Dark Souls Xbox 360
Published by Namco Bandai Games
Developed by From Software
Dark Souls is a difficult game, no, make that an extremely difficult game but thankfully it's also a fair game and one that's extremely rich in atmosphere. If you are killed in Dark Souls it will be entirely your own fault and not the result of some cheap AI. It's a game that demands that you fully concentrate on the task at hand in order to survive until you reach the next checkpoint. It's also a game that's extremely satisfying. You can't simply put the game on an easy difficulty setting and coast your way through it and every success has to be earned. As a result Dark Souls is quite possibly the most satisfying game you will play this year.
Dark Souls is a third-person action RPG that allows you to play as a male or female warrior, knight, wanderer, thief, bandit, hunter, sorcerer, pyromancer, cleric or druid. Each of these classes offers different settings for the various character attributes. Regardless of the gender or class you choose, you'll begin the game in a cell with the bare basics and looking like something out of Gray’s Anatomy (the anatomy text book that is, not the TV show). There's nothing other than a thin veil of a storyline here and you won't find any quests in the game. What the game lacks in storyline however, it makes up for in atmosphere which is so tense and thick you could cut it with a battle axe. In Dark Souls you are free to explore the game as you see fit. Suffice to say that you'll begin by needing to leave an asylum of the undead during the initial tutorial phase before heading off to Lordran, a land that's plagued by the undead and monstrous evil beasts.
What makes Dark Souls so challenging? Well there are the main bosses in the game who are capable of crushing you like an ant with their unbelievable strength. Lesser enemies will gang up on you if you give them the opportunity. They will also push an assortment of heavy objects in your direction that are liable to crush you if you don't get out the way. There are also a multitude of traps in the game that can prove hazardous to your health. Even the tutorial phase at the beginning of the game is unforgiving. If all of this seems like it would be an absolute nightmare, you should know that you are not expected to complete the game without coming unstuck and that the game certainly makes provision for you coming to an untimely end.
You can't simply get through Dark Souls by button bashing. Part of the reason for this is that you need to think about what kind of tactics you're going to use for each enemy. Some will happily attack from range with projectiles and explosives whilst others will rush at you with their swords and axes. Of course simply button bashing will get you nowhere against one of the giant boss creatures and will bring up "You Died" in probably five or six seconds so it’s essential to come up with an effective strategy. Another reason you can't simply hammer the buttons when fighting is that each attack consumes stamina with more powerful attacks consuming more than lighter attacks. You have to wait for the stamina bar to refill once it’s depleted which is certainly not the situation you want to find yourself in. Thankfully you do have some defensive manoeuvres such as a block (with a shield) and you can choose to roll out of the way of an attack. Attacking when falling from a great height can be extremely powerful although this won't always be a possibility. You will have access to magic of course but the magic is well balanced in the game and you can't simply rely on picking off your enemies from range as a tactic. In short the combat in the game feels like it's been honed almost to perfection but no single tactic or amount of button bashing will bring you much success here and that really is praiseworthy.
Throughout the game there are bonfires which act as checkpoints. Simply light the bonfire and if you meet a grizzly end you'll return to the bonfire and have another go. At bonfires you'll heal, have the opportunity to level-up and fill your health flasks amongst other things. Bonfires represent a chance in the game to take a breather (particularly as you can't pause the action at any time) but they certainly don't help to lessen the challenge. On using a bonfire you'll reset all of the enemies in that area meaning that you'll have to slay all of the enemies you previously thought you'd seen the back of. When you kill enemies in the game you'll collect their souls. When you are killed you drop those souls and it's up to you to return to the place that you fell and collect the souls that you dropped (and you'll certainly want to collect the souls as they are used to level-up your character, purchase spells, as well as purchase and improve items etc.). Of course the enemies will have returned so it’s no easy matter to simply recollect them. Naturally you'll be more aware of the dangers the second time around so you should be more on your guard against the possible dangers.
Dark Souls isn't just a single-player experience as long as you're an Xbox Live Gold member. You'll see the ghosts of other players and you'll get to see how that met their grizzly end. Messages can be left behind to help other players (and of course you can read their messages too). You can even call upon the help of others to assist you in your game which can prove to be an excellent addition when the visitors are really prepared to help. Of course fellow human players can also choose to be a thorn in your side so you'll have to deal with both human and AI enemies. On the whole the multiplayer elements on offer here are pretty impressive and they complement the single-player experience very nicely.
Visually Dark Souls is pleasing but it's the character and level design as well as the ambiance of the game that really shines. The faux-medieval appearance that most RPG games employ is present and correct here but Dark Souls still manages to look and feel unique. The game world is really impressive and most of the many areas in the game are pleasingly varied. Regardless of your environment, the game's atmosphere is genuinely intimidating. This only adds to the experience of course and serves to make the game truly memorable. Unfortunately there are times when the frame rate chugs but whilst this is a little disappointing, it doesn't spoil the gameplay in any way. The game also suffers from clipping issues and it can be quite unsightly to see parts of an enemy clipping through a stone wall. Some of the physics modelling seems over the top too which can be seen when a slain enemy appears to snag on your feet and move around in an exaggerated manner. Minor issues aside however, the visual style of the game is just as memorable as the quality of the gameplay which is no mean feat.
It's great to see that Dark Souls is subtitled and you'll be able to follow all of the dialogue delivered during the cut scenes and the main game itself. All of the game's tutorial information is delivered via text so you'll have no problems in picking up the gameplay basics. As we mentioned earlier, the bonfires act as the game's checkpoints and a small icon informs you that your progress has been auto-saved. There aren't any captions in the game and there are times when enemies can be heard (usually the sound of footfalls) and not seen. This would be a problem except that you soon learn to be permanently on your guard in Dark Souls and to expect the unexpected. However, some visual notification of enemies that could be heard but not seen would have been appreciated.
With so many modern games trying to be forgiving and going out of their way to allow anyone to enjoy them it's rather strange to find a game that seemingly goes out its way to make life as hard as possible for you. Let's make it crystal clear that this isn't a game for the feint hearted. That's by no means a complaint but if you haven't got the patience or the time for a game that will test you then Dark Souls isn't for you. However, if you are up for the challenge you'll find a game that's hard but fair, gruelling but extremely rewarding. It's also a very deep game in terms of its concepts (and this review would have been enormous had it gone into detail about them). In many ways it's a game aimed squarely at those seasoned gamers who constantly complain at how everything these days is simplified but it's also a game for anyone who likes a real challenge. It's by no means a traditional action RPG and yet it's one of the best action RPG's you'll ever play. If you're up for the challenge, Dark Souls is an absolute must.