Prepare to die. Not only does this serve as the URL for the “Dark Souls“ official website (www.preparetodie.com), but also some practical advice for players. Prepare to die, a lot. This title will challenge both dexterity and wit, often times requiring perfection just to proceed. But due to this difficulty, success feels infinitely more rewarding when achieved.
“Dark Souls” is a role-playing game (RPG) that is action-based like Zelda, instead of strategy-based like Final Fantasy. Created as a “spiritual successor” by the same team responsible for the infamously unforgiving 2009 title, “Demon’s Souls,” this game lives up to the hype in terms of sheer difficulty as well as the creative and mechanical elements that made “Demon’s Souls” a sleeper hit.
The first of these is character creation. “Dark Souls” improves upon the character customization of “Demon’s Souls” in that it also allows a degree of body-proportion choices such as muscular, scrawny, bloated, and more.
As soon as the player’s character has been created, the story takes flight. As with its predecessor, “Dark Souls” begins by throwing the player into immediate peril and hopelessness. In “Demon’s Souls,” this meant matching the player against impossible-to-defeat foes within the first 5 minutes of the tutorial stage, after which the screen flashes “YOU DIED” and returns you in ghostly vestige to the central “Nexus” stage.
In “Dark Souls,” however, the player is afforded even less time as a human – they begin the game dead, in ghoul-like form, locked in a dungeon. This effectively sets the tone of utter despair that “Dark Souls” continues to cultivate throughout the entire game.
The world in “Dark Souls” is much more open-ended than the previous game. “Dark Souls” embodies the same flawless level-design, but affords the player more freedom. Wandering around from area to area, the player can encounter dungeons, temples, bosses, all in a more organic way. The areas are never linear and don’t feel artificial, instead being much more organic, like corners of a real world, waiting to be explored. In terms of a dungeon-crawler experience, this kind of realism goes a long way in affecting the player.
The story elements are, like the last game, understated. In order for the player to make sense of what is happening, they need to put forth effort. Cut-scenes will never explain the nature of the story, instead requiring some detective work, reading documents, talking to NPCs (non-player characters), and putting the pieces together themselves.
Multiplayer is another thing the franchise is known for, with “Demon’s Souls” winning several awards for its innovative multiplayer mechanics. Essentially the player is alone in their world, but other players may be summoned in phantom form to help (co-op) or invade in order to hunt them down and kill them (player vs. player). Players can leave spectral notes on the ground, to warn of traps, give advice, or prank with intentionally bad information.
The game is challenging and, at times, soul crushingly so, unapologetic. However, the game is never unfair about it. As long as the player is thoughtful and patient, the success is always within reach. If players appreciate atmosphere and value a real challenge, “Dark Souls” is a must-have. If players deem linear, easy progression more important, the game could be passed up. However, they would be missing out on the best RPG of the year.