Dark Souls Review


The game Dark Souls released on October 4th, 2011 and was the spiritual successor to the PS3 exclusive Demon Souls, though not a direct sequel. Ken had been very into Demon Souls and so he had been hyping up the launch of Dark Souls for a bit, though he could never seem to get me or anybody else interested. The game already had a reputation for being intentionally difficult, and while some players find that enjoyable, I have never been one of them.

Ken got the game when it released and quickly started obsessing over it. He would go on to purchase the game for the 360, PS3, and later the PC version. He was already trying to get any of us to buy it to come play it with him. He went so far as to buy it for Aaron on the PC over Steam, but he never played very far. Ken also loaned me his 360 copy. It sat on my shelf for almost six months collecting dust until I received the game as a present in Christmas 2012 and gave his copy back. My copy would continue to collect dust for over a year before I finally took it off the shelf and put it into my 360. The night I eventually did pop it in, my wife and I were bored and I decided to pop it in on a whim to see what all the fuss was about. Ken had been badgering me for going on 18 months to go play it, and I figured if I turned it on and played just enough to prove I had given it a shot, he would drop it.

My initiation to the game was less than memorable. The game seemed like a pretty standard hack and slash, and my heart really wasn’t in it. I played for all of 20 minutes, got my first achievement, then promptly turned it off. I wouldn’t give it another thought for three months.

It was about the time that Ken finally succeeded in getting Jeff and Matt into the game that I decided to give it another go. Ken said we could play much of the game co-op, and as always, co-op is exceedingly more fun than a single player game much of the time. We decided to start playing it together on Mondays while Tyler was at work so she wouldn’t be subjected to my swearing at the TV.

The game prides itself on it’s difficulty, and there are quite a few areas that are difficult until you learn the patterns and strategies. Having Ken along who knows the game like the back of his hand was helpful, but he often wanted me to accomplish tasks on my own then meet up with him at a specific place. What I kept trying to relay to him was that I had zero interest in a single player adventure, and I was only interested in co-op. What he had failed to mention from the start was that the games co-op abilities are on an unstable P2P network that is fairly unreliable. We would often be sitting around for 10-15 minutes waiting for each other summoning symbols to appear to summon each other, and that eats up a lot of your time when you are only playing for a few hours one day a week. What’s more, you can only summon other players in an area while the boss is still alive. So any area we already cleared a boss, I could only play solo. Ken was really keen on rushing into an area, heading straight to the boss and killing it. If there was anything else in the area that I needed, I could come back later on my own to get it. That was exactly the opposite of what I had in mind.

What’s even more frustrating is that in order to summon other players, you have to be in human form. While you are in human form you are susceptible to being invaded by other players in your level. Players will invade other players world to try and collect souls or humanities more quickly, or just generally to troll other players. As they don’t lose anything for invading, they have nothing to lose by doing it. It is fairly aggravating to keep getting invaded by other players while you are attempting to complete content. While most of the time this was annoying, there were a few opportunities to troll other players that were invading. If I had Ken or Matt with me, we would setup a trap since the invader can’t see there is more than one person here, and then gank the shit out of them. It seemed to be the most effective method, and pretty entertaining to boot.

The look of the game itself is intentionally dark. The graphics have aged fairly well given the games age at this point, however there are a number of quirks the games engine has such as the rag-doll physics of dead enemies often getting stuck on environment elements, or even on your character. I would often be dragging a dead enemy corpse along with me for a while before it finally unattached itself on the environment.

The game story is not told through cut scenes, but instead mostly through completely optional NPCs dialog that you can encounter throughout the game. I didn’t really get grabbed by it from the get go, so much of what is going on and why eluded me, though Ken does fill in some gaps here and there when I ask him questions. For the most part is sounds like the developers intentionally left things vague. Though Ken says that Dark Souls II will go into some more detail.

The gameplay is basically what the game stands on. The combat system is quite complex. The standard method for combat is a shield in one hand and a weapon in the other. Ken tells me that everybody uses a shield because without one it would be much more difficult. After playing the game a bit it is easy to see why. For some enemies it is more effective to roll away from attacks, but the shield is by and large the most effective method of keeping yourself alive. Each different enemy type has it’s own styles and strategies. When you are just learning, you are dying A LOT. After you learn each different new enemy, encountering them again becomes much easier. It’s never not dangerous, and you always have to keep your guard up. But once you know a place, you can run through it with a sort of methodical precision that makes sure you make it through with most of your health in tact.

I must admit, mastering the strategies is what I found fun about the game. The whole thing is like an elaborate dance. You balance your experience, your gear, your resources, and try your best to make sure you don’t get in over your head. However it’s only a matter of time before you get overwhelmed and end up dead because of carelessness, overconfidence, or just plain inexperience. Once you are dead you respawn back at the bonfire you last rested at, and all your souls and humanities gone. You have one chance to get back to the spot you died at and pick them back up. If you die before you make it back, they are gone forever. Ken imparted his three rules of playing Dark Souls when we first got started, and they are pretty good:

1. Always keep your shield up

2. Don’t get attached to your souls, you are going to lose them a lot.

2. Seriously, you are going to lose a lot of souls.

Even with his three rules, it can get quite frustrating when you do lose a big chunk of souls. The entire game revolves around them. You buy items with them, you level up with them, you repair and upgrade armor with them, you purchase spells with them. Without them you have nothing. As a result I am never comfortable walking around with a large amount of them on me, and I try to spend a lot of them when I get them to avoid losing them.

I ended up running through the entire game twice to complete all the achievements. Had I been doing it alone it would take three full play throughs, but as I had Ken, Matt, and Jeff, and players are able to trade items to each other, I made it through in two. Each time you complete the game you are sent back to the beginning with all your levels and items, but the game is now harder. Strategies don’t change, but enemies have more health, and hit harder. You can keep repeating over and over again up to New Game +7. I only encountered +1, and it was bad enough for my tastes, I can’t even imagine going to +7.

I did end up enjoying it more than I though however, and now that we have all finished it up we are entertaining the thought of Dark Souls II. It released last fall, and Ken tells me the co-op servers are now dedicated and much more reliable. However, Ken doesn’t own it for the 360 yet, and Matt and I have vacations in the next few weeks.  The current plan is to buy it after we are all back to continue this little adventure. Part of me wonders what the hell I’m thinking though, this game has been frustrating enough.