Dark Souls Review
I've written glowing reviews for games such as The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, and The Wolf Among Us. All of different genres and universes, these games are true gems of the gaming industry and worthy of the praise gamers have shown them. However, in a small, more intense niche, sits Dark Souls--easily one of the best games I've ever played.
To say that Dark Souls is a challenge would be a drastic understatement. Testing both your skill and your patience, this title weaves you through areas that vary from easy to ripping-your-hair-out hard. Until the game really clicks with you, it can take a decent amount of time to move from one place to another, or to beat a boss.
With an incredibly strong, open-ended story, and beautifully worked environments, Dark Souls takes you on an adventure of despair and tragedy with an ending that is so grey it's almost unbearable.
I'll cover the shorter part of this review in mechanics and gameplay. I played through this title on PC, with a Windows Gamepad. Though the controls for the gamepad are fairly seamless and easy to grasp, I was not impressed with the inconsistency of the co-op and PVP aspects. As a known issue for this title, I won't dock a star for it; however, it was the most frustrating part of the game for me.
In order to play with other gamers, Dark Souls uses a 'summoning' system that allows players to summon others when they're human; in the same token, players looking to invade the world of others and kill them can only do so when the invadee is human. A two-faced coin to be sure, and one that doesn't always work as intended.
More often than not, summoning failed and I had wasted a humanity trying to play with another person, or I was locked out of a bonfire because of someone trying to invade my world--unsuccessfully.
Combat is a simple concept to grasp in your mind, but an entirely different concept when put in to practice. I enjoyed that there were no gimmicks; how well you did in combat was based purely on your ability to play your character.
This was by far my favorite aspect of this entire game. The beauty of the world, even though it can be dark and dead, creates an insanely in-depth backdrop for a story that had me by the feels for the entirety of the game.
In the opening cutscene, shown in the header, you find out the very basics behind your existence in this world. That's an accurate description--though the story seems complete and simple enough in the scene above, it's the very tip of the iceberg in terms of the Dark Souls universe.
Throughout the game, you'll find out things that muddle the waters of your supposedly pure and selfless purpose. You'll be manipulated and lied to; you'll become a hero and an enemy; it'll be completely up to you to decide what truth you believe and whose purpose you'll serve. All the while, you'll watch tragedy and despair fall upon those around you.
The best way to discover the story during your gameplay is to talk to everyone and read everything--the lore of the world is best found through dialogue and item descriptions. Though your character never really develops, you can get to see other characters around you develop. Throughout the game you'll run in to NPCs who have varying purposes in regards to you, your fate, and the game. You'll attach to some of these NPCs, invested in their fates, while some go largely unnoticed by the player.
An excellent resource for those looking for answers after their first playthrough are the Dark Souls: Prepare to Cry videos, which detail many storylines that you may have missed during your play. If you have not completed at least one complete playthrough, these videos contain spoilers and I strongly encourage you to avoid them.
I'm putting this section here for the sake of fleshing out my feelings about the story without spoiling things for new players. Please skip if you have not completed your playthrough.
I've never felt this way about a set of characters in a game before. Sure, I've felt empathy and happiness for characters when they fail or succeed, or when they're hurt.
But to feel the mature despair for characters like Solaire, who either dies after going mad in his search for his sun, or who will forever live knowing that his entire purpose was a lie... I felt actual grief for him. I felt for Siegmeyer, who becomes Hollow if you choose to save him in Lost Izalith. After finding out that your help, time and time again, ultimately strips him of his purpose as an adventuring knight, I was glad he'd died in my playthrough.
I've never felt these things for characters in a game. I was so totally engulfed in this story and the world it took place in that when the time came for these storylines to end, I was ready--but I was ready for the tales of success or satisfaction. These don't exist in Dark Souls, and I finally realized that my choices mattered more than they had in any other game I've played. My choices directly lead to the death of certain characters, and I didn't even know it until the very end, when it was too late.
The weight of this is what makes this game so incredible. You are directly responsible for the survival of some characters, though you're not really made aware of it until all of your choices have been made. The ending... I wasn't ready for. The levels of grey the ending has made me sincerely doubt my choice (I chose to link the flame). It's an insane feeling to have about a video game.
End Spoiler Section
I've never played a game like Dark Souls. After completing it, I want nothing more than to play it again. I'm not a person who feels strongly about a game either way, or the characters involved. I usually enjoy a game and then move on; there are very rare instances where a game will sit in my brain for weeks.
Dark Souls, however, is doing just that. I've played a game that was so challenging that, when I had defeated a boss, it felt like I had defeated a boss. I felt sincere accomplishment when I finished my first playthrough. I felt regret, anguish, uncertainty, self doubt, distrust... all in a very meaningful way.
If you haven't picked up this title because you're afraid it's too difficult, or you've picked it up but never finished it because you felt lost or bored, please play it. I would recommend this game to anyone looking for a great story and a great experience.
For the first time ever, I give this game 10/10 stars.