Lets start this review with one thing. This game is hard. In fact, it's not just hard, it's unforgiving, and that is exactly what the game revolves around. Much like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls will test your wits and teach you the meaning of unforgivable pain. For all of those out there who have delved into the mysterious world of Demon's Souls back on the PlayStation 3, you will feel right at home with Dark Souls. Being a spiritual successor developed by From Software, the game keeps its demonic charm, all the while bringing you to the limits both physically and mentally.
Much like its predecessor, Dark Souls begins with a character creation screen, allowing you to choose your hairstyle, hair color, name, and class, as well as a few extra features such as your physique, and being allowed to choose a small gift to aid you in your adventure. These interesting little goodies range anywhere from healing items, to firebombs, to mysterious rings with unknown abilities. For the time being, I chose the warrior class, whose stats are well rounded, and can dish out a decent amount of damage, with the Tiny Beings Ring which grants me an incredibly slow HP regeneration when equipped.
I was immediately welcomed to the fact that I was in fact, dead from the get go. Starting in a horrid place named the Undead Asylum, you find yourself locked in a cell, cast away until the end of time. However, an unexpected guest drops a delightful corpse in your cell containing the keys to your freedom. In what is essentially the tutorial of the game, you'll learn your basic movements, combat techniques, and dodging abilities. Items are gathered here as well, including one of the most useful items in the game; the Estes Flask. These are your healing items, and you'll carry them wherever you go. You'll also receive some useful information about Bonfires. These heartwarming flames are checkpoints that are found scattered throughout the free open world. They replenish your health, and your Estes Flasks. They allow the management of spells and miracles, storage options, and the offerings of Humanity; a rare currency in the game that brings you back from the dead, and kindles your bonfires allowing you to hold a whopping ten Estes Flasks instead of five. Mind you, there is a drawback to these flames. While they do offer a great amount of benefits, they will also happily respawn every single enemy that you've killed outside of bosses. This makes using bonfires another strategy, and knowing when it's a good place to rest at them.
As you traverse this vast, horrifically beautiful dungeon crawling world, you take part in one of the most ingenious online capabilities ever introduced into gaming. While the game is mostly a single player experience, messages can be left on the ground for others to read. These messages center on aiding other players through silent noble acts such as telling the player to watch the ground ahead for any traps, or warning the player to be wary of an imminent ambush. However, once you regain your humanity, with the right items you can call upon another player to aid you in your travels, allowing another to jump into your game world. While this is beneficial, people can also invade your game world with the right requirements, allowing them to silently hunt you down and steal your souls.
Dying is a key element to the game. Through my adventures, I found myself dying at every new area countless times. And while this does test my patience and mental health, it's also a creative learning tool. Because the combat in this game is so well crafted and exact, everything you do in the game is of your own doing. The game may feel unfair at times, but only because you've never endured the task at hand before. Dying has two major functions. The first is obvious, being a great learning mechanism, and lecturing you on what to do. And the second is to test your will and force you to push forward, having you question if it's all worth it in the end. When you die, you lose your souls. Souls are obtained through killing enemies, bosses, and using various items. These souls are your currency... for everything. They're used to purchase new abilities, spells, miracles, weapons, armor, and even levels to increase the parameters of your character's stats. Much like in Demon's Souls, when you die you lose these souls. To get them back, you must go find them. It's a tough journey, and it's even harder knowing that if you die once more, all of the current souls and humanity that you had built up will be lost forever. One of the most interesting foes you will fight are the beautiful bosses that plague the land. And there are a lot of them. You'll fight Fawn, Gargoyles, beautiful but deadly butterflies, mystical giant wolves, hideously well-crafted dragons, and so much more. And they will all test you to your fullest ability.
To top it off, enemies aren't the only thing you need to watch out for. Most of the environment is completely booby-trapped, with sewers that have trap doors on the floor, to rickety old bridges that cause you to lose your balance, making you wonder if the item across is really worth pursuing. Areas in the game vary greatly from undead cities, to diseased sewers, to mystical forests, to torture chambers. Some of these areas are so well conceived that when venturing through them will eventually cause you to beg for a shred of sunlight as it encroaches upon your very well being.
There is no real major story to the game. In fact, there's not even a guided path to take. Everything about the game wants you to discover it for yourself. The majority of the game is completely shrouded in mystery. There is no hand holding, or maps, or even invisible barriers for that matter. From Software has crafted another title that wants you to be in control of your destiny.
While the game sounds like the perfect rewarding title, it does have it's drawbacks. A few of the issues that plagued Demon's Souls make their return in this sequel. Stuttering framerates are a normality, and while they won't hinder your overall experience, they are in fact noticeable, especially in more condensed areas such as Blighttown. Another big issue is the lock-on system, which I found to have killed me quite a few times. Whether it was due to locking on to the wrong enemy, or causing me to fall off a ledge, it did get frustrating. While these issues can be of a bother, the game is so superbly crafted that you'll subconsciously push them to the side to continue on.
This is not a game for the weak of heart. This game will not forgive you for dying. If you're just the casual gamer who's interested in a good game, this might not be for you. If you're looking for something that will push you to the edge, I cannot recommend this game enough. It requires constant concentration and will-power to play and push forward, but because it is so unrelentingly brutal and painstakingly nightmarish, it's quite possibly one of the most rewarding experiences in all of gaming history, taking what its predecessor had and ramping it up tenfold.