Don’t trust the random messages!
The world of Dark Souls is littered with messages, little nuggets of information left behind by other players through the games online functionality. Whilst there was a certain amount of comfort to be taken from knowing other gamers has been where I was, it became apparent very early on that the scrawled messages, sometimes written in blood, simply cannot be trusted. Whereas sometimes they would offer warnings or words of encouragement, other times they would make suggestions that resulted in my death. It is partially my fault for being gullible and doing what they say. But I just didn’t expect them to be so blunt as to suggest that I jump off a cliff for nothing more than the pleasure of watching me fall to my doom. And when they suggest that you beat up the guy by the bonfire, you will know who I mean, don’t bother. He will kick your ass and then still be waiting to kick your ass again once you respawn. As a result of following this kindly offered advice, I found myself running away from him and straight into a bunch of Skeletons. It rapidly became like a Benny Hill sketch with my hero rather pathetically being chased around some ruins and a grave yard by the guy from the bonfire and an ever growing bunch of Skeletons. The thing is, should you eventually die, when you return they are all still pi**ed off!
Most games do come down to a matter of trust. As gamers we trust that the game will provide us with the right equipment for the job, we trust that we won’t be able to enter high level areas until we reach that high level, we trust that we won’t walk around a corner and be crushed by a boulder with no warning. We also trust that we won’t have to face a massive demon thing that can kill us with two hits as part of the “tutorial” area. Dark Souls cannot be trusted.
The game throws you in at the deep end and then sits back and laughs when you inevitably die over and over again. It calls you a wimp and declares that you are unfit to call yourself a gamer, having been softened by years of “normal” difficulty levels, magical barriers that stop you falling off cliffs and adversaries that crumble as soon as you breathe upon them. You think that games should be fun, an enjoyable romp through a fantasy land with little or no challenge because your character is hard as nails. Or at least that is what you may think had you never played Demon’s Souls.
But, much like it’s spiritual predecessor, Dark Souls is a badge of honour. It should be announced to everyone that you meet in the street that you play this game, even if you die a lot, because there is no shame in dying. It may seem that I am doing everything possible to put you off the game. I am not. I am just letting you know what you are facing, what you will have to go through when you play Dark Souls. It is difficult, but the feeling of achievement when you actually progress in the game, even from the earliest of stages, is enough to make you phone your parents and tell them they should be proud.
The environment and setting within Dark Souls only serves to strengthen the feelings of utter hopelessness. Visually, the game is stunning and does wonders to breathe life into this desolate high fantasy world. The caves, dark passageways and crumbling architecture through which you travel, although looking incredible and further adding to the atmosphere, pale in comparison to the creatures who want to do you harm. From the ghoulish grunts and skeletons, to the demons that appear to have crawled straight out of your nightmares and the Dragons – oh the Dragons. If they were not spending so much time causing your death, you could almost just stand and admire just how great they look.
But Dark souls is not all about the developer finding different ways to ensure your quick and, more often than not, painful death. There is actually a rather interesting story running through the game as well, although that may not be apparent at the beginning. The player’s character begins the game with the curse of the Undead and, as they slowly progress, will be treated to small hints of prophecies and the vaguest suggestions as to what might be going on and what the player has to do. Much like the rest of the game, the player is pretty much dropped in the deep end with little or no explanation and only two objectives – collect souls from the creatures they defeat, and survive. The reality is that the story never really manages to draw you in as much as it wants to, partly due to the amount of time spent grinding and dying, and partly because the story is revealed in vague snippets.
However, once you add to this the improved character creation process, which features a nice selection of character classes that play quite differently, and the tweaks made to the controls, making things feel a bit more fluid, what you are left with is an improvement over the original game in every aspect. Some even say that the game has been made easier, but I personally fail to see that.
The open world environment encourages players to explore, but in truth things are more linear than they same, with areas blocked by enemies that should only be faced once a certain level has been reached. Death comes quick and often in Dark Souls, but there is a light of hope in this dark fantasy setting. Bonfires can be found throughout the world that act as checkpoints of sorts, allowing the player to rest by their comforting warmth, spend their collected souls and even refill the ever-helpful Estus flasks that act as health potions. These bonfires act as your respawn point for the many times that you die. They are also a bit of a double-edged sword though, as activating a bonfire will respawn all of the enemies that you have fought so hard to get past.
Do you play games, or are you a gamer? If you can answer in all honesty that you are a gamer, then you may just have the right stuff required to take on Dark Souls. Otherwise, walking the Dark Souls path will lead to nothing but despair and devastation. This game is by no means suitable for everyone. But for those of you who have what it takes, the game will provide an unforgettable experience.
“Prepare to die” they say. Well, I say prepare to cry, both from frustration and pleasure in almost equal quantities.