As some of you might remember, I mentioned buying Dark Souls before, and now that Ive finally gotten out of the spot I was in before, I think it’s time to chat a little bit about the game proper. Rather than go too in-detail about anything specific, and we will later on, I’m just going to give an overall coverage of the things that really stick out to me. Consider it a review if you like, just don’t pretend there will be a number attached at the end!

The World:

Probably one of the greatest things the world of Dark Souls has going for it, well, the world itself. The backdrops are massive and picturesque, and the detail on the varying levels always creates a beautiful aesthetic. The feeling of the world is further punctuated by the very infrequent and often slightly-off meetings of NPCs, which creates a mix of solitude and lonliness. In a truly creative way, the world can make being alone feel good and bad at the same time, setting the world around you up as a harsh, but fair, companion to your travels. In a lot of ways, the world around you captures the feeling of Rapture which had a similar comforting and yet antagonistic feel. But through it all, no matter how dark and bleak the future looks, the world of Dark Souls always offers hope, that you can succeed and push forward.

Don't let the beauty distract you from killing.

In a way, the game world is very telling but without having to overtly say anything. The sheer solitude by lack of friendly npc shows just how bad the world has gotten, but once the enemies have been cleared away, the feeling quickly switches to loneliness as the world becomes more and more empty. The fact bonfires revive all standard enemies almost becomes a blessing in the end.

The Classes:

Probably my second favorite thing about the game is the class system. When you start the game, you are given the option of ten classes, all of which look very distinct and separate in playstyle. And they are, but here is the beautiful thing: none of them really matter. Well, I’ll take that back, one does.  But none of the others, because selecting one class does not limit you from doing anything. Quite the opposite, your choice is merely a framework for you to work off of in the future. If you pick ‘Warrior’ and want to go with a magic/melee hybrid, the game will easily let you. The only requirement is the cost of spells and few points of int, and you are well on your way! If you want to pick Thief and then max up Endurance and Vitality while stacking on heavy armor, the game will let you do that too. Anything you want to make, you can, and the game rewards growing as a character over just forcing you to level a certain way that you picked at the beginning of the game. Change you mind, start changing your character, the game will let you. It won’t be instant, but the option is there.

Not to mention they all look amazing.

On one hand, there is one class that will have a fairly large impact on your early game. Pyromancers start at level 1 (the lowest of them all) and have a few cheap levels early on  to play with, but their actual magic, Pyromancies, won’t be available in the beginning of the game. They become available after a couple of hours into the game, so if you want to burn things early on, keep this in mind. Miracles and Sorcery can be learned in the main hub, right after the tutorial level.

Gameplay:

As for the gameplay, what can I really say? All of the weapons feel diverse and have fluid animations, and each has a place. Nearly every weapon can be wielded in two-hands for increased damage, though some will almost required two hands to be wielded proficiently without god-like levels of strength. Nearly every weapon type possible in included in the game, so pick what you like best and roll with it. I’m partial to one-handed axes and swords, but am already dreaming of two more playthroughs with wildly different weapons.

Combat is fluid, but very punishing of mistakes. That punishment goes both ways though, if an enemy get’s antsy and swings recklessly; the player is free to run around behind the mob and back-stab for critical damage. Players getting too aggressive or trying to take on too many enemies at once will find themselves overwhelmed and quickly killed. Healing is extremely limited, coming only in small amounts from items, or in one big gulp from an Estus Flask. Flasks only heal 5 times (10 if you kindle the fire with your scant humanity), but refill every time you use a bonfire. Fights often revolve around either the player or the enemies exploiting the first mistake, so learning how every enemy fights is critical, especially if you need the time to pop a quick heal.

Fairness:

As you’ve probably noticed by now, the term “fair” has come up a lot in the past few minutes. Few words can describe Dark Souls as well as that one, because while the game is incredibly harsh and challenging, it is also extremely fair. The game won’t resort to cheesing cheap deaths to wrench up the difficulty, and won’t put artificial limits on what you can and can not do. Heck, the intro boss can be killed for a great reward with the starting weapon. For comparison, your “falling attack” will probably hit it for around 300 damage and knock off about a third of it’s life. The starting weapon hits the boss for two damage. And it is still possible, with great rewards.

Not pictured: starting weapon

In my current playthrough, I’ve even fought through a boss gauntlet for no other reason than I wanted to see what would be on the other side. It was very hard, but every time I died it was because of a mistake on my part, and obviously so, and not the game cheating to make it ‘hard.’ Dark Souls is truly a rare and special game, because it presents an actual challenge for the sake of player skill in a fair and unbiased way, instead of having an impossibly hard segment or game for the sake of difficulty.

The challenge, story, and scenery all blend together into one masterpiece, a work of art few recent games can match. If you want to experience a powerful personal story of solitude, or fight against an uncaring world in the hopes of making it better, or even just want something to test your skills, Dark Souls is worth checking out.

Oh, and you can cut off boss tails for sweet bonus loot, which totally tickles my Monster Hunter instincts. Free loot!

Likewise, there is no mention of the online components of the game simply because I haven’t been able to play them yet. My 360 wasn’t connected when  started, so I decided to play the whole first one offline. I’ll come back to it once I start my next play-through fully.