Dark Souls – Review

Published By: Namco Bandai Games America, Developed By: From Software, Genre: Role-Playing, Release Date: Oct 4, 2011, Rating: M, Systems: Playstation 3, Xbox 360.

Presentation – To understand Dark Souls’s presentation one must venture back to its predecessor in Demon’s Souls. Demon’s Souls in my opinion is this gen’s defining RPG. I have earned a platinum trophy in Demon’s Souls so i know practically everything about its presentation. The Nexus (to select stages), Maiden (to level up), Tendency (for specific NPC and item drops) have all been ditched in Dark Souls. The world of Dark Souls is so vast and open ended when compared to Demon’s Souls. You could probably fit the entire game of Demon’s Souls on just one section of Dark Souls. From Software were clearly being ambitious when designing the huge real-time world of Dark Souls.

Bonfires are the hubs of Dark Souls. Lighting fires at these mini camp sites are very important and crucial to your success in Dark Souls. Lighting a Bonfire activates a checkpoint. Bonfires can be out in plain site or behind illusional walls that you have to hit in order to see the Bonfire. Bonfires not only act as in-game checkpoints and continue areas in Dark Souls but also places to fully level up in an assortment of ways. Using Humanity at Bonfires can give you back your human form if you died.  The latter is called Reverse Hollow. You can also kindle the Bonfire (using Humanity) which increases your Estus Flask’s use levels at a particular Bonfire.

You can adjust your magic at Bonfires which is called Attune Magic. I attuned my magic often switching magic, miracles and pyromancy spells. If you buy the correct kits from merchants and blacksmiths throughout Dark Souls you can Repair and Reinforce your weapons and armor at a Bonfire. Later on in Dark Souls you will be able to gain the ability to Warp from Bonfire to Bonfire throughout Dark Souls’s vast world. Lastly the most important aspect of Bonfire usage is the ability to level up your character’s various attributes via Souls. Looking back, after completing Dark Souls it is better than the Nexus hub in my opinion and fits Dark Souls’s huge world brilliantly.

I purchased and played through most of Dark Souls before it received many of its effective patches. I must point out the bad performance issues i encountered in Dark Souls. Slow down during my play-through of The Painted World of Ariamis was nearly unplayable from slow down and skipping issues. It was mostly in The Painted World’s level that 90% of the freezes and slow downs happened on my play-through. To be frank they were bad and did make me angry a few times.  After i defeated Crossbreed Priscilla and returned to Anor Londo the game appeared fine. I must also tell you Dark Souls has received two patches since launch and many, if not all of the various performance issues have been fixed along with some gameplay as well.

Dark Souls is ambiance at its finest. Its all about the now with Dark Souls. No story hand holding or gameplay hand holding with this game folks. The vast world at times is tranqual while others it makes hell look like a vacation summer getaway. The diversity in Dark Souls’s settings has been upped when comparing Dark Souls to its classic predecessor Demon’s Souls. Firelink Shrine looks like a level out of Demon’s Souls just with much more greenery scattered about. Undead Burg and Parish look like the early levels in Demon’s Souls. Darkroot Garden featured tree-like enemies that blends in with its dark beautiful surroundings. For the record there is a farm area where you have to buy a item to break a sael on a glowing door. Inside you can make NPCs with high soul counts commit suicide. Its all over youtube if you need a visual representation.

Valley of the Drakes is a valley filled with a family of Dragons. I did some farming in this area. You can make the blue Drakes commit suicide sometimes bye falling off the bridge when they jump backwards or glitch into a wall. Blighttown is a dark gross area filled with trolls and disgusting looking bugs that can can poison you with Toxin if your not careful. Sen’s Fortress is a huge castle filled with Snakehead enemies and crafty traps. Anor Londo is a majestic royal looking castle area. The Great Hollow and Ash lake are connected. One area is a giant tree leading down to a beach with a big lake. At the end of Ash Lake you find The Great Stone Dragon. When you join its Covenant your granted a Dragon Head Stone witch you can use to glitch unlimited Souls or Humanities with. Its all over youtube, look it up.

The Catacombs feature dark tombs filled with regenerating skeletons. The Tomb of the Giants is home of Gravelord Nito aka “First of the Undead” and the first Lord Soul you acquire in Dark Souls. The Duke’s Archive is a royal looking castle with many libraries and books scattered about. Its also home of  Seath the Scaleless aka “Albino” and second Lord Soul you acquire. The Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith look like they are ripped straight out of hell itself. Kiln of the First Flame is the last area you will venture and its home to Lord Gwynn “The Lord of Cinders” and last boss in Dark Souls. As you are probably thinking now the world of Dark Souls was an ambitious one. Developer From Software tried to make and imo they succeeded in design and level diversity when making a huge RPG world taht is in Dark Souls.

Story – The protagonist is called Chosen Undead or Fate of the Undead. As the Chosen One you must activate the Lord Vessel by bequeathing the Four Lords of the First Flame. Obtaining the Four Lord Souls activates the Lord Vessel which gives you access to Lord Gwynn. The lore of Dark Souls is through gameplay mostly. Choices and interactions with NPCs also contribute to Dark Souls’s story. The true story of Dark Souls revolves around your actions throughout the campaign. Choices like killing, helping, freeing (or not) NPCs can altar your story. Choosing to join one of the many Covenants can altar the story. Dark Souls doesn’t have a handhold forced story. Your evolving character grows as does the story. Cutscenes are throughout Dark Souls which fleshes out the story even more.

Visuals – Dark Souls from a graphical/technical standpoint is impressive for its art deign and scale mostly. Some enemies are just huge in this game. Effects from elemental weapons and various settings were impressive. I can’t point to one thing and say it is what makes Dark Souls a beautiful game. Its a combination of art and technical wizardry. From my character wearing full Havel’s Armor and Havel’s Great Shield +1 while carrying my +3 Dragon Great Sword looked great visually. Dark Souls visuals are just filled with imagination which creates some wild looking weapons and magic. Gravelord Nito might have been one of the most intimidating looking Gods i ever witnessed in a videogame. The visuals no matter what section of the game you were in always conveyed a strong since of atmosphere.

Sound Design – Whether its the sound of crickets, insects and wind while in Darkroot Garden or the whispers of hunting ghosts in New Londo ruins Dark Souls has meticulous sound design. The in-game sounds that made Demon’s Souls famous are all inside Dark Souls. The musical scores during boss fights delivered a strong atmosphere most times conveying a sense of despair. The calm beautiful serenade during the final fight with Lord Gwynn was almost calming while you battle the Lord of Cinder. The voice acting throughout featuring NPCs was good. Its the attention to detail i was impressed with the most regarding the sound and music in Dark Souls. Almost every enemy and boss in the game made a distinct sound whether its a growl or a grunt from a swing of a heavy weapon.

Gameplay – At its core the gameplay is very similar to Demon’s Souls from a viceral standpoint. Blocking, hitting enemies and firing off magic feels so much like Demon’s Souls. Parrying and rolling are also critical gameplay techniques you need to master. Dark Souls is a pure Role-Playing game where its super critical to level up your attributes accordingly to your character’s make-up. Just like in the predecessor “Souls”  are not only Dark Souls currency but also your only way to level up your character’s attributes. There are great farming locations and soul glitch if you don’t want to increase your chances of surviving Dark Souls.

For the record i farmed some in Darkroot Garden before fighting the toughest boss in Dark Souls (Ornstein and Smough). I defeated all bosses alone with no help in co-op. Later on i used the Dragonhead soul glitch to up my level to 219 and acquire 99 Humanities. I did the latter before fighting Gravelord Nito and all of the other Gods in Dark Souls. The co-op was a issue for me early on since i had no Humanity to seek out co-op partners. I did summon Phantom Knight Solaire. I also did join a player to help them but otherwise that was it for co-op. If there is one blemish on Dark Souls is the co-op system. Its too difficult to get help. It was much easier in Demon’s Souls to summon help. I was invaded three times. One guy killed me and the two others i destroyed with three swings from my Dragon Great Sword +3.

Merchants and Covenants are always available in case you need a curse removed or if you want to rejoin a particular faction. The Warp ability really is a great tool to backtrack in Dark Souls if you forgot something. Upgrading your Estus Flask was very important for me during my playthrough. Exploring was deeply layered and fun. I never knew what to expect in Dark Souls. The game is just that huge. Equipping the right Rings can be the difference between life or death.

For most of my playthrough i used Havel’s Ring (so i could roil and jump with his armor and shield). I also rotated the Ring of Steel Protection, Rare Ring of Sacrifice (when i could) and Ring of the Evil Eye. The last Rings i used were to combat environmental or elemental effects like lava, lighting, fire, poison etc. As i type this and think about Dark Souls gameplay and why i love it so much has to do with the fact its fun, addicting and challenging.

Replayability – Practically limitless. My first playthrough lasted 97:35:16 and that was with farming and the soul glitch. New Game + is when the real Dark Souls starts. Putting over 1000 hours into Dark Souls is possible. The replayabiliy in this game’s huge world can keep you playing till the new “Souls” game releases which was the case with Demon’s Souls. It will take you a long time to acquire every magic, miracle, pyromancy spell and build every weapon and armor possible. I managed to get 50% of the Trophies / achievements in Dark Souls on my first playthrough without trying. The game always gets more difficult after each time you beat it. The online system will let you join others or seek out help which furthers the replay value. The ever evolving online world of Dark Souls will always feature new gamers that will leave you helpful hints to read while playing. Its a never ending cycle of despair, beauty and fun addicting  gameplay.

Final Verdict – Dark Souls is a near masterpiece of an RPG. Its a much more ambitious game than its previous counterpart.  Its a memorable adventure filled with despair and many challenges but the outcome was always more than worth it when you succeeded. Dark Souls is not a perfect game by a long shot with the early performance issues i experienced (which were later patched). If you ask me where does this game rank amongst all of RPGs this gen i would put it in the top 3 easily. Thanks for reading


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