I’ve been a gamer for well over thirty years now, in which time I have watched the respective technology of this immersive medium grow exponentially more complex over the decades, not just the relevant console tech itself but also the inherent maturation of gameplay, graphics and storylines contained within these entrancing virtual worlds. One of the things that defined games of previous generations, such as Sega’s Megadrive, and Nintendo’s SNES, weren’t the less complicated pixel form graphics but the relative difficulty of the actual games themselves, modern games, in stark contrast to their ’80s classic counterparts are rather easy in comparison… until Dark Souls.
Dark Souls released in 2011 from Japanese gaming guru’s From Software, an outstanding action role-play game set in the perilous lands of the ancients, known as Lordran. Technically the second game in the Souls series, a spiritual successor to From’s former sensation – Demons Souls.
‘Prepare To Die’ are the ominous words that greet the beleaguered player on the box art, and die you shall, again and again, once, twice or thrice more… now, if you’re thinking to yourself at this moment that this doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, I say au contraire, my fellow gaming buddies, it’s the difficulty itself that makes Souls the glorious gem it is. A tangible sense of achievement and progress is gained from defeating that impossible boss character that has managed to annihilate your anxious avatar fifteen times on the trot, memorising their strategies, or just purely surviving make for a seriously satisfying sense of accomplishment when you finally do manage to best your cyber-space nemesis.
Difficulty aside, the world and lore of Dark Souls is really rather fascinating, but unlike its peers in the RPG genre, does very little through direct exposition to the player bar the initial (and still rather vague) introductory cut-scene. Dark Souls lore is embedded in its characters, architecture, and items, all vital knowledge and exegesis is derived from multiple conversations with the NPC’s (even then, the ambiguity of their replies require you to dig even further to interpret) or the descriptions that accompany the various weapons, armour and items acquired as you traverse through the treacherous land that is Lordran.
In fact, the narrative is so well embedded that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the creators had decided to not even add one, yet if you’re willing to dig deep and immerse yourself in its perfidious prose you will be rewarded with one of the most cerebral and emotional chronicles that gaming has wrought. But, if plot is of no interest to you, and your only reasoning for venturing into this precarious predicament is for the conflict, then that’s fine, because the combat system in Dark Souls is superlative.
Dark Souls combat absolutely is its defining feature, weighty, precise and intricate. Though it can initially feel a somewhat shallow fighting system, it slowly forms into one of the greatest combat engines to ever grace an RPG. The substantial weaponry open to your prostate protagonist begins with the player’s choice of class, do you prefer to tread the duplicitous world of Lordran as a steel clad knight, maybe a leather bound assassin, or perhaps sorcery is more your style, whichever role you decide upon, you are guaranteed an expansive choice of weaponry, armour, spells and shields (which are your absolute best friends in Souls) for your perpetually pained paladin.
Of course, all the entrancing exposition, crazy combat and awesome armour count for naught if there are no memorable antagonists to pit your plucky (though usually plucked!) hero against, and the adversaries in Souls are some of the largest and most unforgiving any persistent paladin has ever faced. From the humble undead, to the terrifying half arachnid- half witch Queelag, the foes you face down are some of the most remorseless and unrelenting you have ever had the ill will to encounter.
The bosses are unyielding in their pursuit of your demise, from the aforementioned Queelag, through gilded knights – Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough (the dynamic duo of video-game hell!) your gaming skills and cred will be tested to their utmost limits, but each and every time (many, many times!) you will assimilate a little more of their inherent patterns and weaknesses, until you finally revel in their eventual expiration.
There is also an extremely popular online PvP mode, where Souls aficionados can test their mettle against other players, whilst invading their worlds or duelling one on one, though this substantive mode rarely interested me personally, though I did enjoy the ability of being able to call upon one of my Dark Souls brethren (hi Dan!) to join me in jolly co-op, and sanguinely slay a boss or two, or to at least share in my torment!
This game has so much depth, intrinsic lore, customisation and complexity that this review could easily become an epic of encyclopedic extravagance, so I will just say this… do you love – Videogames, , fantasy, bloody huge swords, labyrinthine lore and are a little bit of a masochist at heart? then you’ll fall absolutely head over heels with the world that is Dark Souls, just be prepared to die again, and again, and again…