In today’s age of gaming, calling a game hard and unforgiving is usually said only to condemn it. In fairness, a lot of games rarely ever use difficulty in any creative way. The same can’t be said for From Software’s latest dark fantasy roll-playing game, Dark Souls. Death isn’t merely just a thing that happens in Dark Souls, death is actually an important part of the game. But looking at Dark Souls only for its difficulty would be a doing it a disservice. Just like its spiritual successor Demon’s Souls, there is a very deep game that goes way beyond the difficulty. Dark Souls is a huge, immersive, and very satisfying game that will be remembered for years to come.
Welcome to Lordran, a land that has been plagued by demons. You are dropped into this land with very little knowledge, except you were chosen to somehow stop it. Just like its spiritual successor Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls isn’t a game that’s about story. Dark Souls is a game that’s more about the lore than the actual story. By talking to different characters spread throughout the land, you get bits and pieces of what happened to Lordran and its people.
Once you’re through the tutorial that’s where you’ll see the biggest difference between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. While Demon’s Souls had you going to different worlds using a hub, Dark Souls is an open world game. This changes how the game works almost entirely. Rarely ever does the game ever point you in any sort of direction. It’s up to the player to discover that on their own. For example, in the beginning of the game you’re told you need to go to two places, one at the top of Lordran, and one at the bottom. One of those places has demons that are almost un-killable for a low leveled player, and the other has much weaker demons. You’re left to discover which one is which on your own.
Another big change is the addition of bonfires. Bonfires act as checkpoints and are spread throughout the world. Resting at a bonfire recovers your health, and cures any status effects that you have, and re-spawns the common demons in the area. But it also refills your set number of spells, and health items. That’s right; health items and magic now have a set number. You can no longer go into a boss carrying ninety nine health items and just cheese your way through a boss. You have to think carefully, and only use them when it’s absolutely necessary. The same goes for magic. The magic bar from Demon’s Souls is gone. Every spell now has a set number of uses, and once the number drops to zero you can no longer use that spell until you rest at a bonfire.
The concept of souls returns in Dark Souls. Souls are the most important thing in Dark Souls. Souls are gained by killing demons, and you use souls both to level up, and to buy items. But there’s a catch; if you die you lose all of your souls. You can get your souls back by reaching the blood stain you dropped when you died. But if you die before getting to your souls, they’re gone forever. As if that wasn’t enough, you now have humanity to hang on to.
Humanity is just as important as souls. There are a number of different ways you can get humanity, but most of the time you get it from killing a lot of demons, or a demon drops humanity in item form, which allows you to consume it. Humanity allows you to go into human form, so you can kindle bonfires. Kindling bonfires allows you to hold more health items. It also lets you summon phantoms to help you defeat a boss. But like souls, humanity can be lost by dying, so if you don’t get to your bloodstain before you die, it’s gone.
On the outside this sounds like there’s no way this game could be enjoyable. All of these mechanics would be completely unfair if it wasn’t for the combat. The combat in Dark Souls is extremely precise. So every time you die, with a few rare exceptions it’s because you messed up. This also makes the combat extremely satisfying. Every time you kill something, you feel like you’ve earned it.
While Dark Souls regular demons can be tough, they’re nothing compared to the many bosses that are spread throughout the world. Dark Souls’ bosses are massive, and terrifying. Fighting one of these bosses takes a lot of patience, and focus. One wrong move and you can die seconds away from defeating the boss, even if the battle is going your favor. But defeating these bosses gives you a satisfying feeling of reward, unmatched by any other game.
If you’re having trouble with a boss, you can summon a couple players to help you in your journey. All of Demon’s Souls unique online features return. Which means you can summon any player who’s dropped a soul mark on the ground. But other players aren’t always there help, invasions have also returned. If you’re in human form other players can invade your game. Once another player invades, they’re only goal is to kill you. Invasions are terrifying because you never know where they are in the world, or what weapons or magic they have. Not all online features have directly interacting with other players. You can leave notes to help other players. Notes are hints that you can drop anywhere in the game, and if another player recommends your note you’ll get humanity. So it’s helpful for both the person reading the note, and the person who left the note. In your death, you may also save another players life. Your bloodstain can be seen by other players. If they click on your bloodstain they can see the last ten seconds of your life.
One of the most interesting additions to Dark Souls is the covenant system. There are multiple covenants spread throughout Lordran. You join them by finding their leader, and doing whatever is necessary to get in. Different covenants have different effects. Not all are clear the moment you join them. For example, one covenant allows you to roam free without being attack in a particular area, while another grants you pryomancy spells you can only get by joining that covenant. But be warned, breaking a covenant contract can have negative effects. Some aren’t immediately noticeably, while others will have an immediate effect.
Dark Souls’ world isn’t only massive; it’s also incredible to look at. The art in Dark Souls is phenomenal. Everything has a dark and mysterious glow, and both bosses and normal demons are beautifully terrifying. Dark Souls’ world is also thick with atmosphere. No music plays during your journey, so you’re left with the sounds of whatever lurks around the corner. Not only does this help draw you in, it creates constant tension. It’s amazing so Dark Souls creates a world this terrifying, but it’s so hard to pull yourself away from it.
Dark Souls isn’t a perfect game, there are a couple noticeable issues. The lock-on targeting can be less than perfect. It’s easy to lock-on to the wrong target, which can lead to some frustrating deaths. The framerate takes noticeable dips in certain areas of the game. The most noticeable of which is Blight Town. In a game with such precise combat, having the framerate drop can make the combat feel less precise.
Dark Souls is an incredibly memorable game. It’s a harsh and unforgiving game that will test your patience and skill. But it will also reward you like no other game will. There is so much to do, so many secrets to discover that you can easily get lost in Dark Souls for hours. Its flaws are so small that they hardly even tarnish what is otherwise a fantastic game. Dark Souls isn’t just one of hardest games of the year, it’s also one of the best.