In 2009 From Software released a game that not many people knew about-Demon's Souls. I myself am not sure how I came to know about the existant of this game but I found myself interested in it and bought it at release. Demon's Souls quickly spread like wild fire with it's innovative multiplayer features, addictive gameplay and it's brutally hard difficulty. Fast Forward to 2011, Dark Souls has developed quite the buzz within the the gaming community. Demon's Souls won my game of the year for 2009. Can Dark Souls recapture the magic set from it's predecessor and reclaim gaming glory?
If there ever was a game that I would NOT recommend...It would be Dark Souls. If you are a casual player this game is not for you. Like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls has a brutal difficulty that might turn off many new comers and casual gamers. This game will penalize you if you die as it will take away all souls earned, setting your progression back. You have the ability to retrieve the souls where you last died but you only got 1 crack at it. Dark Souls will stomp on your gaming pride, leave you weeping, and question your ability to go on. New comers will get obliterated--it's inevitable. The best advice I could give is stick with it. Also, don't expect a rich story for Dark Souls doesn't really have one and to be honest, I have no idea what it's about. You get a breif preview of events that happened in the past but it is merely to set up the gameplay--Just like Demon's Souls.
Demon's Souls vets will find the experience earned during their playthrough will benefit them in some way. Dark Souls plays and feels exactly the same with some subtle changes and tweaks to gameplay. You can dodge, rolls, hold your weapons with 2 hands, cast spells, lock on targets (still broken) and all that good stuff. You can now jump while you're sprinting which will become useful when exploring. You have your health and a stanima bar that will diminish when you perform an action or block. The game also starts in a similar fashion and gives you a brief tutorial before throwing you into the fire and having you fight your first boss. Difference this time around is you HAVE to kill it.
There are some noticeable changes to the game and one is the removal of MP....Yup, it's gone and not to my liking either. Instead of an MP bar you have a limit on spells you can use and depending on the spell, it's a set number that cannot be changed. Health is managed a little differently too. There is no "Grass" that can be collected or purchased but instead you are given a Estus Flask which also has a limited number of uses. You can upgrade the amount of health gained when drinking the liquid life but you have a certain item in order to do so. Spells and Health can be replenished whenever you die or locate a Bonfire.
I was a little nervous when I first heard about the bonfires. I thought it would greatly dumb down the game by creating checkpoints within the level but that's not the case. Enemies respawn whenever you use it which sort of negates your progress and they are few and far between. There nothing quite like the feeling of seeing that ashy object in the distant as it has a calming effect. Anyway, while resting near the cozy fire you have multiple options and serves like the Nexus. You can upgrade, repair, or store weapons. These options only become available when you purchase it. You do you leveling up here as well and it is still the same. You will have a list of parameters and can mold your character any way you like. Some weapons and armor will require your parameter be a certain level so it's wise to check it out. Obviously, Souls are the came currency. You gain souls by slaying Demons or finding them off fallen warriors.
Now don't get too cocky vets because I thought my knowledge on how the previous game worked would help me greatly and vastly lower any challenge this game might throw out at me but how was I wrong. Demon's Souls was hard but Dark Souls is HARDER...Much, much harder. The first 2 hours I died 20 times and lost count after. Enemies are bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, elusive. Their "senses" are sharper as they will notice you quickly. Their pursuit is relentless and sometimes reckless as they will chase you until they achieve their goal in demolishing you. I climbed a ladder thinking I was safe but quickly realized that they were given the ability to climb ladders too and most can heal themselves. You can use their pursuit against them because as I said, they rush recklessly at time and you can use it to your advantage making them do stupid things such as jumping off a cliff. Some enemies can also parry your attacks trying to lure you into making a stupid decision. It took me 10 hours (literally) to feel that I made any sort of progress when I defeated the 2nd boss (Bell Gargoyle aka Man Eater on steroids).
I had so much trouble getting past the Gargoyle I had to resort to Summoning a "White" Phantom (no longer blue). That's right, Demon's Souls unique mulitplayer is back. Just like before you can Summon or be Summoned, Invade or be Invaded, Lay down messages and rate them. The online however feels broken at times. It can take up to several minutes to be summoned as you have to find a place where you feel your sign will get noticed, I have only been invaded twice in 70 hours of gameplay and Messages I lay down have NEVER been rated. Demon's Souls had a nice flow to it's online. Soul Signs stood out with plenty to choose from, being invaded happened more frequently, Messages were rated constantly, and being summoned happened faster. Even the amount of bloodstains you see on the floor are limited. Once you find a game, It's still a blast with 2 other players. Complete your objective and gain a rare Humanity (think of Stone of Empherial Eyes) that can be used to bring you back to life or kindle bonfires. You can Summon NPC's you come across during your adventures which is helpful. I also believe you can be invaded by NPC's too....if that's the case, I have only been invaded once. There is no grading system where you were shown the percentage grade of the person you're trying to summon (ranging from class S to D) which I find rather lame. You will also come into contact with Covenants which can sometime yield powerful spells or other useful items if you pledge to them. I believe depending on what covenant you are connects you to the people of the same group which is diminishes the size of the playing field. I don't know the true extent of joining a covenant but I know it goes a lot deeper than just gaining a new toy.
Part of what makes this game so difficult comes from these beautifully crafted and massive levels you have been given to explore. You are not told which way to go as the game let's you decide which path to take which will result in you getting lost and slaughtered. Caution is your friend as you will encounter many traps and ambushes lying around the corner hoping to end your life. There is no central hub or archstones linking you to different places like in Demon's Souls so you will have to travel from place to place on foot and unlocking strategically, well thought out shortcuts to make things easier. Everything connects in some way or another with NO load times. There is awesome details and a wide verity of environments that rang from a poisonous swamp to a crystal cavern. The enemy design too is outstanding and you will come across all kind of demons, dragons and hallows. Unfortunately, the game is hindered by less than stellar graphics with poor textures that have a painted on look. Distant objects become very blurry and some objects are flat and/or have a boxy cardboard look to it(Tree Branches, Some Mountains). Odd transitions between the end and beginning of a new level along with frequent drops with the framerate can be frustrating. Dark Souls could have produced some of the most gorgeous visuals as you are always passing by the backdrops of the kingdom or overlooking an entire forest but unfortunately, the lack of clarity, sharpness, and low textures hold back this game from truly looking stunning.
It might not be impressive visually but the audio picks up the slack as it has greatly been improved and is consistent throughout the game. During the tutorial boss you hear an intimidating orchestration of horns, drums and violins as you get pumped up to take down this towering Dragon. Some Bosses have their own unique theme like a "little" butterfly in the forest that produces a mysterious yet frightening track. If you were a fan of the ambience of Demon's Souls than fear not because silence is deadly. Hearing the groans, grunts and growls of near by enemies will leave you cautious as you peak around corners to see who's making that disturbing sound. The crackling of a unsturdy bridge, your armor clanking when it hits the ground and environments that produce and echo whenever an NPC is talking or the noise that you produce when you strike an object. Little cool details like this make the game sound amazing.
Dark Souls is a brutal game from start to finish but it is an experience unlike many games of today. Although you may spend most of your time dying, you will find some enjoyment in it as it's difficulty will challenge your gaming skill. In this massive world there are tons of things to do and lots of places to explore. It took me 70 tough love hours to beat the game (I unknowingly did a bunch of side quests) so you will most definitely get your money's worth. Unfortunately, the game is hindered by frequent framerate problems and a broken target system that plagued Demon's Souls so I'm disappointed these problems weren't addressed and fixed. Multiplayer too seems broken and not as fun due to issues trying to connect to people and some in game lag.
Casuals and New Comers to the "Souls" series will probably be turned off but Demon's Souls vets and Hardcore gamers will truly love what Dark Souls has to offer.