You walk into a dark room, it's covered with blood and human remains. You stroll on through hardly even noticing it as you're paying more attention to the mini map in the top corner of your screen. Then a cut scene is played.
A huge enemy smashes through the door screaming at the camera making it shake, his armour is thick and is covered in skulls and fire. He shouts "I want your blood!". Everything about its design is trying to intimate you however you feel nothing and feel lucky that you chose medium difficulty so you can finish the game quicker so you can maybe unlock all the achievements/trophies. The letterbox cut scene also allows you to see the glowing red on his back. You know this is his weak spot, you've seen it hundreds of times before in similar games. You wait patiently for the cut scene to end so you can kill him and move to the next level. You then slice the enemy to death with the tune of the electric guitar backing music. You collect your reward for killing the beast from a farmer in the village.
You notice this farmer has great voice acting and almost perfect lip-sync as he's giving you endless lines of dialogue of his life which you didn't ask for in the first place. He goes on to explain the next quest involving mundane tasks. He will explain in great detail why he wants you to kill all the killer crows on his farm as he needs a good crop yield this season for his family. Amazing, you can choose a question to ask him. How many family members? How old? Any news in the village? What kind of crops? How long have you been farming? Each question followed by many lines of dialogue. It proves what the back cover of the case reads, "Over 50 hours of dialogue!".
You move along and tumble into a pit and die as you were not paying attention to the beautiful world the artists have created and were watching the navigation arrow above your head. This is annoying to you as you now how to sit through the loading screen before you carry on your merry way unpunished for your mistake.
I'm guessing if you are reading this "review" you know I'm not describing dark souls but instead describing the most generic fantasy rpg my mind can conjure. Now let's try this same scenario in the theme of dark souls.
You walk into a dark room, it's covered in blood and human remains. You immediately stop and scan the room and listen out for anything. Nothing to be heard. You walk back outside where you know it's a little safer to pause and check your souls and debate turning back or going through this unknown path and risking losing your souls and hard work. You take a deep breath and steadily walk through.
Along the corridor you see a figure blocking the way. You don't know if he it seen you but there is no way around it. You keep moving with your shield drawn. You see it's some kind of Knight but one you have never seen before. He doesn't look so powerful but you have learned never to trust this cruel unforgiving world. He's spotted you. He limps towards you. The sound of his clumsy footsteps echo eerily through the silent hallway. He strikes but your drawn shield deflects the damage. You see your opportunity to lunge back but before your blade hits he slices you numerous times almost ending you right there. You are out of estus flasks but decide not to run and examine this new enemy's unpredictable attacks.
After a harsh battle you defeat him. You feel the rush of relief as you loosen the tight grip of your controller and your heartbeat calms. And as this rush hits you, you spot a warm glowing ahead, a bonfire. Without hesitation you instinctively walk towards it. You can't believe your luck, you're so happy you fail to notice walking over suspicious looking panels triggering arrows which shoot you in your back. You died.
You stare in utter disbelief as the loading screen hits. You are pissed. Pissed at how you have to travel all the way from the last bonfire. Pissed at all the enemies you have to kill again. Pissed at the sadistic minds of FromSoftware to place that trap right before a bonfire and pissed at yourself for being so complacent. But does this anger make you switch off and play another rpg? Absolutely not. You know you can do better. You are wiser now, you may even get to your lost souls twice as fast and discover new things on the way. Pick up your controller boy and keep going.
These hypothetical comparisons may seem a bit unfair to you readers who haven't played dark souls before however those who have would completely understand. I, like many others who have played the souls games think even just playing through souls has actually made it difficult to enjoy other games. What I'm trying to write here is not much of a review really but trying to figure out what makes souls so great and why it's my favourite game of all time.
The world of dark souls fit the difficulty perfectly. You're an undead who is forced to complete a quest which would involve dying over and over again which will drive him to madness, sound familiar? You walk alone across dramatic landscapes, grand castles and the depths of the earth. Of course this is similar to most other fantasy games but the world has a gives the feeling that you are an outsider in a grand place built centuries ago, rather than a world built around you. This atmosphere makes you feel completely alone which makes any feeling of creeping though dungeons more horrific and the feeling of overcoming obstacles even more euphoric
The difficulty is one of the things which stands out in dark souls. This difficulty may scare people, including me, away at first as the game is not very accessible to new players. But for those lucky ones who stuck with it will be rewarded the highest prize a video game can offer. This is the euphoric feeling of overcoming obstacles which appeared impossible at first glance. It's punishing sure, but it's mostly fair. The game makes it clear from the start that everything is capable of murdering the hell out of you. You mess up, you die. And the added weight of knowing the price you pay when dying can turn this rpg to a straight up horror game. I had many moments of desperately finding bonfires, this one I remember clearly.
I was wandering in the sewers already pretty lost. I felt like I was going in circles, it was maddening. I killed so many creatures so had already built up a nice amount of souls. So I thought it best to just come back to the last bonfire and try going through this death pit another time. As I was walking back I walked on a pit trap which dropped me deeper down. CRAP! I was even more lost with no bonfire in sight. Then just as I stopped panicking haunting noise followed with the words "An invader has entered your world" CRAP CRAP CRAP! At the time I didn't even know this could even happen and knowing another player is in this world made me literally stand up and scream at the TV. I haven't done this since I used to play on my n64 as an 11 year old. I got killed and at that point I was on my knees with my head in my hands, I'm 25 years old. My girlfriend came running in from the next room and bollocked me for scaring the hell out of her as she thought I was having some kind of heart attack.
These moments can only be had in videogames, sure you can get immersed in a movie but you can never experience a movie. I could talk to a friend about a movie we both enjoyed and discuss how it terrified us, made us cry, laugh. You can watch a movie which can make you feel as though you're peering into another world. But I can never discuss how we experienced it other than how and where we watched it. This is why I love videogames and my point is that dark souls is the perfect example of this. From the pain and glory of defeating a boss to discovering something so secret you feel like you are the only one who found it.
Apologies for this not being a review and more like a cheesy love letter. Despite my sulky first paragraph shunting other games I actually think games are getting better in general, although I think something has been lost on the way. I play new games one after another and a lot of them become almost routine in the way they are designed. Then Dark Souls hit me like a slap in the face and reminded me the why I love games so much. So excuse me to overindulge as I believe Dark Souls to be more than a videogame. In the same sense that the Sistine Chapel is a building, Ayrton Senna drove cars, David Bowie sung songs and Dark Souls is a videogame.
Leaving scores seem a little pointless to me but I'll leave a 10 as It doesn't make much sense to me to rate my favourite game any lower.