So here we are again. As previously stated, this is not a review of Dark Souls. I think it would take weeks to play enough of the game to offer a valid opinion. This is simply an account of my early experiences with it. Hopefully it will help you to gauge how enjoyable you would find the game but if you’re in any doubt I can say that Dark Souls is a great RPG, with a number of frustrating attributes. Most of those attributes are intentional though, this isn’t a case of the game being bad, more that the developers intentionally want to annoy you. It’s part of the charm.[drop]My initial thought was that I could write up a little diary, accounting for each period between deaths. Unfortunately, deaths come more often than victories and writing a diary that way would have meant posting a dozen single-line stories a day. To say that Dark Souls likes to kill you is an understatement.
The last Dark Souls diary I wrote ended with me heading back to take on the Asylum Demon for the fourth time. I can report that I finally beat the monster on my seventh attempt. Once, I even got killed by the skeletal enemies on the way to the big demon. This is when I learned that you can recover your lost power. When you die, there is a ghostly glow left behind. When you return to that spot, you hit a button and get back all your collected souls. The game didn’t tell me this, I had to explore the glow for myself. That’s the other key thing to remember about Dark Souls: it doesn’t like you.
Dark Souls keeps its secrets. It doesn’t give you a lot to go on, never explaining its core mechanics, principals or what the hell things are. You’re expected to just explore, work it out and get on with things. The press kit we received didn’t come with a manual so this might all be included in the in-box literature but I have a feeling that Dark Souls would think you’re less of a gamer if you have to resort to reading instructions. There are messages scrawled in blood on the floor but those are really quite cursory hints that do nothing to indicate the intricacies of the game.
This absolute lack of handholding is simultaneously the most infuriating aspect of Dark Souls and one of its most endearing qualities. At the heart of this action RPG is a complex and compelling system of loot and levelling but it isn’t explained. You’re dropped in the game world and expected to figure things out for yourself. At least you will have plenty of opportunity as you repeatedly retrace your footsteps between deaths.[drop2]I’ve made it out of the asylum now, I talked to a few humans and got a couple of new features at the bonfires that restore my health. I can now level up at them, which I did immediately in order to get more health. I can also “kindle” at them. I have no idea what that means yet because Dark Souls is keeping it a secret until I’m deemed worthy of the information or I work it out for myself.
At least I’m not dying as often now. I’ve got a larger compliment of Estus flasks (which replenish my health) and I’ve started to get the hang of the blocking and striking combat mechanics. I wish I could remember to back out of the non-pausing start menu though, combat doesn’t work while I’m in there but movement does (combat buttons navigate the menu). I tend to run around for a minute or two with the menu still open before realising that I might need to swing my sword.
At the time of writing, I’ve just entered a new settlement. The stock enemies here are a little bit tougher and I’ve just seen a dragon. I’m about three hours into the game, having explored the asylum quite a bit before leaving, and I don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface yet.