Monday, 2 July 2012
PS3 Review: Dark Souls
Dark Souls is a dark fantasy hack n' slash game created by Japanese developer From Software for both PS3 and Xbox 360 systems. A sequel to the sleeper hit Demon's Souls, Dark Souls doesn't stray too far from the original's winning formula. The most notable changes to Dark Souls are the new faction system and the departure from the world/character tendency system of Demon's Souls. Dark Souls is an unrelenting game for the niche hardcore gamer market.
Something is rotten in the state of Lordran - you. After a series of exciting events, prosperity and eventual corruption of society, you find yourself both undead(hollow) and banished; doomed to rot interminably in an undead asylum until the world finally ceases to exist. Luckily for you, fate decides to intervene and sets you back into the broken world as "chosen undead".
Character creation involves choosing a face, body type and starting class. You have a choice of ten classes and each class determines starting statistics and equipment. Like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls' classes are more of a starting guide and do not lock you into an atypical build. The initial game is easier with a knight class' armor, shield and sword compared to a deprived class' club, plank-shield and lack of armor. Magic using classes are also available, but tend to be a tougher start for an inexperienced player.
Dark Souls' gameplay is uncompromising - you will die. The undead asylum features a short tutorial, but after this the hand-holding is over. You will learn to fight and use bonfires to recuperate and save your hard-won progress. Bonfires act as the player's base of operations and, after dying, you will respawn at your last visited bonfire to continue your journey; unfortunately, bonfires also respawn previously defeated non-boss monsters. Arriving at the next bonfire means progression, or you are entering a new area.
Dark Souls rewards careful and thoughtful advancement. Players should take their time and learn how enemies move, defend and attack. Knowledge and exploiting your opponents movements is the best strategy to efficiently defeating them. Defeating enemies will gain you souls, the game's currency, which can then be spent on equipment or character upgrades. Upgrading your character makes them tougher, effects PvP range and unlocks equipment. A final tip - don't rush - rushing through the game will get you killed, even pros who rush will generally end up dying.
The Souls series of games is famous for its inspiring level design and awesome area bosses. Dark Souls' environment design is generally characterized around the area's boss; if an area is full of lava - expect a lava demon, etc. Level design is both intricate and confusing, unfortunately new players can often find themselves without a clear path forward; reading an online guide, Google search or wiki can put the player back on track. The environment itself is a hazard in Dark Souls, it will, often literally, cause your downfall.
If you play Dark Souls online, and you should, there are a number of online only features: PvP and co-op gameplay; spectres of other players; player messages comprising of hints, warning and traps; and blood stains of other players. Touching blood stains will replay someone else's final moments, often warning of a monster, ambush or fall. If you are online, you may trigger co-op or PvP invasion, these add much more tension, flavor and community into the game.
Covenants are a new addition to the Souls series and enable both active co-op and PvP multiplayer. Split between generally evil and generally bad, covenants offer special rewards and abilities to members. Personally, dark wraiths are my favorite covenant; dark wraiths forcefully invade players around the same level and hunt them for souls and humanity. Some covenants remove the level cap for invasions, so a level 30 player could potentially fight a high level 120+ player or group of high level players. Some players have mixed feelings over no-cap fighting, but it does add an amount of variability into the game. PvP is also the fastest and most efficient way to harvest souls, so mastering it does pay off.
Dark Souls is a great game, but it does have its fair share of problems. There are frame rate issues in some sections of the game and lag, but they are generally not a major issue. The game has been out for sometime now and it has become arguably less newbie friendly in relation to covenants and PvP. Dark Souls is not a game for everyone, it doesn't hold your hand or baby you, and this could be a casual gamer's worst nightmare.
In a AAA market dominated by mindless shooters and risk-averse publishers, Dark Souls is another breath of fresh air that takes the average gamer out of their comfort zone. Dark Souls' art, music and design are excellent and its imagery and music resonates. The game rewards tenacity, mastering your character and being as unrelenting as the game itself. Casual players will probably find Dark Souls an untenable and miserable experience, which they cannot drag themselves through - too bad for them.
Note: The best time to PvP is between 5-9pm Japanese time. Why do Japanese players always have two phantoms while pvping? Dishonorable!
This is a review of the PS3 version of Dark Souls, the Xbox 360 version may differ, or not have frame rate issues, etc
Also, a PC version of Dark Souls with added features will hit stores later in the year.