You will die, die, die and die again in Dark Souls, but once you get over your hatred of the game over screen there is a lot to like about From Software's action-RPG.
I've never been accused of possessing a dark soul. I'm a light-hearted person for most of the time, and the closest I've ever come was when my brother said I was rotten from the inside out. That had more to do with flatulence than an inherited mean streak. Hey, I managed to include a fart joke in a Dark Souls - has to be a world's first, cause Dark Souls is serious business.
Personally I never got into the spiritual predecessor Demon's Souls, sure I knew of it and even saw some friends play for a bit, but that did nothing to prepare me for Dark Souls. I suppose the evolution of video games that has brought about more accessibility, detailed tutorials and and difficulty curves that start out well below the sea level have dulled my abilities to a certain degree. Dark Souls was a rude awakening - a reminder that I need to focus and keep my attention fully on what's going on trying to decipher tiny clues on what I could be doing differently as I'm confronted with the fact that my avatar has perished once again.
Let's establish some facts first before we delve deeper into my journeys into the world of Dark Souls. This is an action-RPG, with certain puzzle elements, and heavy reliance on real-time actions in battles, and a myriad of options as far as equipment and items goes. Dark Souls offers a dense atmosphere and an inspired gloomy world somewhere in between life and death. The environments and creatures inhabiting the world are well designed and really help build up an appetite for exploration. Despite its perils and the gloomy nature of the world, there is always a sense of excitement as you tread new ground after overcoming an obstacle. That sense of accomplishment is what truly sets Dark Souls apart from its peers.
While Dark Souls should be commended for its unique qualities, it's innovative online features, it's extremely challenging nature and varied game design, it has also has a number of issues I cannot turn a blind eye to.
First of all, I wish the developer had put in a proper tutorial - the lack of which makes you think From Software believed any accessibility would be at the sacrifice of the game's challenge. The rudimentary tutorial does little to prepare and equip the player for the challenges that lie ahead, and this results in a lot of frustrating trial and error that could have been avoided without really lowering the difficulty
Secondly, despite the games heavy reliance on real-time actions, the animations are lacking. Things like differences in elevation can make for some unintentional comedy in combat.
Thirdly, I'm not fond of the inventory system and how various items or potions are used. It's all well with everything being real-time, no option to pause and so on, but I would like to configure things a bit more to suit my play style.
Lastly, I have to say to outside the challenging nature of the game there is little to keep me motivated. The story works more as a framework and ambience rather than a motivator and driver for the player.
There are things about Dark Souls that I absolutely adore. The wondrous sense of exploration, the sometimes frustrating, but always varied and exciting game design and enemies are things that I've rarely come across in other games. And I fully understand those who proclaim Dark Souls to be game of the year, but this is definitely a case of acquired taste. I'm just not feeling it. The game kicks my ass over and over again, and I have no problem with that, but sometimes it feels like that's the whole point of the experience. It eats away at my motivation to continue on.
For me it's one of those experience where I can identify and understand what's great, but it's just not something that I can fully embrace. If you crave a challenge and love to explore strange worlds, then Dark Souls is a massive game that will keep you occupied for hours on end. Expect to die a lot, but also expect to be richly rewarded once you master the obstacles put in front of you.
7 / 10
Immersive, gloomy world, very deep systems to master, sense of exploration, great challenge.
Should have been more accessible, somewhat lacking animations, trial and error nature of the game does not appeal to everyone.