Note: I accidentally published the incomplete review early. This is the full review.
Another game review that's a little late on the draw. Normally reviews review a game roughly in the same month it was released, this is a bit unorthodox and I can explain. The reason why this review is technically late is because it's Dark Souls.
Just so you know, I am trying my hardest to refrain from swearing whilst writing this review. You will understand in a bit.
If you've heard anything about this game, it's that it does not care about you, it hates your stupid face and it wishes you were dead. It wants you to realize that you're an idiot for spending money on this frustratingly horribly hard game. But this is good. It's good because nowadays video games hold your hand too much. Name one game in the past year that doesn't have some sort of regenerating health bar or ammo every second corner, or some sort of upgrade that will help you win everything and become obscenely over powered throughout the entire game.
It's every game.
Okay, maybe not every game, but a lot of games.
This game is the exact opposite.
Dark Souls is the spiritual successor to Demon's Souls but not a direct sequel. It has a very minimal plot that is more explained by talking to the NPCs (Non-Player Characters) rather than cut scenes and even then, everything is left up to the player's interpretations. I won't lie to you, I had no idea what this game was about.
All I know is that I played a human who had died and the world I traverse, humans who have died will eventually turn hollow, essentially a thoughtless, violent undead being. You then learn of the prophecy of the chosen undead that escapes from the Undead Asylum will be the one that liberates the oppressed undead from the age of fire. Low and behold, that's you, because you escaped from the Undead Asylum. Which was the first stage of the game. Yeah.
Anyways the plot isn't what matters.
What I Did Like.
I thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay, it was quite addicting. Usually in most games, everybody hates grinding (running around killing things to gain experience to level up). I hate grinding. A lot. But thanks to the gameplay, grinding wasn't too much of an issue.
Also the nice thing with grinding was that the monsters you kill will always be in the exact same spot. If you make a round trip, run up a hill, kill so and so monster, you can head back to a bonfire, the bonfire respawns the exact same monsters in the exact same spots, rinse and repeat, so on so forth. Eventually it becomes a method that you just get used to. Tedious, but I never noticed.
The controls were basic enough. The top buttons control what's in your hands. Left top buttons control what's in your left hand and the right top buttons control what's in your right hand. You also got your standard move, sprint, action button, item use buttons, etc. Why complicate that?
The bonfire system is something of a throwback to old school video games. Bonfires are more or less safe zones in which here you can level up your character's stats, store away items, warp to other bonfires, etc. On that note, if your character dies, he/she will be warped back to the last bonfire they sat at.
This can be a gift or a curse in that these bonfires are checkpoints. You can be running along for what seems like hours and if you make it far, die, you will be transported back to the last previous bonfire. Similarly, if you've been running around and you come across a bonfire, it's a bloody miracle on 34th street.
The levelling system is reliant on souls. You obtain souls from killing monsters, as you proceed in the game, monsters become stronger thus dropping more souls. On the flip side, souls are also the currency in this game. So with the amount of souls you gained, you have to choose on whether or not you wanna save them up to level up further or to buy crucial items.
I liked this idea because it added to the sense of urgency in this game, everything was a bloody decision in this game that could either be something great or lead to your imminent rage quit.
If you die, whatever souls you had collected become lost and the only way you can retrieve those souls is if you return to the exact location you died at. Granted if you die again, the souls in your previous death location will be lost and you will have to start from zero.
But if you got some souls while going to your old souls, the souls will be retrievable at the spot you last died. It's on going like that. Many-a-times I've wanted to jump out my window and rob a bank because I lose a substantial amount of souls. But it's all in good fun right?
This game throws you immediately into the dumps. The only tutorials you receive are little hints on the ground that only tell you the button schemes on the controller. "R1 to attack" or "Hold O to sprint". The rest is up to you to figure out. Honestly.
If you have online capabilities with your Xbox 360 or PS3 (very soon PC), other players can leave hints on the ground that you can read. Granted they are quite vague and most of the time you'll have to make a judgement call on whether or not these hints are credible.
E.g. you will see a hint at the edge of a cliff that will simply say "Try Jumping". Should you? Maybe it's a secret path to some treasure. Chances are it's some bloody tosser sitting in his dank basement dropping these hints to get a chuckle. Never again will I listen to hints by a cliff.
I'd like to think that Dark Souls gives us a fresh take on the whole fantasy world. I'm talking about monsters, weapons, armours, environments, etc. Every time I find new things in this game, I always manage to utter something out of my useless mouth and for a game to make me actually talk while playing is a rare feat. Granted half the time it's just non-sense with swears jumbled in there.
Like this thing:
God that's creepy.
Once in a while you'll run into hints that say "Gorgeous View". If you take moment to just take a look at the landscape, it's rather breathtaking.
With the vagueness of the plot, there's really no back story with any of the areas you traverse. Maybe I'm the only one, but I wanted to know the story of each place. One part you're in some crappily lit Mordor looking hell hole, next you're taking an elevator to a castle. Why? WHY? Why are these places connected? But of course, Dark Souls doesn't care about your feelings and it's not here to sate your curiosity.
But probably what tops it all is the world you're in. Although there is no map to guide you anywhere in the game, you learn to traverse this world solely by memorization. Every area is connected one way or another and it's beautifully done. You might be running in an unfamiliar area and when you open up a door, it might lead to somewhere that you know and with that, you know where the bonfire is located. It's like a well oiled machine.
What I Didn't Like.
Off the bat. I hate the online players. I've mentioned this several times, but this game is unforgiving. It allows the ability for other players to "invade your world" engaging you in pvp (player vs. player). 89.5% of the time the guy is some ridiculously powerful player that absolutely crushes you in a few swings. Once defeated the user takes all your souls and gains humanity. Granted you can return to your point of death and retrieve your souls. So that's nice.
But there were so many bloody times where I've been invaded / inconvenienced by these guys. I just wanna get my souls back, but no, you gotta come in my world, crap in my pool and leave. I hate all of you.
Granted the only time other players can invade your world is if you are human. Your character has two states, "undead" or "human". Majority of the game you'll be parading around undead. There are really only two benefits of being human and those are: you can "kindle your estus flasks" meaning you can up the limit of number of health potions you carry and you can summon other players to help you on your journey. Summoning other players helps a lot, especially with the bosses.
At times when I'm getting reamed on by enemies, I need to drink my potions and I swear to god that my character never registers the fact that he needs to heal when I press the "use item" button. So in a frenzy I jam on the □ button to heal. Finally when the stupid guy figures it out, he chugs everything. I only wanted one. Now you have no more potions and you're gonna die anyways.
Similar things happen while rolling to dodge attacks. I only wanna roll once, but the character tends to roll twice, thus draining my stamina, thus unable to block, thus taking damage, thus dying, thus losing all my souls, thus freaking out.
Boss fights drove me up the wall as well. I'm used to the whole notion that spamming attacks at the boss' face will kill it. Unfortunately that's not the case. It will take several tries to figure out how to kill a boss. Some boss fights are just a puzzle. Some are just attack to win. After a while you grow a sort of paranoia when entering a new area. You never know what's around the corner. But I suppose one can argue that this is a good thing, because too many video games with bosses are simply "press X to win". True. This point is morally grey.
Every time I ran into this thing, I trembled in fear and anger.
If you're dissatisfied with the difficulty levels of video games nowadays, this game is for you. If you like to be hit for sexual gratification, this game is likely for you as well. It's truly a beautiful game that requires the player's patience in order to recognize this as a wonderfully put together game. Hell, it's taken me three tries to get into this game. After realizing the character class that I had chosen was the hardest one, I re-did the game with a slightly easier class and that did the trick. I love this game. I would honestly say that this is one of the best games I've played all year.