Review by ianxi

"Oh the humanity!"

Few games, especially nowadays are so unattractively talked about by fans as dark souls. It's hard. You will die. And that's what people who are good at the game say, as opposed to other games where the proverbial urination contest of who found the game easier breaks out, talk about dark souls is usually a communal sort of AA meeting where everyone is depressed, no one is unscathed, but we all suffer together. I, as I'm sure many people were, was turned on by the talk of challenge and as such, I've wanted to play dark souls ever since it came out, and luckily with a price drop I was able to snatch it up in early April. And all I can say is that basically everything I've heard is painfully true...In a good way. So without further ado, here is my review of dark souls for the Xbox 360(Single Player Only).

Gameplay 8.5/10
I give the gameplay 8.5 out of ten, only because it's a little bit off-putting at first, but if you're patient, which I and the rest of the community stress immensely, it quickly ratchets up to a ten. Character customization at the start of the game is fairly limited, and mostly aesthetic, but this is actually a good thing, because your characters development can stray greatly from your starting parameters. Let's say your thief, who you start to resent minutes into the game for a lack of stealth mechanics can easily become a strong melee character or a mage, almost as easily as the other starting classes without any noticeable, game breaking drawbacks. There is one currency in the game, and it is souls. Souls serve as experience for leveling, as well as gold for bartering and are obtained from beating any enemies, as well as exploring and finding loot. You'll quickly find yourself clinging to souls for dear life, saving them up and feeling generally good about yourself. And then you'll die. Now, any unused souls that you have are on your corpse which may or may not be close to your spawning point, and if you don't make it safely back to reclaim them, they are lost forever. This might not sound too threatening, if you plan not to die. But sadly, if you've never played the game before, you will. Probably a whole lot more than you'd think you could. The game throws challenge after challenge at you. One mistake in a fight against two or three basic enemies can lead to you getting comboed straight to hell, only to get halfway back to your corpse in an angry fury, make another simple mistake and lose your copious stash of souls. Because of this very steep difficulty, gameplay is very high risk, high reward (there's a horrific gambling analogy coming up). You'll clear a few rooms of enemies only to debate whether you should run back to your bonfire to save and level, or press on hoping that there is another one soon, only to be greeted by a wicked hard boss fight, dying and probably learning nothing for the next time. Combat is seemingly incredibly straight forward with two types of attacks, and a simple blocking and counterattack system. However, as you start to play more you realize that there are several intricacies, for example each specific weapon, not just weapon type, has its own fighting style. For example, if you use spear A, which has a sweeping power attack, you may end up hitting walls more often than you'd like and breaking up what would be a nice combo. So, for reasons unrelated to the base stats of the item i.e. damage and stamina cost, you may end up using another weapon, this is a level of depth and personal touch that is seen in very few action-adventure games, let alone a sprawling deep RPG like Dark Souls. You quickly find yourself carefully studying enemy attack patterns with each particular weapon; developing your own complicated if he “a's” then I'll “b” fighting style. The AI is pretty straightforward, and will basically just run at you and try to kill you. Which might sound easy, but in a game like this where every enemy is a threat to kill you, that's in fact the worst scenario that can play out. Gameplay is generally bug free once you admit to yourself that getting one shotted isn't a bug, save a few inconsistencies with walls and other par for the course programming flaws of a mostly aesthetic nature. Sure maybe you'll get firebombed through a wall, lose ten thousand souls, and then on the way back to your corpse try to lock onto an enemy at the end of a narrow bridge only to target an archer 30 feet away and idiotically walk off into a pit of shame and despair, but that's the beauty of Dark Souls. That is to say, that this game punishes you over and over, and yet for whatever reason you continually come back for more, and more. This game has a sort of indefinable magic, bred of its high risk, high reward, almost casino like gameplay. You just keep throwing money at the blackjack table, never gaining an inch, but you win just often enough to believe, and then eventually you hit the jackpot…of fun (does not happen in a real life casino, you in fact hit the jackpot… of bankruptcy).
Graphics 8/10
Not really too much to say here, basic next gen graphics. Maybe a little too next gen, as you'll find the occasional frames issues, but nothing that takes too much away from the game. Environments vary from each other in each section of the game, but not much in and of themselves. Nothing really jumps out as uniquely “dark souls”, besides an almost blurry movement of objects in game, and the general “darkness”. The giant bosses are awe inspiring, and the attention to detail from their blurry movements, to their grotesque expressions, give an amazing life to them, and for me they are the high point graphically for this game.

Sound 8/10
The sound of dark souls is again, nothing really too memorable, at least to me. The soundtrack doesn't really have the leg up on any other rpgs that I've played, but to that end it still holds its own. It's mostly a nice, ambient afterthought, which is in no way a bad thing. The boss fight music is very aggressive and really fits the mood of the often times high emotion “x thousand souls at stake” boss fights.

Story 7/10
Story is a seven from me, mainly because it isn't as out in the open as I would like. I didn't play demon souls, so naturally that probably doesn't help. The game in general lacks the direction and flow of a game with a lot of narrative. I was mostly confused and uninterested as far as story is concerned. I will admit however, that when I did care to read and listen the games narrative, however cliche and bland, was enough to hold my attention. I just feel like the story is almost optional. I enjoyed the game a lot, without really paying attention to it, but for those who pay attention, you're not in any way being cheated out of a games worth of fantasy adventure.

Overall 9/10
Dark Souls gets a 9/10 from me, and a very strong personal recommendation. The only disclaimer is that you have got to be patient with this one, if you don't feel like you want to do that, there are definitely easier games to get into, and far more cinematic/authored rpgs for you to play(basically anything by square enix). But if you are, I believe you will find one of the most challenging, but rewarding rpg experiences of this generation.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/11/12

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

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