So, let’s just start this blog off. For the last year I have pretty much told anyone that is willingly (or unwillingly) ready to listen that Dark Souls is in fact my new “favorite game of all times”™
What is Dark Souls?
Dark Souls is a Japanese game by cult developer From Software and it’s a spiritual successor to their game Demon’s Souls. It takes place in a dream-like and dark fantasy universe. From Wikipedia: “Dark Souls has a minimalistic plot. Events and their significance are often implicit and left to player interpretation rather than fully shown or explained. Much of the story and lore of the world is given to the player through dialogue from characters within the world, item descriptions, or the scarce cutscenes. It is up to the player to put the pieces together.” You start out as undead who hasn’t become fully undead and you have no idea why you are in an undead asylum nor who you are….
Why do I love it? There are a few reasons.
The world and you
The game doesn’t give you much of a direction where you are going nor what you are supposed to do. You are thrown into a very hostile environment and everything about your situation and the world you inhabit is a complete mystery. You soon discover that this world is also extremely tough and brutal. Just around the corner are enemies who can kill you in two hits so you better learn quickly how to defend yourself. The world is so hostile that you never even have to attack first…everything int it is out to kill you as efficiently and quickly as possible. You’d better find a weapon and shield quickly. It’s this sense of danger and urgency that follows you throughout the game. You want to survive and you sure as hell want to beat your enemies. You feel afraid going into new areas and you never run around a corner. There are moments in the game where I have watched an enemy from a far for a while with a sigh because I know that I will soon have to kill him to advance and I know that it’s going to be a challenge. Still you feel the need to charge on…because you need to survive. Arguably many other games have fights and many games are tough…however this is the first time for me that this sense of danger has jumped out of the screen like this and set itself firmly in my left brain hemisphere. It’s like the game has a link straight into your brain setting of some primal instincts of being hunted.
The world is also seamless and huge. However it’s not disjointed. Every single cliff, town, tree, lake, underground cavern or even underground city is meticulously designed. It feels like a world that was designed with a purpose and it feels like a world that was lived in but has been broken down. There are no fillers here…every turn gives you either a sense of danger or a sense of complete wonder and surprise. You don’t have to go anywhere and no one tells you where to go. You will just have to find your path yourself and somehow you end up finding the best paths. The game design lesson here is that there is no reason to hold your hand nor divide things into arbitrary levels. The player can be trusted for making his own way and it’s this path of discovery which I love the most about this game. I felt complete and exhilirating surprise so many times throughout my journey in the game and I specifically remember noticeably gasping at that first visit to Anor Londo.
The world and the other players
In your adventure you are alone….for the most part. It’s a dark world full of danger, but there are moments of hope. This is where Dark Souls shines. Scattered throughout the world are bonfires. These serve as save points in your journey. If you die you will go to the last bonfire you rested at but if you choose to sit at a bonfire the whole world resets around you and all enemies respawn at their locations. This is both a blessing and a curse in many ways. However what I liked most about the bonfires is that this is one of the few times you see friendly faces. Other players playing the game at the same time as you appear as ghostly apparations…resting like you from this weary journey. You can’t talk to them but it’s always a somber and calming moment seeing another weary traveler resting his bones
There is a way however that you can communicate with the other players. At any point in the world you can leave a message on the ground which randomly (?) selected other players will be able to read. In your own world there are messages scattered throughout. These messages are constructed through a limited set of words at your disposal. You can almost always count on the rare spots that contain calming sunshine will have the ever present “Praise the Sun!” message. You can also count on the darker and difficult spots having the more despairing messages “I can’t take this” or “Despair ahead”. Sometimes these messages are also very helpful, like for instance “Try using fire” before a very tough monster…or the a little less specificic “Try beating to a pulp”. These messages in total give you the sense of all of us as a collective working together to beat this beast of a gameworld. It’s like a collective cry of despair and hope but somehow they help us on our journey. We are not alone in this.
The last possible player interaction is also the scariest. In your journey you can choose to be either undead or human. To become human you use a rare “Soul” resource that drops from certain enemies. Being human has its clear advantages…you get more items from enemies. However this leads to other players being able to invade your world…and their purpose is not to give you complimentary hugs. They are after your soul and usually just make a beeline for your throat. This is a completely optional path to take, but let me tell you…beating a well-equipped player that has invaded your world to kill you is a fist pumping, shout out loud, hands in the air kind of moment! This added danger and reward is really worth it…if you feel up to it.
‘The world and how you beat it
Lastly I love the mechanics of the game. Combat overall feels very easy to control but still has extreme depth. You can really choose your path any way you like and are not locked in from the beginning to some arbitrary class. Maybe you just like to kill with a big sword and that’s just fine. Maybe you like to prance around in your underwear and just backstab foes. Or maybe you like to look cool and throw chaos fireballs in the face (my personal preference). Similar to your path in the world the way you build your character is very much up to you. They way you fight and the way you defend is very much up to you. The great thing about Dark Souls is that whichever path you choose it’s always seamless and simple to control but with a lot of depth. Shielding from an attack becomes an instinct and pressing the button to do it isn’t something you even think about. It’s a very fluid and free experience. This is a very rare thing in games, outside of the best Nintendo games like Super Mario Galaxy for instance. This combat model is the best I’ve seen…and I still wouldn’t count it as the best feature of the game (for me it’s the exploration and wonder). All in all it adds to the whole experience. Here’s an example PVP match that shows off some elements of the combat.
All in all Dark Souls is a game tailor made for me. It’s a huge world to explore and it instills a sense of wonder and exploration. It also instills a sense of dread and is brutally difficult in parts. It’s a highly rewarding experience as a consequence. However it’s not for everyone. Its difficulty can be a hindrance to many and it took me almost a 100 hours to complete due to the size of it’s world. However if you feel up to it and like even just the idea of what I’ve listed here then by all means give it a go! But before you embark..”Prepare to Die”!