The Average Gamer

Dark Souls Review (PS3)

Dark Souls is the spiritual successor to the 2009 Playstation 3 exclusive Demon’s Souls. It brings with it much of the style and functionality of that earlier title, along with a casual disregard for many modern gaming trends, and a gorgeous fantasy setting, which encourages exploration and experimentation on the part of the player. But in an overcrowded winter gaming market, can From Software deliver an action RPG that is truly different enough to be worthy of your time?

Setting The Scene

From the opening cut scene onwards, Dark Souls sets up a moody, almost poetic background to its particular breed of gameplay, which blends RPG elements with an extemely tight combat system and subtle online interactions. Having been unceremoniously thrown into an Undead Asylum, your characters’ first taste of combat comes against an Asylum Demon that is bigger than a house, and night on impossible to beat, given that your only weapon is a broken sword. This encounter gives rise to Rule Number 1 in Dark Souls: if something seems too tough to beat, best run away and try again later.

As the game progresses over the first few hours, Dark Souls drip feeds information to the player, but never enough to make you feel completely aware of your situation. In terms of storyline, information is gleaned from a small number of cut scenes, along with brief interactions with various NPCs, inhabiting the often dreamlike world that has been lovingly crafted around you. This feeling of inhabiting a dream lends Dark Souls an ethereal quality, which is heightened by the hugely inventive level and character design, which often left me staring in awe and horror, sometimes in equal measure.

Prepare To Die

Whilst Demon’s Souls, and now Dark Souls, both carry a reputation for having an exceedingly high difficulty level, this is not the whole picture, by any means. Whilst you will find that you die a heck of a lot in Dark Souls, the game tries to use this as a learning experience, rather than a stick to beat you with. As with real life though, some lessons are harder than others. Particularly painful are the deaths that occur when the stakes are highest, but by the same token, the incredible rush of emotion that occurs at a moment of success is that much sweeter, given the effort it has taken to achieve.

The Keys to Success

Levelling up in Dark Souls is paramount to success, as are the procurement of better armour, rings and weapons, which can help you succeed against what often seem to be impossible odds. The souls acquired from dead enemies can be used to develop your character in any way you see fit, and the weapons that you carry can be crafted further, with the use of Titanite, into items of incredible destructive power. As you progress through the game, you will come to realise quite how important a good arsenal of weapons is, as the game throws tougher and tougher enemies at you, along with some of the most daunting boss battles ever seen in a video game.

Boss battles are an absolutely core part of the Dark Souls experience, and each boss encounter has one thing in common – when you first meet them, you will doubt your ability to triumph. But triumph you will, given the right tools and the right approach, and sometimes the help of a fellow adventurer, using the online functionality of the game.

Online support in Dark Souls is beautifully integrated into the game world, and never feels like it is jarring you from what is essentially a solitary, and at times lonely, experience. Lay down a white soapstone message and you can offer your help to fellow travellers, ghosting into their game as a white phantom, providing assistance in beating a level, or taking down a boss.

Conversely, lay down an red soapstone, or a cracked orb, and you will find yourself invading another player, looking to strip them of their humanity and souls. Between these two extremes lie a messaging system, which can offer either help or misinformation to other players, and a covenant system that opens a whole world of possibilities for online interactions.

A True World

Dark Souls is a game that encourages the player to think, explore and experiment for themselves. Thankfully, the world that has been created is an absolute joy to travel through, and the way that the game opens new areas and shortcuts as you progress is done with incredible attention to detail.

The draw distances in the game are huge, with threats yet to come often sighted on a distant battlement, or in the depths of a poisonous swamp. Coupled with the permanence of your movements and actions, and the fact that you will barely see a loading screen in your time with the game, you can begin to feel like you are experiencing a living, breathing environment.

In terms of game length, Dark Souls offers players a substantial campaign, with the further possibility of side quests, online interactions, crafting and covenant membership that can take it to well over 100 hours for the first playthrough. Personally, I completed the game in just over 70 hours, having explored a lot of the optional areas, and carried out a little bit of voluntary work for the good folks of the forest covenant.

For those players looking to invest even more time in the game, it is actually designed to be played through on multiple occasions, by entering New Game Plus.

In NG+, you get to keep most of your equipment and your character level, but will find that the difficulty level has been significantly increased. Perfect for anyone chasing achievements or trophies.

In Summary

Dark Souls is a worthy successor to Demon’s Souls. It offers a unique and powerful approach to the RPG genre, that provides a level of challenge unseen in many other modern games. If you want to sit back and be part of an interactive movie spectacle, then this is probably not the game for you. If, on the other hand, you want to immerse yourself in a deeply personal adventure, set in a beautifully crafted fantasy world, that can shock and surprise like nothing else released this year, then you should give Dark Souls your time. You won’t regret it.

Curious about the verdict? Read our review policy.