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Posted by Raine Hutchens on Oct 21, 2011

Review – Dark Souls (Xbox 360)

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Product Information

MSRP: $59.99
Publisher: Namco Bandai Developer: FromSoftware
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3 Rating: M for Mature
Genre: Action/RPG

Dark Souls released just over a couple of weeks ago, and for that past time I’ve been hacking away at its ankles with a steady pace. As a fan of Demon’s Souls, the game’s previous “soul” predecessor, this was one title I couldn’t miss. As an RPG that’s been marketed as the toughest game you’ll ever love to play, Dark Souls had me from the start. I’ve managed to best many tough enemies, and my death toll has climbed ever since I pressed start. In the ashes of my wake lies a review, so let’s get to it.

Visuals and Presentation

Dark Souls starts out with the character you’ve created waking in a dungeon cell. The future is looking grim, and a melancholy feeling fills the air. Overhead, light pours in from a grated opening in the ceiling wall. Like some kind of fairy tale, a knight in shining armor drops a key through the grate, granting you freedom.

You see, you start off the game as an undead – a living, but not living creature with the ability to cheat death and return to the world at a lit bonfire within the area. Moving through the starting area, which serves as a tutorial level, you eventually stumble on cinematic that explains the game’s true nature.

A prophecy was foretold that one day, an undead would rise up and lead a pilgrimage to fruition. This chosen one would set free the undead from their blight, which is known as “hollowing.” Of course, in true RPG style, the chosen one if none other than the character you created.

After the cinematic you’re dropped off at a new dungeon known as the Firelink Shrine. From here all of the mechanics of the game come together and you’re fully on your own. It’s from this point that you see that you make your own way through the game. The main objective is to fulfill the prophecy by ringing two bells, each placed in complete opposite directions from one another.

After this point in the game, you’ll meet NPCs that will each have their own story to tell, but the actual storyline seems to thin out. It basically becomes a fight for survival until the end of the game. With your objectives in front of you, the only part of the story that’s in the way is in the form of enemies and bosses to cut down. This was a bit unexpected, and seemed to take away from the elements true to the game. In the same hand, however, the game’s difficulty is such that you become more focused with surviving the journey around each corner than just about anything else, which makes the game become a story in itself.

In terms of presentation through visuals, Dark Souls surpasses the mark. This game is simply beautiful, from each new visage on the horizon to every slash of the sword looks great from beginning to end. Though the enemy animations look similar throughout the game, the bosses are detailed and menacing. If there were ever enemies that are created to terrorize players, these are it. Each new boss has its own personality and structure, making each new encounter something worthwhile to see. In a game where death is most certain, knowing that you’ll be revisiting areas many times over can help you appreciate the visuals even more.

 Gameplay and Features

Dark Souls challenges players not only in skill, but in cognitive thinking. If you make a mistake, you’ll pay for it. Knowing that death is imminent, you’ll quickly find yourself memorizing tactics, making better use of your equipment, and changing strategies often.

As an RPG, the game offers players a variety of classes to choose from in a character creation system. Each class has its own perks and weaknesses, and you’ll need to know exactly how you plan to approach the game when putting a name and face to your avatar. Some of the classes include Knight, Wanderer, and Pyromancer. I first started off as the Wanderer, but I quickly came to understand that it wasn’t the best class to choose as a new player to the game.

The Wanderer is a class that’s pretty well-rounded from the beginning, with no spells at its disposal. You’ll basically have to use your brute strength to take down enemies and carefully place your stat points when leveling to ensure survival. Dark Souls offers a leveling system that is simple, yet deep. In order to increase your stat points you’ll need to spend souls that are harvested from fallen enemies on the battlefield. Once you ignite a bonfire (which is also where you repair weapons, attune spells, and reverse the hollowing making you undead), you can level up from the bonfire menu. Depending on the amount of souls you’ve collected, you can choose a number of your stat points to increase. Each class has its own core stats, and making the choice will depend on how you want to build your class. For each stat point you raise, you’ll gain one level.

Also retaining to the RPG genre, there are many different pieces of equipment you can obtain throughout your journey. The inventory system is what’s unique in the aspect of how it’s presented to players. In Dark Souls, there is no pause screen. Whenever you enter the inventory screen, everything in the game continues to happen in real time. You’ll hit the shoulder buttons to cycle through the menus from items to equipment, and handle acting with the items from a singular menu. All of your items are managed by given equipment load, and you can equip items to certain slots for protection. You’ll have each hand, arrow slots for bows, a head slot, chest slot, legs slot, and rings slot. You’ll also be able to equip battle-ready items for easy access when needed.

Each of your items has a resilience rating, and over time they will need to be repaired. As you use your shields and weapons, they will start to break. By finding repair powders equipment can be fixed, as using broken items will only result in quickened death.

As for general gameplay, Dark Souls takes the hack-and-slash type of title and throws in RPG elements that add depth. At the core, you’ll be slashing through enemies while using shields and techniques for defense. Outwitting enemies, and even more so – bosses, will become top priority during your run through the game. Though you’ll find yourself repeating areas over and over again by defeating the same enemies (as they all respawn when you touch a bonfire, which also refills your health), it still remains fun and interesting.

With that being said, there is a lot of room for frustration with this game. As with the marketing plot and plenty of people’s testimonies, Dark Souls is very hard. I don’t think there’s a word to describe this level of difficulty, but if there were it would include the word “ragequit.” While playing through the various areas in the game it’s all too easy to become cornered and outnumbered, making the odds for survival slim to none. The enemies in Dark Souls are ruthless, making sure to attack in full force. If you manage to make it through the attack of the first enemy, chances are you won’t make it through the second. With numerous attacks busting your shield, it’s only a matter of time before your defenses are shot and your life bar drops to zero.

Multiplayer and online interactions come in the form of written messages in the world, and the ability to see others’ mistakes through bloodstains. Using a special item, you can write a message which will glow orange on the ground. Doing this, you can alert other players from oncoming danger, imminent treasure, or just for simple trolling. You can also rate other messages, ensuring whether they disappear or stay in the world. As for bloodstains, these provide interactions for players that show a visual representations of how other players died in the world. Maybe they were taken out by a firebomb? Perhaps they fell off a cliff? Touching these bloodstains will show things to be aware of, and break up the monotony of slashing through the same undead enemies. This feature alone makes Dark Souls unique.

Making mistakes means certain death while adventuring in Dark Souls. If you underestimate an enemy, drop your guard too soon, or swing a second too late you’ll be met with swift darkness and lifelessness. This was the biggest issue with the game, which isn’t really a problem with the game. FromSoftware told us from the beginning that Dark Souls would be no walk in the park, and it surely isn’t.

Conclusion

Despite the game’s intense difficulty and the small lack in storyline, Dark Souls is an amazing game. I have had a lot of fun playing through it, and I’ve still got plenty to go through before I am done. With amazing visuals, compelling gameplay, and difficulty that will keep you playing for plenty of hours on end, Dark Souls is the perfect title for any hardcore gamer, or RPG fan out there who’s looking for a challenge. The bottom line: prepare to die a lot, with a smile on your face each time you come back.

The Good

  • fun and interactive gameplay
  • rewarding leveling system
  • amazing visuals
  • compelling game mechanics make continuous play enjoyable

The Bad

  • frustrating and difficult gameplay can shy away players
  • thin storyline
  • steep learning curve

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