Dark Souls is an action role-playing game developed by From Software and published by Bandai. It was released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2011 and became available for the PC one year later. And because of its theme including soul stealing, undead and a difficulty setting that has left gamers screaming in horror, I thought Dark Souls would be the perfect way to begin this year's Halloween Month. So without further ado let's dive into the Xbox 360 port of Dark Souls.
And the game really does just let you dive
right in. The main menu only has a “new game” menu until you have an established save so you can continue where you left off later. After setting the brightness you can get to work on making your character. Classes in the game include Warrior, Knight, Wanderer, Thief, Bandit, Hunter, Sorcerer, Pyromancer, Cleric and Deprived. Each class of course comes with its own specialty. The Warrior and Knight classes are good at close-range combat, with the Warrior being a weapons expert with high strength and dexterity and the Knight having more health and armor.
The Wanderer possesses high dexterity and wields a scimitar. Thief has a Master Key to get past locks but have a higher chance of taking critical hits from enemies. Bandits are savages that have high strength and wields a battle axe. Hunters are your bow-wielders that can hold their own both up close and at a range, however get hit by too much magic and they're done for. Speaking of magic, you can also play a Sorcerer which may be ideal if you're not too into close- range combat. Pyromancer have a similar advantage with fire and also uses a hand axe. Cleric are healers who are best with a mace and if you really want to test your luck you can be a Deprived who are unclothed and only equipment is a club and an old plank shield.
Your character creation has all your basic options: name, gender, physique, face, hair, color (for hair and eyes) and physical appearance. You can also equip your character with a gift, a special item that has a set special effect that you keep throughout the course of the game. Note that regardless of how many hours you spend customizing your character know that you'll be spending a large amount of time looking like moon turds. An undead piece of moon turds to boot. Your character will look exactly how you'll feel after spending some time playing. Since learning the controls is a very important first step to survival let's review,Controls:
You move with the left control stick and move the camera with the right. Move the left stick while holding down B to dash. Attack/cast magic with the RB button and deliver stronger attacks with the RT button. You can guard with the LB button and parry with the LT button. These are also used for dual weapons. To lock onto an enemy target click on the right control stick. Backstep to dodge with the B button and tapping it while moving with the left stick to perform a roll.
The A button will allow you to interact with the world, from opening and closing doors, picking up fallen items and talking with friendly NPCs, let A be your guide. You can change your available equipment at any time with the directional buttons on your controller and press start to open up the start menu in order to go through your inventory, equipment, stats and the system menu.
Right away the game tells you just what kind of game it's going to be (if the “Prepare to die” in English and Spanish on the back of the cover didn't tip you off) by starting you off in a prison cell with nothing but the clothes on your back and a broken sword. As if to say, “Yeah, try to make it with a broken sword, asshole!”
On the top left side of your screen you have your Humanity Meter, HP Gauge and Stamina Gauge. Humanity is counted by the numbers next to health and stamina. When taking damage, and believe me you will
take damage, you can replenish health by resting at a bonfire or through using specific items and spells. Stamina decreases whenever you take a hit (even if it's blocked), dodge and attack. Stamina will recover on its own and can recover faster if you lower your shield. No stamina means no evading or attacking.
A status icon will appear when your character's status changes like if they're poisoned or cursed by an enemy. At the bottom left part of your screen you'll see four slots, these are for your equipment: weapons, armor, magic and items from your inventory. And across from that is another set of numbers that indicate how many souls you've collected. Each time you slay an enemy your soul counter goes up and this is what you use in order to level up your character and increase their stats.
You'll encounter various bonfires throughout the course of the game, these act as your save points as well as where you can level up, regain lost humanity, refill the Estus Flask that is used to replenish health and remove negative changes to your status. Do note that every time you use it any enemies you've slain up to that point will respawn. Whenever you see the infamous “You Died” in red letters appear on your screen in classic Resident Evil fashion, you're dead. The game likes to hammer in this fact and taunt you. Every time you die any humanity and souls number you racked up is instantly loss and of course the enemies in your area respawn to fight you again. That isn't necessarily a bad thing as you can get those souls back by killing the enemies again and collect the humanity and souls you've loss back at the area where you died via your bloodstain so you end up with even more souls than you had before.
Your character is considered living when they have humanity, should that humanity be loss your character will be classified as an undead. When undead you can use a bonfire to revert yourself back to the land of the living, while living you can sacrifice your humanity to strengthen the bonfire. The higher the humanity the more your character will start to look as you made them at the beginning.
The main reason this game stands out among the rest is due to the nature of the gaming industry in this time and place, whether that was something the developers were intentionally going for is unclear, but nevertheless it serves the game well. A lot of video games these days will guide you by the hand and has been made easier through time to lure in more people to buy and play video games. Back in the days of 8 and 16 bit video games on Nintendo and Sega, a game like this would have been considered the norm. Only, it's not as self-explanatory as those games were and it's going to be on blind luck whether or not you do something, or find something, that the game wants you to do or find.
And while those older games started off easy and the difficulty gradually increased as you progressed further and further (except the games that was just difficult from the start and stayed that way, I'm looking at you Battletoads!) this game is the poplar opposite. It starts out extremely difficult, depending on what kind of gamer you are, and becomes easier and easier the more you play and memorize maps, enemy attack patterns and positions. When it all comes down to it, Dark Souls is a game of memorization and strategy. You can't just run from battle to battle hacking and slashing multiple enemies and expect to get anywhere, no, you have to practice patience and know exactly where, when and how your enemies are going to hit you and only hit them back when there's an opening. If you're not good at memorization...
The battle system can be fun. It decides to go a more realistic route in the sense that instead of hitting some complex combo you have a quick, but weaker, melee attack and a stronger strike that takes up more stamina. You also need to be sure to use your shield to block strikes, dodge at the right time or just learn to parry. Some fights can be drawn out because of this if both you and your opponent has their shield up and you're waiting for the enemy to strike to leave an opening. This doesn't include range weapons like bow and arrows, magic or bombs that you can collect and throw at enemies. If you have the patience for it it can be fun and even rewarding, otherwise it's going to get old real quick. But I wouldn't advise playing this game period if you don't have the patience for it.
In a rather bold, or idiotic depending on your stance, the game chooses to forfeit heavy storytelling and character development in place of expanding the lore through limited cut- scenes and conversations you have with other NPCs. The reasoning for this is to allow the player to use his or hers imagination to fill in the blanks. Once again this is reminiscent to the old days where you had to use your imagination, assuming you cared enough in the first place, to piece together a game's plot and what the characters were like because back then technology was more limited and they couldn't cover all the vast areas they can now with games in terms of overall storytelling and character development. This time the technology is there, but the developers choose not to utilize it to encourage imagination. I think that's a great thing, however with the increasing demand of more story and better characterization this is something I just don't see catching on with a lot of people.Cons:
There are several bugs and glitches in the game that can be exploited by you to get a cheap advantage over enemies, or exploited by the game itself to kill you. The bugs in this game don't discriminate. You could just be minding your own business killing bad guys and then BANG! Camera spazzes on you and you're dead. The blocking doesn't always want to work with you and then there's the more rare, but extremely frustrating, falling directly through the floor beneath your feet to your death! Yeah, good luck getting your bloodstain back from that one.
We have guards stuck in walls, guards walking into walls, enemies replenishing their health while they're in front of you leaving themselves wide open (not sure if bug or archer was just stupid) and enemies following you off of ledges when giving chase. Talk about being persistent. You can also trick certain bosses into falling off ledges like the Taurus Demon and even the dragon that blocks your path on the bridge.
That's right, a full grown dragon that you see fly through the air will momentarily forget how to fly long enough to fall to his death.
The game doesn't have a pause function. Even when you're cycling through the start menu, equipment and game options the game is still active. Meaning that unless you're somewhere safe where there aren't any enemies around you can still be attacked and you won't be able to defend yourself until you exit the start menu. Because, you know, heaven forbid you have to use the bathroom, answer the phone or anything else while you're in the middle of a fight. I guess they were trying to add to the game's overall difficulty, but there's just no need for it. Being able to pause the game isn't going to take away from the fun or the challenge in the game and even Ninja Gaiden lets you go to the bathroom.Conclusion:
I appreciate what Dark Souls tries to do in the gaming industry, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It's reminiscent of those older, more difficult games like Ninja Gaiden, Battletoads, Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Karate Kid, etc. etc. But it doesn't always achieve this due to the design and the difficulty coming more from the ability, or lack thereof, of the player, annoying glitches and not being self-explanatory where it should be. Had this game came out in the 80's, 90's or any time before the, “I get it” era where games hold you by the hand because they assume you're as dumb as a bag of bricks, this game would be in better company and probably wouldn't stand out as much as it does now.
If you're tired of what the market has generated as “the norm” when it comes to gaming and are looking for a game that demands patience and that you actually use your brain and rewards you for both, then I would recommend Dark Souls. If you're more of a casual gamer or picky about certain things being set up where the only way you'd figure them out is word of mouth, the Internet, dumb luck, then I'd recommend getting something else.Final Score: