|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: From Software|
|Pub: NAMCO Bandai|
|Release: October 4, 2011|
|Players: 1, 2-4 online|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Violence|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Dark Souls is a difficult game.
It's difficult because it gives you an impossible task: struggle against insurmountable forces of darkness to return the world to the living. While this might sound like just another day for the average gamer (how many times have we already saved the universe?), Dark Souls takes a vastly different approach. Instead of giving you an arsenal of guns, serious magical skills, or unnatural resurrection powers, the game puts you in the shoes of a regular old chap. You have fleeting vitality, only the most basic of weapons, and the ability to absorb souls to improve yourself. Slowly.
Because you play as regular ol' Joe, you're going to have to work extremely hard to make yourself worthy to take on the massively difficult forces around you. And that's where the real meat of Dark Souls comes into play. You don't play this game because you want to experience a cinematic story or because you want to find out what happens to the main character. You play because you want to actually experience the hero's journey—not the one you see in films, but the one where you work tirelessly, fail often, and learn from your mistakes. Welcome to the world of Dark Souls.
The game starts in a dark prison cell. After picking some basic features, you wake up dead. There are several other dead people in here as well, and as a tutorial, you'll have to cut them all down. Fortunately, these dead guys don't really fight back. But this grace period is fleeting, as your first boss encounter is only steps away. But like so many things in Dark Souls, you aren't quite ready to face this boss quite yet, so you'll have to duck into a dark corner and do some fast and dirty leveling (while finding some weapons) before you can even hope to progress.
The game's overall format is much like this first area, and you cannot simply run through the game. Grinding in Dark Souls is an art form, and one you'll have to master quite early. As you kill enemies, you'll collect a set amount of souls from each victim. These souls can then be used as leveling currency to slightly improve your stats, one level at a time. But there's a bit of a twist to this mechanic.
The only place where you can commit souls to skill points is by a bonfire, which works as the game's de facto checkpoint system. Unfortunately, these bonfires are few and far between, and if you die before reaching one, all the souls you earned in battle will be lost. You'll have to start all over again from zero, until you can find the spot where you died. And if you die again before you reach that spot, then you can just go ahead and abandon all those souls (and all that hard work).
But let's just say for a moment that you do make it to the bonfire, and you are able to spend all of your earned souls. Dark Souls has another surprise for you: all those enemies you've just defeated have respawned and are ready to kill you again. Though this is initially somewhat of an annoyance, it can actually be a good thing for those who are dedicated to the grind. Just keep collecting souls, returning to the bonfire, leveling up, and then beating the enemies again. Though the game itself is extremely difficult, it doesn't make it hard for you to level up. This helps you cope with the ridiculous amount of deaths you will undoubtedly suffer through.
The only helping hand Dark Souls offers is a very impressive multiplayer component. There's a fairly impressive co-op system that allows you to play with up to three other people online, which is a tremendous help when you are trying to get through a particularly tough section. Of course, if you prefer to suffer in silence, you can also take part in a sort of passive co-op. As long as you have online features enabled, you can check messages left by other players, view replays of other players' deaths (incredibly useful if there's a hidden trap), and even fight alongside real-time "ghosts" of other players who are in the same area as you.