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Dark Souls Review

I’m in a dingy dark sewer where all the toilets of the world flush to, surrounded by bloody cists and diseased rats, barely able to see more than a meter in front of me and have just been informed that I am being invaded. My heart beats harder. Sweat forms on my head. Will I collapse under the weight of fear? No. The added pressure galvanises my senses. I deal with the rats, three of them, with agility that Ezio would be impressed with. Now for the invader. I see him: A black and red phantom closing in. Time slows, I am Neo and he is Smith. Just the two of us circling, waiting for the other to make the first move. This is not a contest of who can mash the buttons quickest, but whose nerve will hold. We fight. I’m driven by the outrage that this wretch has invaded my world. MY WORLD. Hasn’t he enough problems to deal with in his? Well I’ll give him a problem. I block his spear and launch a firebomb at him – smash. As he deals with the flame I land a double hit. He’s on the back foot, just one more slash and he’s gone, but I miss. He takes advantage, rolling and cutting and circling. I’m disoriented. Then I see him, lunging. I dodge just in time and land a critical to his open side. He sinks to the ground. Adrenaline shakes my hands. I’ve won, for now.

But this is Dark Souls, and around every corner awaits the unknown. This is an experience that will have you fearing to open a door, climb stairs or even approach a treasure chest. There is no knowing what threat lurks.

You begin awaiting your fate: to lose your senses locked in a cell and become an undead hollow, no mind, no humanity. A nameless hero offers you salvation and you are tasked with surviving your prison with little equipment or skill. You will amass both on your long journey of salvation. For a dungeon game, unlike the likes of the Diablo series, equipment isn’t the be all and end all – you are. Your skill, wit and ability to adapt to situations are what will keep you alive. At the start of the game you choose a class, be it a soldier or sorcerer, each with different stats that determines abilities and a different load-outs of starting gear. But once you begin gaining souls, the currency of this hellish world used to level up, you can diverse into any field you choose. Wield huge swords or cast elaborate spells, its up to you and your play-style. After playing for an hour I looked back with satisfaction at how much I had improved. After five hours, ten hours, twenty hours I’d look back with glee at how far my personal skill had developed.

And skill is what you need as you progress through a variety of areas with only a vague understanding of what it is you’re suppose to be doing. Dark Souls certainly doesn’t hold the player’s hand as games so often do nowadays. You couldn’t get much further from family friendly Fable than this. A few notes posted on the floor in the first dungeon tell you the basic controls and then you’re on your own. After the tutorial the player arrives at the equivalent of the Nexus hub from the predecessor Demon Souls, called Firelink Shrine, a reasonably safe area where NPCs and trainers will gather. I was puzzled as where to go; up a steep staircase, an empty graveyard or down a winding path. Wandering over to the picturesque graveyard resulted in a swift death by skeleton hordes and losing all my precious souls. You do die a great deal in Dark Souls. That’s the point. You die and learn and die and learn. Slowly moving forward, getting more determined as you do.

When I said that you’re on your own, that’s actually not true at all. You get no help from the game, but the players certainly help one another, leaving notes on the floor that appear in your world as well (if you are online that is) warning of enemies ahead or what weaknesses the boss has. These notes are created from in-game templates (‘Try….fire’ or ‘Beware of….sniper’) but manage to articulate effectively how to handle the next corner. Often they are a welcome sign, unless they happen to read ‘Jump’ at the edge of a cliff, or the ever popular ‘Need head’.

Players can also offer one another assistance against the many huge bosses in the game, by casting a summoning mark on the ground. Another welcome sign that is invaluable and creates a sense of community among the players as they work together against the odds, even more cooperative than in the likes of Left 4 Dead. In Dark Souls the stakes are too high to pick up a frying pan – it’s all or nothing, and by nothing I mean dead. Working together to take down a pair of fire breathing gargoyles is thrilling. But when the tide turns and you’re faced with an invasion from a player, it’s a scarier prospect than an undead dragon. At least the dragon is predictable.

Also in the limited edition comes the sound track, not that I’d ever care to listen to it on my walk to work. Orchestral and dramatic scores that accompany the player’s fight against each boss, the score is impressive, but one definitive tone: Dramatic. Unlike the highs and lows of Skyrim’s music, but it does the job.

What new-comers to the Soul’s series may long for is story. There isn’t a great deal of conventional narrative to be found. You are told you need to ring a couple of bells, but are barely pointed in the right direction. I found that my willingness to continue wasn’t to discover more about any story, but because I was driven to beat the last enemy that killed me. However each area tells its own story. Exploring the sewers I found stone statues that must have fallen victim to the curse of the giant frogs. Poor sods. There was no dialogue behind this, just an observation.

That is what Dark Souls does, it teaches us to observe once more. Instead of mindlessly running around the corner, gun in hand, we are re-taught to step around with our shield held high, just as we did in the original Alone in the Dark or Space Quest. The next move could kill us. It creates a tension that games have lost sight of for the most part. I imagine many players will quit the challenge and nagging fear, and I can understand that. Often it is too frightening to be enjoyable. But for those who persevere and drive forward you will be rewarded. For the faint hearted try Fable.

1 Comment

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  1. CC says
    January 25, 2012, 5:06 PM

    I’m new to gaming and a male friend suggested I find some tips on this site. I love your voice and your evident passion. Inspiring stuff. Just wanted to let you know that ; )

    Reply

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