January 28th, 2015

Time Played: 67 hours

Last Played: 12/20/14

Dark Souls: It’s the little things

Reviewing Dark Souls is going to be interesting. I have a long history with this game, it’s sequel, and its spiritual predecessor; Demon’s Souls (Dark Souls’ Grandpa on the PS3). It was a major part in my enjoyment of the PS3, and I played the crap out of it.

After investing nearly 400 hours into my first Demon’s Souls character, another 50+ into several others, 67 hours into Dark Souls, and 103 hours into Dark Souls II, I think it’s safe to say I am well versed in the Souls Series. Given that as a whole I have invested 600 – 620 hours into this franchise, it’s probably one of my most played series next to Monster Hunter and Halo.

That being said, even with my obvious bias, Dark Souls is one amazing game. And an incredible, memorable, and extremely surreal experience.

Dark Souls has some of the most interesting and awe inspiring locations (and moments) I have seen in a video game. An overwhelming feeling of scale and a profound feeling of wonder saturates everything in Lordran. It truly feels as if it was alive. In Dark Souls, you are undead, spending the rest of your existence in The Undead Asylum. Until you are freed by a fellow undead and find yourself taken to Lordran. Finding the Kingdom ravaged by the Undead Curse.

Everything about Lordran feels like it was once thriving, but has since been forgotten. Almost like Pompeii. Every location in the game, with few exceptions, is like a snapshot of a time before. The world is in disrepair. But you can’t help but shake the feeling that what you see is only a shadow of what it once was. Like a forgotten dream, or a pale representation of what had been.

The world of Lordran is meticulously put together, constructed in such a way that it all builds upon itself. Shortcuts and hidden pathways are tucked away that, once found, connect areas you would have never thought were right on top of each other. Like a locked door, blocking off a stairwell that leads into the unknown. Later, after fighting through several areas, you find a staircase. This staircase leads to that particular door, giving you new found access. It was always there, but you had no idea where it lead.

Dark Souls makes an interesting habit of hiding things in plain sight, and presenting you with large vistas showing areas you have been in the past, or areas you will be in the future. Never have I experienced such a surreal fantasy world that felt to real.

To give you an example and some context: after some time in Lordran, you fight your way through the Undead Burg, a dilapidated city patrolled by vicious demons and populated with mindless Hollows (undead), it’s unfortunate former inhabitants. The isolated Burg is built into the side of a mountain, hidden between Lordran’s massive outer walls and the sheer rock face. This mountain serves as the foundation for Annor Londo, the city of the gods.

You enter The Depths, the Burg’s undead infested sewage system, the home of a disturbing aberration. And you pass through Blighttown, a disgusting shanty town built on the underside of the Undead Burg. A putrid runoff basin where all the Kingdom’s unwanted waste is thrown and forgotten. An abhorrent home of the unclean, unnatural, and unwanted. Finally you come to the cess pool at the bottom of the canyon, a poisonous swamp in which the filth collects, inhabited by horrid abominations and vengeful plagued creatures.

In this nightmarish quagmire, something is out of place–a massive cobweb, spun by a strange spider demon, once a beautiful woman. In this hidden lair are the remains of a small church wherein you find a tunnel that leads deep into the mountain.

When you emerge into the cavernous hollow, you see a bright red glow. Magma. The burning rage of a horrible accident. This place is “The Demon Ruins,” the desolate  corpse of an ancient city consumed by the fiery mistakes of the past. It’s a breathtaking moment, laying eyes upon the circular structure of Izalith for the first time. Wreathed in lava, instantly memorable and recognizable. But you cannot progress any further, so you leave and return to the surface.

Eventually, you travel into an area called The Catacombs. Much like its name implies, you enter into a massive crypt, filled to the brim with living skeletons, ghosts, and angry spirits; all ready to tear you apart for entering into their resting place. After fighting your way through the scores of previously used skeletons, you come to a wall of darkness. Black, foreboding, all encompassing.

To step into it’s pitch grasp is to be blind.

The Tomb of Giants is not meant for the living, and there are long dead creatures that will protect their dwelling. After stumbling through the darkness, avoiding plunging into the abyss or the animate remains of beings twice your size, you find a bon fire, a small place of respite in a world out to consume you. Cast upon your back is a familiar red glow…

A window in the cave, a massive hollow, an assailing force against the unrelenting darkness.

When I first saw it I was amazed.

There, shining before me, was the Demon Ruins; a small reminder of where I had been, and that the world that seemed all too happy to eat me whole was smaller than I once thought. It was a moment of mixed feelings. I knew the Demon Ruins was a hostile place, but its warm glow was a much needed companion in the oppressive darkness. I felt calmed by the dull red. But I knew what dwelled there… and it made me question its calming effect.

Moments like these are what make Dark Souls memorable, fighting tooth and nail through horrors not meant for mortal eyes, only to come upon something familiar.

In a way everything in Dark Souls is strange and bizarre. Something about the world is off. Like a fever dream. But that’s what makes these moments so moving.

It causes you to blurt out, “Woah…” Something few games can do.

These moments make it worth trudging through the parts that make you SWEAR the game is unfair or designed specifically to troll you. After facing that one boss fight you just can’t seem to get the hang of… finally, after five attempts, you beat it! The sense of joy and satisfaction is like no other in gaming. You know that the reason you conquered the challenge is because you improved. You earned it. The Souls games, like Monster Hunter, have an immensely satisfying challenge that can be a turn off if you don’t push through the initial hurdles.

The challenge is really only an issue if you let the game outsmart you. Everything in Dark Souls can be avoided to some degree. It just requires planning, thought, and knowledge. I guarantee you, from experience, the first time you walk over a lethal trap it will never happen again. You will make sure to pay attention in the future.

Trust me, if you persevere, it is well worth the pay off.

Now, if you’re wondering why I haven’t commented on the controls or the gameplay, I honestly feel I can’t be very objective about either. Yeah the controls are kind of clunky, but once you understand them, the clunk can be used against the game.

I would sincerely recommend you give any of the Souls games a try. They’re all fantastic. And despite there being three entries, each one is unique in some way. Demon’s Souls is a horror fantasy-action game; Dark Souls is a surreal fantasy-action game; and Dark Souls II is a surreal gothic-fantasy-action game.

There are exceptionally few games like them on the market.

Truly each of these games is a one-of-a-kind experience that everyone should at least attempt. Who knows? You might find a new favorite you otherwise would have missed!

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