Product Type: Namco Xbox 360 games
Newest Review: ... the individual monsters are very detailed and scary they all have deadly combo's and can easily push you of a cliff or group up on you.... more
Curiosity Killed The Tw*t
Dark Souls - Limited Edition (Xbox 360)
Member Name: dj981
Dark Souls - Limited Edition (Xbox 360)
Date: 24/01/12, updated on 24/01/12 (38 review reads)
Advantages: Rewarding and uniquely challenging. Some incredible battles...
Disadvantages: ...also frustrating, aloof, and lacking any player encouragement. Not for casual players.
I feel your pain, friend.
The text is scrawled on the floor, a digital message in a bottle left by a fellow Dark Souls player online somewhere out there. It's now the fifth time I've descended this darkened stairwell. Sword in one hand, shield in the other, I inch forward with the nervous gait of a dead man walking. Actually, if I fail this time, that metaphor will become a statement of fact (more on that later). If I can't emerge from this duel, I think I may have to give up for another night. Surely the sanctuary and welcoming glow of a bonfire must be around the next corner?
I leave the stairwell and turn left onto the medieval gallery. Almost on cue, a ghostly re-enactment of some other players' grisly demise plays out just in front of me. Perhaps it was the same stranger who left that desperate message. While my stats have remembered my previous four failures, the enormous undead knight ahead hasn't. It still stands motionless, filling the arched doorway with the same silent menace as before. I look through my inventory one last time. Shall I go with the Spear this time? The Scimitar? Will changing armour leverage an advantage? These are important choices; I'm down to my last half-bar of energy, and I can't face fighting the long way back a sixth time. I have to be careful, as the game world doesn't stop while I make my decisions, and I'm vulnerable. If this were Skyrim, I'd be spamming the save function about now, but in Dark Souls, the game decides when I get to save. Damn you, Dark Souls.
Scimitar it is. I creep along the gallery, shield readied in case it hears me. If I get close enough, I can surprise it with a cheap slice to the back. That'll learn it. I strike. The knight recoils, then turns on its heels and stares me down. My fragile looking avatar, with his skinny appendages and tatty scavenged armour, meets his gaze almost apologetically. It strides toward me, the ground trembling beneath each footstep. It lunges. I back off, avoiding the blades' point by inches, and deliver three consecutive blows in reply - enough to drain my stamina to nothing. I back off to recover while the monstrosity prepares to charge again. I must keep my distance, as it can skewer me with one blow. I know this because that's how I died the last four times.
He charges. I make an absolute mess of it, diving back into the stairwell, narrowly avoiding certain death. Now's the chance - I excitedly mash at the attack button, flailing away in vain hope I'll manage a decisive blow. Finally it falls, its soul draining away while bone and metal sink lifelessly to the stone floor. Thank God. I turn the corner back onto the gallery. Through the archway the knight previously blocked, another two messages left by another two online strangers lay etched on the floor:
"I did it!"
I share your joy, friends.
The concept of death once had meaning in mainstream gaming parlance. We had no comforting panacea if a challenge proved too tough; no checkpoints, no save files, and no difficulty sliders to delineate your path to the end credits. A life was a life was a life, and games stubbornly demanded skill and patience to succeed. Failure was a tangible punishment - you could invest hours at a time grinding to the same point in the same game, only to perish in the same way at the same time, and have to start from scratch. Dark Souls is a title which holds true to these old values, and you'll either embrace or resent them.
From your first attempts at escaping from the Undead Asylum (there will be more than one) it's clear there's a single agenda: You as victim, game as omnipresent tormentor. The Asylum is a tortured place occupied by an army of walking dead - the 'Hollow' - a last remnant of humanity imprisoned by the curse of eternal life. Having lost their minds through this mental prison, they forlornly wander its halls, waiting for some masochistic conscript to fight their way through Lordran to release them. That's where you come in.
Initially, you'd be forgiven for thinking this is a formulaic hack and slash medieval fantasy RPG, with its exploration-by-torchlight beginnings and stock sword/shield combat, but the brutal tutorial quickly realigns expectations. I use the word tutorial in the loosest possible sense, as Dark Souls punctuates its renowned difficulty by consistently concealing its inner workings from you. Yet it won't take long to learn some harsh lessons in Lordran. Combat demands patience and careful observation of enemy attack patterns, as literally everything and anything which moves can murder, poison, or curse you, and quickly. If you learn these lessons fast, and tough out your fledgling hours of total vulnerability, you might just get to see the rest of the game - or at least some of it. If you don't, you'll be missing out on one of the most rewarding games of the last decade.
Dark Souls is the nightmarish antithesis to the safe, countrified familiarity of Skyrim's Tolkien-inspired lore. It's a land of almost unremitting oppressiveness, whether it be a dank sewer infested with mutated vermin, or a mysterious and rare moment of beauty which, at a stroke, could turn into a lethal trap. The lack of information forthcoming is isolating and the game's disposition curt, from the small morsels of plot which occasionally surface before fading into the background, to the scarce 'friendly' characters who talk in cryptic circles before mocking your seemingly hopeless plight.
As you gather souls from slain enemies, your ability to purchase upgrades from merchants and smiths increases. Souls are the universal currency in Lordran, and so valuable are they, you'll come to treasure every looted corpse, slain sewer rat, and felled behemoth. Death will force you to relinquish all the souls you were carrying at the time; die again before you can return to the scene of your demise, and those souls are lost forever. The catch (and it's a big one) is that when you rest, level up, or respawn at one of the scattered bonfires, every enemy except bosses re-appear, meaning you'll often be confronted with agonising risk/reward dilemmas. Do you push on in the hope a bonfire is around the next corner, or backtrack to invest your souls and fight the long fight back to where you were? Death deals the double blow of your character becoming 'Hollow' by losing your accumulated humanity, your physical appearance fading back to the bedraggled skeletal frame you started with at the Undead Asylum. You'll want to stay human, as besides the obvious, it becomes essential for gaining pick-ups from enemies, and grants bonuses in combat. It's a dynamic that's always at play, with each success, however minor, a cue for fist pumping relief to counter the frequent knuckle-gnawing moments of failure.
Even Dark Souls' online function manages to distinguish itself, as to overlay these features in an ostensibly single player experience is a risky concept, but even these retain a sense of mysticism and an inherent balance. In addition to leaving scattered hints (and often misinformation), by planting their calling card anywhere in the game world, other players can be summoned into your game for transient moments of teamwork, or 'invade' uninvited to steal your humanity - the result being a fight to the death with your silhouetted intruder. This can happen at any moment, adding tension to even the scarce benign moments in Lordran. On occasion, you'll rest at a bonfire alongside the apparition of another survivor, gaining health boosts from their activities and vice versa. There's no communication allowed outside the game's definitions though; each player you meet will be mute via the denial of voice chat.
"Praise the Sun!"
From the horrific shanty of Blighttown rising out of the swamps, to the murk of Darkroot with its Ents and Stone Giants, the interlinked open world of Lordran starts small then unfurls from the central hub of Firelink Shrine, plunging seemingly impossible depths populated by equally impossible foes. It's a grimly captivating world which demands you keep inching onward, the lone bell ring accompanying each new area underlining your grudging inquisitiveness. Whilst it's easy to be deceived into visualising Lordran as a collection of distinct pockets, a brief pause to absorb the horizon or glance over a castle wall will often surprise with a familiar and previously visited structure jutting out from the landscape in the distance. With load times non-existent (albeit cleverly disguised with transitions on lifts and suchlike) it truly is a seamlessly integrated environment. With the exception of its older sibling Demon Souls, it's been a long time since a game world boasted this kind of atmosphere and artistic consistency. The Japanese developer influence only adds to the other worldliness of the experience, with the occasionally off-target grammar and often bizarre dialogue adding another alien dimension to the Dark Souls universe.
Games with this ethos are still finding a way to market, but they're palpably on the fringe; a niche carved out by the last children of Generation X for their peer group in homage to a much loved and bygone era. In this age of maximum market penetration, focus groups, and games which read like love letters to Michael Bay, few if any publishers enjoy risking their shirts on a title with the opacity of cement, and a difficulty level likely to scare off 90% of the people you'll find in a high street GAME store. Dark Souls is a triumph for those who believe games are not and should not be on the same plane as films or music. This is an experience which provides a sense of genuine achievement rather than spoon-fed cinematic, and it's a testing experience that, if you grew up with games which made you toil for that feeling, you're bound to love.
Summary: Harder than a coffin nail. Sound like your kind of thing?
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