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Dark Souls is a action-adventure-role playing game for the Xbox 360 and PS3, and is also the spiritual successor to the PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls. It is, essentially, the same game but in a new and expanded world. Building upon the framework of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls still features the same signature difficulty, gritty unforgiving gameplay and huge bosses. They’ve created more enemies for you to do battle with and tripled the amount of bosses you’ll encounter in this world. The game uses souls as a form a currency and maintains the unique risk/reward features that make every decision count on your journey.
The one major difference between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls is the story. Where Demon’s Souls was known to have a minimum narrative, the story in Dark Souls is next to non-existent. After a very nice looking but very cryptic introduction cinematic, the game starts without giving you any more information on your role in this world. You quickly meet a knight who allows you to escape from imprisonment, gives you the vital Estus Flask and tells you to ring two bells to find out your fate.
After ringing the bells, the answers are just as cryptic as the questions you wanted answers for, so not here nor ever in the entire game does it tell you what exactly is going on or give you some basic background to start from or a building block to build from. For example, in Demon’s Souls, it was explained there is a black fog coursing over the lands eating everything in site. The center of this fog is talked to be a soul devouring demon. Many have gone in the fog and non have returned as the fog threatens to devour the entire world. In Dark Souls, the lack of exactly what is the primary goal of the game, other than being told the next clue will be revealed after trying some huge task, hurts the longtime playability.
The world of Dark Souls is big and engrossing. It is sectioned out into a variety of areas that include dark forests, toxic slums, large lava areas, huge castles and more. The sections are connected in very organic ways and making a trek from one part of the world to another feels like a natural journey. Luckily enough, on your travels, you’ll encounter many shortcuts that make getting around much easier. The graphics are fantastic at times like when you’re overlooking the kingdom of Anor Londor, but these come at the cost of the game’s frame rate, which will get sluggish at times.
Along the travels, you’ll encounter multiple non playable characters. The non-hostile ones you’ll meet along the way will usually sell you items, magic or allow you to join covenants. Some of them must be rescued first by unlocking a door with a hidden key but doing so always yields you a friend who will sell you something. The hostile ones have the mobility of your character and their mind on killing you. Some of these NPCs are difficult but most can be handled with some blocking, dodging and slicing. Dealing with one hostile NPC is not too difficult, but dealing with two becomes a bigger challenge. There will be times in the game you’ll be dealing with three and that’s always a challenge.
One of the biggest draws to Dark Souls are the bosses and it has bigger, meaner and harder bosses than Demon’s Souls. As a matter a fact, there are some mini-bosses that are just as hard if not harder than some of the larger bosses. Many of them will eat up the entire screen with their size which will surely intimidate those gazing upon them for the first time. There are many more bosses in Dark Souls than there was in Demon’s Souls, enough so that you’ll be scared to walk through a fog gate for fear there is another boss there waiting to kill you. The bosses are satisfying to look at as they are to defeat, just expect a challenge.
One of the biggest differences between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls is the use of Bonfires instead of returning to the Nexus. In Dark Souls, Bonfires are located in different parts spread all of over the world. They provide the location that you’ll re-spawn when you die and it’s where you can upgrade your stats, refill your energy and Estus Flask and, later in the game, store away items for future use. The Bonfires also cause all the enemies to re-spawn adding a bit of strategy to the game. There are times where you’ll have to decide if gaining your energy back is more important than the enemies you’ll have to confront on the other side of a door.
In Dark Souls, after you die, you become hollowed. Being Hollowed can be undone by the use of Humanity, a consumable item within the game. Using Humanity at the bonfire will turn the player back into human form. Being hollowed doesn’t handicap you, but instead prevents you from gaining all the benefits of being human. When in human form, fighting a lot of enemies will yield you more Humanity which, in turn, increases the amount of item drops throughout the game as well as resistance against being cursed. Being human will allow you to summon other players into your game, but at the same time allow other players to invade your game. Lastly, Humanity can be used to “kindle” a bonfire which will yield you more energy refills at that particular bonfire with the Estus Flask.
Each weapon has a primary and secondary attack. The secondary is usually a stronger attack that consumes more stamina. For shields, the secondary is usually a parry attack that can come in handy. The weight of the weapon carried and the strength of the character will change how well you can wield the weapon. Not having the appropriate stats will heavily diminish the power and usefulness of a weapon so having the biggest isn’t always the best thing to do at first.
Other moves like evade, action and “use item” are mapped to front buttons. The left direction pad allows the ability to switch between two different left handed weapons and two right handed weapons as well as magic and item selection. Running is performed by holding down a button and jumping by releasing the button after running.
Like Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls allow you to leave messages for other players to see. If a player sees your message and votes it as helpful, then you’ll get a full load of energy and a few more drinks from your Estus Flask. You’ll probably be thanking the heavens when this happens in the middle of a boss fight, it’s like getting a second life sometimes.
The reputation of Dark Souls, and Demon’s Souls for that matter, is that it is brutally difficult. While the game is challenging, the difficulty found in Dark Souls is not unfair. Playing carelessly is almost a sure way of getting killed in the game. Even the smallest character who gets the jump on you can kill you if you’re not properly prepared. The game has no pause function even while you’re in the menus sorting through your inventory. There will be times while you feel you’re safe and suiting up for your next fight a small enemy will walk right to you and start attacking you, so rarely is there rest for the weary in this game.
In Dark Souls, souls are your currency. They are used to purchase upgrades to your stats, items from the blacksmiths, repair costs to your equipment and more. You gain souls from defeating enemies, the stronger ones yielding bigger soul payouts. When you die, you drop all your souls and Humanity at the location you died. If you manage to make it back from the last bonfire rested at to the location you died, you can retrieve your souls and Humanity along with all souls gathered along the way and continue on your quest. If you died before you reach the spot of your death, then you’ll loose all those souls for good. This risk / reward game in Dark Souls will cause most players to use the souls they’ve gather at the first chance they get so they loose little upon death. Items picked up during the game are not dropped upon death, so cannonball runs through enemies to gain an item in the distance is a useful strategy.
The create a character mode is very basic. There are about 6 to 10 different types of hair styles, skin color and options for your character. After picking the gender, you’ll be able to select how feminine or masculine you want your character to look. You can have a character that is a female and looks completely like a man or vice-versa. This is where you select your starting class. Each starting class will give you character a boost in on or more particular stats as well as armor and weapons. Those choosing Sorcerer or Cleric will boost the magic stats of the character where as picking the bandit will start the character off with more strength.
Throughout the game, you’ll have the option to join covenants. Covenants are joined by talking to certain non-playable characters and they grant different type of multiplayer challenges. The Covenants also grant your character certain items or abilities. The Forrest Hunter Covenant , for example, will grant the player a ring that will allow you to aid others in combat.
Upgrading your character costs souls. As most RPGs, increases in level also increase the cost of the next upgrade. Stats that can be upgraded are Vitality (health bar), Stamina, Attunement (magic), Faith and more. Upgrading armor and weapons require different types of shards found throughout the game. Multiple upgrades can be performed on basic weapons, and they can be upgraded to special magic or holy weapons with the right embers. Throughout the game, you’ll encounter various blacksmith whom you can upgrade your weapons and armor and purchase vital items like arrows.
The game features a large variety of weapons. There are straight swords, curved swords, axes, maces, clubs, and more. There are tons of bows, crossbows, spears and shields you’ll collect throughout the game, most of which will probably be deposited in your weapons box or sold eventually for more souls.
Magic is broken down into three groups, Sorceries which require the use of a Catalyst, Miracles which require a talisman and Pyromancies which require the Pyromancy Flame. The Sorceries include spells like Soul Arrow, Soul Spear and Hidden Body. Pyromancies include fire based spells and Miracles include Heal and Wrath of the Gods, which shake up the enemies a bit.
With the large amount of weapons, magics, armors and covenants, each persons characters and subsequent playthroughs can be completely unique. It is easy to fall in love with one particular weapon and upgrade it while feeling the satisfaction of completing boss after boss.
While in human form, you will be able to participate in the multiplayer modes. The multiplayer is the same as in Demon’s Souls, which is unlike any other multiplayer mode found in other games. Ghosts of other players will appear in your world reminding you that you’re not alone on your journey. Bloodstains of other fallen players show up on the ground and touching them will show a silhouette of their death giving you a heads up of what may be ahead. Clicking on the white colored messages on the ground will summoned other players to you game to assist you in beating bosses. While in human form, other players can invade your world as dark phantoms with the sole purpose of killing you. These can lead to some very sudden tense battles. Being hollowed exempts you from these multiplayer modes so it’s good to stay hollowed while exploring.
Dark Souls is an improved Demon’s Souls in every way but in story and narrative. The lack of narrative is unfortunately the one factor that will cause many gamers not to finish this game. Remembering the final goal and why you’re doing it is a vital part in completing a long quest, as in the one in Dark Souls requires you to undertake.
The gameplay of Dark Souls if near perfect, the battle system is believable as it is challenging and forces you to be patient if you yearn for success. The bosses are menacing and intimidating, but all are beatable with the right strategy. Overall, Dark Souls is one of the greatest games ever created. Everything from the world and weapons to the enemies and bosses, the game is excellent. It’s challenging and rewarding, it will at times cause you scream at your TV set yet draw you back for more. The only weak part of the entire game is the narrative, one that would drive most people to compete the quest.