Review by Taenju
"A Challenge for sure, just know what you're getting into."
In Dark Souls, spiritual sequel to a similar title Demon Souls, you create a character and start out as a newly recruited member of the Undead, after escaping from the Undead Asylum it is your, not duty perhaps, but goal to restore your humanity and in general just make being undead not so bad of a thing. The ad tagline "Prepare to Die" is very apt and is definitely something to be heeded, the premise of this game is to offer a brutal level of challenge few games of recent memory can offer, setting the stage for you to try to conquer and literally leaving you to tackle it, it's the crazy parent that, when teaching you to swim, throws you into the water and says "Do it!" without any other guidance. This can be admirable, but this is one of those things where one should understand what they're getting into before making a commitment lest miscommunication leave a sour taste, literally "Prepare to Die."
In this game one cannot truly critique the story in the traditional sense, rather than giving you a structured narrative the plot of Dark Souls is letting you explore the world and pursue your own goals, with the only real ongoing goal being striving for your own salvation of your humanity. This offers a story that isn't just presented, but experienced, you will feel dread creeping through corridors, apprehension when approaching unknown enemies, and the need to be prepared for anything the world may throw at you without any artificial queues. The world is expansive and it's lore something truly to behold, though once again there is no traditional narrative, it is all completely the sense of discovery and awe towards new environments and the beings you confront. If this intrigues you, go for it, if you think you require a structured narrative, know that Dark Souls won't offer that.
In the technical perspective, the graphics are pretty good while not technically high brow, there are some edges to the environments and clipping does happen with enough consistency that it's noticeable. What really sells the graphics is the unique dark Gothic art style, draping everything in a life, or rather unlife, that compliments the world greatly. There is a sense of foreboding and raw power from the world and it's enemies ranging from their visual appearance as well as their elaborate animations. The sound design also fits, further giving life to the world's inhabitants and add to the dangerous atmosphere. Overall the game comes off with a sense of danger, urging caution and encourages reading the environment and it's guards very carefully at every turn.
Again going against the grain, the gameplay in Dark Souls goes for a more realistic style of control rather than give the player the easy gameplay conventions. If you're coming with built up muscle memory from any other action/adventure game it will take a moment to adjust, your character model moves at a human-like speed and strength, eliminating the supernaturally quick response capabilities of most games and promoting memorization and prior planning. The tutorial is as bare-bones as the plot, leaving you to discover most of the systems on your own, and when characters that offer important services can die or disappear as consequences to your actions a sense of caution and distrust pervades every encounter with new characters. Even if the player doesn't wish to have a written walkthrough guide their way through the main campaign progression, they'd be hard pressed not to at least look up resources like the Dark Souls Wiki to learn about the game's systems.
In Dark Souls you can learn and upgrade a range of abilities and weapons, all governed through where you spend attribute points in things like Strength and Dexterity for weapons, Endurance for stamina and equip burden, and Intelligence and Faith for magic. Though a class is chosen at player creation, there is no real limit on how you'll develop your character, you may naturally tend towards a brute force tank, an agile quick-arms master, a well prepared magic caster, or any hybrid of tactics. As with the rest of the game, a lack of information beforehand can cause certain favorable stats to be lacking at a critical moment and present the need to grind souls for levels or farm for raw materials, though this shouldn't be too necessary for anyone going through a second run of the game or otherwise is familiar with it's format. Almost any piece of equipment can also be upgraded and modified at blacksmiths to one degree or another and can often make a major difference between bitter failure and sweet success.
One last major system to note is the addition of bonfires, or the checkpoint system, if your character falls in battle he/she is brought back to the last bonfire they rested at. With the proper equipment and items earned throughout exploring the world you will soon be able to perform numerous tasks at these bonfires such as kindling them to give you access to more "Estus Flask" healing potions at a time, conduct minor upgrades to equipment, and manage your inventory. Each time you rest at a bonfire however all of the world's enemies are respawned, with exception of few special enemies as well as bosses, making the challenges less about the enemies, and more about the scenarios you must overcome as the challenge of getting from one bonfire to the next may be a great horde of weaker enemies offering just as much resistance as the game's more singular powerhouse enemies.
All of this can be experienced on your own, although like Demon Souls before it, Dark Souls offers a unique multiplayer system that coincides with the campaign, with the option to summon players over an internet connection to help conquer bosses, as well as be summoned in turn. Rewards go both ways, only players who are revived to "Human" status can summon aid, and the reward for being summoned and helping another player beat a difficult boss is a "humanity" soul-item to revive yourself to Human status to hopefully summon other players to help you. It isn't all bright however, because the other way players can earn their humanity back is by invading other player's games and killing them to pillage their souls. Even if you choose to play offline Dark Souls offers the new concept of adding artificial characters you can summon to aid you as well as others that will invade you, giving you a run of the system either way. It is definitely a thankful feeling to finally overcome a particularly tough fight thanks to allies who were willing to leave a sign and assist your endeavors, and it is an equally dreadful experience when you yourself are invaded, injured and in a precarious situation. This system isn't flawless however, because of limits placed around your "Soul Level" dictate who gets matched up, and summons more than often fail, leaving multiplayer feeling a little broken, be prepared to wait upwards of half an hour to get yourself summons to another players world, and don't expect to find summon signs yourself often enough to count on.
The experience Dark Souls offers is unique and inviting for those who feel they are up for accepting the challenge it provides, anyone expecting another game they can learn with a relative ease and burn through just to experience the plot will find themselves sorely frustrated at the game's unforgiving nature. When the player does know what he's getting into however, working for hours on a dungeon, exploring the world for loot, carefully allocating your resources, and finally overcoming the world's larger than life bosses, is a very emotionally fulfilling and satisfying feat and anyone who holds game completion achievements or trophies definitely feels like they've earned them and they stand as a statement of skill, forethought and perseverance. The first play-through of Dark Souls is no short endeavor as well, especially if you find the need to grind or farm arise, and thus can hold it's own for upwards of 80+ plus hours of gameplay, so a rental isn't practical. "Prepare to Die" is the definitive sentiment of the game and it is definitely not for everyone, especially not the faint of heart, but for those who opt in to this impossible challenge, the rewards contain true substance.
Play Time: up to 80+ hours
Recommendation: Purchase - only if the player feels up to the task.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/11/11
Game Release: Dark Souls (US, 10/04/11)
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