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Review: Dark Souls

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It's 2 AM and I'm ass deep in sewage frantically fighting off giant frog-like freaks of nature that are constantly threatening to put an extremely detrimental and pain-in-the-ass to remove curse on me. In addition, I'm carrying an inordinate amount of souls and humanity which could all vanish into thin air at the slightest mistake with absolutely no idea which direction I should head to find the closest bonfire. It is moments like these that Dark Souls excels at: heart pounding, adrenaline laced, sweat inducing moments.


Dark Souls (XBox 360 and PS3)
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: October 4th, 2011 (NA)

Dark Souls, at its heart, is a very brutal hack-and-slash RPG based in an extremely dark world. Like its spiritual predecessor, Demon's Souls, it is well known for how punishing it can be. Player's are challenged with mastering the tight combat controls, traversing treacherous terrain and overcoming cunning enemies. The game favors a high risk to reward design and excels at creating scenarios where you constantly fear for your life and are elated when you accomplish the smallest of tasks. It is certainly not a game for the feint of heart casual crowd.

At first glance, Dark Souls looks extremely similar to Demon's Souls and at the core, the two games are almost exactly the same. The combat, stats, multiplayer and many other features are carbon copies. Anyone who is familiar with the mechanics of Demon's Souls will find themselves immediately at home. Despite these similarities, Dark Souls is very much its own complete experience and absolutely does not require someone to play its predecessor to get the most out of it. There are, however, a few key differences between the two games that I believe actually makes Dark Souls the superior experience.

One of the biggest changes between the two games hinges on the fact that Dark Souls has an open world. In Demon's Souls there was a central hub, The Nexus, where the player did all of their equipment and stat upgrading and management. From this hub, the player could choose to enter any of 5 linear worlds in order to gain souls, equipment and down bosses in order to progress the game. Dark Souls only gives the player a basic objective (ring a bell) and lets them loose on the world. Not all of the zones are open to the player in the very beginning, be they barred by locked doors or more commonly monsters that will rip your spine out of your colon. However, as you progress through the game you will open up shortcuts that will allow you to bypass a lot of the more inconvenient sections.


Because Dark Souls has an open world, a localize hub becomes less convenient as the player may be somewhere deep inside of a castle or dungeon for a good portion of the game. With this in mind, From Software introduced the concepts of bonfires. Bonfires are basically check points in the game that allow you to save your progress, level up, repair armor, etc. They are strategically placed throughout the world to allow you to continually progress further and further into these zones. If you die, you will immediately return to the last bonfire you lit. I enjoyed the addition of bonfires as they allowed me to spend more of my time out in these gorgeous environments rather than having to constantly travel back to the same hub to perform character maintenance.

Spending more time out in the world due to the aid of bonfires, I was able to get a better sense of place and really enjoy the richly designed levels. From the highest vantage points, you are able to look over the entire landscape and see how all of the various zones interconnect. Standing in a heavily wooded forest, gazing over a deep chasm at a keep, I experienced a jolt of recognition with these large landmarks helping to orient me after winding through a maze. There were many "Ahah!" moments for me when I unlocked a shortcut and realized where it lead to. Overall, the decision to open up the world and interconnect all of the zones gives a more cohesive sense to the environment as opposed to the disjointed archways in Demon's Souls.

Another change that Dark Souls made from its predecessor was with the crafting system. In Demon's Souls you could upgrade weapons in relatively limited ways. In Dark Souls it is very easy to upgrade your basic weapons in addition to a whole slew of different upgrade paths that you may choose in order to further tailor the weapon to your tastes. Not only did the weapon enhancement system improve, you can also upgrade your armor. In its predecessor, armor was very much unimportant as you just got the best set for your build and completely ignored it from there on out. In Dark Souls, making sure you have upgraded armor and are wearing the appropriate pieces for the given situation (strong magical resistances, or lower encumbrances) can greatly improve your chances or surviving.

It may seem a bit strange hearing this, but I believe that Dark Souls is a more forgiving game compared to Demon's Souls. I am not saying that it is easier, only that it is more convenient in certain aspects and helps you from preventing some very detrimental mistakes. For one, there were these crystal geckos in Demon's Souls that when killed would drop the various stones you needed to upgrade your weapons with. The number of these geckos was greatly limited and if they managed to escape (they were fucking fast) then you would lose one off of the total number of geckos that spawned. This is not the case, however, in Dark Souls; if they escape, you still have a chance to kill them later.

Another aspect that makes Dark Souls more forgiving is the bonfires. Being able to repair your equipment, upgrade your equipment, store items and level up at any of these bonfires makes it less likely that you'll be walking around with a large chunk of souls. For those of you who are unaware, souls are your only currency in the game for increasing stats, repairing/buying and upgrading items; they are also lost upon death. If you are barely able to manage in a given area, it only takes a couple short trips back to the bonfire before you've leveled up enough to take on these new foes. In addition, having Estus flasks (the healing tonics of Dark Souls) and spell charges get refilled when you use these bonfires, you're very unlikely to get into a situation where you are left entirely helpless. I'm not saying that you can't fuck yourself over in Dark Souls as Jack certainly has proven it is possible, but you have to at least make an effort at it. There were also certain NPC driven decisions that can make your life entirely fucking miserable in Demon's Souls that do exist in some form in Dark Souls but are possible to recover from. I really can't say more without spoiling the experience so I'll leave it at that. Dark Souls may be fucking hard compared to Demon's Souls but it is certainly not unfair.

The online component that was found in Demon's Souls is present in Dark Souls and has been improved upon. Players can see spectral versions of other players flitting in and out of the world and can leave messages warning others of danger or pointing out hidden treasure. When players are in human form, they can be invaded by enemy players and in certain zones there are even NPC black phantom invaders. In addition, there are now covenants that when joined give players access to new equipment and abilities. The covenants also provide a flavor to the PvP aspects of the game, charging players with killing others that have broken their covenants, invaded the forest or some other criteria based on the specific covenant you belong to.

While up to this point, it may seem that I've been glowing about the game and yes, I have. It is a very well crafted tense experience that has made many improvements on an already amazing experience of its predecessor. Dark Souls, however, is not without its problems, but almost all of these issues lie in technical performance. While I played the game on both the XBox 360 and the PS3, I dedicated most of my time to the PS3. I could not visually distinguish any major differences between the games, but there were moments when the frame-rates dropped like a dress on prom night. It only really got bad and incredibly noticeable in one location; when I entered The Depths and was fighting the undead with torches, everything went slow motion. The game was still responding to my input, but everything was greatly slowed down in about a 10 to 20 foot square section on the stairs.

There were also situations in an area called Blighttown where my camera would get lost in the numerous scaffolds that littered the zone. When locked onto a large, club wielding, festering horror which can poison you, having your screen go entirely black because the camera has discovered its love of clipping inside objects, it can become very difficult to not die. It did not necessarily break the game as I had to then treat that location as a very dangerous spot and attempt to lure the enemy away from it. A lot of these technical problems, however, are things that can hopefully be improved in a patch later on, but we won't credit From Software for that until it actually happens.

Dark Souls is a very deep game. There are many aspects of it that I haven't even gotten a chance to touch on yet. I haven't even finished the game yet and I'm 40+ hours in and have cleared almost every zone save for a handful. Given the amount of content that is provided, I can easily see myself spending another 20-40 hours just exploring the world, unlocking the best items and digging into the PvP. I still fully intend on finishing the game in the next couple days, but in the interest of letting everyone know what a fucking amazing experience this is, we opted to jump the gun a little and get this out early. If you've played Demon's Souls, enjoyed it and haven't bought Dark Souls yet, then what the hell is the matter with you? If you've never played Demon's Souls and have the patience to learn from your mistakes and become a god among men, I cannot emphasize enough how amazing Dark Souls is.

Score: 90%
(90-95%: These games are phenomenal and transcends all issues)

Comments

  • Sorin 7 years, 11 months ago

    Awesome review, this game is incredible like Demons souls was! im 23 hour in right now and im enjoying it alot, even when i die and lose 50k souls ^_^

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  • Muddy_Donuts 7 years, 11 months ago

    More like addiction souls, amirite? ......
    Anyways good review Bob!

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  • roughplague 7 years, 11 months ago

    I have to agree on all points here, Bob, especially with the Blighttown example. I'm there now, and not only do I have situations where the camera ghostly merged itself with a scaffolding, but while fighting more than one enemy, or orienting the camera to gaze upon it's rather creepy dark design and the "town" all over, the frame-rate slowed to a crawl, hindering the flow and awareness of combat (while still reading my inputs yes) and making my eyes hurt.
    I haven't seen any other frame-rate drops beyond this though to be honest, the depths were smooth even with the torch enemies, so Blighttown were jarring in comparison, and I have no idea why it would, it's not like it's riddled with effects, but the amount of detail on every single plank (and there's a lot planks) may be one thing, plus the scope of the depths combined with that.
    Oh btw: you can reverse your npc hostility by talking to the dude that appears at the bottom of the first bell when you ring it, buying a pardon to reset their hostility; and he can also fix your covenant betrayal (tho super expensive I read) and if you wanna get out of a covenant, do it with him so you don't get blacklisted.

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  • dregen 7 years, 11 months ago

    Loved Demons souls, havent made up my mind about this one though. Its a lot harder then the previous game, as I dont level up my character that much, basicly just so I can use the weapons. In Demons Souls I had no problems beating the playthrough without leveling. In this game however, you will commit suicide if you dont level up, as you will have the hardest time to take yourself back to starting camp. Thought I had to restart my profile when I got stuck in Tomb of Giants, as I couldnt go forward because I needed a key/stone to unlock a door. Now that was the hardest time Ive had in a video game trying to take myself back as I am only a level 20 cleric... They arent kidding around with those Giant Skeleton soldiers and dogs...

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  • Zladko 7 years, 11 months ago

    Praise the sun!

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  • Kevin Schnaubelt 7 years, 11 months ago

    i beat this game, I FUCKING BEAT THIS GAME. that means nothing for any other game. im glad this game if for xbox. demon souls was the most interesting game to me on the ps3 and i as sad that i was missing it not having one. now i have no reason at all to have a ps3 =0

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  • joetm 7 years, 11 months ago

    Great review. This definitely got me more interested to this game. I'll probably wait until Black Friday to get this.

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  • Comradebearjew 7 years, 11 months ago

    I can't wait to play this

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  • Raccoonboi 7 years, 11 months ago

    Great Review, Dark Souls has to be one of the best Dungeon hell games I've ever played next to Demon's Souls. Nothing is as intense as it is, that I know of. I appreciate the great Review Bob!

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  • Review: Dark Souls – fullarmorofgodblogs 7 years, 11 months ago

    [...] EXCERPTED FROM Full Armor Of God source http://4playerpodcast.com/2011/10/16/review-dark-souls/ [...]

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  • Myusernameisawesome 7 years, 11 months ago

    Just bought demon souls earlier and I'm in love with it. I'll be sure to pick up Dark Souls at full retail price so that the developers get the money that they deserve.

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  • drummingdude21 7 years, 11 months ago

    I'm finding I like Dark Souls better than Demon's Souls too. There's just something about the whole world thats just more satisfying. I also made it through Blighttown without dying once (except for the boss) and I was blown away because I've heard bad things about it. Blighttown was also the only place so far where I've experienced slow down but it slowed down for pretty much ALL of Blighttown

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  • Rawkmaster 7 years, 11 months ago

    God I love this game. I made a mistake of killing a NPC (I wanted to see if a souls arrow did anything to it) and than that entire area went dark and I just lit up because they actually put that into the game. :P

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  • Rendrak 7 years, 11 months ago

    Just finished the game as of writing this. It was absolutely fantastic, better than Demon's Souls in every way, which is quite a feat. Easily my game of the year so far, although Skyrim will likely usurp it.

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  • Dark Souls Patch Incoming | 4Player Podcast 7 years, 11 months ago

    [...] don’t know about you guys, but I’ve certainly made my feelings about the game clear. If they can manage to fix some of the performance issues in this game, which I didn’t find [...]

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  • Aged Milk 7 years, 11 months ago

    "Dark Souls only gives the player a basic objective (ring a bell) and lets them loose on the world. Not all of the zones are open to the player in the very beginning, be they barred by locked doors or more commonly monsters that will rip your spine out of your colon."

    This is actually my biggest beef with this game so far. After 3 hours of play, I felt absolutely no compulsion to keep exploring do to the lack of a cohesive objective. You ring the bell and after the Gargoyles then sort of are just left to fumble around blindly until you think you've found the path you should be going on. If you're actually playing blind(which it feels like almost no one online is doing), this can be more boring than engaging as backtracking to explore usually requires grinding through waves of fodder over and over again. It also makes the story feel a bit hollow. ;)

    I'm currently 8 hours in, imo the combat and core mechanics are more forgiving than Demon's Souls. Enemies give more you opportunities to backstab and they're stunned longer after you parry them. The only thing that's bothered me so far is they made target swapping a flick, rather than a nudge like it used to be. It is encouraging to see so many Soul Signs for multiplayer though, hopefully the lag & inconsistent framerate issues in some areas is dressed properly with that incoming patch. Waiting 2-3 seconds for your character to -start- drinking a flask after you've pressed square can be painful to sit through, though as rarely as it happens.

    Anyways sorry for the random jumbled of mess of thoughts. Just my two cents. :)

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    • Bob Webb 7 years, 11 months ago

      I got stuck in the exact same spot: I ran the first bell and was had _no_ idea where to go after. I knew I had to head down as according to the guy at the Firelink Shrine the other bell was far below, but as to how to get there it wasn't very explicit. I eventually had to give in and look up what the "Basement Key" went to. Other than this one spot (and I admit, I probably could have figured it out if I had more thoroughly investigated the area) I didn't have any problems knowing where to go next in the game. I pretty much kept exploring each area I went to thoroughly and while it took longer to do so, I was well rewarded in loot and experience.

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      • Aged Milk 7 years, 11 months ago

        Yeah it sort of becomes less of a grind once you get past that slump in the earlier sections, I'm enjoying it's pacing much more so far. And after putting more effort into exploring, I must say that the use of optical illusions in-game isn't something you see as often as you should nowadays and I'm glad they were creative in hiding paths and items rather than just using them as gimmicks to trick people into cheap deaths. It feels much more rewarding when stumbling onto hidden loot than it did in Demon's.

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  • AdjacentKitten 7 years, 11 months ago

    Beware of those fucking techno geckos. I hate those goddamn things.

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  • lemith 7 years, 11 months ago

    I prefer demons souls.

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