Several years ago, a game came out. This game was unforgiving in its difficulty. It was so frustratingly hard, that many a hair was pulled from my head and many a nasty word was spoken to my television screen. This game would drop your pants and forcefully have its way with you over and over again whether you liked it or not. And you know something? We were okay with it. Why? Because despite all of the monstrous difficulty, the game was good! Really good. This game was, of course, Demon’s Souls.
Demon’s Souls was an expertly crafted gem with a cool story, interesting characters, awesome weapons, very nice graphics, amazing boss monsters, and a battle system that really made you feel like a badass.
Then, in 2011, a new game was announced by the same company that had created Demon’s Souls. A spiritual successor, if you will. And it was announced that it was going to be even more difficult that its predecessor. In fact, its tagline was “Prepare to die”.
This spiritual successor was Dark Souls.
Now, Dark Souls gets very mixed feelings around the gamersphere. Some criticize it for using its difficulty as a crutch to expand gameplay and just frustrated the players. Others, like myself, praise it for its system of challenge and reward. Now, I can understand some of the criticisms, but at the same time, I’m willing to bet that many of its critics did not take enough time to learn Dark Souls‘s system and intricacies and simply said, “This is too hard and it sucks” without giving it a proper chance.
But to be perfectly honest, I believe that Dark Souls did almost everything perfectly.
First of all, the word that is paramount in describing Dark Souls is ‘atmosphere’. It does everything in its power to increase the atmosphere as much as possible. The biggest contributor to this is the game’s lack of music. Only boss fights and a few select areas of the game include any music. This serves not as a detriment that makes the game boring, but rather as a way to heighten your sense of isolation, get your nerves going, and to simply increase the atmosphere. I love this. It made me feel much more like I was walking through these dungeons and I became much more immersed in the environment. If you were really slaying the undead with swords and axes, you really wouldn’t be hearing any music. And the music that is there for the boss battles is always epic and filled with various cool vocals and lets you know that some serious shit is about to happen.
The environments are numerous and varied. No two places look the same. Even the two parts of the Undead Burg that you visit are considerably different, with the upper part being wide open and scenic and the lower part filled with claustrophobic alleys. The only times that you should ever become bored with the scenery is when you die multiple times and have to run through it over and over again. More on that later. I’m still talking about atmosphere right now.
But one aspect of the game that really ramps up the atmosphere is something carried over from Demon’s Souls. As long as you are in Online Mode (which should be all the time unless your internet fucks up), you can see ghostly figures running around the dungeons swinging their weapons into the air. These figures, though harmless, have given me mild frights more than once, making me think that an enemy was running around the corner or ambushing me from behind. But it turns out that these ghostly figures are actually other players that are online and running around the same dungeon that you are. These same players can leave messages on the ground in the form of orange markings that can warn you of upcoming hazards, give you a hint as to the weakness of a boss, or trick you into jumping off of a cliff.
But one of my favorite things about Dark Souls is something that many people might not even notice. But as you’re running from Ash Lake to Lost Izalith, you may notice something missing. Loading screens. That’s right. You can run from one end of the world to the other and not encounter a single loading screen. In fact, the only times that you ever even see a loading screen are when you load your game, when you fast travel or teleport, and when you die. And they’re never long either. As a result, the game flows smoothly from beginning to end without being bogged down by excessive loading, unlike some other games that I can mention.
Graphically, the game is amazing. They may not be the best models that I have ever seen, but they’re pretty damn good. The animations are smooth, the weapons are interesting and very pretty to look at, the monsters are varied, interesting, and all around cool, the boss monsters are massive, and all of this without a single second of texture loading. You don’t have to wait for an instant to see how that new armor you got looks on your avatar, no matter how silly it may be.
But I guess the question that’s on everyone’s mind is, “But, Organ Miner, is this game really more difficult that Demon’s Souls?”. Well, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve played Demon’s Souls, but from what I can remember, yes. In many ways, it is. Enemies are more numerous and have more abilities. They’re also smarter, for the most part. Plus, the healing items are much different. Where Demon’s Souls had different grades of healing items that healed more with each grade and that you could farm once you found an enemy that dropped them, Darks Souls has the Estus Flask, which has a limited number of uses and doesn’t refill until you rest at a Bonfire. The Estus Flask also takes about a second longer to use (which, in a game like this, is a really long time). And this forced you to be much more conservative and considerate of your healing, adding a new level of strategy to the game. You have to heal carefully, or you’ll end up losing all of the health that you just healed or dying before the healing takes effect. But at the same time, they did away with a couple things that made Demon’s Souls both more complex and difficult. They took out the World Tendency and Character Tendency, which affected the difficulty of the enemies and a few other things. They also did away with a major penalty of dying. In Demon’s Souls, when you died, you entered Soul Form until you beat a boss or used a certain item. When in Soul Form, you didn’t make any noise while walking, but you also lost half of your maximum health (yikes). In Dark Souls, you enter Undead Form when you die until you offer a point of Humanity at a Bonfire. When Undead, you cannot summon any other players and I think your item discovery rate was effected somehow. There may be more that I’m forgetting, but it wasn’t really noticable.
In general, the boss battles are more difficult as well. With the exception of the Maneaters from Demon’s Souls, which is one of the most frustrating bosses in history, and Flamelurker (kind of), I don’t remember having a horribly difficult time on any of the bosses, but rather the dungeons on the way to the bosses.
Though there were definitely some easy bosses in Dark Souls, like Chaos Witch Quelaag, Seath the Scaleless, and the Great Wolf Sif, and some frustrating dungeons, like Blighttown, certain parts of Anor Londo, and the Tomb of the Giants, I certainly had more difficulty with the bosses than the dungeons in general. I got through most of the dungeons with minimal frustration, but certain bosses made me rage quit hard a few times. Examples being: the Capra Demon (on my first character), the Four Kings, and worst of all, Executioner Smough and Dragonslayer Ornstein. Seriously, those guys can just eat shit and die. Without help, I almost couldn’t do it. They’re bad enough that I had to feature them in the damn title of the review!
Though, honestly, I had a much easier time with Dark Souls than I did with Demon’s Souls. But I think that’s simply because my gaming abilities have improved considerably since the release of Demon’s Souls.
I haven’t really touched on the story yet, but this is where the review gets a bit complicated. You see, very little of the story is actually revealed through gameplay. I mean, bare minimum. But, with a little research, you find that the lore and the plot are actually incredibly in-depth and carefully thought out. On my first playthrough, I just played the game normally. Sure, I talked to as many NPCs as I could find, but that was it. And at the end, I found myself very unfulfilled by the ending. But on my second playthrough, I took a lot more time to collect as many items and pieces of equipment as I could and read their descriptions. I also found more NPCs and talked to them more, paying closer attention to what they had to say. And that’s where all of the story and lore comes in: through item descriptions and NPC interactions. It also helps to watch the Dark Souls Lore videos on the Epicnamebro YouTube channel. And once I got all of that information, I found myself much more satisfied with the story and the whole Dark Souls universe. Once I got all of that information, I was blown away by how fleshed out and overall awesome this world was and it made me want to find all of the hidden goodies scattered throughout the game (and there are lots of them). I became genuinely excited when I found a new weapon or piece of armor, even if I had no intention of ever using it.
The fighting system is pretty much identical to Demon’s Souls‘s. But it’s still one of the things I love about these games, and I’m glad that they didn’t change it. Your character moves and fights like an actual human being that obeys the laws of physics (mostly). They move like a real person might move. Yeah, flashy moves and characters that can double-jump and hover in the air while attacking can be great fun. I like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta as much as the next guy, but there’s something to be said about a system like this. I felt so much more badass after beating a boss in Dark Souls than I did in say, God of War, because it felt like a real person had just overcome an immense challenge.
Now, you may have noticed that, thus far, I’ve done nothing but sing Dark Souls’s praises. And yes, it has become one of my very favorite games. But it is not without its imperfections.
As badass as I felt for beating a boss or getting through a dungeon, sometimes the difficulty did take away from the game, mostly because of the respawning. Whenever you die, you respawn at the last Bonfire that you rested at and all of the enemies reappear. And many times, these Bonfires are quite a distance away from where you died. This becomes very tedious if you’re having a difficult time with a particular boss and have to keep going through the same area and fighting the same enemies only to get your ass handed to you by the boss again. But, I’m willing to overlook this, because as you improve, both in character level and your own personal skill, this kind of thing happens less and less. It’s not like most games nowadays where the Checkpoints are so frequent, that there’s no real penalty for dying. Frustrating as it may be, this death/respawn method is actually a way of making you improve and think your playing out in different ways.
But, as much as I may bitch about this boss or that, what really got to me was the goddamn PvP. Here’s how it works, when in human form, you are allowed to summon other players and certain NPCs to help you through a dungeon or to fight a boss, which is cool and I love it. But being in human form also opens you to invasion. What that means is another player can come into your world and try to kill you. If s/he succeeds, you respawn back at a Bonfire and you are no longer in human form, which means you can no longer summon the people you wanted to summon to help you fight the boss that you can’t seem to beat by yourself. So you use a point of Humanity to become human again only to be invaded almost immediately and killed again. Worse yet, the game tends to lag when an invader is present, giving them the chance to Backstab you, most likely killing you instantly.
Admittedly, this idea is actually awesome. It can really immerse you in the game further and make you feel the inter-connectivity of this world and the worlds of the other players. But the major flaw in the execution here is your complete inability to turn the PvP off. And believe me, that’s a major flaw. Let’s say you’re just playing the game, and you come across a boss monster that you’re having a really hard time with by yourself. So, you decide to get some help. You enter human form so that you can summon an NPC (not even another player. Let’s say you only want to use what the game gives you normally). As you search for a summon sign to call another character, suddenly, someone invades you. You have no desire to fight another player, but there’s nothing you can do. Now, let’s say he kills you. Now you have to respawn and get yourself into human form again. Once you do, you’re immediately invaded by another person. This happens multiple times, and all you want to do is continue with the damn game! And the other players are making that impossible. This happened to me multiple times, and when it did, my only hope was that my internet connection would fuck up so that I could play in Offline Mode (you can still summon NPCs in Offline Mode). Seriously, you shouldn’t be prevented from making progress in the game because other players are assholes. They should just let you turn it off! I know when I’m playing video games, I normally don’t play competitively. Sometimes, it’s great. But most of the time, I just don’t have fun with PvP. So, when I’m forced into it, like I am here, it takes a lot of the fun out of the game for me. This flaw is so big, that I actually have to take a point away from the final score, thus preventing what could have been my first perfect score.
So, yes, besides that one fateful flaw, I think that Dark Souls did everything right. Beating this game had become one of my great gaming achievements, and I felt damn proud after seeing that final boss go down. Let me put it this way: I ended up getting the Platinum Trophy, and the only reason was because I wanted an excuse to keep playing. It’s not like my Platinum in Dragon Age II, a rather average game, which I only got because I have this weird goal to Platinum every BioWare game that I play. I only got it because I wanted to keep playing, and actually felt kind of bad when I did because it meant I had to move on to the next one.
Gameplay: 9/10: Because of the fucking PvP
Music: 10/10: I know I didn’t mention it much, but every piece of music is perfectly suited to its situation.
Graphics: 10/10: Monstrous and detailed enemies and bosses paired with the vast and varied environments make this an easy 10.
Story: 10/10: But only if you’re willing to do your homework.
Total: 9/10: I cannot tell you how much I wanted to rate this perfectly. But I could not bring myself to give Gameplay that 10…