Dark Souls is a game like no other, it does away with quick time events, hand holding & the cinematic characters we're all so used to these days. It reminds me why I play games in the first place, for the reward, the atmosphere & the adventure. It reminds me that us as gamers, should change to fit the game, to improve. Instead of the games catering to us. For me at least, It was a glimmer of hope amongst a sea of shooters. A deep rewarding experience that wasn't aimed at the masses, but was clearly created with passion.
After creating your character, and personalising them with a few hair and facial tweaks, one who can be many of your usual RPG classes, be it a mage, knight or miracle user. You play as the chosen undead, a poor soul destined to live in the Undead Asylum until the end of time. You are however, given a little bit of help to escape your cell. And you set of on your adventure to bring pilgrimage to the land of the ancient Lords, Lordran.
You're then taken to the firelink shrine, here is where your journey truly begins. This is the closest thing you'll get to "Home" in what is otherwise a rather bleak world.
In an industry now prone to taking the controller off of you, & showing you the story through cut-scenes, this game is pretty much the exact opposite. The story is there, but like everything else, Dark souls isn't going to bend over backwards to make sure you understand it. The main plot is told through a few pieces of NPC dialogue, and the voice over at the start. Everything else you'll have to learn on your own. Any background stories of the wonderfully weird NPC's you'll have to piece together yourself. Through subtle hints in their dialogue, to vague descriptions of their sold items. Dark Souls' plot is the video game equivalent of a jigsaw, for better or worse, you'll get as much out of it as you put into it.
After being told to ring one of two bells, you'll soon learn Dark Souls combat is based largely on accuracy & precision. Timing your attacks right and exploiting an enemies weakness is the key to success. Fighting too offensively at times will get you killed, where as doing the opposite at other times will end in the same outcome. Defeating one of the many strange & occasionally disturbing enemies will give you souls. Unsurprisingly, souls are everything in this game, your currency to buy arrows from the oddly camp merchant in the Undead Burg. As well as levelling up your character to suit your magic, vitality or endurance needs. Levelling up your character is incredibly satisfying, you will always feel your character's benefits. To increasing your Intelligence stat for that more powerful magical spell, to rising your strength to use that one obscure weapon you retrieved from a boss. Armour sets are really detailed & abnormal. It's clear Dark Souls has had a Japanese influence & it is entirely beneficial for it. Items are mysterious & weapons are bizarre.
You'll accompany your character through some incredibly varied and beautiful environments.
The Darkroot garden, a wonderfully green forest home to strange bush monsters, large fierce cats & unofficial gathering place of "no rules PVP". Anor londo, a huge city bathed in sunlight, with an almost eary sense of artificiality with it's unstained and sanitary architecture. The crystal cave, a cave concealed in bright blue rocks, a place hard to admire by the habit of getting wacked in the face by a crystal golem.
All of this is partnered with the fact that the world is intertwined, it's all to scale. You can sit atop sens fortress and look down upon where you previously fought the Gargoyles, you can look up from atop the undead Parish Church & view what you'll later learn to be the Dukes Archives. All of this comes together to make Lordran an entirely immersive world.
The online in Dark Souls is in my opinion, revolutionary. Not every JRPG needs online, but Dark Souls proves the genre can benefit a lot from more player interaction. Players can leave each other messages, be it a warning or tip. Or a downright lie, to help/fool other players. You'll often find "Bonfire ahead" near a bonfire, or a "Be wary of blacksmith" before meeting a friendly blacksmith. You may sometimes find "Amazing treasure ahead" right before a fatal drop though (seems legit), so don't put too much trust in these messages. Nevertheless, they help remind you that you're not entirely alone on your quests, and other people may be facing the same hardships as you.
Which brings me to the CO-OP, players can use an item called Humanity, a black sprite which doesn't look entirely unlike a vagina, to turn human. Turning human allows you to summon fellow Dark Souls players to help you face that particular areas boss. Phantoms who are successful in helping you with Jolly co-operation, are rewarded with their own humanity sprite. Which in turn lets them turn human.
Defeating a boss with another player or two is a journey, an experience no other co-op game has given me. You'll form a temporary bond with these phantoms. A brief moment of companionship before braving the twisted enemies of Lordran alone. A feeling Demon's Souls players will likely remember. There is no online chat, that's not how Dark souls rolls. Instead players communicate in gestures, be it a shrug, a bow or a point. This creates some amusing moments, like a gleeful jump when defeating a particularly tough enemy. Or a synchronised shrug, when a fellow phantom accidently rolls off a cliff to his death, in his haste to dodge a sword wielding skeleton.
There are downsides to being human though, being human allows other players to invade your world, in an attempt to kill you. This is the player versus player aspect of Dark Souls. If successful in killing you, and probably screwing up the 2 hours you just spent trekking through Blighttown, the Invader will take your humanity. If a player is successful in defending against an invader, the player will be given humanity, as well as a horde of souls in accordance to the invader's level.
This creates for some heart racing moments, as there is so much to lose. There are few moments in gaming that get your blood pumping as much as seeing "Insert Japanese Name Here Has Invaded" to then meet a bright red phantom flipping at you, holding a magically enhanced katana. Possibly using some kind of spell that you have yet to encounter.
Adding more depth to the already fantastic multiplayer is the ability to join covenants.
Covenants provide certain item's and open up certain possibilities to multiplayer. For example, to help a further range of people in Co-op, or to host a PvP duel. Players can join or leave any covenant at any time, though some will have consequences. Covenants are found across the whole of Lordran, some will take effort to find, some will be there right in front of you. It is entirely possible you will go through the game without finding certain ones.
The music is always stunning & always very relevant to the atmosphere. You'll hear a variety of tunes on your travels, for the "safer" more calm area's the music will be in accordance, the Firelink shrines theme is almost relaxing. The boss battles on the other hand are a different story, being a big part of the game they demand more powerful and memorable themes, and they always deliver. Ornstein and Smoughs theme is particularly memorable, a dread filling theme with effective Organs, Violins & what I can only describe as "HUUUURRRRRR HUUUURRRRRR". Also, the ending theme is beautiful. An elegant & delicate theme which somehow manages to capture the emotion I felt from completing the game.
However, no game is perfect. Unfortunately there are a few framerate problems in certain area's of the game, luckily though the framerate is relatively solid & the only issues you'll find are in these few places, which can be completed with relative ease & hold no hotspots for online play. There are times when the game throws it's "firm but fair" rule out the window, and just likes to surprise you with an almost unavoidable death, which can result in an almost instant ragequit. Online can hold a few troublesome issues too, PVP can occasionally lag, and you may be victim to the infamous "lagstab". A critical hit which may feel like you've been cheated out of a potential victory. Summon sign's can sometimes fail too, though this is a rather small issue. Overall, these are minor problems, and should not discourage anyone from attempting any portion of the multiplayer options.
To put it short, everyone should play Dark Souls. The atmosphere, armour design, unique monsters, deep RPG mechanics, NPC's, vast world, music, secrets & online play all come together to create a masterpiece of the genre. A game I believe is worth a place in any gaming history books. Praise the sun!