As I have been getting on in the years, I have been struggling with time management, and the fact that I have spent the past… month working full time does not help. During most of that month, I’ve been picking away at Dark Souls, a title I nothing short of hated when I first tried it back when it was shiny and new. But, after years of loathing simmered down, I decided to give it another chance. Did I like it? Well, I beat it, and that should say quite a bit.
Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Before the game even properly begins, Dark Souls more or less flings its story into the player’s unprepared face, and then proceeds to spend the majority of the game only leaving hints about the massive amounts of lore the game apparently has. I say apparently, as just because the game mentions the term “Delta Farmer” does not mean there is any way to learn what that means. Granted, there are quite a lot of external sources which cataloged the very easy to gloss over details the game contains, but it just makes the game a lot more vague as a result. That said, I did forget what my ultimate goal was shortly after the game’s introduction, and was actually a bit surprised when I learned that I was suppose to kill a demigod, so perhaps I may be a bit dim.
Or perhaps I was focusing more on the gameplay, which is rather renowned for being difficult, but after spending a hundred hours with this game, I would claim that it simply requires both patience and decent reflexes more than quite a lot of games do. It is very much true that you can easily be overwhelmed by enemies if they, say, box you into a corner, but the ideal is to draw them out and be able to maneuver around their attacks. When you see an opening, deal a blow or two and be sure that you are always keeping track of both where you are, and if anything could come out and surprise you. Always keep an eye on your stamina bar, and never be caught with it empty, or else you are more or less defenseless, offenseless, and unable to run. Though, when your health does eventually fall either due to enemies, gravity, or a trap you did not properly avoid of spy, you will go back to the last Bonfire rested at, your health potions refilled, all of the regular enemies you killed having gotten back up, and your souls left right where you previously parished. Souls are both this title’s currency and experience points, awarded mostly through killing enemies, and I am actually very fond of how they are used.
Humanity is also placed with these retrievable souls, but simply explaining it more or less opens a floodgate of things I really am not rather fond of in Dark Souls. As the confusion and vagueness of the game does indeed seep to the mechanical level. Humanity is a passive trait that is used to allow your character to look human, which enables them to Kindle bonfires, which allows them to give you more Estus Flasks. It also can be used to give you slight stat boosts from item discovery to general defences and resistance, as one can see from an initially very intimidating stats screen. Now, does the game ever tell you this? No, I had to look online, or sit down and properly experiment with a game that is probably the third longest title I have ever reviewed.
This lack of explanation leaves Dark Souls as a very intimidating beast where only having passing knowledge in the series and, say, deciding on a “Faith Build” because others have mentioned it, is basically begging for a bad time. Dark Souls is a game you really do need to properly read up on, plan your armor sets, select your ideal weapons, and be sure not to miss, say, a very helpful ring, or a vendor who the player could never even meet. Don’t even get me started on Covenants, especially the one that basically asks the player to sequence break in order to unlock it. I understand the desire to not spell everything out for the player, but all it does is make the game difficult not due to the challenge presented, but because the player does not know what the hell they are doing.
Take for example, The Painted World of Aramis. What exactly is this place the player may hear about, as it is one of the twenty-ish areas in this game? Well, in order to get there, the player must follow a breadcrumb trail that is on part with 80s and 90s CRPGs and Adventure games. After activating an elevator to the central hub in the game, the player must walk off the elevator onto a stone platform, where they need to roll onto a stone pillar. From there, they can find a key to the tutorial area, which is separated from the game’s otherwise, and very well done, interconnected world. How do you get to the tutorial area? Repeat the process sans the rooftop rolling and climb up to a nest, curl up into a ball, and wait 20 seconds to be taken back to the starting area. There you can find a revamped version of the first boss, an incredibly useful ring, a one-of-a-king shield, and an item to access The Painted World of Aramis. But how do you use this item? You don’t, you just now see a prompt on a painting in the area Anor Londo, and are teleported to The Painted World of Aramis. What is in this area? Quite a lot from exclusive items, enemies, spells, armors, a fully developed environment, and an optional boss.
On that note, I honestly do feel a bit mixed about the bosses upon really sitting down and thinking about them, trying to pinpoint which ones I liked, disliked, and comparing them to the combat that fills the majority of the game. They certainly do hold a level of gravitace that I nothing short of love, as they manage to be very tense, and fun, battles when they are at their best. However, the problem with a test of skill against an enemy that is ultimately unlike those you had been fighting up to it is how different your strategy is for bosses and for normal enemies, and how you really never get the chance to feel as if you get or properly understand a boss. A lot of the time a victory can feel a bit ill earned as you simply desired to pursue victory, and were willing to sacrifice all of your healing potions to do so.
This lack of what should, and at many points is, a resounding sense of achievement, comes to mind when I think of the summonable partners who can be found throughout the game, assuming the player is human, and don’t even get me started on how much of a relative mess it was to understand how that works. I understand that they are in place to help players who have trouble with a boss, but unless the battle was up against more than one enemy, I really did feel as if they lessened the experience. That said, trying to do a couple bosses without them is enough to make me nervously laugh before letting out a resounding no.
The two that come to mind are an otherwise really enjoyable boss battle involving a pair of bosses, who then become a single boss after you defeat one of the two, simply due to how managing multiple enemies in the game ramps up the difficulty by a dramatic amount. The other is the Capra Demon, who I just hate, as it is a boss who locks you in a shoebox of a room, has massive range, and has two annoying dogs to deal with. I only ever got through that boss because of another player who I summoned to help me, and managed to distract the boss by becoming a target, when they had still yet to enter the boss room.
Yes, the online is far from ideal in many situations, and even though I will say that the notes left by players can be helpful, I would far sooner pick up a guide than risk another player invading my game, as it means I need to alt-tab, and then close my window. Yes, it is cheap, but there is so little for me to gain by going up against an enemy who can defeat me in two hits, especially if I am in the middle of exploring or fighting other enemies. I would honestly recommend playing the game in offline mode, and with a guide in hand, even though I can only assume doing so would upset at least some the developers. Although, unsurprisingly, you cannot pause there either, which certainly led to some less than ideal situations when family happened to walk into my room while I was in the midst of something, and had to promptly exit out of the game.
I get that players would just promptly exit out of the game to avoid death otherwise, which is a rather novel idea for preserving the spirit of the game, which I felt was rather hindered by a boss around the player properly understanding the game’s weapon upgrade system. There are about a dozen upgrade paths, most of which need to be unlocked through various Embers given to blacksmiths across the game world, and they are explained about as well as most things in this game. What makes this worse is how annoying it is to navigate through the mounds of items you will inevitably accumulate, which the game does not so much as stack when they are two identical weapons that must occupy the four visible slots you have at any given moment you happen to spend in the inventory screen. Still, you should pay attention to the Divine upgrade path, as it is critical to defeat a boss who is only much of a threat thanks to his regenerating cronies, who can only be killed by Divine weapons. Not only is that confusing, it’s not very good boss design when a boss is only hard due to three otherwise unexceptional baddies.
I complain about these details, but only due to how much they stand out in a game I am very close to putting up next to some of my personal favorites. Its atmosphere is wonderful, and I truly do enjoy being in and exploring the title’s world. Every new foe, path, and so forth was provided a delightful amount of wonder, fear, and overall curiosity that few games have been able to stir in me. Its gameplay is certainly punishing at times, but each death was just a sign that, for as confident as I was in my abilities, I can never get sloppy, and even foes I believed to have conquered can still kick my tush with little challenge. The pleasant tension I felt during the first half of the game was unfortunately morphed into something far more cynical as I could not help but view the game as a number heavy action game where I could only feel confident about myself if I confirmed my actions with sources outside of the game. Though, without them, I still feel the game, especially the number heavy parts of it, would be a whole lot worse.
‘Worse’ was also a word I believe would be fitting to describe my impressions about the PC version of Dark Souls in regards to its original console versions. Despite having a foggy, at best, memory of that version, I would fully agree. While I began my journey shortly after Games For Windows Live was gutted out of the title, the PC version of Dark Souls is still notably bad as it only gives two proper options with its video settings, and looks like complete trash regardless of how you manage those setting. Thankfully, there is a rather well know unofficial mod that improves the game substantially, but it did not prevent the game’s frame rate from dropping to 15 frames per second on the regular, even with most of the unofficial bells and whistles off. I will be honest and say that I actually found the frame drops to make combat a bit more enjoyable at times, but the fact the game could not keep a steady framerate when viewing looking over an empty environment is nothing short of sad.
Part of me would understand if the game simply had lavish visuals, even though I would argue that a stable framerate is a bit more important than making a scene look nice, but even without the fix that applies textures that do not look like tripe, Dark Souls has very quality environmental design. “Jaw-dropping” is a term I seldom use, but there were points in Dark Souls where I had my mouth agape with awe over the next area, only for a grin to appear as I began mapping it out in my head, looking for the, to be quite honest, pretty easy to spot secrets. All of the creatures occupying these realms help give it character as well as feeling appropriate, and all inspiring a sense of uncertainty whenever they are first encountered, regardless of where you are in the game.
I would be lying if I did not say the sense of tension that I was initially enamoured with did continue throughout the end of the title. Grinding, spreadsheets, and wikis all degrade the title’s delectable atmosphere, which is something of a shame. Even if I were to disregard that, there are still several qualms I have that would get in the way of me agreeing with anybody who said the game was a masterpiece, or any such thing. Regardless, it is still a pretty darn endearing title, and one I am glad I decided to give another chance.
An applaudable effort that does get hung up on a few branches, but is very much deserving of a recommendation, as the title in question is pretty great.