Dark Souls Review

Dark Souls is hard. Really hard by modern standards. Many modern gamers are impatient and want instant gratification. If you want that from a hardcore action RPG then you may as well stop reading this review right now.
Games becoming easier and having more accessibility is by no means a bad thing, it’s just becoming harder to find games that are more unique and have complex combat mechanics. Are games not supposed to be about the experience overall? Games that are attempting to be serious in tone cannot create oppressive atmospheres where you know that people are out to get you. As much praise as Uncharted 2 gets, it’s extremely out of character for Nathan Drake to just kill everyone he meets.
Pragmatism is where Dark Souls’ strength lies and its predecessor, Demon’s Souls was no different. Demon’s Souls remains Atlus’ most successful game this generation so far. Its atmosphere and nuanced combat mechanics made it what it is today, and even two years after the game’s release there is still a massive following.
Upon entering the world of Dark Souls I found that the game was even more foreboding. There are winding pathways from the starting area and the game gives you no direction whatever. The player is left to their own discretion as to what route they should take, making Dark Souls an open world, MetroidVania esque affair, which is a far cry from Demon’s SoulsMega Man “Stage select” in the form of the Nexus hubworld.
Usually open world games may be sprawling and have as many areas as Mexico city, but none of them are as detailed or intricate as Dark Souls’. Occasionally a small niche at the front of the room may be an illusory wall; sometimes you may find that it links to another area completely. There is a massive amount of depth within Dark Souls and it feels like it should be a 3D Castlevania title, especially when you unlock shortcuts to other areas or find another path back to a bonfire. There is nothing like it this generation on any of the HD platforms that has this amount of depth in the game’s world. To say Dark Souls has replayability is an understatement.
Souls are your lifeblood and they are used as experience points as well as currency to buy items from merchants. If you die you leave your bloodstain, which contains all of your souls, and if you die again you lose them all forever. This is the key point in how Dark Souls creates its uninhabitable and hostile environment. When carrying around a large amount of souls the game pretty much becomes a survival horror whilst you traverse unexplored areas, and not knowing what’s lurking around the corner becomes even more heart pounding.
A point of parity between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are the combat mechanics; L1 controls the item in your character’s left hand (usually going to be a shield) and L2 to use the special attack of that weapon. The same applies for the right hand too, as you use R1 to use a light attack and R2 for a heavy attack. Certain weapons have special movesets or attacks unique to that weapon, such as the Drake Sword. The R2, dual handed attack enables the player to unleash a shockwave that kills many enemies at once. However this attack is taxing upon the weapon’s durability and will break your weapon if you use it too many times. Weapons and armour are also upgradeable through the use of smithboxes or finding blacksmiths in the world.
Traversing through this expansive open world is made even more haunting by the game’s usage (or lack thereof) of sound. As you make your way through there is hardly ever any music playing in the background, only footsteps of yourself and your enemy, which adds an extra dimension of awareness to your gameplay. When it does play music, it’s only during boss battles and the fights feel even more hectic with high pitched choirs and organs playing the symphonic melody of your impending doom. Not surprising because scoring Dark Souls is the acclaimed Motoi Sakuraba who has composed an innumerable amount of JRPG soundtracks, including the Tales series, Star Ocean and the lesser known Baten Kaitos.
Dark Souls is not without faults. It has very prominent framerate issues that heavily affect the gameplay in some areas. In addition to this are some glaring glitches, one of which freezes the game during gameplay and forces the player to reset their console. Another killed a boss in my game and one has been discovered where you are able to dupe items. I can’t help but feel disappointed whilst playing Dark Souls, because it’s a great game that’s rid with an amalgam of issues. It feels like From Software let this out of the oven a little bit early.
Dark Souls evokes a certain primordial fear within us. Every step you take, every swing of your sword, means something to the player. Traversing the unknown is possibly the riskiest thing you can do and every move you make will determine whether or not you will make it to the other end of the area alive. To play Dark Souls you can’t just rush in and win, you have to take your time scanning your surroundings for possible traps and enemy flanks. To put it bluntly, Dark Souls is to Action RPG’s what Deus Ex: Human Revolution is to First Person Shooters. You not only have to think about your actions, but the effect it will have upon your game. For example there is a fog gate, and as you approach it a voice tells you to stop. If you stop and kneel before the fog gate you will be asked to enter a covenant, whereas if you proceed through the fog gate, you will have to fight an optional boss and you will never be able to join that covenant.
With an unprecedented depth in the levels and ways in which you’re able to suit your own custom fighting style, Dark Souls is possibly one of the deepest games I have played all year. It is unfortunately ridden with technical issues but really does make up for that with the sheer amount of content hidden within the game. As a sequel to Demon’s Souls it certainly lives up to expectations and is a natural evolution of the original Demon’s Souls formula. I thoroughly enjoyed the game with the 60+ hours of gameplay I put into this review and feel that Dark Souls is unlike anything else I’ve experienced in gaming.
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