Review by SurvivorType

"Perpare To Die: An Accurate Statement"

Dark Souls. Perhaps you've heard of it's predecessor, Demons Souls? They're a medival fantasy style action RPG series, made by From Software, who've brought out previous series' like Tenchu and Armoured Core, as well as the King's Field series on the PS2. How would the game best be described though? The motto of the game is simply: "Prepare to Die", and this statement holds true to the gameplay. The thing is, the game isn't difficult in the sense of overwhelming numbers, enemies having high HP and being able to dish out large amounts of damage. It has a steep difficulty curve instead. If you fail to learn enemy attack patterns, or you like to run in and mash the attack button, you will die quite quickly. However, once you learn how to properly handle combat situations, the game becomes a lot easier.

Now, onto the meat of the game. When you defeat enemies, you are awarded "Souls". Souls count as both your experience points and currency, but when you die, you lose all your souls. However, if you're able to make it successfully back to where you died, you'll regain all those souls. Die on the way there, however, and they're gone for good. Poof. I've the largest amount of Souls that I've lost because of this is about 1.3 million, which is rather annoying. This is one of the main reasons people find the Souls games difficult. It can be very frustrating if you've spent a lot of time gathering those souls and you lose them because you made a mistake.

Combat is a very precise system. You have a stamina guage in your HUD at the top right of the screen, and it's important that you pay close attention to it at all times, as most actions cost stamina. Stamina recovers at a steady rate, but it's slowed if you keep your shield up. Each of the shoulder buttons serve a different function. The R1 and 2 buttons trigger actions for items equipped in your right hand. For general weapons, R1 is a light attack, and R2 is a heavy attack. Heavier weapons use more stamina with each swing, but deal more damage and break through guards easier. Lighter weapons swing faster but are often beaten out by armour, which allows you to shrug off light attacks and continue your own attack. The L1 and 2 buttons contol actions for left hand equipped items. Generally you'll always have a shield equipped in your left hand, and perhaps a catalyst of some form for casting magics. Hold down L1 to guard, and L2 to parry with small and medium shields. L2 with tower shields will perform a shield bash, but this is of limited use. Blocking heavy attacks will chew through your stamina pretty quickly though, so unless your character is geared towards melee combat, you're better off evading by rolling. Rolling is performed by pressing circle, but keep in mind you can still be hit while rolling, there's is only a small window for invisibility frames unlike most games.

There are also a few bonus things that you can use to your advantage in combat. You can perform a kick by pressing forward and R1 at the same time that will help to bust through guards, a jumping attack using forward and R2 that deals heavy damage, and backstabs and riposting. Backstabs and Riposting are two crucial skills you'll want to be able to use, as they deal extreme amounts of damage, with certain weapons further boosting this amount. It's easily possible to one shot someone with a riposte if you're geared right, for example. However, these aren't that easy to pull off. Backstabbing is done (obviously) by circling your opponent and attacking from behind without your shield up. If you're a spear user, you'll have trouble doing this, since you can attack with spears while guarding, a trait none of the other weapon types share. Risposting is done by successfully parrying a melee attack and pressing R1 in the small window of time you have to execute this. Parrying is a risky technique if you're unskilled however, because if you mistime the parry you'll get hit.

In addition to the combat system, you need to make smart choices about the weapons you attack with. The games combat engine takes into account the enviroment around you, and your weapon will rebound off walls and trees and doors, without damaging the enemy you're aiming at. For example, if you're in a tight corridor, you'll not be able to swing a sword effectively from side to side, instead you'll have to rely on thrusts and overhead arcing weapons. Spears are a good choice for a first timer, since you can turtle with them, but they lack high damage. A favourite weapon of mine is the Claymore, which can attack in a 180 degree horizontal arc as well as thrust, so it's useful in all situations. Magical attacks require time to cast, and you need the appropriate catalyst for each type of spell: Miracle, Sorcery, and Pyromancy. Not good for melee combat, but if you can gain a little ground, you'll appreciate the havoc you can wreak. You should always approach combat slowly, try and only fight one enemy at a time where possible, and keep your shield up.

Still with me?

Okay, now we've got the long stuff out of the way, I can talk about the game world and menus now. Unlike Demons Souls, where you returned to a central hub after clearing each area, Dark Souls is an open world game. Although it seems large at first, the game itself isn't that big. As you progress through each area, you'll begin to open up more and more shortcuts that allow you to quickly traverse to where you want to go. Once you know the layout of the game and the shortcuts, you can get from the lowest point of the game to the highest in about 5-10 minutes, depending on how fast you can move. Areas are richly detailed, with a a lot of destructible objects blocking off shortcuts and hidden items, and occasionally walls that you can hit that will vanish and reveal a path behind them. Exploration will tend to net you extra items, strong weapons and souls to level up, so it pays off to take your time exploring. It's important to always keep your shield up when travelling through new areas, becuase enemies can and will ambush you. You might see a path ahead of you that takes a sharp bend with a blind spot, odds are there's an enemy there waiting to kill you. Always be vigilant, otherwise you'll be restarting from the bonfire you last rested at.

Bonfires are one of the most important objects in the game. These serve as rest points for your character, where you can spend souls to level up, repair and upgrade your weapons and armour, and choose which spells you want to take with you for your next objective. They are also the spot where you recharge your Estus Flasks, which are the games primary source of healing. Each bonfire you rest at normally only gives you 5 Estus Flasks, but you can increase this amount by up to an addtional 15 by offering humanity to the bonfire. As you progress through areas, slain monsters will sometimes give you Humanity, which is tracked by the counter in your HUD, as well as certain enemies also dropping the consumable item called Humanity, which gives you 1 humanity and restores HP on use. Your character has 2 forms in this game Hollow (where you look a little like a dessicated corpse), and Human form, where obviously you look normal. Being in Human form allows other players to invade your world while online (to be explained later in the review), as well as allowing you to summon other players to help you progress through the game. You can also only kindle bonfires while in human form as well.

The game for the most part has no music as you progress through areas, instead relying on ambient sounds like wind and footsteps. There are boss fights have musical tracks however, and there are a few pleasing tracks to listen to. Area design is fairly straightforward, but there are two areas where I feel the developers did a poor job (and most other players would agree). Blighttown, which is a huge expanse that leads you down into a swamp, suffers from poor frame rates, and Lost Izalith, which is a stage that has a lot of lava. However, the lava is extremely bright, and it makes the stage into a reddish haze which is rather bothersome.

Now, the online component of the game. The servers for Dark Souls are Peer to Peer, which can be very bad if you or a host or helper has a poor internet connection, which will result in heavy lag. While online, you and other players can leave notes scattered about the stage, that will either help, hinder, or be amusing depending on context. You can try and trick people into jumping off cliffs by saying there is a treasure chest ahead, point out shortcuts, give combat advice, and a whole array of other things, its good to see some of the messages people leave around. While in human or hollow form, you can drop down your white soapstone to act as a helper in another players world. You can only summon and be invaded by people within a 10% range of your level however, so don't be worried that a high level player will invade you at the beginning areas. If you are summoned, your objective is to defend your host and help them clear the boss of the area, which in turn rewards you with souls and humanity. However, when you get summoned or invade, you can't heal via Estus Flasks, but whenever your host drinks a flask you get healed from it as well. Some hosts are lazy or don't know about this though, so don't expect it all the time. While in human form in an area where you haven't cleared out the boss, people can invade you by using a Red Eye Orb, or a few other items. People that invade your world have only one objective: To kill you. Upon killing someone as an invader, you get a portion of their souls and humanity, in addition to the pleasure of knowing you screwed someone else over. Sound fun?

Now, before I tie things up, I'll give you a brief list of pro's and con's, to help you decide whether this game is for you:

+ Challenging gameplay that rewards you for learning
+ An interesting combat system
+ Online is extremely entertaining, and will help to extend game time as you build PvP character to fight other players
+ A unique experience in todays gaming market

- The game has little to no direct story. You basically only have 4 plot points for the entire game, which is dissapointing.
- Online gameplay is buggy due to P2P. It can be hard to summon or be invaded, and there are a lot of glitches right now that make online annoying. Players can glitch invincibility, throw infinite items at you, or glitch cast spells which by rights they should have no access to
- The game has no explanation about humanity and what each of your stats do. This can lead to a lot of painful trial and error unless you consult gaming boards and guides for help.
- Lost Izalith and Blighttown are terrible stages due to design, and detract from the fun.
- If you're not a patient gamer, you'll not enjoy this game. Mashing buttons won't let you win, and it can become annoying to do the same thing over and over because you keep dying.
- There is no counter telling you how many souls you need to level up, and no seperate pages for weapon types, which can make weapon organisation a bit of a cluster. Both of these features were in Demons Souls, but were removed from Dark Souls for some reason.
- The game has issues with freezing, so be prepared.
- Enemy placement is always the same. If you're only focused on PvE, it gets a little stale after awhile because you know where everything is.

All in all, I rate this game a solid 8 out of 10. If you're looking for a challenging game, and have the cash to spend, loook no further. See you online.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/04/11

Game Release: Dark Souls (Limited Edition) (AU, 10/06/11)

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