Review by Jaffer_Master

"Dark Souls - Ow, stop killing me!"

The spiritual predecessor to Demon Souls, Dark Souls is a (reportedly) very difficult, punishing and fun game. And that generic analysis is mostly right. The game is certainly fun and it can be difficult. It will also make you very angry, so you may want to attach your controller to your hand if you tend to throw things!

So this is how the game works on a basic level:
You run around, killing monsters.
You have very generic goals (There are what, 5 steps to beat the 20~25 hour game?)
You will die.

It doesn't really matter how good you are at video games, because this game will kill you. This is similar, of course, to Demon Souls where you would die frequently. It is sufficiently different though to make it enjoyable. The HP penalty upon death is gone -- instead you lose drop rate and curse resistance, and the ability to fight red phantoms or summon white ones. There is a different feel to this game than Demon Souls though -- there are less "gotcha" moments while running around. A lot of deaths that happen in Demon Souls were really quirky/cheap ways for the game to kill you and was designed to kill you, but will likely never get you a second time. Dark Souls has improved upon that. 99 times out of 100, if you die in Dark Souls, it is because you screwed up, which is a good thing. I only noticed two real "gotcha" moments in Dark Souls, one taken right out of Demon Souls (SURPRISE DRAGON ATTACK LOL YOU DIED), and another that occurs late in the game where you have to tread over land just barely large enough to fit your character and you're being pincer attacked by two Knights that are shooting... lances at you. Yes, lances. And if you block, you fly back about 3 steps worth... and likely fall to your death. Other than these two moments, you can easily avoid dying in Dark Souls by using your shield and studying enemy attacks.

This is another point that, in my opinion, sets Dark Souls and Demon Souls apart. Patience. A lot of the bosses is Demon Souls (dare I say all of them) could be killed by spamming combos and healing items, since you could have 99 New Moon, Full Moon, Half Moon, and Crescent Moon Grass (I think that's all of them) to heal yourself with. The most you can have in Dark Souls is generally 20 (barring Estus Recovery), and you will usually be sporting 5 or 10. Bosses have patterns in both games, and ways to tell what the boss is about to do. Bosses in Dark Souls are better than bosses in Demon Souls. They are more capable of one-shotting you, but if you sit back, walk around and study the bosses abilities, you will figure out ways to evade the incoming attacks that pose the most threat. This isn't to say that once you figure out their pattern you're going to win. There is still trial and error (read: death), but it is much more rewarding to consider how bosses in Dark Souls fight, whereas in Demon Souls it was more about if you could tank/spam enough items. The bosses are also more varied in Dark Souls, and while you could kill all bosses with similar approaches (in the sense of how you deal damage), it is much more obvious in this game that changing strategies is the best way to go. Some bosses are pretty easy to face off with melee, others you will be wishing you were a magician or archer for. Some bosses you should fight with high defense, some bosses you must fight with high mobility. The addition of NPC Phantoms is a bit of a "baby the player" feature in my opinion (it makes bosses WAY too easy!), but is entirely optional and I can see it helping less hardcore gamers. The item limit also helps introduce the need for skill -- your character may not progress in leaps and bounds, but by the time you get out of the Asylum, you will already be a better gamer. This limit is specifically built into the game; spamming potions has been removed thankfully. This makes more interesting PvP bouts for Dark Souls... which brings me to the next point.

Online Play is practically non-existent. I have not completed the game, but I am near the end and have about 20 hours into the game... about 15 of which I spent alive (and capable of being invaded). It seems invasions are limited by items (red skulls?), unlike Demon Souls where you could invade infinitely (so long as you were dead). People just tend not to do it much anymore, though you will probably see plenty of White Summon Signs (helpful ones). I've been invaded maybe 6 times in the entirety of my playtime, whereas in Demon Souls (well before the 'Game of the Year' player spike) I would get invaded 10-15 times per base... if I managed to live through the hoard of players. And considering I was alive for a reason, the moment someone killed my I would invade someone else. It was horribly fun to do so (if you won, at least), but it was tedious. Sometimes you'd spawn into games where the player would be at the end of a treacherous base, or in some obscure location, and you had to go find them. In Dark Souls, you spawn very close to the person you're invading, so it gets right to the action. The host is given enough time to essentially potion up/quick buff/clear whatever he was fighting before you have the chance to engage him. I like this system a lot more than Demon Souls (right to the action!) but the game is still missing the ability to play with friends easily, which is disappointing. The game also only supports "gesture's" as a form of communicating with other players... which is quite refreshing actually. People that play online games tend to be... well, annoying to listen to. There is still a bit of trolling going on (using specific gestures to insult people), but you don't actually have to deal with anyone.

On to my final point. If you've never played Demon Souls, pick this game up and you will have a blast. If you played and beat Demon Souls, this game will be a bit easy for you "compared to" Demon Souls (it'd kind of feel like you're replaying it, and the second time through is always easier.) There will still be plenty of deaths though, but in my 25 hours I've probably died less (all deaths considered!) than I died in the first part of Boletaria Castle or that annoying Tower Base on its own, but I'm sure if I never played Demon Souls, the story would be significantly different.

In closing:
Game Play: 9/10
The game is fun, but there are still some rough patches. Targeting is still mostly useless. Potions are more fair and PvP is more fun because of it. Magic is less spammy but still absurdly powerful. New additions like rolling attacks, jump rolls, and more elements makes for more interesting game play.

Graphics: 9.5/10
The game is beautiful, but some areas lack atmosphere.

Music/Sound: 10/10
The game uses music sparingly, but when it does, you feel it. All the sound effects fit (and are copy/pasted from Demon Souls!)

Replay Ability: 8/10
There are multiple ways to get to the end of the game, which is awesome. I personally took the generic route (start here, keep going down until you can't), whereas some people I know have taken more challenging but shorter paths to the 'goal'. The class system is absolutely worthless (does not affect your character at all in the end). Plenty of weapons for you to try out.

Fun Factor: 10/10
This game is much more about the player making the right choice. If you die, it is 99% of the time your fault (more like 50/50 in Demon Souls). The game is really fun and almost impossible to stop playing.

Overall: 8/10 (not an aggregate score)
Why is it less than the sum of its parts? Simple. It is still pretty much Demon Souls. It is beautiful, fun, and frustrating, but it's kind of just like a map-pack (and slight game tweak patch).

Should you get it?
Yes.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/18/11

Game Release: Dark Souls (US, 10/04/11)


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