PlayBack: Dark Souls

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.

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Best Bit

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.

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Worst Bit

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.

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8 Comments

  1. Funny thing, the “Worst bit” mentioned in this article was one of the great things for me in Dark Souls (and I have to say I was the person who got invaded and killed hundred of times, even by the same person over and over again). It makes the game even more harder and ‘special’. I did not consider the invaders as “asshole players”, but as random bosses, thrown at me by the game, just to make it even harder for me. I loved and hated this feature :D

    • It goes to show how great the game is when the “Worst bit” is actually a great feature with a couple of kinks.

  2. I actually loved Dark Souls, right up until I couldn’t be bothered anymore. I think there may be quite a few others out there who know exactly what I mean. Is Dark Souls fatigue an actual condition?

  3. I went to Dark Souls (on PS3) with a Day 1 pre-order, limited edition gubbins etc etc after loving Demon’s Souls to death (no pun intended) which still remains my game of the Ps3 era (cannot bring myself to say Last gen).

    Whilst it improved on a lot of areas over Demon’s it (and indeed Dark souls 2) remain the ‘Lesser Games’ compared to Demon’s.visuals on Dark took a hit, but that was due to improved A.I/Path finding on your foes, the online was superb, but i personally feel in trying to make Dark souls more ‘mainstream’ something was lost…

    From Software seemed to go with concept that more=better, Bosses are cool right? so throw in more and it’d be awesome, right? wrong…as many were ‘cheap’.Looked fantastic but offered no real challenge.With demon’s each trophy i earnt was a bloody rite of passage, my mates were in awe…(mate you took out….WOW!), in Dark it was case of right, done that, who’s next?.

    1st time getting cursed? ohhh that really ruined my day, cursed? you bet i bloody did, air was turned blue :-) very cheap tactic I.M.O and i know many who simply gave up there and then because of it.

    The DLC whilst short was fantastic, nightmare process of getting to use it though,set sequence of events had to be followed.

    So yeah, very mixed feelings, despite putting in around 120 hrs on Dark souls+DLC and even more on Dark souls 2, i still long for Demon’s souls II on PS$, but even if that were to happen (Sony own the demon’s Soul name i believe0 it would’nt be the same as original director has left.

    Never seen Dark Souls as the hardest of games, just 1 that requires you to respect what it asks of you…

    Ending was rubbish though….

    :-(

    • Yup, gotta agree Demon’s Souls was the better game for me.
      Not played Dark Souls all the way through, and not even bought 2 yet.

  4. :-( damned if i typed PS$ not PS4.I own PS1, PSP, PS2, PS3 and PSP, so it was poor typing, not some ‘clever’ comment.

    No option to edit posts on here?.

  5. Really liked Demon’s Souls a lot, great atmosphere, and given I usually take my time playing a game, this definitely supported my play style. Loved the different worlds, the castle was beautiful, the rolling skeletons were awesome. Never made it much beyond finishing the game once, but still, it’s one of my all time favorites.
    Dark Souls, on the other hand, I found painful. Getting cursed was still fun, but I didn’t make it too far after that, got completely stuck with one of the bosses, and gave up. I always wanted to get back to it, and maybe I will, but I didn’t even consider DS2.
    Ah, yes, I was invaded once by a far more advanced character, which I found just a bad example of matchmaking.

  6. And yes, not allowing players to pause a game, is definitely not a feature. It’s bad game design.

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