Review: Surviving Dark Souls

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Dark Souls is a game that has many gamers out there interested, though mainly from a distance. We’re in gaming’s crunch time and, as we have said before, there’s an abundance of choice right now. Despite this, the hardcore community is always looking for challenges. So I set out to find out if it lives up to the hype as one of the hardest games ever made…

Though it may be a tad elitist of me to say this, true gamers play games for a challenge. Not for graphics, not for story, but simply to play something that is endlessly engaging. This is why people still buy Pac-Man or Mario Bros. The games that truly test us are also the games where getting further or reaching a higher score than last time feels genuinely rewarding. For gamers like this, the idea of receiving achievements for starting a game feels like a pat on the head. This is why games such as Dark Souls are like Kryptonite to me. Comments like ‘hardest game ever made’ don’t deter me; instead, they stand as potential mockery of my aptitude as a gamer. Having the back cover say “PREPARE TO DIE” feels like a personal challenge, and I was prepared for the worst. Or at least I thought I was.

Wow, you're a BIG one!

Having played only a small section of Demon Souls, the preceding title in the series, I knew that dying was an inevitably. Players would always reminisce with pained looks at the very mention of Demon Souls, and after only a few deaths I came to the realisation that I needed to devote more time than I had to spend. So it was shelved. When the possibility to review Dark Souls came up, it felt like my own Rocky II: the game was back, it was tougher than ever and I was ready for a rematch.

From the word go Dark Souls doesn’t wait for you. With a gentle nudge and a few moments to play with the controls, the combat starts. From there almost everything you see will be a threat. Even the simplest of enemies will slaughter you mercilessly if you let you guard down or attempt to rush. Learning resolve and composure is vital to surviving Dark Souls. Once the training area is over and the game begins, the first step is to learn to fight. Combat can seem awkward at first, so the trick is to remember to balance blocking with attacking. Players that can handle a few dozen defeats will pick up the basics quite quickly; but don’t think this means you’re in the clear. No matter how well you have the controls down pat, it all falls apart when you see some of the more heavy creatures start pacing towards you. Most monsters you will face, besides the basic undead, will probably put you down with one clean hit and, even if you do survive, the most effective strategy is usually to run away like a little girl. This was the first hurdle I hit. The game was testing me: no messages to say that I had gone the wrong way or that my level was too low. I just watched as I got beaten to a bloody pulp, over and over again. I was feeling defeated, this was just too hard.

Game over, man. Game over!

However, I kept at it, desperate to see it through. After a while I stopped counting my deaths, stopped worrying about lost souls and just kept going. All of a sudden Dark Souls took on a new vibe. No longer was it about how far I could get. Now, it was more like an arcade game; it was about what I could achieve with this life. I started to redo areas over and over again, building up souls, heading back to the safe area, resetting the enemies and then using the souls to level up. Even if this felt a tad repetitive, the result was undeniably rewarding and Joe Esposito’s You’re the Best Around rang through my head to help me through. After a decent montage of time, I was ready to take on bosses again, this time with a little more skill and a lot more health. Again, I was left as a messy stain on the ground. However, this time the sense of anger and dread was gone. This time I was finding weaknesses, this time I was looking at patterns. Now it was all a matter of time before I would inevitably be victorious.

My, what big teeth you have!

From here Dark Souls became a great game. Although it was more than a little buggy at the best of times, it kept me interested even with its nightmarishly gruelling grind. The game gave me a challenge like so few games can offer nowadays. Risk and reward are tangible concepts, and players have a veritable sea of choices on how to approach bad guys. Some will favour heavy close combat, pushing stats on stamina to survive a barrage of attacks. Others will keep their distance and use magic and long-range weapons to kill without even taking a hit. The choice is yours.

To add to the experience, Dark Souls has continued what its predecessor began with its bizarre online system. Players can still leave messages for other people to find in their own games, deaths still show up as bloodstains that act as ominous warnings of what not to do, and games can still be invaded by rogue gamers looking to cause some old fashioned chaos. This seems to be more refined than rebuilt. Sometimes the system works well with players leaving hints for how to beat hard foes, and other times players will leave cruel tricks telling you to leap off cliffs in hopes of secret treasure. Figuring out the differences is half the fun. Apparently, co-op has been advanced, however, I am yet to see it work.

Dark Souls can sometimes feel like a nasty joke and most people will rightfully avoid it. However, for those that read this and feel a sense of intrigue, buy it. This is the kind of game that will push. It may not be one you play every night until you finish it, but it will be there to put you in your place every time you give it a go. I have played 20 hours and I am only just cracking the shell of this game, and if that’s not value for money then I don’t know what is.

8.5 out of 10

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Joshua Philpott

Tech MacGyver
Games writer, podcaster and tech wizard. Obsessed with obscure horror films, crazy gadgets and caffeine. Passionate, argumentative and open minded. Freelance writer and co-founder rawDLC.

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  • Anonymous

    My copy should arrive on Monday. I’ll be prepared for endless dodge rolling.

  • Anonymous

    Just remember, Block THEN attack… Took me far to long to get that down. to much God of War I think.

  • Chrisfisher51802

    I have 87 hours in this game!!! Best and the hardest game I have ever played I love it!!!!!!! Great review man