Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dark Souls

I won’t spend any time telling you what Dark Souls is (the spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls and all that). If you’re reading this blog you know what it is. You’ve probably played it. What I wanted to do in this post is explain a little of my experience with it. I don’t think there will be any major spoilers, but there might be so be forewarned.

Dark Souls isn’t a casual game. I suspect that most (not all, but most) gamers who didn’t grow up on the tough games in the 80s (ie: Ninja Gaiden, Battletoads, etc.) might not last. It’s brutally difficult. But that’s something you can adjust to. It took me about 5 hours to get from the tutorial area (Undead Asylum) to the first boss (Taurus Demon) in the Undead Burg. But after 20+ hours I can breeze through most of the Burg in 5-10 minutes. Yes my character is stronger, but I know the game better. I know how the enemies fight. I know their patterns. Like the dragon near the end of Mega Man 2. Sure you were balancing on single blocks suspended above a bottomless pit, but you could learn its patterns and beat it easily. But the first few tries, forget it. Dark Souls is kind of like that.

I’m not saying Dark Souls is like Mega Man. But the challenge and memorization of patterns reminds me a little of Mega Man. But the world it places you in is very different. You spend most of the game “hollow” (basically you’re dead). And the people you meet along the way are also hollow. And boy are they depressed. Not only that but the environment, especially once you get indoors and underground, is probably the most oppressive environment I’ve ever played. Yes it’s dark. Yes it can be hard to see two feet in front of your face. But the hopelessness and oppressive feeling you get while wandering this world is almost tangible.

I haven’t finished the game yet. I’m in Sen’s Fortress right now. But having just gone through Blighttown and beaten the Chaos Witch Quelaag (basically a big, fiery spider woman), it took effort to keep going. Not that the game isn’t fun. It’s a total blast to play. But it takes a toll on you. It’s the only game in recent memory that if I played just before going to bed I laid awake for a few hours thinking about it. Not in a nightmarish way, but just some of the stuff I did and would be doing soon. “Remember those big guillotines on the narrow bridges in Sen’s Fortress that would knock you off into a pit of giant demons? Yeah, you’ll have to do that again next time. Remember how dark it was? And that snake soldier guy was shooting lightning at you from the floor above you while trying to cross that narrow bridge? And you could hardly see? Yeah. You’re doing it again because you died. Again.”

So I love Dark Souls. But it really does take effort to play. The only reason I’m not playing it now is because of a few little games that came out since then (Uncharted 3, Skyrim and Skyward Sword). But I really hope to get back to it. It’s not often that a game is rewarding as this. When you get through an area, no matter how hard it is or how hopeless and helpless you feel, to finally come out alive on the other side is incredibly rewarding. To take on a dragon that towers over you and just happens to have a giant mouth on its underbelly full of razor sharp teeth (see the hideous beast below) and to beat him in one try is extremely gratifying. You might spend hours trying to get through one area and then take out the boss easily. You feel good. Then you get instantly humbled going to the next area and killed on the front steps.

This is Dark Souls. Prepare to die.

Btw, there is an excellent review on Splitkick.com by my friend Peter Tell. You should check it out.


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