Xbox 360
4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
4 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4.5 Stars
Replay Factor
4 Stars

Dark Souls

Street Date:
October 4th, 2011
Reviewed by:
Adam Dodd
Review Date:1
November 27th, 2011
Game Release Year:
2011
Platform:
Xbox 360
Publisher:
Namco Bandai Games
Developer:
From Software
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)

Introduction

Like its predecessor, Demon's Souls, Dark Souls is as beautiful as it is dangerous. It's the type of game that will lure you in like a Siren with its massive, seamless world only to punish you again and again should you make even the smallest mistake. With that said, it's also one of the most rewarding gaming experiences you're likely to have, so if you're willing to endure its unforgiving nature, Dark Souls can be an amazing, unforgettable experience.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

It took two attempts for me to get into Demon's Souls--the 2009 game that laid the foundation for what would eventually become Dark Souls. My first playthrough lasted a scant four hours and I spent a majority of that time in a steamy rage as I watched with a white-knuckled grip on my PS3 controller as my character died suddenly for the umpteenth time. Eventually, I couldn't take anymore so I decided to walk away from the game. Unfortunately, a reviewer can't give up so quickly so I jumped in a few days later. I used what I learned from my first experience with the game so much of the frustration dissipated, and that's when I was able to enjoy Dark Souls for what it is. What I realized is this -- this game isn't for everyone.

If you ask a gamer about Dark Souls you're likely to get one of two responses. The first is a gleeful reply from someone who's played the game and actually enjoyed it, and the second is a less enthused response from someone who's either played it and not had a good time with the game or knows enough about it to know they wouldn't like it. I started off in the latter category before gradually finding myself in the former. This is a great game, you just have to know what you're getting yourself into before you throw down your hard-earned cash for it.

What's likely to be one of the more frustrating aspects of the game for anyone brave enough to jump into Dark Souls' gorgeous world is the myriad of ways you can die without warning. You could be climbing a staircase only to get crushed by a boulder, walk up to a bridge only to get set aflame by a massive dragon, or you could simply turn a corner only to have your head caved in by a club-wielding creature who was hiding just out of sight. Thankfully, the game's developers have bestowed us with a few gifts we can use to save ourselves from some untimely deaths.

The first of these tools is the Estus flasks, which act as the game's first aid kits. You can hold a maximum of five Estus flasks on your person at any given time, but you can upgrade this capacity through the Bonfires--more on these later--and their potency can be improved as well. To keep things simple, you can always see how many flasks you have on the screen, so there aren't any sudden surprises when you limp away from a particularly difficult fight only to realize you've run out.

Another feature that's likely to save your life, and one that's unique to this game, is the incredibly clever help system that allows you and other players to post notes on the floor to help each other out. This works because it's been seamlessly integrated into the game's world since every player is basically playing in their own world that runs parallel to yours, not unlike parallel universes. You'll be reminded of this when a specter of another player in his/her game runs by you. You can't interact with them, you can only see what their doing in their game for a few seconds before they fade away. The tips add to this by letting you choose from a bunch of notes that can range from "Beware of fire!" to "Hidden item lies ahead!" or even a very useful "Ambush awaits nearby!" tip that's helped me out quite a few times.

This idea of players experiencing the game in parallel worlds expands to other areas in the game as well, including the drop-in/drop-out multiplayer. Basically, if you need help getting past a tough boss you can summon up to three other players who show up as blue spirits to assist you in battle. One flaring limitation to this is you can't actually play with your friends, because the game summons help randomly. From a game design standpoint I can understand this decision since it maintains the game's lonely atmosphere that could be ruined when you're ravaging bosses with people you know, but on the other hand it limits the game's appeal to players looking for something they can play with their friends. The multiplayer can also work in a more competitive way, in that you can open your world to malicious spirits, or other players looking to harm you, so that person will have the sole mission of taking you out. It adds an element of unpredictability to an already very unpredictable game, especially since you never know how strong the enemy player is going to be.

Unlike Demon’s Souls, this game doesn’t have a hub world that connects every area of the game. Instead you have Bonfires, which can be lit and used as a safe haven for upgrading your equipment, refilling your Estus flasks, leveling up your character, and most importantly, activating a spawn point when die later on. Just remember, every time you activate a bonfire every enemy in the game respawns, so you can lose quite a bit of progress for using one, but you can lost even more if you die and have to start back at the beginning of the level. These Bonfires also mean there aren’t any loading screens, so you can explore every area of the game’s massive open world freely and never have the immersion broken by a pesky loading screen.

From an RPG standpoint, Dark Souls offers many of the staples of the genre. You can choose and customize your class, which range from spellcasting mages to knights in shining armor. You’ll come across unique weapons that bring with them incredible abilities, though they’re also usually very difficult to get your hands on them. On top of that there’s a vast arsenal of spells, swords, armor, and trinkets that you can find, purchase, and upgrade to really tailor your character to suit your unique playstyle.

Dark Souls is a brilliant game. It’s challenging in an old school way that’s likely to appeal to people who enjoyed games before they inundated us with help tips and big “Go this way!” signs to make sure we never strayed from the path the game designers wanted us to take. What Dark Souls does is throw you into its world without any hand-holding, and it forces you to learn your way around the world, the enemies that inhabit it, and the tools you have at your disposal to vanquish everything that comes your way. If you’re willing to invest some time into Dark Souls there really isn’t another game like it out there, and definitely nothing as rewarding as this.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

For a game this gorgeous you would expect a bunch of loading screens or freezing while the game tries to load the next area, so it's a good thing Dark Souls has neither. The entire world can be explored, you can even go for the final boss from the beginning though you're not likely to get very far. The character animations, and the combat in particular, are more fluid then they were in Demon's Souls, where everything was a little more stiff. Now the character you control responds more quickly and looks good while executing an enemy, assuming you're you're lucky or quick enough to get behind one of them to unleash the deadly move. The other characters in the game look and act a little less realistically with their dead eyes, unmoving faces, and the unnerving way they talk to you without moving their lips. I guarantee you'll forget all about those minor issues the first time you encounter one of the game's many colossal boss fights, and for me even though a lot was going on on-screen it never slowed down.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

From the sounds of crisp grass crunching under your feet to the satisfying wet sound your sword makes as it bisects an ugly creature from stem to stern, Dark Souls is always an aurally pleasurable game. Everything sounds great, and with little music in the game other than an ambient backtrack to make sure things never sound dull, there's little to distract you from your goal, and that's to survive.

Replay Factor

This isn't likely to be the type of game you want to return to after beating it, but since it can run anywhere from 30-40+ hours to beat, there's plenty to keep you busy for some time. However, if you are still looking for more action after you've beaten the game you can always jump into other players' worlds and help them out or try to hinder their progress.

Final Thoughts

If you want an intensely rewarding game with a meaty campaign, unique multiplayer, massive seamless world, and plenty of challenges to test your skills, then look no further than Dark Souls. Just make sure you know what you're getting yourself into first, lest this game chew you up and spit you out.

Tech Specs:

  • Blu-ray
  • DVD

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p
  • 1080i
  • 1080p

Audio Formats

  • Dolby Digital

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op
  • Online Versus

Motion Controls

  • No

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