Dark Souls ReviewJoe Green
"Prepare to Die", "Prepare to Die Again" and "Prepare to have the next few weeks of your life consumed with thoughts of Not Dying". Dark Souls' motto is a bold statement which epitomises the essence of the game. Yes you die often and in punishing and glorious ways, but it is essential to your progression throughout the game.
In a notoriously clever way, by dying you drop your souls and after returning to a bonfire which acts as your save area you have to grind your way back to the place you lost those collected souls. In doing so, you end up invariably collecting more than you would have had you not died. The game allows you to tackle the RPG convention of level grinding without it seeming like such a monotonous chore.
Death really symbolises everything which makes the game the sinisterly dark, bleak, solitary and magnificent adventure which it is. This may not be horror, but you'll end up feeling more lonely and timid in taking your next steps than many games in that genre. Trying to strike the balance between struggling on in the desperate hope of finding another bonfire to rest at, and giving up, running with your tail between your legs back to the last is an exhilarating and often punishing experience.
This is not to say that Dark Souls looks to up its difficulty aimlessly or without other merits. The combat is something which requires patience and skill. It's also one that routinely requires practice, and so again, dying at the hands of a gigantic skeleton is not something to scorn at, but to learn from. Learn its moves, learn its patterns and the rest of your encounters throughout the game become easier.
The combat is also a lesson in precision. Mis-time or rush your next attack in the hopes of reaching your destination quicker and you will only do the opposite. Most enemies are notoriously efficient at parrying your wilder attacks and quickly following up with a riposte of their own, leaving your character bleeding out and seeing those familiar, red emblazoned words: "You Died". If this ironically obvious statement bothers you in any way, don't play this game.
No RPG would be complete without bosses and Dark Souls has them in great numbers, with impressive variety and true wow' factor. Each time you find a mist filled doorway, you know your next steps will be in the shadows of a looming, often massive area boss. The first real time you face a dragon head-on is with the Gaping Dragon: a sinister looking variation of the magnificent beast with its chest literally gaping open, hence the name. Its serpentine movements, quickly followed by devastating and crushing attacks are really something to behold.
The boss experience is made better with the help of friends and unknown allies while playing cooperatively online. This is one aspect which makes Dark Souls shine in comparison to Demon's Souls. You should be aware that the servers for the online play still have a lot of work to be done in order for gamers to find each other quicker, easier and more obviously however. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to the game's invasion ability, which offers players the chance to invade another's world and seek them out with the purpose of killing them, thus halting their progress. Doing so awards you with the souls they collected at that time and humanity which is essential to the game's progression. It's an incredibly exciting experience, and when it works, it is fantastic. Provided that Namco-Bandai can resolve the issues they are experiencing with their servers and the online play will be a perfect compliment to the game's single player experience.
Dark Souls is an invigorating experience, which unashamedly kills the player and offers no explanation other than you didn't try hard enough'. It holds no hands but it offers a massive world filled with devastating and wonderful enemies, each uniquely different to the last. If you can handle the challenge, Dark Souls can offer you one of the best gaming experiences this year and one of my favorite this generation. Prepare to die my friends, and love it.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.