In 2011 we were graced with many fantastic Role Playing Games. One of my favorite RPGs from that year, and of all time, is undoubtedly From Software’s Dark Souls. Dark Souls is the spiritual successor to the 2009 RPG of the year, Demon’s Souls and it certainly holds up to that legacy. Dark Souls brings players to the undead land of Lordran, where it has been said in prophecy that one day a chosen undead hero will rise up and reignite the primordial flame, prolonging the age of deities. I’m going to take an inside look at all the elements of this amazingly crafted RPG and explain why I believe this is one of the best games of this generation.
First and foremost, the tagline is “Prepare to Die” for a reason. Dark Souls is famous (or perhaps infamous) for one reason, the difficulty. The game is known because of its difficulty, but is also known for being extremely fair. Checkpoints are created by “resting” at a bonfire, which also heals you fully and recovers your health potions, or “Estus Flasks.” If you die, it is one hundred percent your fault for not being careful, or perhaps not being perceptive enough. When you turn that corner, are you going to carelessly waltz in, or will you slowly proceed with your shields and defenses raised? This is the kind of difficulty the game wields. Dark Souls has a mighty learning curve, but it is not only fair, but also fun to learn.
In turn this leads to an extremely rewarding experience. When you lay the final strike onto a difficult boss that has been stumping you for hours, the next few moments are not only rewarding in game, but emotionally as well. Many others, as well as myself, have been overwhelmed by happiness after conquering a very challenging area of the game. I can’t think of another game I am as proud to say I have completed as I am of Dark Souls. It’s very common for people to rage quit before they even scrape the beginning of the game. These people are weak, and if you’re one of them, pick it back up! Once you learn the mechanics, you’ll get better!
Speaking of mechanics, the combat mechanics are fantastic. There are not many other Action/RPGs that use a system like Dark Souls. We have the basic, one handed light attacks. There are the fastest, but often the weakest. Next are the one handed heavy attacks, which are slower, but heavier hits. Then we tap Y and suddenly we wield our weapon in two hands which allows for a two handed light attack. These are often very similar to one handed, sometimes different. It depends on the weapon. Following we have two handed heavy attacks which are often drastically different and exclusive to that weapon. Our left hand controls the basic block or light attack, depending on if you have a shield or another weapon. Use the heavy attack of a shield or side arm, and you will parry an enemy’s attack, leading up to a riposte which deals critical damage. You can kick an enemy to deal a bunch of stamina damage. You can backstab an enemy to deal critical damage. You also have a jump-attack which deals quick and heavy damage. If you have the height advantage, you can plummet onto enemies below to also deal critical damage. These are the elements that make Dark Soul‘s combat unlike any other.
Following up combat, weapons and weapon customization is very fun to explore with. There isn’t a single weapon in Dark Souls which is the same as the last. They all have their own move set, abilities, perks and disadvantages. There are also many different elements of customization you can explore including Fire, Lightning, Magic, etc. Designing a weapon based on your gameplay is a very important part of Dark Souls, because after all, you are only as powerful as that poking stick you have in your right hand. Not only do you have these regular paths to pursue for regular weapons, but you also have special weapons with special paths. Dragon Weapons, for example, are powerful weapons that unleash powerful shockwaves with two handed heavy attacks. You can also take specific weapons and fuse them with the souls of bosses you’ve defeated to get powerful demon weapons, which are each special in their own way.
Dark Souls has a very different currency and experience system compared to other games out on the market. As you defeat enemies your “soul” count will rise, which is both your currency and experience. You use souls to level up your different skills to fine-tune your character, as well as purchase new weapons, armor and items for your character to use. You also use souls to enhance your weapons and armor at blacksmiths. As well as souls, you have the humanity system. Humanity can be sacrificed in different situations of the game such as to gain favor of certain NPCs or to make bonfires stronger. You are undead by default, but you can use humanity to revive yourself to human. As a human you can be invaded by other players online, which can be either very rewarding fights, or devastating against your efforts. You can also summon two players to assist you to defeat the area’s boss.
Multiplayer is an absolute blast in Dark Souls. In order to play co-op, you must be within a certain level range as well as place your “soul sign” with a soapstone item. Once you do this, another human player can summon you to assist their efforts. Co-op play can be extremely rewarding, because you get half of the souls from the defeated boss, humanity, and the real experience you gain as a player. There is no penalty when you die as a phantom, other than being banished back to your realm. As well as co-op, you can invade other’s worlds as a Black Phantom and challenge them to a duel. These battles can be a lot of fun, and very rewarding, as you get half of that player’s souls when they are defeated. In can happen almost anywhere and even when you least expect it while exploring the vast regions of Lordran.
Which, might I add is pretty expansive and open-world. The areas are also beautifully crafted works of art, more often than not amazing to gaze upon. The sights of this game can be breath-taking at times. There are many hidden secrets in the different areas of Dark Souls including items, lost souls, NPCs, and covenants. Behind locked doors and illusionary walls are great treasures and forsaken abilities for you to seek out and use to your advantage. Lordran is completely open-world, if you know what you’re doing. You can go almost anywhere at any time, as long as you have the right key, or know where to get it. Once you play through the game, you might find the temptation to skip certain parts very great. After reading all this, I bet you’re thinking “Oh, man! This game sounds awesome, but if I sign up now I’ll have to get a bunch of DLC or miss out on stuff people got for being early adopters (or pre-ordering).”
Think again. Dark Souls has been out for one year and JUST released a DLC that From Software didn’t even originally intend too. There is no hassle to make you buy anything extra to keep up with everyone else, and I feel this is something that games don’t do enough now. Everything is “online pass” this and “season pass” that. You bought Dark Souls and you have everything you need to experience the full game. This is something I love about From Software. Sure DLC is nice, but when it happens too much and is pretty much mandatory, is when DLC ruins games. The DLC Dark Souls does offer is fun but not necessary at all.
I’ve only scraped the surface of this great game. It has so many other elements that make it even better, but it’s something you really have to experience for yourself! This is my favorite Action/RPG of all time, undoubtedly. If you’ve never played Dark Souls, now is not too late to run to your local game store and pick it up. It shouldn’t be too expensive at this point either, since it’s over a year old. I will not recommend another RPG as highly as this one (yes, it even beats Skyrim!) The replay ability is off the chain with all these different features that just make this the superior RPG to the others out there nowadays. Real men play Dark Souls. Pick it up, play it, and Prepare to Die.