It’s been a couple of months since the release of Dark Souls II, and I’m sure many of our readers will have well and truly sunk their teeth into it by now. Its predecessor, Dark Souls, has been hailed as the most difficult game of our generation, but how does it hold up today?
Dark Souls focusses on one character, the player, who is cursed with the Darksign, making them deathless. They are the chosen one, and are destined to ring two bells: one, at the highest point of a skeleton filled kingdom, the other, in the depths of a city of nightmares. The plot is vague, leaving the player to piece together scraps of lore if they wish for a deeper understanding.
The game’s premise is simple: trial and error, where error is death, and trial is by fire. However, each area is filled with monsters strong enough to fell the player in a couple of blows, and the learning curve is harsh. As the hero, you must solve each area like a puzzle – calculate which enemies to kill and in what order, before surviving to the next checkpoint.
Very little help is offered to the player, with friendly faces scattered few and far apart. Bonfires – the ‘checkpoints’ of the game – allow the player to heal, sort their equipment, and level up. However, in doing so, these also heal every enemy and respawn any non-boss creatures you have defeated. Only by defeating the largest of enemies and reaching new bonfires can you make any true progress in the game.
The satisfaction of reaching the next bonfire, of slaying boss monsters and smiting other players who dare enter your kingdom is one of the most enjoyable things about Dark Souls. It sounds trivial, being excited by managing to walk from one area to the next without dying, but Dark Souls is so cruel, so punishing, that these rare moments of success are incomparably sweet.
On par with this are the online features. Dark Souls allows the player to team up with other players online to defeat monsters either in their own, or in the other player’s game-world. If players want to take a less active role in aiding other players, they can simply leave notes to help (or trick) other players.
Hint: If there’s a note telling you to jump off a ledge, don’t jump off the ledge.
A major element of Dark Souls is the hollowed/human dynamic. When hollowed, the player loses their human appearance and cannot summon or aid other players. It’s essentially ‘offline mode’, with a couple of additional benefits.
Notes can still be viewed, making remaining hollow a good method of learning the ropes, but the rewards of being human entices the player to take the risk of spending their humanity points. When a human, humanity points are quickly earned, and more online features are available – but other human players are not always good-spirited.
Less benevolent players can even invade other players’ worlds and murder them to steal a copy of their armour or weapon. Defeating intruders is as satisfying as slaying a boss, and occasionally is just as lucrative. By defeating an invader, or by alerting the higher powers of the gameworld after your defeat, players are able to punish overzealous invaders – stealing their armour in victory or sending knights to rebuke them for their crimes.
However, as with many games, online play is overpopulated with characters of a higher level, or with better equipment than your own, and defeating them can be nigh-on impossible. In the worst of cases, the same invader can attack multiple times, forcing you to remain hollow until you feel they’ll have to have a post-killing-spree nap.
Dark Souls is hard. Its motto ‘Prepare to Die’ is an appropriate warning to any first time player. Only through repeated deaths, through walking down the wrong path and having to sprint away from screeching ghosts, through trying to tackle an enemy that has a strength far exceeding your own, can you truly understand the thrill of Dark Souls.
If failure puts you off playing a game, then this is not for you. I had to stop playing for months at a time when certain bosses proved too much for me, but the triumphant return and coup de grâce is worth the struggle. And if you want a struggle, this is the game for you.