Review by arcanehavoc

"How Much Can You Stand?"

Played Dark Souls when it came out, slowly puzzling my way through and dying countless times. After over 200 hours (and I know I didn't do all that can be done in that game!) it was over and I was more than ready to put it away. Six months later I've taken it out again and started playing. But... I just can't go through it again; I'm not as keen on trying a different sort of character as I thought. The scope of this game is just too much. Should I just play it through while I have the time to invest in this (again) or should I look for something else? I'm torn, which is good because I'm being forced to look hard at the game overall. It's worth a quick review that might help others, so here it is.

Story: Essentially, one is "undead", which means not alive, but not truly dead either. There are a series of epic achievements that must be made in order to set the world right and, more importantly, in order to become whole again and free from the undead curse. One may temporarily become fully human again by obtaining "humanity". Being fully human helps with many aspects of the game, however, the character's humanity is lost when he dies (as he inevitably will) and it causes one to become vulnerable to other players. (More on this later.) Fighting your way through a strange world, listening to clues, trying to make sense of it all --- it has a grand scale that is only rivaled, in my opinion, by PC RPG's. For the PS3 console, it doesn't get better than this (so far).

Graphics: Overall they're good, but that means "not great" and "not spectacular". On a scale of 1-10, a 7 or 8, depending on one's level of criticism. Occasionally weapons would protrude through walls, and sometimes attacks would make it through, also. But generally, everything worked well. Close-ups weren't always pretty; sometimes they were a little blocky. However, the scenic vistas offered from high places was awe-inspiring. The landscapes were somber and sometimes beautiful; the enemies moved smoothly. Also, I never noticed a slow-down in the frame rate, and sometimes there was a lot of stuff going on!

Sound: Music was irritating after about the first 100 hours, but I suspect ANY game's music would start to get on one's nerves after playing that long! The second time through I found that it started to grate after hour 5... However, it does set the mood and it works well with the environment. Weapon and damage sounds/noises sounded accurate. Give it an 8 or 9.

Game Play: Ah, here we are! The controls are many and it took me a little bit of practice learning how to manipulate the character in a coordinated fashion. After the first dozen hours it's all second nature. However, the first dozen deaths or so were due more to my ineptness with the controls than the game's enemies. One uses the usual collection of medieval weaponry, or magic, which in turn is broken into three main types based on light, religious faith, or fire. No religion is named; it's more of a general "faith". All three kinds of magic are useful, but one doesn't need all three types, or any magic at all, to succeed in this game. It helps a lot, though. Dark Souls is too hard and unforgiving for any but the most diehard fanboy to even TRY to get through this game without magic.

There are several different types of classes to choose from for your character, from knight, wanderer, robber, thief, sorcerer, etc. You could even choose a half-naked wild man. Each class has its pros and cons, of course. Some are more suitable for wearing heavy armor and hefting substantial weapons. Other classes rely more on speed and dexterity. Still others rely on stealth and various magics. Suitability for certain weapons/magics is not set in stone, however. One may "level up" a character and add points to key attributes in order to increase strength, for instance, or intelligence. However, the cost to raise attributes scales up quickly, and it can become very difficult to raise attributes after a given point in the game. So... let's hope you know what you're doing when you choose a character to "grow" and design at the very beginning of the game, right? Later, like 100 hours into the game, is a bad time to decide you'd much rather have a guy who can use a two-handed claymore and do awesome damage rather than your skinny wizard who can't seem to kill anything really dangerous with his current level of magic. Oh, perhaps a few more tedious hours of grinding will help... or maybe not.

The world is wide, but as one becomes more familiar with the environment one discovers it is really not limitless after all. Shortcuts help. Dying, however, is the only way to learn the peculiarities of each area. Well, death is par for the course in most games featuring medieval weaponry and magic, right? However, there is something else that has to be learned besides tactics and the peculiarities arising from the use of each weapon or magic spell -- which areas are too difficult for you (until you level up some more) and which are challenging, but doable? It's a vicious trial-and-error sort of balancing act. Trial and error works sometimes, but it didn't always work for me: eventually I had to ask someone else for a clue or for direction, and that irritated me quite a bit. In any case, it's no cakewalk. The bosses were very difficult, some more than others. Most of the MANY random soldier elements weren't too tough, but they did require some concentration. Dying from falling off of cliffs or narrow stairwells, or from triggering traps, were rude surprises, but mostly it was the minions who made it tough. Especially groups of minions. Very ugly and tough when they get in groups!

A significant factor is the on-line aspect of this game. Other characters will show up periodically as ghosts as you play. They only last a few seconds, but it's a reminder that many others are engaged with the same struggles as you, and that is strangely comforting. Also, it is possible to leave messages or clues for others, and to summon other players to your world for a brief time to help defeat a troublesome boss. This is very cool, though I found that the NPC's were just as effective. However, it was incredibly frustrating to have other players enter the game (via internet ) only to kill my character. Most of the time the player-invader had armor and weapons I had never seen; my attacks would basically bounce off; two hits from them and I was dead. Obviously these invaders had been quite a ways through the game, and leveled their characters up substantially in terms of abilities, armor, and weapons... and then felt the need to invade other players' worlds and slay them?? If there was a way to keep these jerks from harassing newer (or at least not as developed) characters, it would be tolerable... maybe. It never failed -- My character would gain its humanity and within ten minutes (usually less than five) I would be invaded and killed. Often it would be at a point that was crucial to me at that time. This was incredibly frustrating to me. Eventually, I simply disconnected my PS3 from the internet when I played. I found that, for me, the game was a lot more enjoyable that way. Game NPC's would invade, but they were at a level I could usually handle. Also, the benefits from being fully "human" (which is a primary factor in being vulnerable to invasion in the first place) far outweighed the loss of messages from other on-line players. Bottom line here: being online is very cool, but there is a price to pay -- vulnerability to cyberbullies in the "fully human" state. The area bosses were tough, but that's okay; that's what we should expect from boss characters!

To me it deserves an 8 because it lacks, well, soul! It's basically a hack 'n slash game with some cool graphics and spells, but the story is weak and there are few guideposts to help you along the way. I'm guessing I could have gotten through this game in about half the time (and I spent about 240 hours slogging along, lost and confused) if I just had a clear notion where to go and what to do. That wearisome grinding, the odd graphics, the cyberbullies, and the lack of a cohesive guide or clear direction took off two points from what would otherwise be, for me, a terrific game.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/03/12

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


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