Dark Souls indepth Preview

It’s no lie that From Software are masters of their craft. They have been making 3D action RPG’s for over 15 years, however most of their RPG’s have been very niche and a lot of the mainstream press never picked up on the King’s Field series that they produced. However in early 2009 their new PS3 exclusive title saw release to hype from gamers across the world with rumours of the game’s extreme difficulty. That game was Demon’s Souls.

Eventually Demon’s Souls made it to both the US and UK (albeit one year later). In the US it became a massive sleeper hit, achieving Gamespot’s 2009 Game of the Year award and IGN’s RPG of the year award. The niche third person action game eventually became regarded as one of the hardest games ever made.

Two years later, From Software have teamed up with Namco-Bandai to bring us their spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, aptly named Dark Souls. The general design philosophy for Dark Souls is “To kill all players who think there is a safe zone in Dark Souls.” From Software have also said that Dark Souls will be significantly harder than Demon’s Souls.

The first thing I noticed when I started to play it were the changes that From Software had made. There was no Mana Bar. Instead you could equip a weapon and select your spell, but the spell had a number next to it, indicating that you can only use it a certain amount of times before having to go to a bonfire and rest. The same principle is applied for healing items, for you can only hold a select number of healing potions that refill at every bonfire you rest at. This seems to be in line with making the game harder than Demon’s Souls, as every time my Mana went down or my health was low, I would just munch on the healing items. However, in Dark Souls I found myself being less liberal with how I used my items and healing potions as I trudged along in the “Undead Parish.”

There were a multitude of classes to choose from, all featuring very different playstyles. For my first run through I chose the Black Knight, who was wielding a massive shield, sword and had a helmet that would scare the pants off of Darth Vader. The game’s art style is heavily influenced from the medieval and gothic eras, with my Black Knight carefully making his way through a sprawling and noticeably unkempt cathedral. As I approached a bonfire I noticed to the side a massive Red Wyvern breathing fire. I thought to be wise and took a different path, avoiding an inevitable death.

I made my way up some stairs leading into a courtyard that was inhabited by a series of enemies. Two archers on a small bridge above me, two Skeleton Warriors and a giant Armoured Boar, all of which started to charge at me as I approached. Now I know that From Software were not pulling any punches when they said that they aim to kill all players.

I dashed toward the side of the courtyard, leading up some stairs to find I was near where the two archers were placed and also found two Skeletal Warriors. Not to mention the other two that followed me up the stairs. I had to balance where I stepped and who I targeted with who I attacked, eventually learning the rhythm of my enemies attacks to get the timing of my slow attacks just right.

Dark Souls’ battle system is fundamentally the same as Demon’s Souls. You hold the item in your left hand with L1 and L2, and use the weapon in your right hand with R1 for a light blow, and R2 for a heavy but stamina taxing attack. You also have the option to dual wield your weapon, which deals more damage, but the item equipped in your left hand (usually a shield) will be replaced until you shift your stance back to normal.

After killing the Skeletal Warriors I slowly stepped toward the two archers, hoping to get a sneak attack in before they spotted me. I dispatched both of them and found myself above the giant Armoured Boar. From above I saw that the courtyard had a few fires dotted around, so thought that maybe I could lure the Boar to the fire, so it can bake itself. With this strategy in mind, I rolled down to the courtyard and attempted to lure the Boar. While it did get damaged by the fire, I didn’t think that it would hurl me across the area and charge once more to leave me on the floor, just for it to run back and trample me to death.

I needed to be faster. The Black Knight’s weapons were not quick enough, nor did he have the edurance to outrun the Boar. I looked at the class selection screen and settled for a Humble Knight. Once more I trudged along the map and once again saw the subtle ways that the game warns the player of a dangerous area. For example, whilst looking at the Red Wyvern again, I saw just past the arch a pile of charred bones. 

After having to crawl through the level again, I eventually found myself faced with that Boar, but this time I had a faster weapon and character. This style of play allowed me to be a little more loose, for if you have certain weapons and an appropriate shield, you’re able to parry the enemy’s attacks and riposte, usually leaving the enemy devastated. I used this tactic to dispose of the Skeletal Warriors quickly.

Faced with the Boar, I decided to walk back down the stairs to the newly cleared area this time, with only me and the Boar in the courtyard. This time in the level I got a drop named “lure”. I threw the item into the fire and the Boar dashed for it. I ran behind the Boar, where it appeared to have no armour, and started a flurry of attacks. The Boar turned around and hurled me into the air once more. I was down, but not out. I healed myself and rolled through another fire with the menacing Armoured Boar behind me. I turned around, rolled out of the way and got behind it once more. Whilst the fire was inflicting damage onto the Boar, a single piercing attack allowed me to finally defeat the enemy.

I was battered, bruised and lost. I felled the Boar, used another one of my healing items and went on in the level to a small corridor. There were a multitude of enemies in this small walkway. Thankfully they were not the same Skeletal Warriors that I had trouble with before. I quickly disposed of these enemies and went along into an underground part of the parish.

I came across a room with a bonfire in it, used it as a checkpoint and climbed a ladder into a daunting tower where the path split two ways. I took the left path toward the edge of the Parish outdoors with the sun beaming against the building. I found myself face to face with a new enemy; a Caped Skeleton, which looked like the big brother of the Skeletal Warriors I had fought before. It had an orange cape and longsword. A new feature in Dark Souls is the Jump Attack, which allows the player reach new areas as well as striking enemies even harder. I did this to the Caped Skeleton and rolled back, waiting for it to make its next move. As it attempted to slash at me I was backstabbed… by a second Caped Skeleton.

My Humble Knight was now on the floor with an ounce of health, faced against two of these Caped Skeletons. I healed up and decided I needed to take a new strategy. My Knight could not take on two of these enemies in such a narrow area, for my sword kept on hitting the edge of the wall. I ran back to a clear open area and decided to take the other route. Unfortunately for me I had forgotten what Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki once said in an interview: “Enemies will chase you throughout the level.” I turned around and lo and behold, the duo were charging at me.  

I found another arch, ran into it and found another Caped Skeleton. I threw another “Lure” item to the exit of the arch where the other two skeletons were. I had them together in a narrow hallway. I switched from my sword to a polearm weapon and dealt with them all at once. It was at this point that one of the producers told me, “Polearm weapons are not very effective against skeletons since they do stab damage.” As logical as that may seem, I was in a real pinch and just persevered until my small Thermopylaean-esque battle was over.

Afterwards I found the correct path and entered a new area, The Undead Cathedral. I saw a long hallway seperating me and what looked to be a smaller version of the Tower Knight boss from Demon’s Souls. I ran into the room adamantly and suddenly, along with the mini Tower Knight, there was someone from above shooting at me with spells. I dodged out of the way and lead the mini Tower Knight into another room where I would be free from being hit by aerial spells.

Surprisingly the small Tower Knight did not give me as much grief as the Boar or trio of Caped Skeletons. I kept rolling out of the way when he swiped his lance and attacked. Eventually he went down. It was then that I actually took the time to stop and look at how magnificent From Software had developed this world. The environments were a vast improvement upon Demon’s Souls. This time round Dark Souls uses even more influences with gothic architecture to create the oppressive atmosphere that this game yearns for. 

It was here where I put Dark Souls down. It expands upon what made Demon’s Souls so great and adds even more depth, with more character build options, better graphics and even better enemies. I came to learn that the build that I played that day has been made even harder because too many people had completed it. It truly is an original experience. Dark Souls is not for everyone, and for newcomers it may be a bit daunting since the game offers no help whatsoever, but it does assert itself in several different ways that no other game does. Dark Souls is surely one to look out for in the slew of Autumn titles being released over the next few months.

Dark Souls is out on October 7th for PS3 and Xbox 360.

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