Dark Souls is utterly brilliant. The world is vast and meticulously detailed with every aspect of the experience crafted to such a high quality it puts others to shame. It’s also one of the most uncompromising games of this generation, and will consistently test your resolve.
Players of Dark Souls’ predecessor, Demon’s Souls will have an inkling to what Dark Souls has in store: semi-realistic combat that feels impactful and purposeful tied with enemies infused with extreme bloodlust. The result is a brutal experience as enemies punish you for impatience and bad strategy with relentless aggression. It’s a unique challenge that takes some getting used to but the combat is so well designed that once you do get to grips with it you’ll be in awe of its mechanics.
Combat requires forethought and constant adaptation. Your opponents will attack aggressively every time and whilst they each have their own patterns they react to your actions as well, making them slightly unpredictable and very dangerous. Moreover, anyone can kill you, all it takes is a lapse in concentration and an enemy will take that opportunity to tear you apart. This also means it’s important to judge combat before entering the fray. Multiple opponents can easily overwhelm you and simply judging what kind of foe and how many you’re up against is crucial to your survival. Dark Souls also expands combat from Demon’s Souls allowing you to equip any combination of weapons and shields to your right and left hand whilst also allowing you to switch between one and two handed stances and a secondary set of weapons on the fly.
Primarily you’re up against a variety of undead, mostly humanoid with the occasional dog, rodent and amphibian type creatures as well as stronger foes such as the dreaded black knights from Demon’s Souls fame. Other players can also invade your world as phantoms on a quest to kill you and gain humanity. Then there are the bosses. Huge dragons, spiders, gargoyles and more guard certain areas, denying your progress until you defeat them. They are extremely powerful and even more aggressive than the standard foe. They’re overwhelming at times, not to mention behaviourally and visually intimating; wielding massive weapons or razor shape sets of teeth and claws. They are true tests of your combat skills and often require a fair amount of grinding to raise your stats and forge the best weapons, all of which are paid for in souls and humanity.
The majority of creatures offer up souls when you slay them, with loose souls also scattered around for collecting off of corpses as well as humanity. These souls are the currency for raising you level and stats, purchasing items, weapons and armour, and repairing and forging new weapons and armour. Humanity allows you to revive yourself, turning from undead back to human as well as fuelling bonfires . They’re both precious currency that must be spent wisely, and when you die your collected souls and humanity are deposited where you fell and must be picked up again before dying a second time or they are lost forever. Falling once and seeing your souls collect in a pile can be heart breaking at the best of times but falling again before getting them back can bring a tear to your eye.
Dark Souls has ditched Demon’s Souls’ hub world setup and instead you’re free to travel the world at your own leisure, exploring castles, dungeons, forests and crypts. This open world, however, is extremely dangerous to explore and figuring out where exactly to go next can be confusing as more of the labyrinthine world opens up. Bonfires act as checkpoints allowing you to resupply health potions, level up, and manage equipment but at the cost of respawning all creatures in the vicinity. Offering up humanity to the fire also grants you the use of more potions from that particular bonfire when you resupply from it. It’s a tough world for sure, triggering genuine emotion as you fearfully explore, compelled to see what wondrous creatures and locations are round the corner. It’s a damn near prefect balancing of curiosity and trepidation.
Using your humanity to return to human form also allows you to summon support to help you deal with the menacing bosses. Demon’s Souls restricted it to player support only but Dark Souls also allows AI support to come to your aid depending on who you’ve interacted with on your journey. It’s a true role playing adventure with NPC’s scattered around the world, easy to miss and easy to accidently engage and kill in combat, making your playthrough uniquely challenging depending on your actions and discoveries.
Indeed Dark Souls is a vast and challenging game but it’s equally brilliant and fascinating. You’ll die a lot, more than a lot; you’ll die frequently to the very brink of emotional breakdown. But you’ll come back to it, push on that little bit further, learn the safest route, determine your enemies weaknesses and get beaten to a pulp by invading players. There’s is nothing else like this – other than Demon’s Souls. It melds MMO qualities with a singleplayer experience subtly and effectively to create a wonderfully intimidating experience. It’s a must own.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: Xbox 360/ PS3 Release Date: 07/10/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Dark Souls for review purposes by the publisher. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.