Review by GeekyDad
So That Fans May Be Mended
Were I not writing this review, Id probably be playing Dark Souls. Im a veteran of Demons Souls, with something like over 300 hours of time invested, and I was so anxious for the next game before From Software even admitted they were working on a next game. Oddly enough, as we neared the release of Dark Souls, I lost a lot of my excitement for it. Nevertheless, I had it in my Gamefly Q, and once it arrived and I started playing, I couldnt put the game down.
You should know my first impressions of the game werent great. I almost sent Dark Souls immediately back to Gamefly, which would have been a huge mistake. See, unlike Demons Souls with its Nexus and world stones, Dark Souls is made up of one giant, open world, and in old-school-RPG fashion, it doesnt necessarily prevent players from entering into areas they shouldnt yet be.
After completing the tutorial level, I walked out to the first area and was greeted by re-spawning skeletons who continued to make quick work of me. After much frustration, I checked in at the NeoGAF Dark Souls thread to inquire if I was missing something. Sure enough, I had headed the wrong way. Without letting them spoil anything else for me, I went downstairs from the first bonfire and ran into some ghosts who also proceeded to annihilate me
Again, I had gone the wrong way, but at least I felt I was beginning to understand the world of Lordran a bit better. Evidently, I wasnt listening well to the subtle hints from NPCs, but once I settled into the changes of this games world, Dark Souls really started to take off for me.
Unlike many sequels or successors, Dark Souls hasnt tamed its level of difficulty. Demons Souls was a brutally challenging game, and Dark Souls actually ups the ante. No more hording grasses for hundreds of heals. This time around you have only a single flask with a very limited number of heals. You also cannot use this healing flask while visiting another players world, either as a friendly phantom or invading foe.
Oddly enough, once you reconcile some of the changes from its predecessor, Dark Souls is actually a more engrossing, rewarding experience. I absolutely adore Demons Souls; its my favorite game of the last few generations. However, Dark Souls open world and desperate nature make it an addictive adventure I simply cannot get enough of.
At the outset, I thought I would jump right in, no problems. Having played Demons Souls so much, I felt like Rambo in the city. Obviously, From Software took players like me into account. No, scratch that. Dark Souls was designed specifically for players like me, a game that could challenge even those daring souls who already braved and conquered Boletaria. The foundation of Dark Souls feels completely familiar, but the overall game design is an entirely new beast.
If you never got the chance to play old-school Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) Im talking pencil, paper, and many sided dice Dark Souls is about as close as videogames get in terms of scope. Theres so much mystery, so much great lore and each new area feels completely unique.
One of the coolest elements of the game is the enemy design. There are definitely a few creatures that animate similarly to those in Demons Souls. Heck, the Hollow are pretty much the Dregglings from Demons Souls. But venture further into the game, and youll encounter ghosts that attack through walls, multi-headed hydras who hurl magic at you, and necromancers who can summon undead to relentlessly assault you.
Unfortunately, Dark Souls didnt necessarily fix any of the problems inherent in the first game, and it comes completely with issues all its own. The lag found in only small sections of 2-2 and 5-2 of Demons Souls is now present in quite a few areas of Dark Souls world. Additionally, there are often issues with input lag. Sometimes when you press the attack button, the animation wont execute until you press another button. In a game like Dark Souls it can and will be fatal in many situations.
The game also takes the clunky inventory system of Demons Souls and in some ways makes it even more tedious to navigate. Now, rather than having separate categories for shields, weapons, and bows, everythings together under a single tab.
And lets not forget about the random glitches. Demons Souls had its share enemies getting stuck onto your character, your character getting stuck on parts of the environment, falling through the geometry. Dark Souls has most of those problems and more. Its a big game with quite a few technical faux pas.
In spite of all my detailed complaints, this is still absolutely an amazing game. Its abundantly evident that Dark Souls is chock full of inspiration. After 80 hours of play, the game just keeps on giving, and I havent even completed my first playthrough yet. Its not a better game than Demons Souls, in my opinion, but its grand nature and fresh ingredients make it that much more satisfying. I truly didnt think that could be possible. I felt like $60 for Demons Souls was a steal. For Dark Souls, its simply a ridiculous value. The game is hard, its problems can be frustrating, but it just has too much fun to offer for anyone to not appreciate its greatness.
Part of that greatness is owed to covenants, a new addition to the games world and online experience. This time around, players can join covenants that align them with certain factions within Lordran. Joining and leveling up your standing in a covenant comes with certain perks, including unique items and powers, as well as the ability to hunt down other players of a specific covenant. The online gameplay of Demons Souls was incredibly innovative, and Dark Souls manages to take those ideas yet one step further.
Its also one of the two best-looking games of this generation, the other being well, Demons Souls. Sure, the Havok physics can be quirky at times, but compare the visuals of these two games to everything and anything else currently out there, and the Souls games are complete and utter marvels, both technically and artistically. The new boss designs are spectacular tons of giant enemies this time around and the games world feels new yet still morbid and intimidating. The music is perfectly matched with each situation, though the sound effects are pretty much a cut and paste of the last game.
Dark Souls is everything you could want and more from a successor to a game like Demons Souls. It doesnt outshine the first game, but it does surpass it with its scope and world design. The areas are created with the sort of love and care youd expect to see in a flagship Zelda title, and the world of Lordran seems never-ending. The gameplay is still quite tough, perhaps even more so than Demons Souls, but its one for the fans. I perfectly understand the frustrations of folks curious but unprepared for the challenge these games offer, but Im equally appreciative of From Softwares determination to cater to folks like myself. As with my review of the first game, I recommend newcomers give it a rent first. As for Demons Souls veterans, I propose you jump blindly into the void.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Dark Souls (US, 10/04/11)
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