Have you heard of Dark Souls? Of course you have but what have you heard? I reckon it goes something like this…Dark Souls is one of the hardest games ever made.
Now this is where opinions divide, you see one half will say they gave up & hate the game while the other will say they preserved & discovered one of the most rewarding games ever. I happily fall into the latter half…
Dark Souls plot seems non-existent at first. You are a cursed human (you can create them but trust me, it’s mostly pointless as you’ll spend most of the game undead) chosen to leave the Undead Asylum, the starting point of the game. Your aim? To find out what happens to the Undead.
An opening cut-scene details how the first flame of the world (Lordran) came to be & how 4 beings found the Lord Souls & became gods. The flame won’t last forever & when it begins to die the Undead begin to appear throughout the land. An Undead can’t die but their eventual fate is to become Hollow, which is when they become dangerous.
That is why the Asylum exists & why your character is locked up at the start.
Released by a knight who dies shortly afterwards, you discover that a prophecy exists that says a chosen Undead will ring the ‘Bell of Awakening’ in Lordran. There you have your first major goal…
Dark Souls has few cut-scenes so while playing through the game it might become difficult to keep up with what exactly is going on. The way to understand & fully appreciate the excellent story is to pay attention to things you pick up & the NPC’s you meet along the way. Lordran is a rich & interesting world & you shouldn’t want to miss a thing.
It’s a game built around exploration, many areas are available from the moment you fully escape the Asylum (more on that in a second) & it is up to you where you go. Many areas while open to you are way to challenging to attempt early on though.
You see much is made of Dark Souls difficulty but the game wants you to learn from your mistakes, plan your next actions, and think about what you’re doing, about if you are ready to go into that cave or up against that boss. Lordran is a beautiful & unique place but it is also deadly.
Careful & tactical approaches have to be made when fighting even the most basic of enemies as the smallest mistake can have disastrous consequences for you. Fighting is central to Dark Souls though as each enemy type killed with give you souls (also some drop items) & these are your currency/experience. Tougher enemies & bosses will yield much higher rewards but die against them & you’ll get 1 chance to recover your lost souls…just one.
Get used to that screen…
You see you have to think about how & when you spend your souls. Imagine this…you have 20,000 souls in your possession & you accidently fall off a cliff. You’ve died & you’re transported to the last bonfire you sat at. That could be quite a distance away with some tough enemies in between. You have one chance to return to the place you died & recover those lost souls however should you die before recovering them they are lost forever. Harsh? Maybe but it makes you really appreciate the rewards that come with collecting souls & really think about when to spend them.
I mentioned bonfires above & the importance of these can’t be over-stated, they are your safe zones & you’ll spend a lot of the game breathing a sigh of relief when you make it to one. Resting at a bonfire heals you, saves the game & allows you access to equipment repair & most importantly the levelling up system! The only way to progress in Dark Souls is to level up & it is handled wonderfully here, you will actually feel a significant chance the higher levels you reach as more & more equipment & weapons becomes available.
Bonfires are awesome but like everything in Dark Souls there is a draw-back to using them. Once you rest all enemies you’ve defeated up to that point (not including bosses or mini-bosses) will respawn. It’s just another aspect of Dark Souls where you are expected to think about what you’re doing & plan ahead!
So what else…I’ll get onto bosses in a moment but first I need to talk about humanity. I know what you’re thinking? More things that can be lost!?
Yep, as an Undead you are…well, dead. Collect humanity & at a bonfire you can spend it to turn yourself back human. This is when you can actually see what the character looks like…see all that time wasn’t wasted!
Being human opens up a new part of the game, online play. Not in the conventional sense though…while human you can summon allies to help you. This is pretty important as they are incredibly useful against certain bosses even if it’s just to serve as a distraction so you can hack away. You can also invade other player’s games to try & take them down; it’s fun unless you’re invading someone’s game that is much tougher than you. Of course though this does mean you can be invaded as well. It adds a little bit of extra fun to an already expansive game.
Regardless of if you are human or undead you can read & write messages to other players that are littered throughout Lordran. This is a clever little touch as many a message has saved me from running around a corner only to run into a black knight when I wasn’t prepared (trust me, these dudes are a pain).
Dark Souls is a beautiful looking game although this might not be apparent on first glances. The early areas look a bit rough but as you explore Lordran you’ll really appreciate the effort gone into making such an exciting & gorgeous world. Many times I stopped to take a picture of an awe-inspiring background, sun setting in the distance…one of the few moments of peace where someone wasn’t trying to kill me.
This brings me to Dark Souls most important characters that will kill you…over & over again, the bosses. The world of Lordran is deadly as I said above but the most deadly are the many different monstrous things that await you beyond fog gates. Now not all bosses need to be fought to actually finish the game but a lot do. Dark Souls famously pits you against the very first one within 5 minutes of the game starting. You haven’t even gotten used to the controls & the Asylum Demon is pounding towards you.
I think every player did the same thing…try & fight it with your broken sword & scraps of cloth that served no protection at all. It’s a proper ‘what the fuck?’ moment as you die for the first time. Funny enough, it’s actually an easy boss once you know how but like everything in Dark Souls it’s all about learning from your mistakes & looking for another angle.
Every boss needs a different approach & you will get frustrated by your failures but, and this is the important part, you’ll never feel like the game is being unfair. It’s up to you to improve, it’s up to you to learn their attacks and it’s up to you to try something new. I spent hours on the Bell Gargoyles, I spent days on Ornstein & Smough…I felt like giving up but in the end I beat them & that in itself was the reward.
Dark Souls is one of the most rewarding games you’ll ever play provided you’re willing to go through a lot of pain to get there.
“this game is hard as fuck but you’ll be grateful for the punishment like the best submissive ever” (The Disc – 1st October 2015)