By Brandon Paul
“Wow… that looks pretty awesome.” Those were my first words after seeing Dark Souls’ “Bartholomew” trailer, and honestly, I’d be lying if I said that those five little words weren’t the biggest understatement of my life — let alone my gaming career. Dark Souls is everything I could’ve ever hoped for in a game, and is absolutely deserving of being labeled as “pretty awesome,” although in doing so, you’d be selling it extremely short.
DARK SOULS: Bartholomew Trailer
To be honest, I hadn’t even planned on buying Dark Souls until the day it came out. I’d seen a few videos, but that was where my Souls knowledge ended. I never played Demon’s Souls and didn’t know jack squat about the series, but I did know how challenging people were making it out to be. So there I was; picking up my RAGE pre-order at Best Buy on my lunch break, and I decided I’d snatch up Dark Souls on a whim. Best impulse buy ever. Also, despite the fact that RAGE is the game that I had so much anticipation for, I haven’t really touched it since the week it was released. RAGE was, unfortunately, on the receiving end of a Dark Souls-Skyrim-Battlefield 3-SW:TOR train that came barreling down the tracks at full speed. Poor ol’ RAGE never stood a chance.
Without a doubt, the biggest selling point for me with Dark Souls was the fact that it was hailed as being such a hard game. In a sea full of other titles made by developers that put you on rails and hold your hand from start to finish, Dark Souls definitely appeared to be a breath of fresh air. After playing it, I can say that it’s really not THAT tough — Not all of it, anyway. I had my fair share of agonizing pain. For example, one of the hardest points in my first play-through was the Dragonslayer Ornstein & Executioner Smough boss fight. One boss to conquer would’ve sufficed, but taking on this duo at the same time really gave me one hell of a lesson in patience and anger management. With all of the other bosses up to that point, I would typically go in initially for a recon run to check out their moves and tells. After that, I had their number and would be victorious after giving it one or two more shots. It was a completely different story with these guys. I’d love to tell you how many times I died, but I lost count. Luckily, not a single controller was thrown… but the thought did cross my mind a time or two.
Executioner Smough & Dragonslayer Ornstein
Although Dark Souls can be a bit of a tough pill to swallow at times, it goes down a lot smoother once you’ve mastered the combat system. Your ability to time a parry, block, or dodge can often mean the difference between victory and death. In the typical RPG, at least in my experience, your hit chance is governed by your skill in certain areas — you can hit or miss depending on what your character’s stats deem necessary. However, Dark Souls gives you a hit chance of 100% at all times, so long as you’re swinging at something in front of you. If there’s a weapon in your hand, you either make a stab or slash for 100% damage, or you don’t. There’s no gray area leaving room for a swing to miss if your hit rating isn’t up to par. That was one of the most satisfying parts of Dark Souls in my book, because if I screwed up and didn’t make a hit, then it was my fault and it was back to the bonfire to make yet another run for glory. The opposite side of that coin is that when you succeed, you can relish in the fact that you did everything right… there was no magical algorithm that decided how much damage you’d done. It’s a very manly game that gives you very manly feelings of accomplishment — much like building a log cabin from scratch, or choking a bear to death with your bare hands.
But in-between all of the boss battles, trash fights, and swinging my sword at chests to make sure they wouldn’t eat me, I couldn’t help but notice the sheer beauty of the world itself. The level design in Dark Souls is extremely well thought out, and I haven’t had this much fun exploring a game’s world since Morrowind. A Link to the Past also comes to mind. What I love about all of these games is that they don’t tell you a whole lot from the get-go. They all reveal a scant amount of information about the story — just barely enough to know what’s going on — and send you on your merry way. Imagination is the name of the game here. Wanna go in that direction? Go for it… although, you’ll probably die over and over again until you’ve realized you’re going in the wrong direction. I, like many others, made that very same mistake upon departing Firelink Shrine, the starting area and central hub of Dark Souls’ world.
Firelink Shrine: The central hub and starting area of Dark Souls
There is no map, and there are no map markers. There is no pause button that allows you to stop the game mid-fight to drink 50 potions or eat 100 potatoes. The amount of dialogue between the character and NPCs in the game is nearly nonexistent for a couple of reasons: One, because NPCs are few and far between. Two, because the developers at From Software wanted to put an emphasis on the player using his or her imagination to fill in the story’s blanks rather than hiring 100 voice actors to spout of line after line of useless information that probably won’t ever be read or heard.
I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry, I’m not turning this into a Skyrim vs. Dark Souls pissing match. Both are absolutely fantastic works of art, but they are completely different games. They deserve better than to be compared side-by-side since they’re both equally as awesome in different ways — much like a Tyrannosaurus and a Velociraptor. The Elder Scrolls series is my first love in the RPG world, and I love Skyrim and will never bash it… but I think I may have been a little spoiled by Dark Souls. Skyrim gave me a glorious meal of the finest food I’ve ever seen on a giant silver platter and said “Dig in.” Dark Souls took the same platter, put it at the top of a giant mountain, populated the mountain with dangerous creatures and certain death at every corner, and said “Dig in,” and I loved every damn minute of it.
I give Dark Souls a well-deserved 10 out of 10.