  Speaking of which, I think Demon’s Souls’ opening was much better.  It’s a minor complaint, but Demon’s Souls had my favorite opening cutscene ever, whereas Dark Souls’ is merely decent.

As I progress further into the game, Dark Souls can only get more interesting…and much, much harder.  I’ve heard frightening tales of this game’s savage difficulty, but I look forward to overcoming all challenges the game throws at me.  Will I give up after trying and failing to defeat an early boss over the course of 50+ hours like I did in Demon’s Souls?  Or will I persevere and triumph in the face of incredible danger?  I’m not sure, but you should continue following my progress through this hellish world as I go deeper and deeper into Dark Souls to discover what else the game has up its sleeve.

 

 

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