Dark Souls

…And In The Darkness Bind Them

Is Dark Souls the One Game to rule them all?
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: October 22, 2011
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[Note: I'll be doing a lot of comparisons to Demon's Souls in this review. If you aren't familiar with that game (you should be!) I'd advise skimming our review of Demon's Souls before reading on.]

If you're like me, that is to say... a more experienced gamer, then you've probably noticed that video games have gotten decidedly easier and more forgiving over the last decade or so. I suppose it was inevitable as video games expanded to a greater audience and core gamers got older and had less time and patience for them. They've also tended to get shorter (which goes hand in hand with them getting easier, since you don't replay the same parts over and over), with most AAA action titles checking in under fifteen or even ten hours on a regular basis. That's not to say there is anything wrong with that; I'm a 30-something guy with kids and a job and don't have the time I used to have to sink into games, so shorter can be nicer. However, I do occasionally yearn for that challenging experience that can't be solved by a FAQ page and requires me to invest real time into figuring out the system, such as Shadow of the Colossus. Thankfully, FROM Software hasn't forgotten what people like me want, and their last generation King's Field games and 2009 surprise hit Demon's Souls bring back those bad old days with serious hardcore gaming. Does their latest venture Dark Souls continue the tradition?

Billed as a "spiritual successor" to Demon's Souls and not a sequel, you'd be forgiven if you thought it was the latter, as the world of Lordran isn't too far removed from the first game's Boleteria. Both are steeped in Dark Fantasy and crumbling stone walls, with a bestiary of horrific creatures. Much like its predecessor, Dark Souls doesn't put a lot of time into storytelling. You might see a brief cutscene every 10 hours or so, and you'll get some occasional pertinent dialogue as you speak with NPCs, but by and large the story is told by looking around you at the environments and attitudes of your enemies, who you will be fighting an awful lot of. It's sort of like the polar opposite of a Hideo Kojima game.

Regardless of whether you start as a Warrior, Knight, Sorcerer or Wanderer (and it doesn't matter much which you choose… after a short time all characters can become whatever you want) you'll find yourself in a brief tutorial section that is the first of many callbacks to Demon's Souls, right down to the seemingly unbeatable tutorial boss that rewards those with enough persistence to somehow beat it. Once through that, you'll find yourself in Lordran proper, and you'll first see the huge difference between Dark Souls and Demon's Souls. Gone is the hub world connecting to 5 other loosely intertwined areas that must be approached piecemeal. Instead, you'll find yourself in Firelink Shrine, a ruined temple at the base of a mountain with paths shooting off in all directions. If you have the cojones you can waltz off any which way you please, although most likely the majority of the paths will lead to your quick demise. Even the "easy" path will probably kill you more times that you'll care to count, and your general thought process should be "this way kills me instantly; I probably shouldn't go there yet. This other way lets me make a small amount of progress before killing me; this must be the right way".
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