Review by skratchmasta

Reviewed: 10/12/11

Incredibly deep and utterly rewarding gameplay runs deep in From Software's triumphant spiritual successor.

Incredibly deep and utterly rewarding gameplay runs deep in From Software’s triumphant spiritual successor.

Let’s face it, for years the trend of gaming has been a gradual descent into the shallow depths of the challenge kiddie pool. Gamers are rewarded with cutscenes, voice acting, story progression, and various “look what my character did!” moments. This simple gameplay is oftentimes supplemented by the inclusion of a boss fight which generally only serves to check if the player is still awake at the helm. Frankly put, games are easy these days. The challenge is empty and we’ve grown accustomed to finding joy in a gradual movement towards the game’s finale.

None of this holds true for Dark Souls.

In Dark Souls you play as a chosen undead tasked with traveling to ancient Lordran to fulfill a prophecy. More importantly, you play as a customizable character able to choose stealth or steel, miracle or magic, and venture into an incredibly vast world in a myriad of settings in a true gaming adventure. Dark Souls is a game which prides itself on its “prepare to die” slogan. You will be challenged, you will fail and die, and you will rise and return to try again. You will be slain by regular enemies as often as the many bosses that lurk in the dungeons of Lordran, yet you will continue. Many games flaunt character immersion, but few will bring you into your character quite like Dark Souls. You will become the character, relentlessly thirsty for victory and driven to overcome the challenges set before you.

Many players who haven’t tried From Software’s original Demon Souls may look at the concept of Dark Souls and feels sudden pangs of fear and doubt towards the potential frustration this game style holds. However, it’s important to note that while Dark Souls is difficult, often exceedingly so, it’s never cheap, and every death becomes a chance to learn and become better. The greatest part of all is that Dark Souls gives you so many opportunities to demonstrate to yourself how much you’ve personally progressed. You can refight bosses through the online co-op play, and occasionally will see beefed up versions of enemies you’ve fought before in later areas. Nothing is quite as gratifying as fighting an enemy that stumped you for hours and completely dismantling them the second time around.

Visually, Dark Souls does an incredible job of creating a world with a vast array of different backdrops to keep the game fresh and each new area exciting. You’ll fight through churches, streets, sewers, fortresses fill with traps, and even settings which mix a renaissance theme with gothic architecture. The game engine runs smoothly, with only a few hiccup areas, causing the framerate to drop noticeably. These areas are short however, and the gameplay is generally unfettered.

The sounds of Dark Souls must be reviewed in the context of the game itself. This game doesn’t have the sweeping epic pieces that one might find in other games, it shouldn’t. With danger lurking on every path your character takes, you’ll find it necessary to listen for noises of an enemy’s approach. The sounds the game does feature, the general effects of the world, from the rustling of your movements in leather armor, to the howls of approaching enemies, are superb. Also, the effects played when a character zones into new areas or lights bonfires almost seems in homage to games such as Castlevania which undoubtedly inspired the challenge concept of Dark Souls. Generally the voice acting is good, with the occasional campy character, though in a land populated by undead on their way to becoming mindless, the campiness might just be taken as a sign of the vacation of their mental stabilities.

If I do have one criticism of Dark Souls it is of the online play. Generally the concept of Dark Souls is that of a single player game in which you can occasionally summon a player from another world, or be summoned yourself to aid others. This concept is fully enforced by a lack of direct communication, party chat or otherwise, and instead forces players to rely on a simplistic system of gestures. This generally works and furthers the concept of a single player campaign. However, upon release it’s been discovered that instead of playing on a large server connected to many worlds, gamers instead rely on a peer-to-peer system. This obviously constricts the amount of players that can be available to summon at any time and can make co-operative play a bit frustrating. Adding to this the fact that players may only venture a short distance away from their summoning sign without losing it means that many players wishing to aid others in their adventures may be forced into standing around waiting.

Dark Souls is simply a fantastic experience in gaming. It provides true player and player character progression. While your character grows in strength, you grow in ability, and create a level of immersion lacking in many games today. The trials of Dark Souls will keep you hungry for more even into a New Game Plus and continue to resonate as one of the greatest experiences in modern games.

Final Review
-A bit easier co-op matchmaking system would make this game simply perfect

-Rental for those who haven’t played Demon Souls to see if they enjoy the challenge, instant buy for those who have played Demon Souls or find themselves enjoying the rental

Reviews by Sean Phagan

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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