Game Review: Dark Souls (360)
Release: October 2011
Genre: 3rd Person Action/RPG
Developer: From Software
Available Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: Teen
Website: Dark Souls
Two years ago, Demon’s Souls sparked a small, loyal following that, seemingly overnight, grew into a large phenomena. Those in the know would speak of it in hushed tones, often labeling it with the “this one separates the men from the boys” label. It was lauded for its presentation, challenge, and, if not innovative, at least fairly unique online features. But even the game’s biggest supporters couldn’t ignore the game was plagued by several technical issues that seemed to actively fight against its design. It’s a shame, then, that Dark Souls, its spiritual successor from the same developer, From Software, is now on the shelves to great fanfare, and yet suffers the same issues.
The world of Dark Souls is a grim one. Set against a Gothic fantasy backdrop, the game plunges you into the role of a hollowed human; zombie-like in appearance and devoid of any shred of humanity. You begin in a prison that serves as something of a tutorial. For the uninitiated, Dark Souls is a third-person action game with RPG elements. Once you have a grasp on the basic elements, and take down the first of many giant bosses, you’re (literally) whisked away to the completely open world that comprises the main game. After a brief chat with a lonely NPC, you’re given your marching orders: there’s two bells one above, and one below. What happens when you ring them? Well, no one knows for sure, actually. To be blunt, story isn’t what you come to Dark Souls for.
No, what you come to Dark Souls for is the game play. There are ten classes to choose from at the start, each with varying stats and bonuses. For newcomers, I’ve found either the Pyromancer and Bandit best to start with. Regardless, most classes can handle both melee combat, and magic attacks (most, not all restrictions apply across the board). If you’re hoping to gain any kind of deeper understanding of the play mechanics, or even just what everything in the game does, you have to go down avenues that most games don’t deal with. With little to no explanation in-game, and a two-page instruction manual, Dark Souls encourages gaining info through online communities, Wiki’s, and other forms of research. The investment you have to make into playing this game is a steep one. Add to that a deep online part, filled with attacking or aiding other players, leaving notes in the world, joining clans and guilds, and you’ve got yourself a title packed with content. Most of which you won’t understand at first.
Visually, Dark Souls is absolutely gorgeous. There’s a rich color palate, diverse locations, and really interesting character designs. It shows a tremendous amount of growth from their earlier release a title filled mostly with shades of brown and grey, and dungeon after dungeon. The game is at its best when dealing with tension, which is almost constant. Around every corner could be another unseen foe or death trap, a fact that keeps you on edge from the moment you load your save. The game, just like its predecessor, has been compared to climbing Everest, and having gone through this twice over now, I mostly agree with that sentiment. The game play drives you forward despite the inherent frustration that comes with the ridiculous difficulty, and when you overcome a specific obstacle, you feel like you’ve conquered the world. This game is a beast.
That being said, there’s another side to the game. If Dark Souls chose game play over animation priority, could run at a stable frame rate, had a functioning camera, a capable targeting system, and explained its own rules, it would stand as one of the greatest action titles in recent years. As it is, Dark Souls is a game that sells itself on its tough-as-nails attitude and not its technical ability. The appeal is there, and it is most definitely a game you want to like, but in the end Dark Souls must stand up to the criticisms lobbed at every other retail product, and in that regard it fails on several fronts. Put simply, the way you get good at Dark Souls is by learning to compensate for what it does poorly. While the game serves up a very compelling experience, these issues can not be ignored.
Make no mistake, there is a high barrier of entry for Dark Souls. It is a game built on repetition, accepting your limitations, and grinding through the same scenarios dozens upon dozens of times. None of those things are the problem with this game. It’s that the game does not give you the tools or abilities to survive that grueling process that makes is such a maddening experience. Going under the assumption that you’re one to enjoy a game despite it’s flaws, by all means dive in you’ll be in for a treat. If, however, the thought of a game punishing you for playing it poorly while at the same time preventing you from playing it smart sounds like the opposite of why you play video games, steer clear.
– One of the hardest games out there in recent memory, partly due to bad design fundamentals.
– Visually stunning with a great overall presentation.
– Plays better than Demon’s Souls in several regards, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
6 out of 10