At the beginning of the game you pick a starting class – soldier, hunter, thief etc. – though these are more like guidelines than rigid templates: stats can be funnelled into any area you wish, and no class is denied access to any of the game’s equipment. Most of us will just pick the knight anyway, as he looks awesome and is on the front cover of the box.
Combat is weighty and dangerous, and it’s important to only swing your weapon when you know you’re going to land a hit. It sounds easy on paper, but only after spending a few hours with Demon’s Souls do you realise how forgiving others games are when it comes to liberal bouts of manic button-tapping. It feels comparable to the fighting in Monster Hunter, though far more precise (there’s a lock-on feature, which is nice) and significantly less exaggerated.
There’s also a bevy of spells and miracles to learn if you’re magically inclined, such as being able to conjure up clouds of plague and acid, a shield of water and bolts of fire. Both magic and weapons are grounded, restrained and lacking in theatricality, which leaves you to instead focus on the sense of enormous satisfaction you’ll get from sorting out a pesky Red Knight that’s been giving you trouble a week.
Walking the path of Demon’s Souls is a lonely road, and while the game includes a suite of unique online features it’s very much geared towards solitary play. You are given no control over who you bump into on the journey, meaning you’re stuck accepting the fleeting help of strangers instead of the warm, reliable companionship of close friends. Wispy shadows of other players follow you around as you play, and you can leave a selection of messages on the ground for others to see. or. It’s worth reading the notes left by others doing, too: if another player recommends your message then your health is immediately restored.
Demon's Souls is a pitch-perfect example of how great risk can make the rewards taste all the sweeter. Getting killed in a single hit from a multi-storey, frog-like monster with a giant meat cleaver and a thirty-foot tongue is always going to be frustrating, but persevere and a couple of weeks later you’ll be wondering how he ever bothered you. Demon’s Souls pits you against your own incompetence and inexperience, a challenge which often feels insurmountable, but that delivers some incredibly powerful thrills for players brave enough to commit.