FromSoftwares Dark Souls originally came out in 2011 and finally, after nearly 8 years i’m finally getting round to playing it. So why has it taken this long, and why have I already put 14 hours into it over just 4 days?!
Read on to find out my impressions and more about the game if you’ve never played it, or even if you have!
This isn’t truly my first experience of a soulsborne game. I briefly played Demon’s Souls (When I say briefly, I literally mean just half an hour) when it was a freebie on PS Plus and I even bought Bloodborne but very quickly gave up as I found the game too tough. Again i don’t think I made it past the first ‘area’. I think these experiences put me off the Souls games as a whole and pretty much cemented in my head that I wasn’t going to ever go back to the series, however I can now definitely say that until now I hadn’t felt like i’d had a proper Souls experience…
Well here I am in 2019 looking for something to play after Red Dead Redemption 2…and I honestly couldn’t have made a better choice. My plan is to convince those of you who are scared to pick these games up to go and get them, they really aren’t scary! The main reason I picked this is up is that I was in a massive lull after Red Dead and needed something that really grabbed my attention, something exciting and challenging, after being told to play it endlessly by many friends including Luke and Salman I knew this was what I had to play.
In case you’re like me and have literally no idea on how these games work i’ll break it down for you. You start the game as a human who has gone hollow, or in laymans terms – you are undead, you’ve been branded with the Dark Sign which forces you into an eternal cycle of death which is the main driving force behind the game. The only reprieve between deaths being the glorious bonfires. There are chances at these bonfires to restore your humanity but the game isn’t necessarily focused around this aspect, it is added in more as a mechanic to allow you to summon help for some of the games tougher areas or bosses but comes with it’s own caveat that you can be invaded at times by anyone playing the game that fancies ruining your day. The game is much more about the challenging task of going from one bonfire to the next, slaying (if you can) along the way.
The game has a brief LOTR-esque opening and quickly drops you into the world as you’re thrown into a cell which you escape into a break down of the games control systems, the story is pretty loose if i’m honest (apparently a lot don’t truly know the story) there are standard RPG tropes which mean there are NPCs who help, they move around the map and have some form of story but they are scarce and the help is minimal, adding to the almost suffocating feel of the game, which is a good thing. Pretty quickly you learn that dying happens easily in this game and you must play properly to avoid death. The awesome thing is you can play pretty much your way, you can build a massive tank who can withstand blows and deal massive attack, or a nimble fighter who can dodge attacks, currently i’m somewhere in the middle. Experience points must be spent on different categories and you earn one point per level to spend on these cats (e.g. you have strength to improve your attack and how much you carry, vitality for your health, dexterity for bow attack & speed etc). It takes a lot to level up as you go on but you really can notice how you move better when upgrading equip load. I personally put up my strength so i could have good armour but dodge. This took me a while not gonna lie….but I really enjoy this strong but fast warrior i’m building.
The combat is where the game SHINES above all others, as the combat system is just so god damn refined. Every button press matters and each attack needs to be calculated, you can’t just aimlessly swing your sword around like you can in many open combat games. When your stamina is empty you can’t swing or block effectively so you must save it, stand back from the enemy until you’re ready and attack, waiting for them to drop their guard. And the enemies are intelligent, they can heal, block and effectively kill you. This combination of difficult combat and intelligent enemies means you’ll want to keep going back for more.
So a lot of the game revolves around souls, no shit right?!.. The experience you earn comes in the form of souls, souls come mostly from enemies but you can pick them up as items as well, depending on the size of soul the ‘experience’ gained ranges from 50 to 2000 (and probably higher Lukes note: much much higher). Here’s the clincher, when you die any souls you carry at that time get dropped in that place, if you die again before getting back to retrieve them you lose your souls, essentially losing any unspent experience points you have gained to this point. Something I learned quickly was that items are not lost when you die, so ensure you don’t convert any soul items until you get to a bonfire, make sense?
Bonfires are your checkpoints, here you can level up, maintain equipment, reverse hollowing, add spells etc. These are few and far between so don’t be expecting to be able to checkpoint every 10 minutes. I suppose this is the part that’s punishing as these brief reprieves in the game are few and far between, and when you regenerate you appear at the last bonfire you rested at. It differentiates itself from other RPGs as you can lose the experience very easily and it’s a massive case of risk vs reward for the souls/experience.
Is it difficult? Yes very, probably the one of the toughest games you’ll ever play but it’s so unbelievably rewarding and satisfying. When you die it’s your fault due to you getting too cocky or pushing the limits that bit too far. You’ll work through a tough area again and again to work out the best route, losing many souls along the way but when you eventually smash through an area you will constantly surprise yourself with how much you improve.
You’ll lose 1000s and 1000s of souls so get used to this early on, but you’ll always get the lost experience back as you play through the game. What’s amazing is that at any time you can completely mess up and die quickly and unexpectedly. Any enemy can kill you if there’s enough of them or if you’re in a bad place, you’ll get quickly butt fucked making silly decisions. But opposed to that you can go back to an area that was punishing you earlier on and pretty much fly though it, feeling like a god. Additionally to this your equipment can break and you can get effect damage (poison, bleed etc) so you need to look after these parts as well, adding to the difficulty AND immersion.
No other RPG has the same feeling of being so difficult that you need to learn the controls inside out balanced with rewarding you immensely. Every time you go back to an area, and beat it you know you’ve figured it out, as opposed to often being able to run through anywhere in games like Skyrim. Each little upgrade you make you notice, and as i mentioned you learn how to block, dodge, which enemies you can go for a little more.
The thing is that you just want to keep going back to it to challenge yourself and get better. The combat system is amazing and tight, the whole world has a feeling of tension but one you’re addicted to. I am SO excited to play all of these games, watch this space as I continue my souls journey.