Dark Souls

I have been anticipating Dark Souls for quite some time now.  It’s the follow-up to my favourite game, the much lauded and notorious Demon’s Souls, a game that took people by surprise for its uniqueness as much as its difficulty which interested people enough to make it a surprise success story.  While Dark Souls is similar in some respects like the basic Action RPG combat it also introduces many new and improved aspects.

The world lies charred after an almighty war between the Lords, whose souls were awakened by the fire, and the Dragons who were there no doubt since time immemorial.  It is my basic understanding that you, as a chosen Undead, are tasked with fixing the imbalance and to bring light back to the world… I think. Regardless of the details there is a rich, vast dark fantasy world to explore against a suitably dramatic almost post-apocalyptic backdrop. It’s a stunning, galling world.

Exploring the world is both rewarding and essential. In order to progress it is vital you cover every inch of the areas and in-so-doing you will find many items, weapons and armour but also levers and keys to access locked areas.  You will find yourself getting to know an area by inching your way through it which is difficult, tense and often terrifying due to the daunting level design, difficult enemies and the sheer imagination and creativity of the world as you never know what will be round the next corner. It is predictable only in its unpredictability.  It is this, along with the unique and captivating world that grips you so hard and gets under your skin. You want to know exactly what is round the next corner.  Curiosity, as the adage goes, killed the cat.

“Prepare to die,” was the tagline for the game (and the official website URL) and while this may come off as goading or even gloating it is advice you would do well in heeding.  You see, dying in Dark Souls is as fundamental as walking and readying your shield because of how the game is structured.  As I said before you will crawl your way round an area to gain an intimate knowledge of the locale: where the enemies are, any traps, how to proceed and unlocking shortcuts that make re-playing the area much easier.  During this time you will die and depending on your adaptability and intelligence this could happen frequently. However once you realise dying is part of progress the game starts to make a lot more sense.  Upon your demise you will leave a Bloodstain where it happened which will contain all the Humanity and Souls you obtained (think of Souls as both currency and Experience). You are then transported back to the last Bonfire you rested at which are peppered around the world and act as waypoints. The conceit here is you already know the level well up until the point you died so getting back to your Bloodstain shouldn’t be terribly taxing. Upon reaching your Bloodstain and regaining all your Souls and Humanity you should, in theory, have twice the number of Souls so the choice is yours: proceed on with a dangerous number of Souls or travel back to the Bonfire to level up and recharge your Estus flask (which is a kind of Thermos for magic HP replenishment). When you die in Dark Souls you also keep any items and weapons you have picked up so the penalty for dying really isn’t that harsh, it is all part of the game.

There is a wide range of enemies and in order to best them it would behoove you to equip suitable weapons: swords, spears, bows, spells and magic then approach them with caution as they almost always have unique attacks and in some cases exceptionally nasty surprises. Curse, for example, which halves your HP, is difficult to cure and will slow your progress to a standstill.  Other enemies may impart anything from highly damaging magic attacks to Poison and Bleeding.  Along with some places like Blighttown, where the enemies and environment are conspiring in unison against you. It can feel overwhelming at times but there is always a way out and getting there will test your nerves and abilities. In Dark Souls it’s best to prepare for the worst because what actually ends up happening is usually even worse, than worst. The tension that builds up in almost every area is unlike any game to date and instead of deterring you it compels you.  It’s a seemingly impossible balancing act for any game to create such a brilliant dichotomy for the player but here it is done with peerless flair and results in the most amazing experience.

In the background of your mind is the constant feeling that there is something to do, because there always is.  There is always a choice in what area to travel to and why. Maybe you’ll try to progress in the story or explore areas for goodies, upgrade your weapons and armour or repeat the area you just finished for anything you might have missed, or just to kill enemies for Souls to level up. The developers have done a fantastic job of integrating many RPG aspects together so well and testament to this is you could play for many hours and enjoy it immensely but make no progress in the main story. Instead you may have levelled up your character a few times, acquired a new magic spell and discovered new areas.  The game isn’t just a beginning, middle and an end, it’s a vast world to spend time in, it’s an experience, an atmosphere, a work of Art.  I imagine some folk may find it difficult to adjust to the lack of direction and the enigmatic and nebulous design ethos as it is most certainly outwith most people’s but those who give it time will have a rich, mysterious and amazingly creative world to experience.

Dark Souls doesn’t lay anything on a plate for you, it affords you the assumption that you are attentive, intelligent and willing to unearth and collate information about the world, its history and the characters within it.  By exploring the world and talking to people you can piece together a semblance of your direction but it is seldom obvious what exactly you need to do. This is such a breath of fresh air. You never feel chaperoned, directed or led by the hand. Instead you are rewarded for exploration.  This has the effect of keeping the world’s mystique in tact, for every answer there are more questions and you can’t help but feel the world is alive and that it holds a myriad secrets you can bring to light.  You will no doubt notice on Social Media sites people who are playing the game are talking about what they just found because they are excited, they are enticed by the enigma, drawn by the exploration and elated by their progress.  This is a rare thing in games and From Software have done it with intimidating success.







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