…And In The Darkness Bind Them
Dark Souls is an amazing game, no doubt, but that doesn't mean it has NO flaws. There are a pair of small issues the bugged me throughout the game. The first is the few occasions of slowdown that occur. The most egregious occurs when you are in the swamps of Blighttown, where at times the framerate will drop to the single digits, invariably when you are heavily engaged with numerous poisoning enemies. It happens in a few other spots as well, and while it is by no means a prevalent issue, when it does strike it's very inconvenient. In a game where precise timing and movement can be crucial in a situation, losing that ability is the height of frustration.
The other issue will hopefully be rectified by some simple patching. Right now it seems much more barren and lonely in Lodran than it was in Boleteria. Invasions are far less frequent, and finding someone to summon can take far longer than you'd think. I had expected to see the floors littered with summon signs as I ran around, but you won't usually find more than one or two by a bonfire, and more often than not when you try to summon them, it fails for some arcane reason. Even trying to be summoned myself, it would sometimes take upwards of 30 minutes before I got the call. There are also very few ghosts or bloodstains to be found scattered through the world. I haven't seen a definitive answer, but the scuttlebutt is that connections are only made with people physically located nearby to you, thus limiting your pool if you play during off-hours. I'm not positive that is true, but for whatever reason, it seems there is a disconnect someplace.
Don't let a single bit of that detract from what I am saying though. It's very hard to paint Dark Souls as a game for every gamer. If you don't have the time or patience for it, you'll likely want to drop it after dying 100 times before getting anywhere. But for anyone who can push past that first hump, this is one of the best games ever made. I don't make statements like that lightly, yet I can't think of any game with a more rewarding combat system, a more immersive world, and a more unique implementation of online play. FROM Software has crafted up a veritable masterpiece, letting you explore a land that actively rewards you for poking your head into new places. There are entire vast worlds hidden away at every turn, and the fantastic messaging system means that if you pay attention some kind soul out there will provide you the clues to find it. You might spend 10 or more minutes fighting an individual enemy, but when you expertly land the final killing blow there will be no greater sense of satisfaction. No moment of Dark Souls feels wasted, and you can experience hundreds of hours of those moments before you finish. Full disclosure… I still haven't quite beaten the game, as the final area is so tough that I needed to take a step back and wait before tackling it, but I HAVE seen every area the game has to offer and spent close to 70 hours playing already. Even though I am taking a break, I still cannot wait to jump back in, finish the game and start right back over with a whole new build.
The latter months of 2011 promise to deliver an awful lot of amazing gaming on top of the decent haul that we've already seen. It might be a bit premature to start talking about Game of the Year candidates, but when I can already look at Dark Souls as a potential Game of ALL TIME, it tells you that the competition will really have to deliver to knock this one of its perch.