I will admit something to you guys. This game was, in fact, NOT my first FromSoftware experience. It was in my second. However, this was the first FromSoftware game that I had actually beaten.
The game begins with a simple prologue, telling you about the alliance to overthrow the dragons and the Age of Fire that came after, then how the current state of the world. Soon after, we’re introduced to your creatable character, the chosen undead.
The first thing to note, this game has character creation. Always a plus for me. You make your character, then pick your class and starting gift. However, the first thing to know is to not worry about it too much. These only determine your starting stats and equipment, as well as give you a certain gift you can use in some way that you can actually achieve at some point in the game. However, in this case, the easiest class and gift to start with is the Pyromancer with the Master Key.
Another thing to note is this game is hard. Like, notoriously hard. At the same time, however, it’s fair. This game was the very source of the ‘Get Good’ meme. I can honestly say though, that this is true. While I certainly died a lot throughout the game, at no point did I think the game was unfair. In fact, most bosses a rarely had to fight more than twice. Some, I even only fought once and won.
That said, the game doesn’t particularly make a point of holding your hand. It tells you what button does what and lets you do the rest. It teaches you enough and it’s up to you to learn how to play effectively. That’s really the gameplay for Dark Souls in a nutshell. Trial and error. The game challenges everything you’ve known about action games up to that point. Things that you’d normally get away with now get you killed. Even the controls are a severe change from what action games normally go for. Once you get the hang of it, however, it becomes almost instinctive.
You will die a lot in this game, especially if you’re just learning, and there’s a price to pay if you do. The most valuable asses you have are Humanity and Souls. Humanity determines your resistance to curses, as well as increase the item drop rate. Souls act as experience points and currency, needed to buy items and level up your character. If you die, you lose all your Humanity and Souls. You have one chance to claim them. If you go to the general area where you died, you’ll see a bloodstain. Touching it will regain the Humanity and Souls you’ve lost. However, you only have one chance to do so. If you die again, they’re lost forever, so it’s always a good idea to try and pick up your souls and be careful. Enemies will also respawn when you die.
The game knows how hard it is though. At various points in every area, you’ll find bonfires. You will be wanting to keep an eye out for these things whenever you can. Bonfires replenish your health, spells and healing items, and when you die, you’ll automatically return to the last bonfire you rested at. These are also where you level up, and if you have a spare humanity, you can revive yourself to human form, which makes you look less like a zombie. You can also kindle them to give yourself more healing items when you rest at that particular one. The cost of this is, any enemies you’ve killed, unless they’re minibosses or bosses, will automatically revive.
The game also has unique online mechanics that are staples to the series. The players can leave message to help (or decieve) you, giving you hints or warning you of various dangers. You will also catch glimpses of other people playing this game. You can also find bloodstains of other players showing you how they died.
If you’re in human form, you can also be invaded by players, and this can be a hinderance, as normally these players at this point will have gears and items far surpassing your own and specially equipped for PvP. At the same time though, while in human form you can also summon players to help you in boss fights.
Now, Dark Souls is an action RPG, but while the game has a very indepth and complex story and lore, it doesn’t particularly make a point of shoving it in your face. Most of it is told to you through cutscenes, talking to NPCs, item descriptions or through actually well thought out environmental storytelling. This creates a unique balance where those who aren’t interested in the story can still enjoy the game, and those who are, can look for and appreciate what they find. Collecting gear, even if you’re not going to use it, is even still worth it as you’re collecting the lore than comes with it.
There are two things in Dark Souls that are normally a huge annoyance in other games, but this one does rather well. Durability and weight. Practically every item has weight, but it only counts once you’ve equipped it. You can carry stuff well enough too heavy for you, and you can still move around without being hindered as long as it’s not equipped. However, keep in mind that if you’re equipped over half what your load limit is, you will start moving slower. Durability, while a thing, isn’t something you need to be too concerned about. You can spend souls to repair them as needed and it goes down slow enough anyway.
There’s also three types of magic in this game. Sorcery, Pyromancy and Miracles. Sorcery is generally non-elemental magic and a catalyst is needed to cast them. Pyromancy is generally fire-based and requires the Pyromancer’s Flame. Both of these require Intelligence to use. Miracles are the spells of clerics and focus mostly on healing and lightning damage, requiring Talismans to cast. These require Faith. No matter which, though, you only have so many of a spell to cast until you reach a bonfire, and you can only have so many spells at a time thanks to slots. However, if you get the same spell and equip both to a slot, they stack and you’ll have more casts of that spell.
Let’s talk about the real star of the show when it comes to this game though. The customizability. As I said before, picking a class and gift only affects your starting stats and gear. The game boasts a wide variety of weapons, gear and builds to suit any playstyle. You can start off as a melee character and develop yourself completely into a mage. I, myself, started off with the Pyromancer, but moved more towards sorcery. The vast amount of weapons you get can even be modified to suit your needs. You can make magic weapons that are perfectly suited for mage builds, allowing the normally long range mages to melee. Different types of armour can have various effects and you can put your souls into any stat you want. That said, it goes without saying that smart distribution of points and resources are key to playing the game well. It should also be noted that there are requirements for spells and equipment. If you want to use a large sword, or a powerful spell, make sure your stats are where at a certain level.
Also keep in mind that you can attack and kill NPCs which may have consequences down the line. It’s also permanent, so you can’t undo the damage you’ve done. Be careful. I accidentally killed two NPCs during my playthrough myself.
Dark Souls provides everything gamers like. A fair challenge, high customizability and a wide variety of ways to play. It’s also fairly solid. I’ve run into very few glitches throughout my entire playthrough and I’ve put over 182 hours into this game.
Golly, with all that, it must be the perfect game that everyone can play, right!? Well, no. Not exactly. It’s more of a matter of taste than anything else. While the visuals are beautiful, character models aren’t perfect and can look rather odd at times. But most of all, the difficulty might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Especially since there’s New Game+ which gets harder.
If you’re into fantasy games that will challange you from beginning to end, whether or not you’re interested in the story, then I suggest getting Dark Souls. It’s a hard game that’s a rewarding challenge to play. However, owners of current gen consoles and PCs may want until May 25 to buy this game, as FromSoftware has annouced a Remaster of the entire series. I’ll definitely be getting that and reviewing each game when it comes out.