Raith's Dark Souls Review
(I can modify this as an actual review for the review section if it's wanted, just PM me)
This game is so hard to properly illustrate the complexities of so I'm going to give my score first, which is 9.5/10. It's important to know first and foremost that this is a classically great game, because the abject brutality of its first impressions could easily turn someone away before they had a chance to realize exactly what it was they were playing.
Now this one is going to be a tough write-up because Dark Souls is very unconventional and difficult to compare to other games(apart from it's predecessor, the awkwardly named, and I suspect poorly translated Demon's Souls), so I will do my very best to describe it without generating a vast wall of text in the process. The game has a pretty standard RPG framework, there are character types, they have stats and what the stats do is reasonably well explained (unlike the first game).
The graphics are good, but the consoles are really starting to show their age now. As I high end PC user I cringe somewhat at the low rez environment textures, but I suspect those have been intentionally sacrificed to allow for the far more detailed character models.Even more impressive is the wonderfully organic way the models are animated; weight and momentum are meticulously illustrated and characters flow from one action to another with striking realism.
I chose the Knight class because it seems well rounded and a good baseline to start the game on; that and the ultra-classic suit of gothic plate armor you start with looks absolutely bad-assed. The game starts with very little exposition and away I go making my way through the starting area. The game is third person with a free camera, and the combat system is ultra-precise and incredibly complex. Every action depletes stamina, which needs to be managed carefully. Over-exert yourself with a flurry of blows and you risk leaving yourself with too little strength to block the counterattack. Weapons themselves have their own collision detection so if you swing a sword it will damage exactly what it hits, or clang uselessly off the wall if there isn't room for the particular swing you tried to perform. You never get hit because the game decided that an enemy at appropriate range attacked while you weren't blocking, if that spear missed you then it missed you.
I hack past the few beginning enemies with relative ease and just as I’m beginning to think they toned the game down a bit from the first one I run into the first boss; it’s massive, and it wields an axe the size of my character. The axe comes my way so I hold out my shield to block it. The shield deflects some of the damage but the force of the impact devastates my stamina bar and sends my poor guy sprawling on the floor. While I struggle to get back up the axe comes down again and kills me in one hit.
The gamer in me protests: “What the hell that’s so cheap I was knocked down I couldn’t avoid that!”. But then I realize, that gamer is weak. ‘That’ gamer has grown to rely on games holding my hand, moments of invulnerability after you get hit, or bosses that politely wait until you get back up before they resume attacking you. Dark Souls strips that all away and challenges you to succeed without any gimmicks, just the cold determination of knowing that if something looks like it would kill you in one hit, it probably can, and damn-it you are going to go over there and fight it anyway.
There’s multiplayer too, of sorts. It isn’t a discrete mode that you select, it’s just woven subtly into the game. The game world is huge and seamless, with no instanced areas or load zones, but each player’s world is their own. However, the worlds of other players have ways of bleeding through to yours in various ways. For instance, if you pass near somebody in another world you’ll see a glimmer of their character for an instant; you might even have time to wave at each other across the void before they fade away. If someone dies they leave a blood stain that sometimes appears in other peoples worlds, if you interact with this mark then you can watch the last few seconds of that characters life and potentially gain an insight into what killed them, and how to avoid it happening to you. You can also write short messages and mark them on the ground with a rune that appears in other worlds for people to read.
You can engage directly with other players but to do so you need to be ‘alive’, which requires the consumption of a very rare resource in the game. The base state for all players is to be undead (you even look like a corpse), but if you find and consume ‘humanity’ you can kick the game into ultra risky mode and take human form. When you are alive you can summon (consenting) players into your world to team up and take on tough obstacles. You can also invade the worlds of other living players and try and defeat them to steal their experience points and life force. But if you die in human form you come back as undead and the humanity you consumed to revive is lost.
This is definitely a single player game, but the interwoven multiplayer elements make it feel like a shared experience.
In summary, as you would expect from a 9.5 I don’t have too many con’s, but I should list a few. The most important one is that this game cannot be played casually, it’s all or nothing. You’ve got to work the ultra-precise combat controls all the way into your fingers if you want to succeed, if you press a wrong key and accidentally make your character do something dumb the game will make you pay, harshly. Also on the controls, although you can use ranged magic and bows and things, the precision of the controls doesn’t translate nearly as well to it and it feels very clunky in comparison. Ironically, there is an increasing online library of strategies people have developed to exploit/glitch past difficult bits in the game using the clunky ranged system, and that’s resulted in a swath of players trying to play the game that way and in doing so stripping it of its greatest elements (hard as a boss may be, glitching into a tree and firing 5000 arrows at it to kill it can’t be that much fun). On the bright side, these noobs are really easy to kill if you invade their world.
I would have taken an entire point off if there were any platforming sections in the game because the otherwise wonderful simulation of velocity and weight makes it rather easy to slide off edges. Luckily, you are never required to do any really squirrelly platforming, but the game often holds out bonus loot for players willing to risk it.
Lets see if I can break down exactly why this game is so good: We play games because (broadly) they are fun and satisfying, and in a large part the degree of that fun and satisfaction is derived from being challenged, and overcoming that challenge. Without challenge there is no satisfaction, just idle distraction, like watching the latest Michael Bay video game movie remake. Dark Souls can be more fun and satisfying than any game you've ever played 'because' it's more challenging than any game you've ever played.
I’ll wrap this up with a food metaphor: If fun is a meal, then playing Minesweeper would be like finding an old mint behind your computer screen; it's there, its free, its quick, but you could hardly call it satisfying. Playing the Call of Duty modern warfare campaign would be like ordering a pizza; it's nice and it fills you up, but you're just enjoying something someone else made, and it'll be exactly the same next time. A good RPG like Dragon Age is like a nice home cooked meal, it's full of your own personality, there was a risk you could have made it badly, so the fact that it turned out great makes it all the more satisfying.
Dark Souls is like gearing up for a hike, planning your route, trekking up an increasingly treacherous mountain for a week, finally encountering a massive bear at the top, besting it in combat with your bare hands and consuming its heart while you roar at the sky in defiant victory of the insane odds you have beaten. That is the meal Dark Souls offers, but you have to scale that mountain and wrestle that bear if you want it.
Last edited by Raith; 12th October 2011 at 02:36 PM.