Dark Souls is an interesting entry into the 2011 holiday game rush. At one level, it has state of the art graphics and physics-based ultra-visceral hand-to-hand fantasy combat. But it’s also a throwback to old school RPG game design.
This puppy doesn’t baby you in any way. You’re instantly tossed into an arcane character creation screen with a cryptic interface. You’re forced to make choices about class and attributes armed only with one sentence descriptions.
And it only gets less accessible from there.
After a pretty but incomprehensible bit of backstory you’re tossed into a grim and desolate undead prison. This serves as a “training level” and it is a lot easier than what is to come. But even this little intro ain’t easy — and the game gives you little or no clue what you’re supposed to do our how the mechanics work.
Now on the other hand: the control feels pretty darn good. And after a few minutes the hand to hand combat feels great. Vicious, but great. There’s a real satisfaction to smacking around the depressingly dank baddies.
Then comes the first “real” level. And I start to die. And die. And die. And die some more. The game is so hard that the first night I spend two straight hours dying between the first and second checkpoints of the first level! My shoulder muscles got so knotted that I was literally in agony. And I didn’t even reach that bonfire (checkpoint). I had to go out.
But all I could think about was getting back to it. And when I returned, agitated as hell, at eleven at night, I wisely decided to force myself not to play — or I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. Instead I came back to it the next afternoon and got through on my first shot. Then, entering virgin territory, I started to die again. And again.
This is a game that requires you to learn every little nuance of each stretch between the unfairly distant checkpoints. Death has a steep penalty: taking all your liquid souls (experience) from you. If you can reach your corpse before you die again you can recover it. Unfortunately, your corpse is usually being guarded by whatever killed you last time!
Relentlessly cruel as the game design is. I can’t help but want to keep playing. This might be the first action fantasy game where the you fight with hand held weapons and it actually feels like you’re fighting with hand held weapons. The physics based swords, axes, maces and whatnot hammer relentlessly on your foes — and on you. It’s pretty cool.
And the art design is damn creepy and atmospheric. Weird and mysterious. The enemies are varied and dastardly. I dig it. I’ll just have to see how far I can force myself through the sadistic gauntlet of evil!