Dark Souls screenshot
Dark Souls screenshot

It's been twenty minutes since I last died; a lifetime in the world of Dark Souls. In that time, I've defeated a horde of ghoul-like warriors, survived several traps, and killed a boss which resembled a Minotaur. I have 5000-odd souls to my name to prove it - enough to level up three times at this stage in the game - but I'll lose them all if I can't make it safely to a campsite. I'm bricking it, in all honesty.

I'm on a bridge. At the other end there are a few lowly soldiers - enemies who prove little trouble for me at this point. I should be OK. I raise my shield, just to be safe, and make my way across, hopeful that a safe zone is on the other side. I'm about halfway across when an unearthly screech rings through the air, and a dragon descends from the heavens, spewing a torrent of fire from its gaping jaws. It's a one-hit kill. Without a word of warning. Without a hope of evading. All my souls gone.

I'm not going to pretend that I screamed or shouted, or threw the controller across the room in a fit of rage - no, what happened was far less dramatic. I put the pad down, stared at the words 'You died' haunting the screen, and just contemplated how little fun I was having at that point in time, how utterly demoralised I was, how much I wanted to stop playing and find something less painful to do - like hammer a bag of rusty nails into my rugged ballsack.

And yet here I am. Another twenty hours down the road, still playing. Still dying.

Full disclosure: I haven't completed Dark Souls, yet - doing so is a herculean task that requires more time, patience and mental stability than I can muster. Honestly, play the game for long enough and you'll be driven to the brink of despair, to the dark recesses of your conscious where you'll truly begin to loathe yourself. You'll feel like a part of you is trapped in the world beyond the screen, and if you're the kind of person that hates giving up on something, you're in for a world of hurt.

This isn't just because of the difficulty level (although mostly it is), the feeling is also derived from the world itself. Dark Souls isn't much to look at, technically speaking, but it's rich and beautiful from an artistic perspective. The environments are dank and harrowing, with medieval architecture, gloomy forests and filthy dungeons. After a brief introductory cutscene, there's nothing to contextualise any of this. You're left to infer what you will from the world itself - make up your own stories, give your doomed hero his (or indeed her) own quirks and traits. From Software wants you to have your own experience with the game, and to that end it doesn't offer anything in the way of help, directions or context. This is why the game is such a haunting and lonely experience.

Your enemies do wonders in contributing to this overall theme, a combination of their frightful appearances, screen filling size, hulking suits of armour, and habit of driving sharp implements through your chest every five minutes. Dark Souls defies convention in terms of its enemy placement. In most games, there's a gradual slope upwards in terms of how tough the enemies you're fighting are. Here, though, you'll randomly come across a knight who can deplete the entirety of your health bar with a casual swing of his sword. And, once again, you'll all lose your souls and find yourself staring at the 'You Died' screen. Like its spiritual predecessor Demon's Souls, you can fight your way back to your place of death to recover your souls, but if you die again along the way - they're gone for good.

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danieljjvv's Avatar

danieljjvv

love the game
need more expansions and some map changes after completion
Posted 13:14 on 09 May 2014
Feopachi's Avatar

Feopachi

***** review by a causal player who sucks at the game.
Posted 16:31 on 23 January 2014
Enemy's Avatar

Enemy

I liked your review, the first DS review that made me laugh.
I read sometimes about people not willing to buy this game because they don't like games that frustrate you with their difficulty. For this reason I did not like Ninja Gaiden, God of War and most games on hard difficulty. But Demon's souls (and probably Dark souls as well) is truely something else. Death is an essential part of the experience and the games would not nearly be as brilliant when death was not lurking around every corner. It's because you fear dieing so much that makes the game so thrilling and immersive.
I'm still on my first playthrough on Demon's souls and still die a lot but I'm rarely frustrated for it. Just try to see every death as a lesson.
Posted 18:58 on 05 October 2011
Get2DaChoppa's Avatar

Get2DaChoppa

Great review Jamin, I really like the look of this, I think it's the challenge that draws me to it. Although the prospect of perpetual self loathing does leave a bitter taste.

Oh well...:)
Posted 15:07 on 05 October 2011
TomPearson's Avatar

TomPearson

BOOOOM, that lemonade and So-Co is mine!
Posted 13:40 on 05 October 2011
guyderman's Avatar

guyderman

I actually do understand the idea of these games and the challenge that comes with the crushing difficulty levels but I also struggle a bit with the concept from a sales point of view - I will never buy either this or Demon Souls purely because I know how irritated I can get when a game gets too tough for me, especially with family commitments, work etc causing time restraints. I tend to play games as a form of relaxation, and a game that kicks you when you are down certainly seems less than relaxing. Don't get me wrong I don't want to just walk through a game with little to no challenge either. I'm pretty certain that I am not the only gamer in the world who would love to play these games for the games themselves, but really can't be bothered with the torment and the expense, (after I've launched my controller across the room), and therefore surely these are just lost sales from the get go. I'd love to play the games themselves, but not in this truly terrifying form - It sacres me too much - LOL!
Posted 12:14 on 05 October 2011
CheekyLee's Avatar

CheekyLee@ Woffls

Demon's Souls also had no pause. It actually makes total sense in the way the game is conceived. You are meant to be online and thus open to other players joining your realm. The tension this leads to once you actually get your body back is unlike any other you have experienced in videogame form. The phrase "I'm bricking it." is the most appropriate one in the whole review, if Demon's Souls is any indicator.
Posted 11:51 on 05 October 2011
Woffls's Avatar

Woffls

Tempted to play this, but the way I react to games being difficult in this kind of way is not conducive to my well-being. I'd like to believe that the presence of bugs and lack of pause option are intentional, but it's probably just complacency in development.
Posted 11:39 on 05 October 2011
Wido's Avatar

Wido

Nice review Jamin. The game has "challenge" written all over it, and Demon Souls was very impressive with my short gameplay time I had. Dark Souls is definitely something I would like to buy later this month or next, as it is something that I would commit too.

"Can feel unfair" Do you mean in a challenge aspect? If so, isn't From Software main ambition is to give a gaming experience which is different for each individual, providing such a challenge? To me, this has all the right ingredients, and I would happily hand my cash over.
Posted 11:28 on 05 October 2011
xenodoom's Avatar

xenodoom

i would play this game but i think after two days i throw my controller through a wall!
Posted 11:22 on 05 October 2011

Game Stats

Dark Souls
8
Out of 10
Dark Souls
  • Devilishly hard, and with that, satisfying
  • Fantastic environment design
  • Will probably make you hate yourself
  • Can feel unfair
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 07/10/2011
Platforms: PS3 , Xbox 360 , PC
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Genre: RPG
Rating: PEGI 16+
Site Rank: 834 6
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