Recently, I dove back into the world of Lordran with the release of the ‘Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition’ on PC. With controller in hand (because that’s what From Software recommended using months ago) and the Dark Souls Fix in place (which takes an easy few seconds to install), I played the opening sequence in the Undead Asylum and sweet euphoric memories came flooding back. Fast forward through 120 hours of gameplay and I am once again addicted to Dark Souls like I was when I played it for the first time back in October of 2011 when it was released. Now, I don’t want to make myself sound like a complete “fanboy” of the game (although to an extent I am), but this game kicks major ass! For the review, though, I will restrain myself from getting over excited about how much I enjoy the game and just focus on the pros and cons of the game.
In true form fashion, I will address the pros of Dark Souls first by mentioning specific elements that I believe showcase the quality of the game.
As you play Dark Souls, it will become very evident that From Software cared deeply about the art direction in the game. From the largely crafted open world to the armor and weapons, the game is overflowing with tremendous artistic quality. Now, if there is one very minor gripe that I might consider about the game’s art design, it’s the trees. They do look like cardboard cutouts and sometimes that can clash with the beautiful environments they are found in, but other than that one minor (and let me stress minor) thing, Dark Souls boasts some of the most artistically created visuals I’ve seen in any game. Bosses, equipment, effects, atmosphere, etc. It all looks fantastic.
The game really shines in this area. From Software makes use of sound in such a way that it adds tremendous depth and atmosphere to the game. From the varying pitch clang you hear when metal meets a hard object to the sound of an enemy’s footsteps and breathing, this game presents one of the smartest uses of sound I’ve encountered in a game.
The music (when present) in Dark Souls is also top notch. Bosses have their own themes (some are recycled) as do some areas of the game. Boss themes match the pace of battle and I will give fair warning to anyone who hasn’t played this game yet that some of the boss themes might be burned into your auditory receptors from repeated attempts at killing them. My personal favorites tracks from the soundtrack (which has many errors in the track listing on the Prepare to Die Edition CD ) are the Ornstein & Smough, The Four Kings, Great Grey Wolf Sif, and Gwynevere themes. Here is a link to Sif’s theme- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tuWvGee4T0
This is another area where I felt that this game excelled. You will encounter many obstacles throughout the game that will test your patience as well as your ability to adapt and overcome. If you try to approach every area of the game the same way, you will find yourself staring at the “You Died” screen a lot. You have to employ the use of different techniques in order to progress through the game more easily. Hacking and slashing your way through the game just doesn’t cut it. No pun intended. And that brings me to the other aspect of gameplay– the combat.
Dark Souls has some damn good combat features. Battle movements are very fluid and I love how I feel in complete control of my character. The weight of gear really affects your character’s movements. You will either be lightweight where you can move around very quickly, medium weight where you can still move around, but are definitely slower, or heavyweight where your character is basically a sloth and every time you roll you crush your shoulder into the ground. Weapon movements are also slower depending on which type you use and for the most part weapons are very unique in there different attack styles.
I played Skyrim around the same time as Dark Souls and I have to say that the differences in combat was like night and day for me. While Dark Souls had very engaging combat and just felt right, Skyrim’s combat felt more sluggish and often times boring. Both games are very different in their own respect, but I ended up putting almost 3 times the amount of time into Dark Souls as I did Skyrim. And now that I am playing Dark Souls again, Skyrim is doomed to remain shelved and collecting dust.
From Software has created a very unique setup with the online features of Dark Souls (which obviously started with Demon’s Souls). You can summon other players into your world for help or you can choose to invade them to engage in pvp matches. This adds an even richer experience to the already awe inducing gameplay. Of course, the online is sometimes a hated feature too, but I will get to that later. For now, I want to say that watching a player rise into your world as a white or gold phantom allows you to breathe a sigh of relief. When you feel you can go no further, other players can lend a helping hand to help you accomplish what felt like the impossible a few moments before. And let’s not forget the violet and red phantoms, whose invasions usually result in a higher stress level and elevated heart rate. The adrenaline rush you get from being randomly invaded is hard to duplicate. To put it short, the online features are fun as hell.
Many people believe that Dark Souls has a very minimalistic story. Not true. This game actually has a very in depth story surrounded by some awesome lore. I guess the problem for a lot of players is that From Software didn’t design the game to hand you the story and the lore on a silver platter. Instead, you have to spend time piecing it together for yourself by reading item descriptions and finding hidden npcs and covenants. And even if you read every piece of info you can, many aspects of the lore can be left to interpretation. Personally, I love the fact that some knowledge of the game’s story and lore seems to be lost to the in game history. And just like our own history, it allows the game to be open to theories and speculation, which I feel adds even more depth to the game since it allows the players to become more involved.
Now, I have to be honest and say that I had a hard time finding cons in this game, but I managed to put together a few.
I’m not going to say that you have to be a masochist to play this game because it is ridiculously hard. On the contrary, I believe this game is very well balanced. If you have enough patience you will succeed in conquering the game’s difficulty. The one aspect of the difficulty that might be considered as a legitimate complaint would be the frustration a player might encounter after dying over, and over, and over. ”Prepare to Die” is a very worthy slogan for the game. I’ve learned (as well as many others) to accept death as what the developers intended it to be– a functional teaching tool. If you can view death in this way, then it will become nothing more than a delay on your way to the ultimate goal.
–Lock On Camera–
Overall, the lock on function of the camera is very helpful, but I guarantee sometime throughout your exploits in Lordran, it will piss you off. I have witnessed (on more than one occasion) where the camera switches to a different target or gets in a weird position that causes you to make a mistake that gets you killed. It’s not a big complaint, but it can screw you over now and again.
As I’ve already stated, online gameplay in this game is awesome… when it works. Sometimes you will see “Summoning Failed” or “Invasion Failed” messages over and over. There have been times where I was able to stand in a normally high traffic area for more than 20 minutes and never once see a summon sign or be invaded, which is odd because there’s been days that I can’t stand idle for 30 seconds without being invaded. The online features are really unique and fun, which makes it even more of a shame that they don’t work more consistently. This is perhaps the most worthwhile complaint I can see a person having against the game.
–Conclusion and Final Verdict–
Aside from the few minor issues I have listed, Dark Souls is one hell of a good game. If there was a class on creating an RPG game, then this game should be included in the course’s syllabus for study. The game simply delivers one of the most addictive gaming experiences I’ve come across. I’ve sunk a little over 600 hours total into Dark Souls with different characters and I know for a fact that there are people who’ve invested double the amount of time I have. I consider this game to be a masterpiece in its own right and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a great action RPG and bewildering gaming experience.
Dark Souls Score: 9/10
Anyone interested in learning more about Dark Souls lore should check out EpicNameBro’s channel on youtube and search for Dark Souls Lore. http://www.youtube.com/user/EpicNameBro?feature=CAQQwRs%3D