When people talk about Dark Souls, the conversation always seems to be about how hard it is. The enemies are challenging, the bosses are brutal, and you can expect to die hundreds of times throughout your journey. While its difficulty is a fantastic feature of the game, there is so much more to the world of Dark Souls.
Dark Souls is a third-person action-RPG with open world elements and a very minimalist story. At the beginning of your adventure, you’re given a key by a knight and escape from a prison cell. Eventually you’ll find your way to Firelink Shrine, where you’re told to ring two Bells of Awakening. That’s basically all the direction you’re given. No minimaps or waypoints to direct you. For the 50-60 hours of your playthrough, you’re on your own. And this is where the beauty of Dark Souls truly begins to show.
The game itself is very linear. You have to ring the bells, obtain the Lord Souls, and defeat the bosses to acquire keys and progress through the game. Only you’re not told specifically where things are or how to get them. So at the start of your adventure from Firelink Shrine, you set off to explore. Maybe you’re like me and decided to take a trip down to New Londo Ruins first, only to get killed by enemies you can’t attack. You’ll soon realize this isn’t the way to go, so you make your way up to Undead Burg and fight through it. It’s this sort of trial-and-error gameplay that makes Dark Souls such an incredible game. Even though its progression is linear, the player has complete freedom in how they explore and learn about the world. You can choose where to go, and you can choose how you approach every encounter. But only experience will teach you the right way to progress through the game.
Challenging is a very fair way to describe Dark Souls. Every time you rest at a Bonfire, enemies will respawn. Bosses are very punishing, and it will take you many deaths before you learn their attack patterns and figure out how to properly defeat them. Most enemies have predictable attack patterns, but you won’t know that until you’ve been hit by them several times. The bonfires are the first time in a video game where I felt that a checkpoint was truly a safe zone. They aren’t just “halfway points” of levels like in other games. I felt that I had to fight long and had to reach each Bonfire, and that I had earned the safety granted by them.
There are a variety of ways that you can approach combat in the game. You can use mechanics such as Backstabs, Ripostes and Parries. You can use a classic shield-and-sword approach, or equip a two-handed weapon. Or you could even use magic. There are a ton of Pyromancies and Miracles, although I personally never really used them. The many ways that the game offers you to defeat your enemies is one of its greatest strengths. Every battle is a battle full of player choice. Customization is fantastic to match this. You can choose how your character looks, what gear your character wears, what build you want to level up as, and how you should upgrade your weapons. You are in complete control of your adventure.
The setting in Dark Souls is incredible. Anor Londo is a city in the clouds, full of massive church buildings and large bridges. When you first reach this area, the view is honestly breathtaking. The game is full of moments like these. Ash Lake in particular is a huge pool of water underneath a gigantic tree that seems to hold up the entire world. Every location in Dark Souls looks like something from an epic fantasy novel. The level design is top notch as well. As soon as you defeat the Gargoyle on the bridge, you’ll be wondering where to go next. When you eventually figure out where to go…you’ll realize just how good it is.
I feel that I could honestly write about Dark Souls for a long time. There are so many things that the game gets right that I see a lot of games struggle with in 2017. I can’t wait to continue this series later this year.
Score: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
+ Challenging and Enjoyable Gameplay
+ Player Freedom and Choice
+ Fantastic Setting and Level Design
– Occasional Technical Issues (PS3 version)