Dark Souls. From Software (2011) Xbox 360

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Who likes smashing their face against a wall repeatedly? Because that is what happens in Dark Souls. It is a game where you headbutt a concrete wall so many times that you’ll eventually start to chip away at it. You can give up, go to hospital, return home and do something else. Or, you can get patched up and resume the head meeting wall scenario until you chip away a little more wall. And when you make slight progress you feel so triumphant in your head wall smashing ability that you charge headlong into the next wall, immediately snapping your neck and returning to hospital.

How much you enjoy this will have a direct correlation to your anger levels and the amount of control pads you can afford to smash into itty-bitty pieces after the 37 attempts at FUCKING Ornstein and Smough GAH HUMPH FUUUU, but if you can get over the initial difficulty there is a stupidly good game behind 75 reinforced concrete walls.

Story

Now you will be forgiven for thinking there isn’t a story (fanbois will flame you though), but there is. It is just hidden behind layers of text in the item descriptions and the games many wikis. But apparently, you are a risen undead “insert character class” and you are trying to light a bonfire. Why you’re attempting to light bonfires isn’t really explained, so you either have to read about it, or just accept the fact you’re here to bury your face in a large blob monsters buttocks.

Get used to this screen

Gameplay

Dark Souls is an Action RPG, so you run around in 3rd person perspective and die a lot.

Difficulty

I guess you can imagine that headbutting your way through 75 walls is pretty difficulty, but Dark Souls does become manageable. Nothing is signposted, but everything is fair. There is a reason you die, poor reaction, not noticing the HUGE WIND UP ANIMATION, jumping in lava, not looking around a corner, not holding your shield up, thinking you can run through 3 enemies to skip them, using lock on too much, not using lock on enough, the default camera, the special camera, thinking you can go toe to toe with Havel, lifts in Sen’s Fortress, the lifts in Blighttown, running onto a lift in New Londo Ruins that isn’t really there, being too aggressive, being to passive, and treasure chests.

Basically, you can’t face tank the game. Every section needs learning, and every section requires a different strategy as bosses that are easy for a warrior are almost impossible for a sorcerer (Four Kings) and visa versa.

Ornstein and Smough: I died about 50 times on these two

Hell, you don’t even level up like in a normal game. When you kill enemies, they drop souls. These souls are your currency for buying spells, equipment, upgrades, and leveling. So leveling isn’t automatic, you need to save your souls, and level up at a bonfire. Problem is, if you die… you lose your souls. You can run to your corpse to reclaim your souls, but if you die again, they are gone for good. It means the risk vs reward scale is very much titled on the risk side of the scale and saving souls for that sexy new spell you really want can be a nerve racking experience.

Many sections are long, and you will die a lot figuring out where to go, so if you have souls, use ’em, because you *WILL* die. And you will die a lot. Dark Souls is the kinda game where Piss Willow the one armed archer could kill you if you don’t show him the appropriate respect.

Capra Demon: I died about 45 times on this boss… And no, he doesn’t take a better screenshot!

The two main brickwalls I found to my progress were the Capra Demon, who is an earlyish boss, and then Ornstein and Smough. They aren’t especially difficult once you “git gud“, but I struggled because there are multiple things to deal with, and even on New Game+ as a super leveled god of Magic I was still whomped on these.

Once I passed Ornstein and Smough in Anor Londo I started to wafflestomp, I found an area in the Painted World of Ariamis where I was able to grind out 30 levels in about 2 hours, and suddenly my Pyromancer was 50+ strength and was trotting around in FULL Havel Gear. I was a fire god with the strength of a Warrior, and at this point I started to feel more confident. I was able to beat bosses on first or second attempt rather than taking 5-10 attempts (except Fire Centipede thingy, that fucker took 30 attempts). It means the game can start to get very easy, and the “joy” of headbutting walls is slowly replaced by the simple satisfaction of trouncing the Bastardy McFuckface bosses.

Despite all this there isn’t really a “punishment” for death except when you die corpse running, the most frustrating aspect is actually that some bosses have a long ass walk to get back to them which can be hella annoying. For example having to leg it for Bed of Chaos is a damn chore, but my personal hell are the Royal Guards before Ornstein and Smough!

Anor Londo Buttress: Sigh, dying on this bit is a chore. My advice, cheat by using poison arrows. Just cheat. Oh, and I died about 40 times.

Bosses

Most bosses are difficult to begin with, but the standard rule is “stick something in their arse”. Get behind ’em, and probe away. There are exceptions, but you rarely go wrong with pike it’s ass. That isn’t to say they are easy once you know to violate their rectums, most enemies will have a counter or a heavy damage retaliation, so if you’re not paying attention you will probably be one shot.

Bed of Chaos: I died about 35 times on this bit…

One slight disappointmentt I have with the bosses is on “New Game+”, this is where you redo the game, as you were. So walking up to Capra Demon who gave me so much trouble as a noob, and 2 shotting him wasn’t as satisfying as you’d think. So while the bosses hit slightly harder and have a little more health each time, they are nowhere near your level. It meant I got through the first 7 bosses in less then 45 minutes. Keeping in mind it took me 60 hours to complete the game and on all my save files it has taken me 2-4 hours just to get to 3rd or 4th boss it shows how much I am whomping on second playthroughs. Though once you reach Anor Londo the game catches up with your level and life becomes more difficult again.

Centipede Demon: Only died about 20 times on this guy

Additional Content

I don’t normally cover DLC in reviews, but I bought the Prepare to Die edition of Dark Souls, so I figured i’d at least have a looky…

And just like the rest of Dark Souls, you can play the entire game and not know where or how to access it without a guide.  You need to make sure the Siegmeyer quest is working (as it is easily buggable) and you need to kill a totally innocuous random Blue Golem in the Duke’s Archive. A portal will then appear miles away. Go to the portal and you’ll be whisked to the new area.

To be honest, the additional content did nothing for me, the boss battles weren’t interesting to me, and were a little harder. So ultimately I got bored and gave up on it.

Gwyn, Lord of Cinder. I only died about 15 times!

Conclusion

I love Dark Souls, there is no hand holding, there is no “press X to not die” and while it is brutal in its difficulty, everything is mostly fair. If you have the patience you’ll find a game that is deep and rewarding, where most of the bugs end up looking like features. Especially when you convince a boss to jump off a rooftop killing itself in the process.

I have sank nearly 100 hours into Dark Souls in just over two weeks, and it might be the only game other than Silent Hill 2 where I have immediately done a second run.

The only bit I consider to be unfair or broken is the shear RNGesus of the Bed of Chaos or the FUCKING buttress in Anor Londo which are easily the least fun parts of the game.

Pros: GITTING GUD

Cons: significant lag in areas like Blighttown, dying when running back to a previous death, Bed of Chaos just wanking you off into a pit of death, the bit on the buttresses with the archers in Anor Londo.

94%

It is probably time to stop playing now…

Back in the day:

Widely considered one of the most important games of the 7th Generation Dark Souls received very high scores, though averaged out in the mid 80s.

24 out of 41 Acheievements (including both endings) before I had enough

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