“Seriously!?!” That was the first thought that echoed through my head as I began my journey through the underworld in FromSoftware’s newest next-gen punishment-dealer, Dark Souls. A spiritual successor to 2009’s critically acclaimed Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls once again finds you as a recently deceased warrior/knight/rogue/wizard/naked dude with a wooden plank who is on a horrendous journey through purgatory to kill dragons and do… stuff.
Dark Souls starts you out in a well rounded character creation lobby. A full host of sliders exist to change everything about your characters colors to their height and build. From there you are tasked with choosing your character class and starting gifts. Class mostly determines some of your starting weapon choices and stat levels and gifts are a minor perk that sticks with you throughout the game. Once you have built your character, the real fun begins.
You wake up to find yourself in a dungeon for the undead. You are given a key to your cell by a mysterious benefactor and sent into the world proper. You’re given a broken sword, a wooden shield, no direction whatsoever and are left to fend for yourself.
“Enjoy your broken gear. Go f**k yourself.”
Make no mistake, that seems to be the true sentiment FromSoftware wants to impart on you. You will die. You will die a lot. You will die in horrible ways. There is no way around that simple fact. There is no difficulty setting to change if the game gets too tough. There are no hints to guide you on your way and barely even a story to hitch an objective to. You start at point A, will eventually find point B, and you’re going to die a whole hell of a lot on the way. There is no princess to save, no invasion to fend off. Your only goal in this game is to survive.
Survival comes in the form of souls. As you slay your enemies, you absorb their souls. Souls can be used to purchase upgrades at bonfires but souls can be lost very easily. Should you die (and, again, you will), you leave all of your souls behind. You re-spawn at the last bonfire you came across and should you manage to make it back to where you died in one piece, you can reclaim your lost souls. If not, it sucks to be you. Die and all of your souls are lost.
In addition to leveling up, bonfires serve one other important purpose: Safety. You cannot pause this game and bonfires serve as the only place where your enemies can’t touch you . Beware, however, because sitting at a bonfire will re-spawn every enemy in the area.
Dark Souls is a game that benefits heavily from an always online status. While traveling through the game you will often see the ghosts of other players or bloodstains in the spots where other players died. You can leave notes for other players to help guide them along and you can even jump into their game for better or for worse. (ed. note: That is an awesome feature)
Everything in this game is designed to be extraordinarily lethal and seeing where other players bit the bullet can be a tremendous blessing. The open world level design is full of twists, turns, and passages that you may never notice. Dark Souls has some of the most twisted and creative design I have seen in a game in a very long time. The environments vary, from the rotted Undead Burg to the hauntingly beautiful and foul swamps encountered later in the game. Equally impressive are the creature designs. Gigantic dragons, hook-armed ghosts, gargoyles with axes at the ends of their tails, killer demon butterflies; you will not see imagination on display like this in any other title this year.
This is a game that brings a ton of assets to the table and lets you fill in the blanks. The story is intentionally sparse and the game never forces you in to one particular style of play. You can hot swap abilities at a whim and go from a hulking tank to a nimble mage at your choosing. Your abilities are all tied to the equipment you are carrying, as long as you have that stats to use it efficiently. Music and dialogue are mostly absent, leaving you to create a mood for yourself. Dark Souls refuses to hold your hand at any point and it leaves you with one of the most hardcore gaming experiences found on the market today.
If you’re looking for a challenge, I cannot recommend Dark Souls enough. This title is a must-buy – especially for the more masochistic of our readers!