I never really understood the significance that Dark Souls had on gaming until Dark Souls 2 was announced. It became apparent that there was a moderately large fan base clamoring for a second iteration of the game, and that those who were part of it were HARDCORE gamers. The idea of a “hardcore” gamer gives me douche chills, because while I am a completionist, and I love the games that are considered “hardcore,” I’m also a big fan of “casual” gaming. I like Call of Duty, and I am a huge fan of the recently released Titanfall. If you think that makes me a dick, then you are a hobbyist of a hobby that doesn’t want you. Long story short, when I picked up Dark Souls to play for the first time, I was pretty sure the hype wasn’t going to match the experience, and I was correct.
Don’t get me wrong: Dark Souls, as a singular experience, is pretty great. However, there is SO much wrong with it that it makes calling it a “great game” nearly impossible. It is a practice in self-attrition and the shear number of infuriating moments make it hard to justify. However, it is worth playing, in my opinion, simply for the joy in defeating such a bitch of a game. If a man who spends his day in copyright law and wants to play a videogame for an hour after work doesn’t like this experience, I DO NOT blame him. He deserves a stress-releasing game, and Dark Souls is just not it. The nearest comparison I can muster would be of the utterly masochistic Battletoads of 1991. I beat that game when I was a teenager, and I found through Dark Souls that I really have not established any new priorities since then.
Let’s get in to the details. As the protagonist, you are a walking undead monster, just like most other characters in the game. That’s pretty much all you’re given up front, as the shallow storyline does not show up until nearly the end of the game. You aren’t told much about how the gear you find works, or how much the type of character you choose will affect your outcome, but this seems to be one of the major selling points for one of the crowds discussed above (ahem). I found it a little exhausting, and honestly, I think the game expects you to go online to find hints to further your journey, unless you plan on making Dark Souls your life. Even Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw of Escapist magazine illustrated the need to refer to game guides to make progressing possible. This, in my opinion, is not a function to make a gaming community grow stronger. I find it a lazy development choice, and it turns the game into a sandwich of difficulty: You’re start is hampered by impossible enemies, and then you figure out how to beat them and level up, which helps you progress to the end of the game, which in turn becomes impossible again.
The game’s “currency” is souls, which you accrue for defeating enemies. These are used for the purchase, modification and repair of gear, leveling up, and gifting to NPC’s for knowledge or skills. If you die, your gathered souls drop where your body does, and if you want them back, you have to make it back to your point of death from one of many “bonfires” AKA checkpoints to get them back. This becomes a major strategic function of the game, as you don’t want to die in an area that is difficult to get to/get out of.
Dark Souls is an open world, with many different areas to explore, creatures to dispatch, and experience to gain. Some of these worlds are a necessity in defeating the game, while others might offer the prospect of a rare item or just more exp to level up. Either way, each environment is unique, and they are elegantly intertwined, which allows you to traverse the world in new ways as you open up new passages.
Gameplay is where Dark Souls shines. The game is played from a third-person perspective, and battle is the principle activity. There are hundreds of ways to develop your character’s skills in attack and defense depending on how you level them up, what skills you develop and what gear you fit them with. Want to be a slow-moving tank with a massive 8-foot dragon’s tooth as a weapon or a spritely pyromancer with good bow skills? All options are available and building your character throughout the game is truly fulfilling and a fun way to cut the banality of constant death. Parrying a strike from a boss or dodging and countering a swipe from a building-sized dog with a greatsword is a rush, and refining your skill in each method of battle are all rewarding in their own right. Unfortunately, much of the time, you’ll end up throwing away everything you’ve learned for the tougher fights in the game, and instead win based on the boss getting snagged on the environment or hovering underneath their attacks and dealing damage from their crotch. The game seems to depend on some of this, which is as I said, rather disappointing.
Visually and audially, the game is a mixed bag. Keep in mind that I have played on the Xbox360, so the PC version may be a bit more polished (although I’m told that before updates, it was a mess of fermented dick swill). The character models, particularly some of the more regularly occurring enemies, aren’t terribly detailed, but the bosses, backgrounds, and most of the principle textures of the immediate environment are incredibly well done. The sounds are just enough to keep you locked in. Notably, your armor clinks brightly as you traverse the land, and some enemies give absolutely horrible shrieks upon death. The environmental queues weren’t breathtaking, but the soundtrack is quite good in certain areas, particularly at the culmination of the adventure.
Dark Souls is difficult to quantify. It doesn’t have much of a story at all, which may or may not work FOR it. The land you’re adventuring in is beautiful and shows indication of a long history, the leveling process and skill-forming are fulfilling, and the bosses are great. However, the steep learning curve is difficult to recommend, as it could take you well over 100 hours on your first playthrough to complete the journey if you want to get all you can out of the world.
If you love a challenge and don’t mind a bit of careless attitude from your game, then you may learn to love Dark Souls. It is specifically for those of you who beat Battletoads when I did and obsessed about overcoming it until it was defeated. I can honestly say that I derived MUCH more pain from it than I did joy, and since I believe that joy should be an inherent standard for all games, I cannot fully recommend it for most players.
Decree: Do you want a challenge and don’t mind spending an exorbitant amount of time on a game with not a ton of redeemable qualities? Get it. If not, I doubt you’ll last long.. Game Rating 6.5/10