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The Souls Are Dark.

Updated on August 25, 2017
Its an express lane of death.
Its an express lane of death. | Source

In case you want to check out the game yourself.

Is Dark Souls really as hard as people say?

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I don't even know where to start with this. I really don't. This is just one of those games that's difficult to talk about objectively. Because any sort of critique will ultimately come back to one defining feature that overshadows the rest. And if you've played Dark Souls (the spiritual successor to the game Demon’s Souls) then you know what that is already. Yeah, it’s the difficulty, more precisely, How utterly INSANE it is. So let me just get that out of the way right now. Yes, Dark Souls is from the Devil. It is, without question, one of the hardest games I've ever played (and I was weaned on "NES hard" so that's saying something). If you play it, you're gonna get angry, you're gonna get frustrated, you will shout obscenities at the screen, you will make your pets pee the carpet in fear, you will get into relationship ending arguments with your significant other because you're too frustrated to turn the game off, you will--ugh, ok forget the exaggerations. In all fairness, though, Dark Souls in of itself isn't hard per-say, it’s just challenging. And that challenging nature is sadly going to turn people who were raised on easier games like Halo and Call of Duty away.

But despite that, the question remains; is Dark Souls any good? Well...yes. Yes It is. In fact, it’s damn good. It was one of the best games from 2011 in my opinion. It came out on the PS3, 360 and PC. But So far as I can tell, all three versions play more or less the same. But for the purposes of this review, I am going to be talking about the PS3 version.


Nito, Lord of the dead.
Nito, Lord of the dead.
an example of lore as revealed through an item description
an example of lore as revealed through an item description | Source
Lore is also dispensed by talking to NPC's, such this blacksmith.
Lore is also dispensed by talking to NPC's, such this blacksmith. | Source
some of the various characters in Dark Souls.
some of the various characters in Dark Souls. | Source

The game takes a minimalist approach to story, with most of the back story being revealed in the opening cinematic (see above video). The basic premise is that, long ago, the world was a formless mass of mist and crags and was ruled by Dragons. Until the Lords of Fire and the human race came into being from the darkness, and with them, came the meaning of disparity (Light and Dark, Life and Death and so on). The Lords of Fire and their followers overthrew the dragons and ushered in a golden age, called the Age of Fire. But later the fires that lit said golden age are starting to fade, and humans are becoming afflicted with a strange mark known as the Darksign, which grants near immortality but leaves the victim a shriveled husk, called "Undead." Most that are afflicted go violently insane; these are called "Hollow." You play as a sane Undead who escapes from a Hollow asylum. You then set out on a pilgrimage to ring two Bells of Awakening that will fulfill some prophecy or other. And that's about the only concrete details the game offers on its narrative.

Other tidbits of lore and story are revealed through NPC conversations, Item descriptions, and the games minuscule number of cinematic sequences. This is something I like, because it leaves a lot open to the imagination as to how it all fits together, and that makes the game a lot more immersive. That Immersion is made even better by the game's genuinely dark and hypnotic atmosphere. Everything has this crushing sense of nihilistic hopelessness to it, as if you can feel the world descending into darkness. It sets the right mood and makes you feel like your entering the beginning of the end. It’s all so beautifully bleak that it almost takes the sting out of having your pruney arse served to you on a dinner plate every ten minutes....keyword being almost.


Character Creation.
Character Creation.
To the Death....again.
To the Death....again. | Source
resting at the bonfire.
resting at the bonfire.

Epic Boss battle with a Dra--Dear god, what happened to you?!!

Dark souls at first glance is like any other modern action RPG. You create a character and choose from one of ten starting classes (Warrior, Knight, Wanderer, Thief, Bandit, Hunter, Sorcerer, Pyromancer, Cleric and Deprived respectfully). Each of these classes has it own strengths and weakness that are more or less what you'd expect. For example: Knight's have high stats in strength and endurance but low intelligence and they can't use magic. While Sorcerers on the other hands have high in intelligence and can use magic but are weak in strength and swing a claymore likes it’s a two ton lead weight. But thankfully, you're not bound to these classes. As you start to level up, you can pretty much throw the starting class away and turn into the shriveled prune adventurer of your dreams. The possibilities for customization really are endless and you're encouraged to experiment. This is made even easier thanks to the fact you can use any piece of equipment and skill you want, provided the corresponding stat is up to snuff.

As for the gameplay itself, Dark Souls uses a massive open ended world where the player is free to move around and explore, with seamless transitions from one area to the next. And the trek between each area is made easier by various short cuts you find along the way. Each of the environments is set up like a dungeon, and oh, did I mention that every area is incredibly hostile? The enemies in this game are relentless, and if you’re not careful, they will gang up on you. And these aren't mindless zombies and monsters either; these are smart...things that only want you dead. When in combat, you need to keep an eye on your stamina meter (the green bar below your health bar), because as it depletes, well you become less effective and more vulnerable to attack. And while it does refill on its own, it fills up faster if you’re standing still and not defending. So pacing yourself is really important.

As for healing yourself, the only means to do that on a regular basis is by drinking out of a magic flask, but you can only use it a certain number of times before it runs out. Fortunately, the flask gets refilled when you rest at one of the bonfires scattered throughout the world, and when you die you're sent back to the last bonfire you visited. Resting at the bonfire will also top off your health and stamina and is the only way to level up your character. You can also shop, store away unwanted items and so on. Be warned, however, resting at the bonfire will respawn all the regular enemies. Although certain monsters (like the bosses) will thankfully stay dead.

Death seems to be the core of the game's challenge, because this is one of the few games in recent memory that actually punishes you for dying. And it does so by taking away your souls and humanity. Souls are gained by killing enemies and are used for just about everything. And I literally mean everything; leveling up, buying stuff from merchants, upgrading your gear and so on. Humanity is an item you need to upgrade your flask and a few other things and plays a big role in the games online component, which I'll get back to in a second. Anyway, as I've said, when you die you lose all the souls and humanity you've acquired up to that point. You have the chance to regain them if you can get back to the spot where you died, but if you die along the way, then they vanish and there's no way to get them back. It can get very frustrating, but at the same time, it’s also very satisfying when you get all that stuff back.

The controls also take some time to get used too, you attack and defend with the R1 and L1 buttons and hit the face buttons to use items and magic. To cycle between items spells you use the D-pad. Down is for regular items (like the flask and what have you), up is for magic spells and your weapons are mapped to the left and right buttons. Both hands equip two weapon or shields at a time. Mostly though you'll probably stick to some variation or other of the traditional weapon and shield, but it’s also a good idea to have a ranged weapon on hand. If you press the triangle button, you can wield your sword or whatever with both hands for extra damage. You can also dash by pressing the 'O' button. There's also a dodge roll, but I never really found a good place to use it. For the most part the controls are functional and not too complicated, but it does take a little time to get used too.

The boss battles are epic (see the video on the right), and its takes a little problem solving to figure out how to beat them. In other words, if you try to rush them with swords swinging like a mad man, then you will die. You have to be slow and take your time. You can also get special weapons from them sometimes if certain conditions are met, like chopping off the tail of a monster or what have you.

The last thing I should mention is the online component. It consists of two components, co-op and Player VS Player. Co-op lets you play with another player, but you can only really do it for the boss fights, which is kinda disappointing. Player VS. Player...well is kinda self explanatory. The down side to it is that you can't control who will challenge you and when. It adds a bit of surprise to the game play I guess, but it’s also kind of annoying, like if I'm fighting a monster and someone invades my game I have no way to defend myself. If you win, though, you'll get a bunch of souls and humanity. So it’s kinda worth it. The mode only works if you're not undead, and that's where the humanity item comes in. A number next to your health bar indicates the amount of humanity you have, and if you use it at the bonfire you'll be alive again (it’s weird). And when you're alive, you can par-take in the online modes mentioned above. There's not any way to talk to other players over voice chat, which is kind of a letdown, but the game tries to make up for it with a message system that lets you write messages on the floor for other players to read that will either help or hinder them. Which is kind of fun (where do you think Zombi U got the idea), and you can do this while you’re undead.

My only real complaint with the online features is how you actually open the co-op. You have be alive and have some kind of special item to write down that you want help and then wait for another player. If there's a way to invite your friends into your game, I don't know it, so you might end up playing with strangers. Not that it really matters, but it’s a bit silly don't you think? I rather play with my friends than with a stranger. I'm not even sure how I can invade someone else game for Player VS Player anyway. This whole aspect of the game is just confusing, why couldn't it have been something more streamlined? I guess they were trying to be different, but it’s just awkward. Another thing I really hate is that you can't pause the game, so before you get up, you better run back to the bonfire first. I mean come on, have a little mercy. We're too spoiled for that.


Dark Souls is an excellent game. Yeah the multiplayer aspect is confusing and yes the game is not exactly built with the impatient or the unskilled in mind. But if you look past that and stick with it, you will not find a game that leaves you with a more satisfying feeling than this one. It has something that games have been missing for a long time. Genuine, real challenge. And if you want more; well a sequel, Dark Souls 2, is set to come out on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC in March of next year, and there is always Dark Souls predecessor, Demon's Souls for the PS3. If you have the chance to check out any of them, I say do it. You'll be glad (and frustrated) that you did.

© 2013 Will English


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