Never before has a game been so difficult and frustrating, yet so damn rewarding, too. Well, at least not since Demon's Souls.
I have a long list of games that I want to play, and another list, albeit far shorter, of games that I have started and need to complete. One of those games is Demon's Souls, and now I can add its spiritual successor, Dark Souls, to that same list.
Both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls are developed by From Software. They're notoriously, intentionally difficult, but extremely good at the same time. As with Demon's Souls, I don't completely agree with how From Software makes Dark Souls difficult, but nevertheless I can't help but appreciate the sense of accomplishment and the indomitable spirit that the Souls games bring out in you. It's a persistence that I often question I have while playing these two games. With an immensely busy life outside of gaming, not to mention within gaming, the Souls games make me wish they had come up ten or fifteen years ago, when I would have had eighty, ninety, even a couple hundred hours to pour into them for successive play-throughs.
Indeed, both games are that good, and yes I am comfortable saying that having not completed either of them. Building from its predecessor, Dark Souls continues, and actually expands, on the punishing difficulty, making for what I would honestly call the most unsettling game I have ever played. Games like Condemned: Criminal Origins (still one of the best this generation) did a great job of making an unsettling atmosphere where you were sucked into the experience and nearly held your breath in fear and anticipation. Dark Souls does the same thing, only the intensity is not so much out of being startled or scared, but from running into some kind of trap or enemy, one that you are simply not ready for.
As with Demon's Souls, Dark Souls has a creative online component to help you learn and survive. The Bloodstains and messages that offer helpful hints are back, and you can still request assistance from other players, although some special conditions apply. You can enter into a Covenant with other players too, one person at at time, to purchase rare and very useful items from them. Also, other players can invade your game, with the intent of killing you, but thus far I haven't experienced as many of these as I did back when Demon's Souls first launched.
In nearly every way, the gameplay of Dark Souls is very similar to Demon's Souls, which isn't a bad thing. The structure is different this time, though, in that the world is roughly three times the size of Demon Soul's, and is setup like an open world adventure, making it far less linear. Still, it's a grueling, slowly paced battle with many setbacks. As with Demon's Souls, I don't mind that the game is difficult, but I don't like how some of the difficulty is generated. The fact that you lose all of your Souls and Humanity (new to Dark Souls) upon death, are sent to the last checkpoint, and all enemies are respawned, is such a pain in the ass. Yes, yes -- the game is meant to be epically hard and it certainly is that, but I can't help but think that there's a better way. Something that makes you just as apprehensive about doing anything, yet doesn't make you want to bite your controller in frustration when all of that careful playing results in a swift death.
Bonfires in Dark Souls are used to create checkpoints and replenish health, but they also respawn enemies in the area. As a general rule, I've never liked respawning enemies, by the way. To me, having respawns, especially in an area that you just cleared, greatly takes away from the immersion of a game. However, similar to Ninja Gaiden, you can use these bonfires and the respawning of enemies to level grind. I don't like that type of game design at all, because it's almost like you're cheating the system, not to mention it's boring. Desperate times, desperate measures, I suppose.
About my only other big concern with Dark Souls to this point is wondering what will happen to the game when it goes offline? Every console-based mulitplayer game eventually goes offline. It was big news a few weeks ago when Atlus reported it would extend Demon's Souls online presence into 2012. I'm not sure what will happen to the Souls games when they are taken offline, but with such a strong multiplayer integration, it could be a problem. And at the rate I'm trudging through both games, I'm likely to find out.
But nevermind Dark Souls' future -- the here and now is excellent, game of the year material, despite some personal disagreements with From's design.
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