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Nothing like the smell of defeat: A Dark Souls Review

An unconventional review by an unconventional gamer.
This article is over 10 years old and may contain outdated information

Aww, the year 2011…. brings back fond memories. It was my first year in college, and that brought with it the unparalleled insanity that comes with freedom. Wild parties that ended in fountain hopping, epic drinking binges, stumbling home shoeless and drunk at three in the morning, and passing out on the campus lawn to be awakened by good old campus police….or so my roommates told me.

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I, of course, wouldn’t have any idea about that, because between Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Arkham City, and Pokemon Black & White, I had stumbled upon a habit far more life-threatening than those. It was a danger that transcended the physical and struck something even more endangering the psyche. Or the part of my feeble young mind that let no challenge go unanswered and unconquered.

But like any bad habit, I just never learned my lesson. Again and again, I went back into an increasingly abusive relationship, only to have my goodwill and intentions hurled back harshly into my face like a well-earned slap. And no matter how much I begged, pleaded, groveled, cursed, or screamed my frustrations to the heavens again and again I went back.

Because I loved Dark Souls, even though Dark Souls did not love me. Of course, it took a lot of increasingly overwhelming frustration and nerdrage to just accept that and move on, but like any bad relationship, of course, I never knew when to let it go.

The Good, The Bad, and the OH#%^$*@WTF IS THAAAAT-!!

You’ve probably heard a lot about Dark Souls that has unsettled you. The infamously high mortality rate, the unspeakable brutality of a cold and merciless world, the utter hopelessness of your character’s poor plight, and the bleak, bitter side of gamer progression.

Of course, you think that’s the worst of it because, you poor fool, know nothing. Because more than it becomes the bane of your existence, a terror on your pride and confidence as a gamer, Dark Souls is about 88% pure Nightmare Fuel. Whether you’re being chased by a walking vagina with teeth, being hounded by some foul-looking spawn of satan, or being bludgeoned to death by crusty gargoyles with axes for tails – the fastest lesson you learn is that death if often and honey it ain’t pretty.

More than I abhorred, loathed, and loved the hauntingly beautiful designs of the decaying and decrepit world, I liked gagging on my cup ramen as the latest abomination hounded after me hell-bent on causing my death.

Oftentimes survival was not based solely on my ability, but on how much I said KILLITKILLITKILLITFORGOD’SSAKEGETTHEEFFOFFMEDIIIIIIIE’ and through the horror of said creature, overcame my fear solely for the sake of slaying it in the most gruesome way possible.

I have always been a fan of designs that push the limitations of my narrow human scope for imagination, and what better way to do that than to take a good hard luck at the darker side of humanity and the gamer’s obsession with ‘progress? So what if that journey resulted in rage the likes of which the world will not see again? So what if I was as equally disturbed and unsettled as I was transfixed and in awe? That was a part of the beauty.

Get new armor, learn new skills – Die. Try a new weapon, adopt a new playing style – Die. Explore with all the caution of a mouse in a cat house – Die. Ok so maybe I’ll try this – Die. Seriously can you calm down with that already?- Die. You’re really starting to piss me off -Die. SCREW YOU -Die. Don’t you love me? Can’t we make this thing work? – DIE.

Dark Souls didn’t care about how good of a gamer you ‘thought’ you were. Dark Souls didn’t give a damn that you thought this was too ‘hard’ or the game wasn’t ‘fair.’ Dark Souls, like honey badger, did not give a shit that when you inevitably died in some increasingly epic manner and lost of all your souls, that you had to start over. Wah Wah. 

Boy, you in the big leagues now.

There is no mercy. Pausing is for pansies. Hand holding is for suckers. And whether you like it or not, you are going to die. Horribly. And multiple times. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, it’s still going to piss you off, but you learn to get over that real quick.

Have I mentioned that you’re going to die? Have I mentioned that you’re going to die a lot? As in via impalement, poison, fire, lightning, falling to your death, being eaten alive, and drowning? But all of that is necessary. As a game, the biggest challenge Dark Souls places upon you is that of the ego. You think you’re tough shit. You think you’re invincible. And perhaps at the end that’s the point. 

Death is imminent and unforgiving, and the very nature of your continued survival longer than ten minutes is an accomplishment worthy of pride – especially in a world that thrives on increasingly creative punishments for your foolishness. But the world is multilayered, and through all the death, decay and depravity of the world at large is a promise. Of letting go of what you thought you knew, of what you thought was the right ‘way’ to play the game. But more importantly, to lose your ego as a gamer and accept that sometimes, failure is more prevalent than success.

Dark Souls is bleak, unforgiving, and horrifying. But in the pure simplicity of its unfiltered challenge, in the grueling adrenaline of its grinds and battles, in the unforgiving cruelty of its world, is a game worth playing. It is the purest kind of thrill because it perfects the delicate, grueling balance of accomplishment and reward. And there is no feeling quite like tackling the beast and dragging your broken body to the bonfire, smiling as you live on to play for another fifteen minutes before death finds you. And it’s that feeling that made all of my trials and tribulations worthwhile-and is still why Dark Souls was my undisputed favorite game of 2011.

So to my fellow masochist out there – go forth and die! (Just don’t whine to me about it.)

Nothing like the smell of defeat: A Dark Souls Review
An unconventional review by an unconventional gamer.

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