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Dark Souls Review

by Diogo Miguel October 13, 2011

The main goal in most games tends to be based on the concept of not dying but there’s always an exception.

Dark Souls fall under this category with its ruthless approach when it comes to letting players learn more about the game. In short dying is one of the sights that most players will witness a lot. But is this a game that only masochists might enjoy or is it worth enduring all the hardships?

There is no point in sugar coating it and attempting to cover up the simple fact that Dark Souls will not be an easy game to get used to. The initial tutorial will provide some guidance but the rug is quickly swept from under the player’s feet. Even the tutorial area can prove to be deadly with a few traps and a heavy troll eager to crush the character with his weapon. After a swift escape, players will find themselves in the main area of the game. This area is split up into sections such as the undead burg and undead parish.

Due to the scope of the game, there are short cuts spread throughout the game that can be unlocked, in order to ensure easy passage between sections. But getting to a new area is only half of the work done. Dark Souls has a different saving system to most games in that it doesn’t really make use of a conventional saving system.

Instead the game constantly saves data in the background. However, upon death it’s only possible to continue from the last bonfire used, which is the equivalent of a checkpoint. Bonfires will be found all over the land and have other functions too such as levelling up.

A number of souls can be gathered whenever a player defeats an enemy or uses certain items. These souls are the trading currency of Dark Souls and can be used to buy new items and level up the player. But the number of souls a player carries is dropped down upon death. If the player manages to get them back from that precise spot then there’s no harm, but the souls will be lost upon death, if they have not been reclaimed. It’s a harsh but inspiring move as it encourages players to be careful and think about the risks involved in exploring new areas.

Those used to health items are in for a surprise when playing Dark Souls. The game instead provides a flask that can be filled with Estus portions at bonfires. What’s great about it is that the flask can be upgraded so that it can accommodate more Estus portions or increase the healing effect. In this game all characters starts out as hollow which means that they can die countless times, but will eventually end up turning into one of the bloodthirsty undead creatures roaming the land.

It’s possible to revert back to human by means of humanity sprites scattered all over but it hollow status will apply again when killed. Being human has certain advantages such as getting items from specific characters and being able to kindle bonfires.

All of the terminology mentioned up to this point is but a small glimpse at the world of Dark Souls. The development team must have poured their own souls into this game for there is much to learn. It’s possible to be playing for countless hours and still find new facts that could end up saving the character’s life in combat.. Penalties might be heavy but thorough exploration often results in useful items being found.

Curiosity is a natural reaction when in a strange place so it’s not unusual to want to explore. Since dying is part of the game’s process it means that players can use it to their advantage. It’s always nice to kill an enemy or boss on the first go, but there’s no shame in dying, as it means being one step closer to figuring out the key strategy in being successful.

There’s plenty of different demons to deal with throughout the course of the game. It’s not even the case that some of them are just modified to make it seem as if the game has many different enemies. Every section will have different monstrosities to deal with such as knights and demon goats. Each of these enemies requires a different approach and some will even affect the condition of the character.

There are many bosses scattered throughout the game too and they comes in different sizes. It is terrifying to be running away from an ambush and suddenly stumble into a gigantic demon wielding two enormous and sharp weapons. The beauty of such mistakes comes from observing each boss and finding out what makes them tick and how to stop them moving permanently.

It is hard work to get the upper hand on even the lesser demons during the first few hours. But with further exploration come new items that will start to even out the odds. Perhaps one of the best moments in Dark Souls is to feel rewarded after a tough battle. It’s a rare occurrence since the game doesn’t break easily but it might just be the best help that it could give players.

Another element that the game does well is the inclusion of player interactivity. The game continues to innovate by refusing to go down the traditional route with cooperative games. Instead players can leave warning messages to others throughout the game, which was a feature included in the PlayStation 3 exclusive Demon’s Soul.

It’s often the case that imminent death is avoided because of a handy message. It sort of defeats the purpose of punishing reckless players for rushing into areas, but it’s a nice way to let players help each other. There’s other ways for players to interact with each other in the game too.

Visually Dark Souls manages to impress on several occasions with stunning views of the land. The medieval setting does wonders for the game and it manages to captivate the player without the need for long dialogue scenes to help the story progress. All that needs to be known is that the main character is cursed and needs to fulfil certain tasks to achieve his goal of possibly returning to the land of the living.

It’s up to the player to pick an appropriate character, such as a warrior or knight, but new tricks can be learned throughout the game. Obviously each character will have a different style so it’s always best to stick with the one that feels adequate.

The use of weapons or shields and running will use up the stamina bar. The stamina bar automatically fills up but the character won’t be able to do any of the actions mentioned while it is empty. This means that players need to be strategic as enemies won’t be so forgiving. Using items must also be timed as the inventory and other options are used in real time. It’s refreshing to see a game that is harsh but wants the player to improve with every costly mistake.

There is much to explain about the world of Dark Souls but there is no better way to do it than by experiencing it. Everything that was mentioned up to this point is but a basic look at a game so complex that players will continue to find new information for weeks to come. What matters though is that Dark Souls is a game that will reward those that stick with it after the first couple of hours.

Dying countless times might feel frustrating at first but it will be easy to forget it once a few bosses have been taken care of. Dark Souls is a tough beast to break but it’s more than worth the many hours spent taming it.

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