Dark Souls is the menacing spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, the action RPG from Namco Bandai that managed to reduce so many players to tears with its relentless difficulty. Dark Souls takes the player on a sinister journey where players will face all manner of monsters in an experience that feels very familiar to Demon’s Souls. However, this time the world is more open and more available for exploration, whilst promising to be even harder than the first game.
Dark Souls is also gifted with a deeper and more focused story. The player has been stricken by the curse of undead and abolished to the northern realms. The seemingly simple goal that the player then has is to collect souls and find the Eternal Flame of Life, which is losing its light, to survive and cure the curse of undead. However, in a game such as this, nothing is that simple.
With a much more expansive character creation process, I was able to create my hero whilst spending some hands on time with the game, before being cast out into my dark existence. I soon found myself wandering around a desolate tower, filled with discarded bodies and zombies that left me with an overwhelming feeling of despair. As I moved around each corner, the atmosphere was such that I was fully expecting, and dreading, something leaping out of the darkness and trying to end my quest and my life. The hostile tower in which I wandered apprehensively was filled with dark passageways and pits that threatened me with zombies, skeletons and undead trolls. Thankfully, the game prepares you early on with battle scenes that will have you swaying your sword back and forth relentlessly in an effort to stay alive. Some of the areas that I came across could not be entered without a key, which left me searching the dead bodies of fallen foes and chests.
Once you’ve managed to kill and enemy, they fall to a pile on the ground. It’s here that you can pillage their body for some treasures they may have been carrying and collect a soul of the undead for your quest. The controls are fairly straightforward as I Swing my sword with the right shoulder button and us the left shoulder button to bring up my shield in defence. Spells, jumping and interaction are all assigned to the face button, whilst the L1 and R1 buttons allowed me to reach a quick access inventory. The main inventory can be found by pressing the select button, for PS3 at least and allowed me to keep an eye on basic information such as level, souls, humanity, faith and other important stats.
To be honest, staying alive for more than five minutes within the beginning of the game was a learning curve. At times when my life was slowly seeping away, I was able to use a Estus flask, which quickly replaced my health points. It was only through trial and error that I managed to survive long enough to make it through the dark tower and descend a long stone staircase that clung from this seamlessly ancient building to the grasslands below. Looking down to the ground, an army of undead soldiers waited for my arrival, leaving me with the worrying feeling that I would soon, once again, be slaughtered and have my body thrown from a cliff.
It was amazing how many times monsters would leap out of nowhere and leave me with a choice to fight or flee for my life. Throughout the game there are opportunities to set up camp by one of the bonfires that are scattered sparsely around the world. These bonfires are generally a good place to heal and prepare for the next part of the journey, but also provide a place to level up amongst other things. During the journey, it was possible to see messages from adventurers who had perished leaving notes from their ghosts and forewarning about the perils and traps that may be ahead.
My time with Dark Souls was coming to an end, but I managed to find enough time to quickly head into some kind of elevator and head down to what appeared to be an underground lake. I made my way to the water, only to be faced with ghostly apparitions that ended my life with ease. These creatures were far beyond my characters current level and will be something that I look forward to facing, with more than just a little bit of dread, when the game comes out in early October.
The game feels fluid and looks set to be an incredible RPG adventure. The storyline is immersive and the legendary battles are visually stunning. Once again, the real challenge will be simply staying alive, albeit this time in an open world environment which is an absolute pleasure to explore. Watch out for the game in October on PS3 and Xbox360, and prove to the world that you have what it takes to face Dark Souls and come away with your sanity intact.