Friday, October 7, 2011

Preview: Dark Souls

Dark Souls (2011)
Developer: From Software
Platform: PlayStation 3
Induction Date: 10/04/2011

Being the sequel to Demon's Souls, one of the most hyped-about games of all time, Dark Souls has also been given the same kind of attention from both the media and the gaming community. Seeing how the first game was able to translate into quite a profitable venture despite as offbeat as it was, which is also of course a trademark of developer From Software - I bet they wish more people would play their other games - Dark Souls has been given a confident multi-platform release both on the PlayStation 3 and the X-Box 360 as well as it is being published by Namco Bandai instead of Atlus, a mark of its transition from the obscure into full mainstream. The question here is of course whether or not the game deserves all of the hype it generated.

You can make some really ugly faces in the character creation screen.

Dark Souls is an action role playing game where you traverse strange locations and kill even stranger demonic enemies. The opening movie is vague but fascinating, showcasing a world born from war that eventually becoming decayed by darkness. Even while playing the game, you only gain little information about the game world by the characters you encounter. I like this about the game because it forces the players to soak in the environments and the things they see to become fully immersed in the game. When you first start the game, don't bother spending too much time with the character classes. The options are an illusion to ease the players into the game and are only there to determine the starting weapon or spell that you gain access to because once you get into the game, you pretty much have all the freedom to assign stats as you see fit.

Enjoy the little slither of light whenever you can find it.

Both the first game and Dark Souls self-proclaim themselves as being hardcore hard. Don't believe all that hype and myth. These games are not that hard. As a matter of fact, Dark Souls is even easier than the first game due to its design changes. Instead of gaining access to a hub where you can travel to the many locations in the game like in Demon's Souls, this game's setup is a lot more linear. Instead of the central hub, when you die, you now will be reincarnated at the last bonfire save points you visited that are scattered across the game’s huge interconnected world. This means that you don’t have to second guess yourself on which location to explore anymore because your access to new areas are progressively presented to you. Whenever you visit the bonfire, the new freebie health pots are replenished as well. Let’s talk about death for a bit and yes it is true that you will die a lot in this game but that doesn’t mean that the game is difficult because you will then rise back up, and though you will lose the souls you have collected that are needed to level up – and you can pick them back up if you manage to get to the spot where you died – you don’t lose the actual game progress you have made. Sure, the enemies will re-spawn and you have to dispatch them again but that is a beautiful thing because the game is all about pattern recognition. Since the layouts of enemies are always the same, you will quickly learn how to best approach the situation. Don’t avoid getting the game because of all those lies you heard about it being supposedly hard because hard would be dying and then having to start the whole game again and this game isn’t that. Is it frustrating? Yes, it can be because the game is designed to initially overpower you in stats and expectations. You will notice that the game will only manage to kill you by presenting unforeseen situations, large enemy numbers, sudden enemy ambushes, and the huge amount of damage the enemies can inflict upon you. Once you have learned the layout of the world and boost up your experience level, the game quickly becomes almost too easy but of course it still means that you will feel accomplished by that revelation because it does take some dedication and patience to get there.

Mr. Boar-head likes the bonfire!

There are of course some other things you can do in this game than explore the world and killing monsters. There’s a player-versus-player element where you can invade other players’ worlds or be invaded by others, and there are also loots to collect, spells to learn, co-op to participate in, as well as crafting to be done. Just like Demon’s Souls, I really do like the decidedly offbeat and the unforgivingly somber energy of Dark Souls and it is not often that you get to play a game filled with dread and desperation. That being said, I really don’t like how this game is marketed as being too hard but they have to get people’s attention of course. It’s like telling little kids not to watch a violent horror movie – the more you warn them, the more they want to see it and you know that they will eventually gain access to actually watching the movie. My guess is that the publisher feels the same to entice the general gaming audience. The more they touted Dark Souls as being extremely hard, the more curious gamers would get. And the more curious they become, the higher the probability of them getting the game. Many may have been convinced or probably psyched by their own self-fulfilling prophecies but to me, it’s just a game that requires some thinking on the player's behalf. Still, that hype really has nothing to do with the actual gameplay and it doesn’t make the game any less fun to play.


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