Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hardships & Perseverance: A Review of Dark Souls



Remember how at the end of my Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine review I said my next would be Dark Souls? Well here it is. Finally. I've been procrastinating. I actually beat the game last year but am just getting around to the review. Don't let this dishearten you though, I promise I'll make it extra amazing, just for you. Also, you can think of it as consolation to you for waiting so long.



Dark Souls is a revisitation to the lands the sadist minds at FROM Software have created and released for the masochist inside all of us. This time around you fight your way through the region of Lordran, the Land of the Lords. As the Chosen Undead, your job is to usurp Lord Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, and take his crown for yourself. In doing so, you may continue the Age of Fire- or usher in the Age of Dark. With an array of sharpened metal sticks, large blunt objects, fiery hand gestures, and magical twigs, you fight your way through hollow undead legions, trying to fulfill your one destiny and decide the fate of the Undead.

Now it is true that Demon's Souls is my favorite game ever, so of course I was going to buy this. Hell, when it was announced I felt like riding a blazing horse through the ruins of a castle, sword held high and folk metal playing me through. That's how awesome I knew this game would be. Was it? Keep on reading.



The big selling point behind the "Souls" games is their difficulty level. The slightest mistake, missing your timing by a second, swinging at the wrong moment, all of these can and will get you killed. That's the beauty behind it, though. No matter what happens, your misfortune is your fault. Even if you hit for next to nothing and can't take a punch, you can still outmaneuver and outfight your opponent. I played Dark Souls the exact same way I played Demon's Souls. I was a realistic Knight. I got my Elite Knight's Armor, my Crest Shield, my Longsword, my Mace, and my Dagger. That's it. I relied on my skill and wits from there.

Now, the big question is, "Was it harder than Demon's Souls?" Well, yes and no. Dark Souls is harder in the way of enemy types, tactics, and resources. The healing grass in Demon's Souls has been replaced with an Estus Flask, which can have a maximum of 20 swigs. Of course it refills at every bonfire, but depending on the kindle state of the fire, it may not fill as much. In Dark Souls, some early bosses can and will be encountered as normal enemies later in the game and their strength is horrifying in every way. A boss fight a minute is a terrifying prospect, especially if you don't have the environmental advantage you had earlier or you are facing multiple bosses. The enemies themselves are much more varied, some undefeatable without a certain item or upgrade. This does not mean you cannot advance without the item, but you'd be crazy to try it. In the way of tactics, some enemies require quick maneuvering in small or deadly areas and some need a hit and run tactic in an infested area.

The beauty behind the Souls games is the level design. It is truly magnificent. The reason Castlevania was such an amazing experience was because it was so well thought out. The enemies were placed just so because the developers knew players would try something there or take that route. The Souls games mirror this, never passing up the chance to ruin your day by placing a snake-man with a large sword on a narrow bridge that is littered with bladed pendulums every few feet or placing archers that fire GOD DAMN TREE TRUNKS at you while you are on a thin arch.

But, Dark Souls is also easier than Demon's Souls in a way. The bonfire system is a godsend. Instead of dying and restarting the entire level, you go to the last bonfire rested at, which is a lot closer than the start of a zone. When you die, you no longer go into soul form and lose half your health. You instead "Hollow" and become an icky-nasty zombie. Whilst icky-nasty, you cannot kindle bonfires to raise your estus capacity, nor can you summon, though you also cannot be invaded. Also removed is the load weight, so now you can carry a billion pounds and not give a damn. But, the equipment weight is still there, so don't expect to roll around with that 500 lbs armor anytime soon.


New Features

So what's new? What's different from Demon's Souls? Well laddie, the game is open world, for one. Instead of a central "Nexus" like in Demon's Souls, you may freely travel from zone to zone. It's not open world in a Skyrim sense, but more of a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. sense, allowing specific paths between zones, just without loading screens. The fun part about it is the fact there is no map. Exploring for yourself and finding hidden shortcuts between zones is a relief and suspenseful, never sure of what's around the corner or where the nearest bonfire is.

The bonfire system is new as well. When fully upgraded, the bonfire serves as a med station, Blacksmith Ed, Stockpile Thomas, Maiden in Black, and courage booster. With the purchase of smithing tools, you can upgrade and repair your armor yourself and the bottomless box allows you to store weapons and items.

Also new is Pyromancy. Instead of being classified under magic, fire and poison arts are classified under the primitive art of harnessing natural power: pyromancy. The Pyromancer class is the new Royal class, the spells are surprisingly strong, but not exactly varied.

Finally, there is the covenant system. There are nine covenants in the game, each with its own perks and purpose. They are highly recommended due to the spells, items, or assistance they may give. The Warriors of Sunlight, for instance, give you lightning spells and turn your summon sign gold. When you see a gold summon sign in the game, you rush for it. The "Sunbros" are the most sought after phantoms there are and have no problem being summoned. Conversely, the Darkwraiths gain the "Red Eye Orb" and invade worlds for the sole purpose of being a dick.


Generic Technical Reviewing

Graphics- HOOOOLY FUCK THAT'S A DETAILED GOD DAMMIT I'M DEAD. The graphics look pretty nice, the only real issues being clipping. Two-handed weapons tend to enter pauldrons all the damn time. But hey, to fix this, they would need to make custom animations for each armor and fuck that. In large areas, the game tends to lag a bit. Blighttown is a big perpetrator of this. Parrying enemies in large environments or when large bosses do large attacks tend to lag it as well. Other than that, it's quite pretty, especially the cutscenes and more scenic spots in the game, such as Anor Londo.

Gameplay- WHACK THAT TAIL! I love the Souls gameplay. The lock-on system still works and it all flows together right well. The game is only difficult if you are brash or clumsy and that's how it should be. Also, a lot of bosses involve getting something if you hack off their tail. I thought that was worth mentioning.

Sound- PWSH! RAAARGH! FWOOOSH! The game only has music at the zone entrances, "safe" zones, cutscenes, and boss fights. It's damn good too. The voice actors are actually pretty good and portray their characters well (Plus Siegmeyer's battle chant is epic). The only problems I have with the sound effects are that, from time to time when you parry or backstab, it makes a jet engine noise, kinda a PWOOOOOOOOOIISSH noise. It sounds silly.

Multiplayer- OHFUCKOHFUCKOHFUCK PLEASE DON'T FIND ME. The Souls game's dynamic drop-in multiplayer system is fantastic. The sheer relief of finding of a summon sign before a boss or the terror of hearing the noise of a rising phantom you didn't summon is lovely. Rolling through undead while helping a beginner or stomping a veteran into the dirt is a highly satisfying experience. It's a shame the servers aren't optimized for shit. People sliding around and backstabbing from a mile away aren't as prominent anymore, but goddammit that is not okay.

Overall- I loved this game. It was amazing for me and it will be fun for a good long while more. So, what's better? Demon's Souls or Dark Souls? Sorry Dark Souls, but Demon's Souls still holds that title, though you aren't far behind. If you aren't sure about these games, don't delay. Get them. Until next time folks. See you in hell.


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