DARK SOULS is the successor to one of this generation’s most revered and notoriously challenging cult classics. Will it die a thousand deaths or exceed all expectations? Find out in our huge review!
You’ve heard the whispers, scrutinised each twisted rumour and read endless death-laden accounts of hands-on time with early builds. It’s fair to say that Dark Souls comes with a bit of a reputation.
But deep down you don’t want to believe it. You’re fairly proud of your gaming achievements: completed game X on the most demonic setting, casually crushed all online challengers in game Y, amassed an ungodly Gamerscore and boast a sizable and shiny trophy collection. Who knows, you may even have tamed From Software’s original beast, Demon’s Souls, and feel that you can conquer any subsequent challenge with comparative ease. Surely Dark Souls can’t be that tough. Can it?
As it happens, it can. Dark Souls is utterly uncompromising. While Demon’s Souls had its fair share of hardships to endure, its spiritual sequel punishes you relentlessly and without prejudice. Death not so much lurks around every corner as leaps out with an unquenchable bloodlust. Be prepared to fail, fail and fail again. Pick yourself up. Fail. Learn. Repeat. And eventually you’ll see a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s a rarity when up against such overwhelming odds, but when you do succeed in Dark Souls you’ll be rewarded with a feeling of gratification that is practically unrivalled in gaming – and it’s this sense of achievement in the face of adversity that makes Dark Souls such an involving and unforgettable experience.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Rarely does a title demand such emotional investment from the player: agony, elation, desperation, hope, not to mention the buckets of blood, sweat and tears along the way. You’ll assign yourself mini-targets, reach self-regulated milestones, scrape the sweetest of successes and somehow get your foot one more rung up the ladder. Those with patience and the will to persevere will likely be utterly consumed by its world, its oppressive rules and the evil legions that enforce them.
At face value, Dark Souls appears to be very similar to its predecessor – and, indeed, many of the core concepts and mechanics remain intact. A familiar ‘evil is spreading, you are the only one who can halt it’ storyline is in place, but as before remains largely inconsequential. The ability to mould a character of your choosing more or less regardless of which starting class you pick means that there’s a massive scope for experimentation (much more so than before, in fact), as opposed to being lumbered with a specific combat style continuously. Two weapons, shields, items or rare valuables can be assigned to each hand and the souls/currency system unsurprisingly makes a return. But although many of the elements that helped craft Demon’s Souls into the cult classic it became are weaved into the fabric of its bigger, badder brother, Dark Souls offers so much more.
The first and most important advancement is the switch from a connecting central hub to an open world. Gone are the days of warping in and out of the Nexus. Dark Souls’ massive and meticulously created world seamlessly links areas together, each varying beautifully (or horrifically) from the last. You’ll encounter haunted ruins, disease-ridden sewers, crumbling castles, forests, valleys, forts and forgotten cities, each infested with their own native and inventive creatures, as well as weird and wonderful NPCs. Exploration is encouraged, but with omnipresent danger comes inevitable death. The more hours you invest in Dark Souls, the more of this labyrinthine land you’ll unlock, terrified of what you’ll find, but marching on to discover what horrors lie around the next turn. It manages to strike an inch-perfect balance between trepidation and the drive to discover.
Relight my fire
This is where the new inclusion of bonfires comes into play. They’re few and far between, but act as checkpoints where you can rest and replenish your supplies before heading off again into treacherous territory. If you die (which you will, repeatedly), you’ll be whisked back to the last bonfire you rested at, meaning that up to 45 minutes of progress could quite easily be lost between beacons.
This makes the slogs between these cherished havens incredibly tense, with you never quite knowing where the next one may appear to offer some much-needed respite from the torment. But – and there’s always a but with Dark Souls – sitting at a bonfire also respawns every enemy in that location. This means that backtracking to a fire to re-supply after clearing an area of foes isn’t an option. And so it goes: there is never an easy option. If you’re not prepared for Dark Souls to make your life a misery, then you have most definitely picked the wrong game.
This is the absolute antitheses of pick-up-and-play entertainment. Although the line between casual and hardcore gaming may be somewhat blurred these days, Dark Souls unequivocally sits in the latter category. It all but assumes you’re familiar with Demon’s Souls (despite the franchise being new to the 360) and offers very little in the way of advice or guidance from the outset. Things start incredibly challengingly and, at times, you’ll be feeling like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, especially during the numerous boss encounters. Grinding to boost vital stats is an absolute necessity, as is the willingness to repeat the same difficult section again and again. It’s all about dedication, and through that dedication comes rich reward. Those without it need not apply.
There is help out there, though. The thriving community that embraced and invigorated the Demon’s Souls experience will no doubt surface upon the game’s release, and From Software look set to have to tweaked and improved online functionality. There’s a more in-depth messaging system, covenants to enter, the return of co-op and PvP invasion, as well as a host of new community-based concepts that we can’t really pass judgement on until the full retail release.
There is much more to Dark Souls – such is the extent of its scale – that we are still yet to see, and that’s a wonderful thing. Any reviewer claiming to have to have witnessed everything the game has to offer is either talking nonsense through ground-down teeth, or hasn’t eaten, slept or seen sunlight in the couple of weeks since the code arrived. It’s vast, brutal and downright brilliant – everything the follow-up to Demon’s Souls should, and had to be. It’s easily one of the hardest games of this generation, but it’s also one of the finest.
Dark Souls is brutally uncompromising yet practically unparalleled in the sense reward it can offer to those who persist. Its inaccessible nature will put many off, but those who brave it will discover one of the deepest, most fulfilling gaming experiences available.
Dark Souls, by From Software and Namco Bandai, will be released on 4th October in North America and 7th October in Europe for Xbox 360 (reviewed) and PlayStation 3. Keep up to date with all the latest Dark Souls news right here at BeefJack!