[Review] Dark Souls


Dark Souls is one of the best games I’ve ever played. I have no doubt about that. Being a huge Demon’s Souls fan, this has been on my radar ever since it first was announced and I honestly can say this is one of the few games that lived up to its own hype. After all, I’ve bought 3 copies of it and I still don’t think I wasted money. One of those is the Collectors Edition I got from pre-ordering the game, amazing content for no additional costs (all publishers should follow this example), the second I’ve bought because I’m only going to get the first late in December and I simply needed to play the game before that, however that one got terribly delayed, so I went on and bought another one.

Long story short, I was dangerously excited and had extremely high expectations for the game. Fortunately, my expectations were surpassed and my excitement only got bigger. I’ve spent an astonishing 60 hours with the game over just one week and I didn’t skip work once! But enough about this rambling and, like Monty Python and the Holy Grail would say “GET ON WITH IT!”. Oh, and I’ll be making this review newbie friendly, so you’re welcome if you’ve never played Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start the game is the dark and eerie setting, and soon you’ll be introduced to the unforgiving nature of it. Shortly thereafter, you’ll discover the most amazing thing about it: the best control scheme I’ve ever seen. Trust me, it’s that good. Skyrim is partially copying some of it. I have no doubts that this combination is what makes the game so great, because you’ve got a huge challenge ahead of you (especially if you’re not used to RPGs and more so if you haven’t played Demon’s Souls extensively), but all the tools needed to overcome it are there. You only need to learn how to use them.

The world of Dark Souls is huge and totally open for your exploration. You can finish the game and be completely unaware of many areas. Everything is permitted and whatever you see far in the horizon is a place you can go. In this sense, it is very rewarding, because some of the most precious moments of it will only be shown to those who take the time to look for them. The diversity of environments really impressed me. There are dozens of different ones, from foggy forests, to crystal caves, to creepy abandoned castles and some disgusting poisonous swamps; you’re never tired of looking at the same thing for too long.

The lightning is impressive, reflexes, humid walls, fire and so much more set the tone perfectly. Most of the game is pretty dark, which makes you appreciate it even more. I’ve noticed some weird shadows under platforms where monsters stand, but it didn’t bother me. Textures are also very well done. Most of the time it’s difficult not to pay attention to the great amount of detail put into each room and corridor. Weapons, character models, and especially armor sets are a work to be reckoned. I constantly took a little break from all the killing and dying just to take a look at what beautiful gear had I amassed during my latest travels.

As I said, the controls are perfect, shoulder buttons control each hand individually (L1 and L2 for left and R1 and R2 for right) and you can choose the intensity of each move (L2 and R2 for a stronger attack), the same goes for blocking or casting. The chain of commands will trigger different combos, all of those you should be very aware of, because they’re needed. You can also combine that to other actions such as rolling and jumping for even more results. The great thing about Dark Souls is its flexibility. For example, I play as a melee heavy class, but with zero investment in any stats I can wield very strong fire magic, it’s all about equipment.

This shines when you’re having trouble getting trough an area and realize all you need is a change of strategy. Another great thing is that the developers decided each group of weapons should have a very similar damage output, so in the end, you’re faced with the question “What is your favorite move set?” This is interesting because you won’t be seeing the same weapon over and over again like in some other games. There’s only a little problem here: very rarely there’s an input delay and sometimes this means a gruesome death.

A couple hours into the game I was thanking NAMCO for including the soundtrack with the Collectors Edition, because it is very beautiful and immersive. The deep tones made me feel hollow and scared, weary of each corner, and at times, excited and ready to conquer this magnificent world. I’ll be honest though, I’ve missed the terrifying singing of the Once Royal Mistress in Tower of Latria.

Sound effects are also spot on, be that the clashing sound of a sword against a shield, or the creepy noise of some abomination down the hall. The music is complemented by constant screams and moans, sure to make you tremble with fear of the unknown. For those who have played Demon’s Souls you’ll be reintroduced to some sounds you’ve heard before, which can feel weird, giving how used you may be to some of those. And more times than I’d have liked to, I heard my own footsteps after I stopped walking, that could be an echo, but it just felt really strange.

Possibly one of the greatest improvements over Demon’s Souls is the unbelievable level design. No level feels one directional, and if you intend to get the best of the game, thorough exploration is necessary. Taking risks is more than once rewarded, jumping off to far ledges or falling to some platform down below is advisable, most of the times treasure lies in wait, or perhaps a trapped NPC that is sure to help you for your troubles.

There are dozens of shortcuts and hidden passageways you should take advantage of. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting a lot of time killing some enemies over and over again. This might not be the best news for people who are easily sidetracked, or those in a a hurry, but it’s certainly well worth your time. However, be warned, even though unknown paths are difficult to find, doesn’t mean they aren’t well guarded and filled with traps, so always proceed with caution. This is rule #1 for this game.

While Dark Souls is not a story focused game, there’s an impressive quantity of lore scattered around Lordran. Most of it in form of dialogue with one of the many suspicious inhabitants of this worlds, but also description texts on weapons and sorceries for example. There are a few dozen NPCs, most with their own story arc, that you should be on the look out for (some of which I’ve missed on my first playthrough). Those make for a fine change of pace, to the mostly lonely journey, usually rewarding your efforts and shedding some light on what you should be doing.

Most have possibly heard about the difficulty of Dark Souls and all the rumors are true, well, partially. Personally, I haven’t found the game that hard, although my good friend Jason told me NG+ is where things get interesting, but I’m not a newcomer to the genre. The cautious nature of the game is where most get lost. Used to easy healing or enemies that don’t really hurt you? None of those are present here.

The key to survival is not getting hit, and playing as a heavy tank, for example, can prove to be very tricky. Every enemy has a pattern and to succeed you should learn it. This game is more about dodging and stepping in at the right moment than it is about sheer damage. Another important thing is to commit to your build, so don’t spread your points too much, otherwise you’ll be stuck with a useless character. I was very pleased with the fact grinding is a lot less necessary in this game. Simply playing will get you enough souls (aka experience points/money) to progress (that is of course if you’re careful).

The last important part of the game is the online component of it, an incredible innovative way to interact with others. You can either play cooperatively or invade others and claim their souls, both can be tackled in various ways. Playing this game with others is a completely different experience. It gets a lot easier (even though enemies get tougher) and sometimes is the only way for those who are stuck.

It is nice to give a helping hand once in a while, it feels good. Personally, I prefer PvP and I think it’s one of the best and most balanced systems around. It’s exciting and fresh every time and you’ll be sinking hours into it once you’re familiar with everything. The game wants you to play online so much, there are actually offline characters that simulate online play, which is very fair in my opinion. Some people are complaining about the matchmaking, but I’ve never had any problems myself.

Finally, Dark Souls is impressive. It has everything an excellent game needs: amazing looks, perfect controls, and engaging gameplay. It’s also terribly addicting. Playing it for at least 60 hours is practically mandatory, but I doubt anyone that gets to that mark will be able to stop before a couple hundred more. There’s so much to be said about it, I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface with this review (and I haven’t) which only proves how great it is. If you’re interested in a challenging, yet extremely satisfying experience, than you should look no further. This game certainly isn’t recommended for everyone. It’s a masochistic experience at times, but it is more satisfying than any other game I’ve ever played.

Review

ProsCons
Beautiful environments
Perfect gameplay
Extremely addictive
Extensive content
As satisfying as a game can get
Never cheap, always instructional
Disappointing for those who are not up for it
Occasional slow down on some areas
Rare input delay
Rating
95%

This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of Dark Souls provided by NAMCO Bandai Game.


Written by: pedrolabate - News Contributor


  1. #1 by Isli on October 23rd, 2011 [ 42435 Points ]

    Ah, you’re too fast with your review Pedro! I completely agree with your review. Truly a great game.

  2. #2 by Oly on October 23rd, 2011 [ 131925 Points ]

    Great review Pedro.. I will now be picking this up for sure in the near future.

  3. #3 by mowmow on October 24th, 2011 [ 11990 Points ]

    very nice review. I’m the frame-rate problems will really suck when your in a pinch. Hopefully they can patch that?

  4. #4 by EdEN on October 24th, 2011 [ 136063 Points ]

    Good one Pedro! I’ll be picking up the game later on once I’ve brought down my backlog to double digits.

  5. #5 by dragon290513 on October 24th, 2011 [ 7218 Points ]

    oh yeah I do run in frame-stutter quite a lot, even though I just played the game for 1-2 hours.

  6. #6 by Markus on October 24th, 2011 [ 4322 Points ]

    Nice review.

  7. #7 by Cheeto on October 24th, 2011

    <--- Haven't played Demon's Soul, so thanks for making this review newbie friendly. I will pick this up early 2012, I have pre-ordered Skyrim, so I wanna see how that turns out to be. Great review buddy, as always.

  8. #8 by Pedro on October 24th, 2011 [ 39949 Points ]

    The slow downs are frequent in some areas, specially where water (or something similar) is present, however it’s not game breaking or anything, just annoying (but can cause trouble at times).

    Yesterday I started my 2nd playtrough and honestly I didn’t find it that difficult, made it half way trough the game in less than 5 hours, making my way to the platinum (which should come later this week, if I can manage all the reviews in the mean time). And that was with only 10 levels of investment, the key really is equipment, specially weapons.

    This game is a must buy for any RPG fans.

  9. #9 by Sakinah on October 24th, 2011 [ 26489 Points ]

    I agree with everything except the score. It should be 100%. :)

  10. #10 by Markus on October 24th, 2011 [ 4322 Points ]

    I own the first one and I would really like to complete it. But I find it sooo hard lol… T

    his one looks pretty good too but I’m afraid it’s going to beat me into submission, make me cry for my mommy and be afraid of the dark.

  11. #11 by premiersoupir on October 24th, 2011 [ 17020 Points ]

    Excellent review, Pedro! It’s well written and covers a lot of ground. You make me want to buy the game! But I can’t justify buying any AAA titles just now. Oh, here’s an idea: How about you send me one of your three (!) copies! :) lol.

  12. #12 by Isli on October 24th, 2011 [ 42435 Points ]

    The slow downs really aren’t that bad. They occasionally hit in a few specific areas, but I’ve never had it hit when it mattered.

  13. #13 by Pedro on October 24th, 2011 [ 39949 Points ]

    @premieresoupir : a shame, I think you’d really enjoy this game. You, I actually thought about doing a giveaway for one of those, but it’s just to much $$… I’ll to trade it for Skyrim, which surprisingly I haven’t pre-ordered.

    @Isli : yeah, slow downs are mild (however yesterday there was a major one while climbing some stairs) but they’re a bit annoying when you’re going down to blight town for the first time and all those creeps keep trying to push you off the ledges :z

  14. #14 by Jason on October 24th, 2011 [ 27516 Points ]

    Isli: The slow downs really aren’t that bad.They occasionally hit in a few specific areas, but I’ve never had it hit when it mattered.  

    Blight town… great review. I think the patch will bring the score up to a 10 :) The game can only get better and thats a good thing. I have 6 play through s with this and dont plan on stopping anytime soon. I havent even gone after trophy’s

  15. #15 by Pedro on October 24th, 2011 [ 39949 Points ]

    @Jason, well, let’s see what they’re doing with magic before we commit to that 10 idea ;p

    Trophies for this game are so easy, nothing like Demon’s Souls. Shards, Large Shards and Chunks are “infinite” and Slabs are guaranteed per playtrhough so playing three times is all need to get all the demon weapons, however, Gargoyle Halberd is a tough one, limited number of drop events and low chances, got one yesterday though. I still need a Ghost Blade (from wraiths) though, last drop weapon.

  16. #16 by premiersoupir on October 24th, 2011 [ 17020 Points ]

    This is neither here nor there, but allow me to compliment the banner graphic for the review. Great use of your 620×200 px. I like the off-kilteredness and the “Review” emblem hanging in the moody sky.

  17. #17 by mowmow on October 24th, 2011 [ 11990 Points ]

    @pedro thats good i hated farming for the pure stones and such back in demon souls. knowing that i won’t have to farm for hours or days to get the weapon achieves is a plus.

  18. #18 by Pedro on October 24th, 2011 [ 39949 Points ]

    You can thank Jay for that, he’s really crafty with those . It really looks the part, totally moody, just like the game. (however, I’m half positive that the knight in the picture is actually the Penetrator, one of Demon’s Souls bosses hehehe)

  19. #19 by Isli on October 24th, 2011 [ 42435 Points ]

    It’s a very amusing banner-definitely a funny pose.

    Also, I don’t think you need any Gargoyle weapons for the trophy.

  20. #20 by Pedro on October 24th, 2011 [ 39949 Points ]

    @Isli, you need it for the Knight’s Honor trophy “Acquire all rare weapons”. I can’t confirm because I have got both (and haven’t got the trophy yet), but it’s what the guide says.

  21. #21 by Isli on October 24th, 2011 [ 42435 Points ]

    The printed guide? Mine doesn’t list that. Hmm, I’ll have to look into that.

    I hate that they made one boss soul used for three weapons, but other bosses don’t even drop a soul to be used for any weapon.

  22. #22 by Pedro on October 24th, 2011 [ 39949 Points ]

    @Isli, you’re correct, they’re not necessary.

    Realized I still need some drop weapons besides the Ghost Blade (which is a total pain and I’ve farmed for about 2 hours with no success). Titanite Catch Pole (only 1 respawing Demon), and Silver Knight Sword and Shield (possibly very low drop rate, but I haven’t farmed it yet to know)…

  23. #23 by Yourgor on October 24th, 2011 [ 940 Points ]

    oh god this games sucks its to hard and hell I dont know its just really that great.

  24. #24 by Pedro on October 25th, 2011 [ 39949 Points ]

    Yourgor: oh god this games sucks its to hard and hell I dont know its just really that great.  

    I know it might be hard to convince you, but the game really isn’t that hard. It just has a steep learning curve.

    I’ll agree that the first 5 hours are crucial though. So if you don’t get past these first steps it’s very likely you won’t go any further.

    The first time I played Demon’s Souls was like that, 3 hours and I couldn’t get halfway trough the first level. Then I bought the game and decided I’d make it my bi*ch.

  25. #25 by Yourgor on October 25th, 2011 [ 940 Points ]

    Pedro:
    I know it might be hard to convince you, but the game really isn’t that hard. It just has a steep learning curve.I’ll agree that the first 5 hours are crucial though. So if you don’t get past these first steps it’s very likely you won’t go any further.The first time I played Demon’s Souls was like that, 3 hours and I couldn’t get halfway trough the first level. Then I bought the game and decided I’d make it my bi*ch.  

    Pedro you just missed the point lol go back and read my coment very carefully, well the game is hard to me, but maybe I havent got the feel for it yet, but go back and read again theirs something their that you may not see or thank you read.

  26. #26 by Pedro on October 25th, 2011 [ 39949 Points ]

    lol, i just assumed you meant “it’s just really [NOT] that great” hahaha

  27. #27 by Yourgor on October 25th, 2011 [ 940 Points ]

    lol by the way this is a great review darksouls good job.

  28. #28 by hobbes on October 25th, 2011 [ 30071 Points ]

    this game seems to be harder than demon souls but i’m trying a different style of play that i’m using in this one. There is a glitch that’s found that will produce unlimited souls by the way, which could make some of the trophies and powerful soul levels questionable.


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