Review: Dark Souls [3/3]
Dark Souls: bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “love/hate relationship.”
It’s very difficult to judge Dark Souls. I’ve thrown down the controller and cursed this game on more than one occasion but I also kept going back to it. It’s built from the ground up to be the bane of casual gamers as well as core gamers that have gotten used to games that make every effort to keep the player from ever being inconvenienced. I will readily admit that I fall into the latter category. Dark Souls is infuriating to complete, but I did complete it out of curiosity, self loathing, and the support of my girlfriend who, God bless her, had taken it upon herself to master this game.
Like many other contemporary RPGs, the player designs a character who is set loose in a vast world to conquer. Lordran will not be conquered so easily though. Luckily for the player, your character is virtually immortal. Any time he or she dies, they are instantly transported back to a bonfire, minus any experience points they have earned.
The player must be able to make their way between pairs of bonfires without dying in order to progress in the game. The player is given a finite number of estus flasks to restore their health along the way. These flasks can be replaced at bonfires, but doing so will revive all of the enemies that had previously been killed. Restoring flasks before reaching the next bonfire essentially means starting that leg of the journey over, but it ensures that you hold onto your experience points if you don’t think you’ll survive to see the following bonfire. If you do die then you will have one chance to return to the location where your character was killed in order to retrieve those points. Die again and they are forfeited.
At the end of each realm, the final bonfire will be guarded by a boss monster. So if it weren’t difficult enough to survive the journey there, the player is expected to demonstrate mastery by being able to defeat intimidating creatures worthy of myth and legend using however many flasks you have left. Nothing short of mastery of the game’s systems will allow you to proceed. Lordran is a treacherous world that prides itself on tricking and killing you for making small mistakes. There are no two ways about it, Dark Souls is one of the most challenging and frustrating games of this generation. So why should anyone bother with it when there are so many other quality games that aren’t as taxing to play? Because it is an incredibly deep game. While cheap deaths are frustrating, there are always other ways to approach situations. This encourages player master of the game’s mechanics which are rewarding in their own right. For instance, learning how to parry or backstab will grant you the ability to do two or three times as much damage in one attack.
Dark Souls also creates a sense of tension that is unrivaled. The environment of risk, reward, and value is unique and compelling. I would have been disgusted with the game if it weren’t plainly evident how much effort went into building the world of Lordran and the game’s mechanics. Dark Souls also deserves credit for the subtlety it uses in telling its story. The cast is endearing and the events surrounding the game and its plot are incredible but, aside from the narrated intro, all of this emerges naturally and spontaneously from the world. It’s easy to get lost in this game.
It is also worth noting that the game’s multiplayer component is seemlessly integrated into the single player campaign. During the time that the player has returned to a human state (through use of expendable items) they can summon other players into their game or invade other player’s games with the goal of killing those players and stealing their humanity. This can happen to yourself at any point while your human as well. You’re forced to learn to watch your back any time you try to take advantages of being human. The only way to avoid this is to disconnect from the internet entirely.
Dark Souls is far from perfect and I still despise some of its tricks and traps, but it’s a great game by virtue of its positive qualities completely outweighing the negative ones. It’s not for everyone but it deserves respect for what it accomplishes.