|Dev: From Software|
|Pub: NAMCO Bandai|
|Release: August 24, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
Dark Souls does not give a crap about you. It doesn't care if you die—in fact, the new PC port is called the "Prepare to Die Edition," and in the game you play a walking corpse who has escaped the Undead Asylum. It does not care if you break your controller in a fit of rage. It does not care if you're a beginner and you really need the EXP you're carrying with you; after each death, you have to touch your old corpse before you die again, or you lose it permanently.
From Software, the evil bastards who made this action-RPG, aren't the type of developers who look at statistics and feel bad that so many people never finish the game. They don't want you to finish the game. They think that if you finish the game, they didn't make it right. They want you to crawl off somewhere and curl into the fetal position long before the credits roll. They think you should earn the right to watch their names scroll past.
Heck, they don't even care if you miss key items. In the first hour of the game, there's a bad guy who shoots arrows at you. Once you find your shield, you can block the arrows and run toward him. But when he runs away, you had better notice the weapon on the floor where he was standing—if you move to the next area without picking it up, it's gone forever, and you're stuck trying to beat powerful enemies into submission with the broken hilt of a sword. I had to start a new game after trying to kill the same three enemies with ineffectual swipes for half an hour and finally looking at a guide in frustration. That was my introduction to Dark Souls.
Dark Souls is essentially a third-person Elder Scrolls game for the self-hating. Like Bethesda's masterful series, Dark Souls offers you a fantasy tale with dragons and other mythical creatures to meet, classes to choose from, factions to join, magical spells to learn, a huge world to explore, and a bunch of awesome medieval gear to find. But unlike the Elder Scrolls, Dark Souls doesn't reward your failures with generous helpings of EXP and leveled-up abilities, and its combat is nuanced and unforgiving. Dark Souls kills you over and over, and then punishes you for dying. If you want to make the game a little easier, grind to improve your character. If you don't like it, go play Skyrim with all the other wimps.
Yup, Dark Souls is hard. And it isn't one of those hard games with lots of checkpoints, like Super Meat Boy or 'Splosion Man, either. This is a game that will force you to play long stretches over and over again until you get them right. If an ultra-lethal boss kills you, you won't just start over at the boss; you'll have to fight through a bunch of easier enemies again, presumably to give you time to think about what you did. If you wander into an area you're not equipped to handle and get killed, you'll have to go back unless you want to lose all the EXP that's sitting in your corpse. In other words, not only will you die constantly, but each death will be a serious inconvenience.
Some folks like this. I think it's an infuriating waste of time. But playing Dark Souls on PC did make me appreciate what other people see in it.
At its core, Dark Souls is a game about animations. You need to keep a close eye on what your enemies are up to, and you need to remember that every button you press commits your character to a full motion. If you begin an attack animation after an enemy starts swinging at you, you'll probably get hit. If you want to take a swig from your health flask, you need to know that your character will take his sweet time, leaving himself vulnerable. And when you get knocked down, your character won't scramble back to his feet; he'll lie there for a second, just tempting bad guys to move in.
You need to take each enemy type, dissect their patterns, and figure out what works through trial and error. It might be as simple as blocking, strafing, and attacking when you get the chance. Or, you might need to deflect their blows to stagger them, or somersault away to avoid a powerful blow your shield can't handle, or use a certain type of magic. You're prevented from button-mashing by your stamina meter, which is not particularly generous unless you pour a lot of effort into leveling it up. The upside: When you finally get a hard part right, you feel… well, not good so much, but relieved.
Of course, there's more to an action-RPG than just the action. Killing enemies earns you souls, which you can spend (if you don't lose them first) to improve your many attributes—and RPG progression is the only way to make this game less difficult. You'll want to find and improve the best weapons and armor. You also earn a resource called "humanity," which makes you a little less undead, allows you to return to your human form, and offers a variety of other perks, such as the ability to "kindle" a bonfire. (Bonfires are this game's checkpoints, and they refill your health flask; kindling the fire doubles the amount of health the bonfire gives you.)
The game also offers a variety of online features, basically multiplayer elements that are integrated into the core experience. Players can summon each other to help out, though the process for doing this is unnecessarily complicated. Further, players can leave notes to each other pointing to hidden areas and giving strategy advice. There's even PvP combat, for when you inevitably get sick of dying in the single-player campaign.