Review by EternallyPokey
Dark souls: Prepare to be disappointed.
While Dark souls is a standalone game, it isn't a sequel or prequel or anything of the sort, it is a spiritual successor to Demons' souls, thus the comparisons between the two is something that has to be addressed and is a huge factor for me in deciding how good of a game Dark souls is. Sadly, it falls short in every regard.
Graphics, while not overly important, are not improved at all. Dark souls does not feel nearly as atmospheric as its predecessor. The uneasy feeling that stages like the tower of latria in Demon's souls gave are absent in this game, which is disappointing since I personally found the atmosphere of Demon's souls to be a huge draw of the game. Anor Lando is breathtaking aesthetically and the duke's archives are very cool looking, but the rest of the game looks nothing special.
This game, graphically, looks identical to Demon's souls, but somehow manages to handle framerate a huge amount worse. This is partially attributed to the fact that the game has an open world and handles it poorly. There are areas in the game where you will never get above 20 fps, a few areas, and every area has frame rate drops when here are more than a few enemies around. This is a very huge disappointment since demon's souls had far less framerate drops, with only 2 stages in demon's souls having framerate drops, in my experience, and this game having it through several areas and to a much greater extent. Some people find this to be a small problem, but a lot of people get headaches from low fps, myself included, so it's a pretty large problem.
The gameplay is essentially the same, which is a good thing. But it does have a few tiny changes, some good and some bad. The intended changes are fairly good, there are new types of attacks, rolls, and a new long jumping mechanic. These are all fairly good, although flawed --you often can't jump over 1 foot ledges despite the fact that your jump is much higher than that. However, the weapon handling feels a little more sluggish, with some people reporting input drops. I never experienced an input drop in my playthrough, but I did feel sluggish often, even while more than meeting the requirements for weapons. I never once had this feeling in Demon's souls, where the gameplay consistently felt very fluid. I also had more lockon problems in Dark souls, which is strange because the Demon's souls lockon system was a fairly large complaint for a lot of people and I found myself longing for it in Dark. The lock on doesn't always change targets, often havng to turn off the lockon and restart it to change targets. This is manageable but annoying.
One thing that dark souls does very well is its soundtrack. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Demon's souls...there is no music besides bosses, this holds true with dark souls as well. However, the music when it does exist, cutscenes, boss battles etc, is very good. The soundtrack of Demon's souls was one of my favourite soundtracks of any game I've played, and Dark souls does not disappoint in that regard and keeps up with the quality of demon's. If you loved the Demon's souls soundtrack, Dark souls will definitely not disappoint.
Difficulty seems to be something that a lot of fans of the series are interested in, so I figured I'd go over that as well. I personally found Dark souls to be easier than Demon's souls, but many people say the opposite, so I suppose it comes down to the person. Shielding feels much stronger in Dark souls, and this was a huge factor in making the PVE a lot easier, in my opinion.
The game also uses a vastly different system than demon's souls with regards to healing. In dark souls you get 5 healing items per checkpoint, which you can raise to 10 healing items per checkpoint if you have an item called humanity. At first this seems to be a factor in making the game more difficult, but fairly early on you can increase the limit to 20 and have an absurdly high amount of healing items. I only raised the limit to 20 once, and ended up beating the area, which had one of the last bosses in the game, with 14 left. The healing items can also be easily reinforced to heal more health. So while the game may feel more difficult early because of this, it is very easily quickly bypassed.
Anyone who has played demon's souls knows that magic in the game was very strong , you may be happy or disappointed to know that it still is in Dark souls. Pyromancy is dark souls equivalent to the broken strength of magic in Demon's souls, with it you can tank the last boss with ease. Your difficulty with this game will largely vary based on how much you use pyromancy, a skill that every character is able to use with equal efficiency.
As I just mentioned, the very strong magic in the game does not scale to your stats, anyone can use it with equal efficiency if you upgrade it accordingly. This is sadly a trend for dark souls. Dark souls is very forgiving in that a lot of the best weapons in the game do not scale to any stat, this means you can screw up a build severely and still be very strong. Unfortunately, scaling in the game is far worse than in Demon's souls as well, so this is the smartest option for everyone to go down for a long time. This aspect of the game kills the replayability of the game, at least for me. There is little to no reason to have a different build each time or even go through the game more than once with how overly good the weapons that don't scale to stats are and how poorly scaling works. You have to have very high stats for your attacks to even outstage these nonscaling weapons, far higher than the level I beat the game at and while ng+ is an option in the game, not everyone is going to want to do it.
The biggest disappointment of Dark souls, without question, is the multiplayer. There are several multiplayer based ideas in the game, factions (Covenants) that have multiplayer aspects, etc. However, unlike demon's souls, this game uses p2p lobbies rather than a dedicated server for the region. This makes online a lot more barren than in demon's souls. Invasions are rare, co-op is far more rare than in Demon's and a lot of people have issues with it, and summoning often fails. In Demon's souls you can't go 2 steps without seeing a multiplayer aspect, in dark souls you can go hours. I in fact beat the game with an alarmingly low 1 invasion, and I made sure to stay in human form for most of the game to attempt to encourage invasions as it was a part of Demon's souls that I enjoyed thoroughly. The online play of the game aimed to do a lot, with huge amounts of online aspects in the game, but in practice they work so infrequently that the more minimal (but consistently working) aspects of Demon's souls online overshadows it severely. If you enjoyed Demon's souls offline and planned to play this game offline, obviously none of this will matter, but to a lot of people it matters a lot.
In summary, while Dark souls is not a bad game, it is in many ways a step back from Demon's which makes the game a large disappointment for me. If you are 360 user, or just don't have access to Demon's souls, I recommend giving Dark souls at least a rent, it's certainly worth the experience, but if you can get your hands on Demon's Souls instead, I'd go with getting it instead.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Dark Souls (US, 10/04/11)
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