PS3 Review – Dark Souls

Demon’s Souls was known as an unforgivingly difficult game, word of mouth spread about the game’s difficulty, making it a cult hit among video game masochists everywhere. It also helped to sell a fair amount of copies, which sparked From Software to produce a similar follow up. Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, is now available, providing tantalizing torture to anyone wanting a more difficult experience. However, Dark Souls isn’t just about being difficult, it’s also a deep RPG rivaling anything else in the genre.

From the very start of Dark Souls, it paints a grim picture. Your character is sitting in a cell waiting for the world to come to an end so he can “fade away”. The player is in a “hollowed” state; an undead ghost form of his former self. A mysterious stranger throws a dead body down into your cell with the key to free yourself. As far as story goes, that’s pretty much all there is to it. For those that want it, there is still plenty of lore to be found by talking to NPCs and the dialogue between the player and NPCs fits the atmosphere of the game well.

It’s easy to tell that the NPCs are either on the verge of giving up and committing suicide or going insane. When characters talk, they either talk very slowly as if they don’t have the energy to go on, or they sound really excited when they talk and then cackle to themselves. The amount of dialogue in the game is impressive, as well. Returning to talk to NPCs will yield new dialogue most of the time. Story usually isn’t important in a game like Dark Souls, but discovering the little bits and pieces really builds on the experience it provides.

Dark Souls, as the name suggests, is all about the souls. Throughout the game, players will accumulate a lot of souls from killing demons. Souls serve as your experience points for leveling up and as currency for buying new items and weapons. Humanity–also very important–is picked up throughout the game and can either be dropped by enemies or can be gained by fighting off hostile invaders. If a player dies, they will lose all the souls and humanity on them. To get the souls and humanity back, the player will have to fight their way back to the location where they died and touch a bloodstain marker. If players die before getting back there, then they lose all the souls and humanity, though any acquired items will be kept. Sometimes it is worth it to rush into a dangerous area knowing you will die, just so you can grab an item.

The combat in Dark Souls is deeper and more complex than most other games and far outshines Demon’s Souls. Dark Souls isn’t the type of game where you can run up to an enemy and smash the attack button until one of you dies. Every single enemy is a threat and can easily kill the player if you don’t pay attention. Players must learn the moves of the enemy, and then exploit their weakness by making sure they block and dodge at the right time and attack only when the enemy is the most vulnerable. Because combat is so tactical, Dark Souls is a game where stamina and patience are key. Dark Souls may be a brutal game, but its fair. Every time you die, you know its because you made a mistake. You either dodged at the wrong time, tried to heal in an unsafe spot, or got too hasty with your attacks. Whatever your mistake was, the player is aware of it and can go back to the same enemy, correct their mistakes, and win. When you succeed you know its because you had the skill necessary to win. There is no luck in Dark Souls, you either have the ability to defeat the enemies, or you don’t. The feeling of accomplishment that you get as you progress through the game and defeat harder and harder enemies is a feeling not seen in very many other games, simply because the player is getting immediate feedback that they are getting more skilled at the game.

The enemy diversity is a lot better than in Demon’s Souls. Demon’s Souls had five worlds and each had only a few enemy types. In Dark Souls, there is a much wider diversity of enemies. There are also more mini-bosses scattered throughout the game; these are bigger and stronger enemies that do not respawn after they are killed. When players are walking around the world, they can turn a corner and be face to face with a giant knight with a stone club, or a chef wielding a meat cleaver, or even a giant armored boar. Bosses also have a nice variety to them with the player fighting giant butterflies, half-woman-half-spider monsters, and valiant knights. The boss battle arenas also have a nice variety to them, with some boss battles being fought on narrow bridges, others being fought in very small rooms, and others taking place in large caverns.

The loot system in the game is what makes Dark Souls one of those games where you can invest dozens of hours. If a player is having a hard time beating a level, he can boost his damage by increasing his stats, but the player will be getting diminished returns with each level. Instead, the player could find a good weapon and upgrade it, which is a much more viable option. The game does a great job of putting good weapons and items in hard to reach places, so the player is encouraged to explore the levels looking for better weapons and armor. There will be circumstances where a player will be having a hard time beating a level, decide to do some exploring in an earlier part of the level, and end up finding a giant battle axe that tears through the enemies like paper. There is nothing more rewarding than when your exploration yields such great weapons, and the feeling is even better when you use those weapons in multiplayer.

Multiplayer is absolutely amazing in Dark Souls. Outside of fighting games, it is the only game that will allow two people to fight each other to determine who is the more skilled fighter. Fighting enemies is fun, but to duel with another gamer for 30 minutes is a blast whether you win or lose, because even if you lose, you might learn a new weapon combination that you hadn’t thought of before. Most likely, your opponents will be using the best weapons, so that is just another incentive for players to search for better weapons. Co-op play is great because it serves as an option for gamers who get stuck in a level. Enemies don’t scale with the number of co-op players, so inviting a few other players into your game will make beating the level much easier.

Dark Souls introduces a new covenant system that adds a lot of personality to the online play. In Demon’s Souls, players could differentiate themselves only by the armor they wore and the weapons they used. Covenants give unique weapons and abilities to its members, which allow members to be a lot more individual. The Covenant system also tasks some players to invade others as much as possible, and others to hunt down those invaders. This makes the players in Dark Souls feel a lot more connected. As opposed to Demon’s Souls, where a single individual invaded another, in Dark Souls, your actions could get an entire group of players hunting for you.

Dark Souls has a problem with not explaining the game to players. Unless you are reading online strategy guides, you are going to have no idea how most of the mechanics work. Some mechanics eventually get explained by NPC’s but there is no reason why the developers should make players use a mechanic for hours before explaining it to them. The game also doesn’t explain where the player should go. There are plenty of locked doors leading to new areas, and the player will accumulate keys throughout their playthrough. The player will have a hard time matching up keys to their corresponding door, and the maze-like layout of levels will cause the player to get lost many times.

Dark Souls is a worthy successor to the legacy left by Demon’s Souls. Not only has From Software given fans what they wanted, such as more weapons and spells, but they have also added a new faction system that goes above and beyond the scope of Demon’s Souls. As a single player game, Dark Souls presents a tight and polished experience with the player constantly chasing that new piece of loot, or that next soul level, or the next boss battle. The enhancement of multiplayer by including the covenant system is a huge boost to the enjoyment of the game. Demon’s Souls‘ servers may still be going strong two years after release, but however long they do last, I’d bet Dark Souls‘ servers will certainly last much longer.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Deep, Immersive Combat

+ Great Environment and Enemy Design

+ Multiplayer Will Suck Dozens of Hours From Your Life

9 out of 10