Friday, 14 October 2011

Game Review – Dark Souls

Formats: (Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3)

Prepare to die – familiar words that will resonate with those of you who experienced the absolute thrill that was Demon’s Souls. Indeed this message is so powerful that many gamers shudder at what spiritual successor Dark Souls could potentially have to offer. While this fear is justified, it should intertwine with a sense of adventure and excitement, for Dark Souls is one of the most engrossing, fulfilling and special role-play games you will ever have the pleasure of giving your life to. Prepare for death as it lurks around every corner, but know that with every successful step you take into the unknown, you will become all that more invested in a terrific world full of wonder and mystery.

Like Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls is a third-person adventure with emphasis on melee combat. Once again you create a character and tailor him in the director you desire – should he have access to the best spells in the game, be able to wield any weapon or have the agility and speed to avoid your enemies deadly blade. Your own personal quiffs can lead your character down very different paths but each has its own merits and abilities that can overcome even the toughest of challenges.

An immediate difference between the predecessor and Dark Souls is that the latter is now a fully expansive environment. Before players were required to enter different worlds from a central hub called the Nexus, but here developers Atlus have made a more fluid experience by having everything linked together. This new realm Lordran, is beautifully crafted, with each unique region bursting with character, be it a dark swamp, underground caverns or expansive castles, wherever you may be the foreboding fear of death and need to stay alive are coupled hand-in-hand, continuously taunting you. You may think that this is a hypothetical statement, but Dark Souls implements a fantastic game mechanic from its predecessor, allowing other players to create messages and place them throughout the world. You can then view these messages, which can be hints, tips or tantalising secrets; it can even be a bloodstain that shows a previous warriors’ final moments before death. In a bleak world your fellow gamers are once again beacons of hope and warning to guide you through an otherwise lonely world.

When you’re not exploring this vast and wonderful world, you will engage in plenty of precise and deadly combat. Enemies are merciless in Dark Souls, even more so than in Demon’s Souls. You will encounter a wide array of ghouls, monsters and larger-than-life boss enemies. Dark Souls prides itself on difficult, yet fair combat mechanics – you will die, plenty of times as a matter of fact, the quicker you come to terms with this, the easier it will become to move forward. Fortunately with each death there should be a lesson learned; enemies have patterns, learn them, use it to your advantage and slay your foe in the next encounter. This is pretty much the natural sense of progression you will find here and for some, it’s simply too daunting. For the braver and more thick-skinned, defeating an enemy that had you at its feet will provide you with satisfaction that no other game can offer; conquering towering giants and dragons has never been so challenging yet so much fun all at the same time.

If you’re asking yourselves, “does Dark Souls ever let up, am I going to be bombarded constantly in this gruelling game?” Fear not for your character can rest at bonfires scattered across the land. These camps act as your hub, allowing you to level up, refill your health flasks and take momentary respite from the horrors around you. Unfortunately, there’s a catch here (you didn’t think you were gonna be allowed to rest without consequence were you?), every time you rest, all enemies in the world apart from bosses, respawn. No longer can you lure an enemy close to home, kill it, heal up and move forward because that vile creature will be waiting round the corner for you over and over again. This brings forth an interesting conundrum of when is the correct time to press forward towards the next bonfire.

Another huge issue should also be revolving in your mind while making this decision, for Dark Souls brings back the soul mechanics from its predecessor. When you kill enemies you gather their soul and they are used to level up – unfortunately if you die you drop your souls in that exact location and if you don’t make it back to pick them up, you lose them forever. An interesting predicament arises where the further you are from a bonfire, the greater the danger is of potentially losing your souls forever – Dark Souls does a wonderful job putting you in a spot that’s very difficult to wiggle out of, but every time you make it to a new bonfire, the sense of accomplishment is unparalleled.

Worrying about what’s going on in your own world goes well beyond the enemies you encounter, as Dark Souls mimics its predecessors invasion mechanic. Other players can invade your world and attempt to assassinate you to gain your humanity. Humanity is a unique form of currency in Dark Souls that can be used for various things including allowing you to become human, invade other worlds and increase the amount of health flasks a bonfire allows you to stock. These assassination attempts are thrilling and can occur at any time, although if the assassin is killed then you gain his valuable humanity, making it a risky yet rewarding option.

Another unique addition to Dark Souls are Covenants scattered across Lordran. Joining various Covenants will grant you unique abilities and perks and choosing the correct group to align yourself is an important choice to help you achieve your goals in Dark Souls. There are of course also punishments for betraying Covenants and choosing to join others, but these mysteries are not explained and are left for you to find out at your own peril.

Ultimately Dark Souls is a game that requires commitment, this isn’t something that you can just pick up and expect instant results. Dark Souls demands your respect and you have to earn it by putting in hours of your time perfecting your techniques and exploring Lordran. Those of you brave enough to enter Dark Souls will find a modern gem, a pinnacle of gaming – this is the game that you think about in your sleep, a game that haunts your every waking moment when you’re not engrossed in its thick web. Very few games have such an impact on your very core, but this is one of them.

9.5 | Gameplay |
Perfectly balanced and devilishly challenging, Dark Souls sucks you in with precise combat and unforgiving enemies while making it extremely difficult to leave a world that demands your utmost efforts.

9.0 | Presentation |
A beautiful and expansive world, at first glance Lordran seems a dark and lonely world but upon reflection, the silent whisperings of your fellow gamers breathe life and character into this treacherous world.

10.0 | Replay Value |
With so much to discover and ways to play through Dark Souls, it’s almost a certainty that you will play this game over and over.

9.5 | Final Thoughts |
When I reviewed Demons’ Souls I said that the incredibly steep difficulty curve was a negative – this time I’m not going to go down that line. This merciless game can be beaten, but you must be strong and thick-skinned. The sense of accomplishment provided here is incomparable to any other gaming feat, that is a testament to the depth and technical prowess that this spiritual successor offers. This is one game you simply must play.

Igor Kharin, CeX UK Contributor.
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