Dark Souls: Prepare to Cry - Tears of Joy Edition
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is coming this April for modern consoles and the PS3 as a bundled, remastered game with all of its DLC and then some. I'm feeling rather daring lately, so in light of recent events, I picked up my copy of Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition for the first time.
I bought Dark Souls during a Steam sale last year, but never touched the game. Not only was I haunted by the horrifying tales of failure I've encountered in my career, but ultimately I was chased off by Games for Windows Live. Luckily they have taken the GFWL servers down for Dark Souls and integrated Steamworks into the equation.
I honestly haven't made much progress in the game, despite playing it quite a bit over the past couple of days. Dark Souls is a terrifyingly difficult game, and it's not for the weak of heart. The game starts you out fighting awful creatures and it only gets worse from there. Everybody knows Dark Souls is a ridiculously hard game, that is not up for debate. Demon Souls had extremely challenging combat too, yet I didn't enjoy playing that game half as much. Dark Souls is, after all, the spiritual successor to Demon Souls. So what changed?
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Cry Edition
Well for one, Dark Souls is set in a completely open world. Players of Demon Souls are tied to a home-base called the Nexus, and travel around the map with warp stones. In Dark Souls however, the only loading screens you will ever come across are when you are loading your game or when you die. At no time during your rampage through Dark Souls will you be loading from one place to another; the world is literally seamless.
Dark Souls' setting, Lordran, connects together so well that the world is litterally seamless - no need for loading screens!
There are no waypoints, either; or a map, so don't expect navigational assistance that is anything more than directions from a non-playable character. I was beginning to believe I would never see a game follow this role playing trend that has been largely absent over the past decade ever again. Dark Souls does it well, too. The game knows how to truly reward the player for their hard work and exploration. Oh, and did I mention the scenery is gorgeous? Particularly so if you are playing the PC version with the third-party mod, DSFix--which is pretty much mandatory because the devs didn't know how to really port to PC at the time.
Dark Souls essentially has two different forms of 'currency': Souls and Humanity. You can collect souls by slaying enemies or through the use of soul items. These souls are used for leveling up, purchasing items, modifying equipment, and a few miscellaneous tasks. There is absolutely no shortage of ways to spend all your hard-earned souls.
Scattered around Lordran are bonfires that you can make use of that effectively act as checkpoints. These are some of the only safe areas in the entire game, and they're used for a multitude of things such as leveling up, attuning magic, repairing equipment, warping to other bonfires, upgrading equipment, you name it. Merchants sell kits that expand the functionality of your bonfires around the world.
Humanity--on the other hand--works much differently. While it's not really currency and more of an extra-life count, you have to 'spend' it at the bonfires scattered throughout Lordran. Your character--being Hallow (fancy word for undead)--has to kill for a chance at Humanity. Once you gather some hard-earned humanity, you can restore yourself to life and reverse the Hallowing. You can also use any extra Humanity you've gathered to kindle the fire, which effectively adds 5 extra Estus Flasks--or "health potions"--to your maximum count for whenever you rest at that bonfire. After progressing through the game for awhile, you'll be able to kindle your fire multiple times for more Estus Flasks whenever you run out.
When you die in Dark Souls, you will drop all of your currently active--or 'soft'--Souls and Humanity. You have one chance to get back to the place where you died and recover everything. If you die before you reach that location again, everything will disappear and you will drop whatever measly sum you managed to earn while trying to recover. Also, if you are human when you die, you will be reverted back to the Hollowed state.
Humanity has its own pros and cons, but to fully understand those, we first have to understand how multiplayer works in Dark Souls. At any given time during the game, you may see what looks like a blue etheral character phasing in and out of existence. These are other people who are playing Dark Souls from all over the world (mostly thanks to a very recent patch that abolished region locking). Sometimes the bonfire will light up the full details of someone idoling there. These player ghosts, however, cannot interact with your world--at least not while you are Hollowed.
While traveling around Lordran, you may spot messages engraved to the ground that bear striking similarity to the tutorial messages that the developers left around. These are messages left by other players to tip--or trick--you in the right direction. These messages can be extremely helpful for finding hidden treasure or figuring out where to go next, just be careful because sometimes they will lead you astray.
Dark Souls' Humanity system makes for one of the most unique multiplayer experiences ever.
While human, all enemies do a little bit less damage to you, you are better at finding extra loot and have a higher chance of finding Humanity on kill. You can also find marks that resemble the messages that players leave, but shorter and glowing white or yellow instead of orange. These are spots where you can summon other players (or selective NPCs) to aid you in whatever it is you're up against. These have a particularly high chance of showing up right before a boss battle. The last thing you need to look out for as a human are invasions. At any given moment while walking around Lordran all flesh and blood, another Dark Souls player within 10 levels of you could invade your world to kill you and steal your Humanity. The only way to get around this is to kill them first and steal theirs.
While you can use an item to invade somebody, it is much more efficient to join the Covenant that sends you off on invasions to sap some Humanity. The Covenant system not only serves to greatly expand the lore in Dark Souls, but expands the multiplayer experience as a whole. For example, one Covenant is dedicated to killing player characters who have Sinned, while another allows you to face off against players in an arena to earn dragon scales for becoming a dragonoid.
VaatiVidya on YouTube does a fantastic job of explaining Dark Souls lore. Be careful; his videos may contain spoilers.
Dark Souls is rich with lore, but the game doesn't present it to the player as much through the storyline as it does through item descriptions. NPCs in Lordran will assume that you've lived in this world all of your life and that you're pretty sure how it works by now. There are no NPCs that speak "controller buttons", they aren't aware that they are inside of a game, and most importantly, they are not aware that you just entered Lordran about 15 minutes ago. This is the game basically saying: "What, you got a wicked case of amnesia or something? Figure it out on your own, nitwit."
And that's just it: Dark Souls puts its full and utter trust in the player's ability to problem solve situations and figure things out on their own. Games have been overlooking this vital gameplay element for over a decade, now, by giving us waypoints, auto-organized quest logs, or painfully obvious visual cues.
Dark Souls rewards clever players for getting out of sticky situations, yet harshly punishes them for not using common sense.
Something else that games allow us to do, as players, is rely on previous save states to fix a fatal mistake made during gameplay. Dark Souls uses an auto save mechanic, and will not let the player save on their own accord under any circumstances. If you make a mistake in Dark Souls, you are stuck with the consequences of you actions throughout the game; and it's not like they make important NPCs invincible. You can kill anyone, the game will not discriminate. If you really want to make it difficult on yourself and kill an important character, go ahead. It's not going to affect the immediate progression of the story just because they are gone. Believe it or not, the world continues to spin--but I wouldn't recommend killing them for the sake of doing it.
They will all be there again when you enter New Game +. If you accidentally killed the sorcerer but really wanted to learn sorcery, you're not out of luck, you just need to finish the game (prepare to cry)!
Dark Souls combines all of these amazing gaming elements and compiles it together in one frighteningly fun game. While the base character models may not be the most attractive, you're probably not going to look at them much anyway because the scenery found around Lordran is absolutely gorgeous.
Attention to the details of ambient sounds creates an immersive environment in Dark Souls that's practically unrivaled to this day.
There's not really any music to speak of in Dark Souls--sometimes I doubt it's even there at all. The music geek that I am, you would think this would stand out to me as a major flaw in the game's design, but no; quite the contrary, actually. If I were in charge of sound design for this game, I might have done the same thing. Background music in video games work in a way that's meant to control and manipulate the player's emotions while they are experiencing the game. If a boss battle is under-way, the game may have a fast-paced or jarring tune that helps get your blood pumping--and believe me when I say that Dark Souls needs no more of that. Some peaceful environments may also contain music, to unwind after your adventures. But for the most part, Dark Souls just lets you listen to your environment.
This game allows you to make up your own mind about how Lordran will affect you on your journey. The silence only encourages the player to make a deeper connection with their character. In Dark Souls, your only true companion is the sound of your own footfalls echoing off the terrain. Not all NPCs are to be entirely trusted, the enemies can't be trusted period, and you can't always trust other players. You have to make up your own mind, and try to sort out the liars. The game always makes it feel like you're not safe, even when you are. Especially when a game is purposefully lacking something so common as a pause button--and yes, you read that right.
With such an unforgivingly brutal game, you would think that the community would be full of harsh, inconsiderate people who are only looking out for their own gain. After all, harsh environments breed harsh people, right?
Wrong. The Dark Souls community is active and brimming to this day, full of friendly people that genuinely love the series and the community surrounding it. Something about conquering the challenges Dark Souls set before them brought the player base together in such a way I've never seen before. It's honestly jaw dropping.
Dark Souls isn't for everyone. Combat encounters with enemies is enough to get my heart pumping so fast I can feel the blood coursing through my veins. It pumps a sense of adrenaline into you that I vaguely recognize from my days playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
If--for whatever reason--you're up to the challenge, then allow me to pass on a few pro-tips for surviving Dark Souls:
- When creating your character, do not pick the Master Key gift or the Thief class for your first playthrough. This grants access to the entire map right off the bat, and while it's completely possible to play this game out-of-order, it creates an experience that's a lot more frustrating than it should be. Before you know it you'll be in front of enemies that you aren't supposed to come near until the third arc of the story.
- Don't take dying too personally. You're going to die a lot, there's not really a lot you can do to get around that other than to learn from your deaths. Take away what you will, and do better next time.
- Do not, under any circumstances, look at a guide or spoil yourself in any way. Going into Dark Souls blind is the most fantastic and rewarding way to play.
Dark Souls is one of the most immersive experiences I've had over the last decade. The game obviously has its flaws, but they are oh so easy to look past that it doesn't really matter much anyway. Unless, of course, you are attempting to connect with your friends. While hard to do (and can take hours), it's not entirely impossible.
With Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin coming out for PC, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4 in April, there has never been a better time to go back and check out Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition if you haven't already.