If you have played Demons Souls then you might know what to expect from Dark Souls. Dark Souls is basically the spiritual successor to Demons Souls. That means a great deal to the player who has already experienced Demons Souls. But what about the player who has no experience with the Souls series?
Essentially Dark Souls is an action role-playing game with some influence from a genre of games called “rogue-likes” which are notorious for their difficulty because character death in a rogue-like usually means starting over from the beginning. While Dark Souls does not force the player to restart from the beginning every time they die (which will happen a lot thanks to the high level of difficulty) they are forced to restart from a checkpoint that is usually quite far away and they drop all of their souls that they are currently holding. These checkpoints are called “Bonfires” and they are where most of the character customization occurs. Bonfires allow the player (assuming they have all the necessary prerequisites for each option) to increase their stats; upgrade basic equipment, store equipment, and teleport around the world of Dark Souls. Many of these options require “souls” which is the basic currency in the Dark Souls world. The player acquires souls through a variety of ways such as defeating enemies or using specific items. These souls can then be used to level up the players character, upgrade equipment, repair equipment and purchase a variety of items at the various NPC stores located throughout the world of Dark Souls.
There is another form of currency in Dark Souls called “Humanity”. Humanity is a rare item that can be collected and used for different purposes. The main use of Humanity is restoring the player characters human state because every time the player is killed their character becomes “hollow”. Becoming human again restores the player’s physical features as well as providing minor bonuses. Becoming human also opens the door for the multiplayer elements of Dark Souls. When a player is in human form they can summon other players into their world to help them beat the area they are in. But there is a risk involved with becoming human, at any time while playing in human form another player may “invade” the player’s world and will then proceed to hunt down and attempt to kill the world’s owner. If they succeed the invader receives a nice bonus of humanity and souls but if the invader is repelled then the defending player receives a bonus. More than two players may be in a single world at one point so this can make for some intense battles.
Speaking of battles, the actual combat in Dark Souls is slower and more tactical then most ARPGs incorporating dodging, shield use, parrying, magic, and a kick that can be quite effective next to a ledge. There are many different stat bonuses, characteristics, debilitations, buffs, etc. according to the type of weapon and armor the player chooses to equip. Each piece of equipment has a weight value that adds to the amount of weight the character currently has equipped and depending on how heavy the equipment load is the character will move slower or faster which also affects dodge animations and recovery. More powerful armor has better defense values but can also slow the character down drastically while lighter armor may not have powerful defense but will allow the character to dodge and move much quicker which can be beneficial in certain battles. Weapons are varied with each weapon type having different stats as well as handling. A basic sword can swing quickly and cause bleeding but a giant battle axe or greatsword can easily break through an opponents guard allowing the player to easily defeat an enemy. Magic and miracles provide different effects such as damaging spells or various buffs and even debuffs to opponents and items can provide different buffs and debuffs as well as healing and curing of ailments. There are many different options to proceeding through Dark Souls combat and it can take some getting used to with many weapons having special effects and elemental bonuses such as fire (which can be resisted by opponents) but once the player understands the basic controls and finds the playstyle they enjoy the game can be slightly easier.
At first, it seems like there is only a simple story to encourage progression in the world of Dark Souls, but once the player understands how the story is told which is mostly through item descriptions and NPC interaction, it becomes clear that there is much to be told about the world of Dark Souls. Each Item has a tale to tell and each NPC has something to say so in order to really enjoy the story in Dark Souls the player must be willing to read and listen to everything. Dark Souls has a very interesting story to tell.
With excellent gameplay and storytelling also comes some of the best graphics seen on a console. Each area in the world is unique from the lush and green starting area to the swampy and disgusting Blight Town, each area looks, feels, and surprisingly plays different. The lighting in each area is effective at creating an appropriate feeling in each area, most notably the catacombs which are very dark and require a specific item to navigate safely. Frame-rate will lower drastically in certain areas which can be a pain but it is endurable. Sound design is appropriate with very little background music and fantastic sound effects. What little music there is was fantastic and is presented at just the right moments.
Overall, Dark Souls is a fantastic game that encourages and rewards skill development with the various gameplay options available. The multiplayer elements are unique and enjoyable. The combat is challenging and rewarding with each victory over a powerful enemy providing a great sense of accomplishment. Character progression and customization options are deep and give players many options to develop their character the way they want to play. Great graphics and sound enhance the gameplay and make the world of Dark Souls feel unique and the complex story encourages the player to explore and examine everything. Dark Souls is a very difficult and challenging but ultimately very rewarding game that should be experienced even if you are only slightly interested.