The sequel to one of the most unforgiving RPGs you’ll ever experience is finally out. I was a huge fan of Demon’s Souls and praised its deep RPG elements and painful difficulty. What the sequel brings is the same level of quality and challenge, with much harder bosses to face, a bigger world to explore, and an expansion of the game’s unique online system for the better. I’ve died 300 times so far, but I still think this one of the best RPGs you’ll ever experience. Grow a pair and take on Dark Souls, head on!
Just to get everything clear, you’ll die a lot! The game is literally out to kill you. Thing is, most deaths I had in Dark Souls are from player errors. Falling off a cliff because I was walking blind, not rolling at the proper time on a boss swing, getting myself cornered by six enemies, and so many more “what the hell did I do” moments. Most of my deaths are from me making mistakes. Frustrating, right? But you actually get better at it. When you do, progressing through Dark Souls is oh, so satisfying. The controls are so responsive and well-tuned that I never found myself blaming the game for my deaths, because you can clearly see why you died. I was always face-palming myself at the moments I’d died. So don’t get me wrong: this game is very doable; just don’t expect it to hold your hand to the finish line like most games nowadays.
Still the same game we love/hate
Dark Souls is still all about souls. Souls are your experience and currency all in one. They are also needed to upgrade weapons. Each kill you make in the game earns you a certain amount of souls, and just like the first game, when killed you drop all of the souls gathered. You’ll then have to run back to where you died in order to retrieve them. Die again, and you lose those souls for good. Now, if you manage to have souls with you when you reach a bonfire you’ll then have to think about where you want to invest them.
Leveling up is also the same, but with new stats added like Resistance and Attunement. You spend a certain amount of souls to increase a certain stat. One stat increase equals one level up. As you level up in the game, the cost of souls needed to increase a certain stat goes higher each time, so there’s a lot to think about, especially since there’s no way to re-distribute stats. Planning ahead in this game is key.
The game does have starting classes to pick but the class names don’t really matter. It’s just really you picking your starting stats, starting gear and starting magic, because in the end, your character will be however you want it to be. You have complete freedom on how your character will be in the end.
Oh, and thank God: the whole half-life as a ghost is finally gone! Actually not entirely gone, as a condition called Curse halves your life and requires a cure, but at least it’s not what happens every time you die as a human. Now, they have this new feature called Humanity which has several purposes in the game. As for the main purpose of Humanity? It’s what’s needed to revert your undead body back to human form, or strengthen your bonfires by kindling in order to restore more Estus flasks. There are other uses, but Humanity are just as important as souls in the game, and just like souls, all Humanity will be dropped upon your character’s deaths. Heading back to where you died will be the only way to get your Humanity and souls back. The struggle to look for your body is still around and dying for the second time and losing all your Humanity and souls can be such a heart breaker leaving me to take a breather at times.
Dark Souls is open-world
In the first game, you start at the Nexus (sort of home base), and from there, pick one of the five areas to explore - somewhat like the old Megaman layout, giving you freedom to pick where to go first. That concept was trashed for the sequel and has been replaced with a huge world to explore. This game is way bigger than the first, and still gives you the option to choose how you’d like to progress. What’s amazing is if you’ve unlocked everything in the world of Dark Souls, you can travel to almost 90% of it without any loading time. Surprisingly, the only times I experienced loading were when I was in an elevator or when I died (which, again, happens a lot).
Unlike what you might expect from an RPG, Dark Souls has no town where you can stop and get a breather. You do have the starting area where a lot of the NPCs gather, but the true safe spot is the Bonfire. Treat Bonfires as checkpoints in the game. When you die in the game, the last Bonfire you rested at will also act as your respawn point. You also do everything here – level up, upgrade weapons and armor, replenish magic, replenish Estus Flasks (the only item that heals health), store items and even travel. It’s a real morale-booster at times. Just when you think that all is lost and you feel like the stage is going on forever, discovering the next Bonfire is literally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Dark Souls can easily go way past 50+ hours of playtime (my first character at 90 hrs) with a New Game+ welcoming you after seeing the game’s ending each time you finish the play-through. Yes, there’s New Game+, and each time you finish a play-through, the souls earned, life of enemies, and damage taken increase.
A game that doesn’t tell you anything
It literally won’t. You’ll have to figure things out yourself. Aside from the game teaching you the controls and the game’s basic mechanics, after defeating the boss in the starting area, you’re pretty much on your own, which for me is fantastic. It’s like leaving a kid in a forest with just a knife and expecting him to survive everything he faces.
Everything is a mystery, even the weapons you find. Items do have the basic item descriptions and stats, but giving the item a try is the only way to know its true potential. With the Drake Sword for example, the information given shows awesome damage, but it won’t tell you that its R2 when held with two hands can do a beam attack that uses up the weapon’s durability. Dark Souls encourages you to try things out for yourself, which is very rare in games, although I would have appreciated it if developer From Software added a little bit of info for new features at least.
With weapons, some of them may be very strong in damage but lack a fast and vertical attack, which are crucial to some encounters. Some only work to their full potential based on a certain character stat like Strength. There’s a lot to think about with the weapons in Dark Souls, and there’s a lot to choose from. Each weapon in the game has their own personalities, leaving a lot of possibilities on how you want to shape your character in the end. So experimenting with each weapon is needed… or you can just go with MAGIC.
Ha! Don’t think magic is the easy way out. I even consider it just as hard as any other way to play Dark Souls. In this sequel, they trashed the magic bar. Yes, those bastards. There is no longer a magic meter to fill up via potions or rest in order to keep spamming that fireball. Each form of magic in the game, when equipped, has a limited amount of uses that can only be replenished when resting at a bonfire. This leads to mages being conservative and smart with regards to when and how to use their magic. Don’t spend all your fireballs going through an area, because you still need to take care of a boss at the end. I considered magic to be very overpowered in the first game, but this time around it’s still powerful, but mages need a lot more skill and thinking to succeed.
Covenants and oh yeah, online…
Covenants were hard to understand at first thanks to the lack of information but they’re pretty much factions in the game that give certain benefits to your character (spells, items, etc) but keep you bound to certain rules. There is quite a list of Covenants to choose from. Since you can only be in one Covenant at a time, which one you choose to align yourself with depends a lot on how you want to play that character. Co-op oriented? Or is that character more for PVPand world invading? It’s a great addition, far better than the white and black tendency feature in the first game.
Thanks to Covenants, the online feature in Dark Souls is a bit broader now. The unique online features are still intact. You may leave messages in the ground like hints or pranks for players to read, touching bloodstains will show a player’s last moments before they died, and you still have the option to invade other players’ worlds. The concept of being a ghost in the first game has also been scrapped, so the player VS player game is already quite different from that change alone, since ghost players always had to work with just half their life bar. Certain Covenants can help you find more players to do co-op runs, locate PVP rivals, or invade worlds. Due to the Covenants in the game, having two invaders in one world is now possible, one player VS player area has no level limit, and co-op is easier to accomplish with random players. It’s still a bitch if you want to play with a specific player, though.
Unique boss battles, Environments, and secrets keep the game fresh
I remember my biggest complaint about the first game was that a couple of bosses are not really fights and are quite literally free kills. In Dark Souls, they didn’t make the same mistake twice. Not only are each of the bosses in Dark Souls among the most unique boss designs I’ve ever seen (Gaping Dragon FTW), each boss fight has complex patterns, and most will make you cry for entering their domain. For example, Sif the Wolf, holding a huge sword in his mouth: I killed him three times already, but each time it feels like it was my first. While it was a struggle each time I encountered these bosses, I enjoyed every bit, regardless of my dying X times. After each fight, I was pleased and appreciated the amount of planning and execution that’s needed to take these enemies down.
Each boss in the game is like an end to a certain part of the game, opening a door to an entirely new environment to explore. The game itself is glorious and as you progress and take down boss after boss, you are welcomed with an entirely new environment to keep the experience fresh, and there’s never a dull moment in this game. Every area you explore gives you a hint about what kind of boss you’ll be encountering, making it feel like at times like you’re invading someone’s lair.
The soundtrack in the game is close to non-existent as you explore Dark Souls’ open world, but the atmosphere definitely works. It’s mostly quiet, and the only things you hear are the noise coming from your armor, the sounds coming from enemies and your sword slicing people, or you screaming as you die. It creates a lot of suspense, and I believe the sound design often works to help alert you to your surroundings, since hidden enemies are often lying in wait to ambush players. The only time music can be appreciated in this game is during the intense boss fights. An epic battle track starts playing and keeps your heart pumping as you face a boss that could easily two-shot you.
At first glance, the game’s geography seemed to suggest that I would just be exploring the inside and outside of a monster-infested castle, but then the world opens up suddenly and I found myself exploring catacombs, a forbidden forest, a poison-coated town underneath the castle, and many more that provide a different setting and approach while exploring. When I mean approach, I mean the types of enemies you might expect and how the level design puts you in a position to play in a somewhat different style compared to the last area you were in. For instance, one part of the game has an area surrounded by poison water and enemies that apply poison, or a level that’s so dark you can’t even see the path in front of your feet. I’m sorry, that section that’s just pitch black is one of the worst stages I’ve ever experienced (you’ve been warned!). I got through it, but I was so close to just throwing my controller at my TV. I chugged a beer after that part to de-stress. I really felt like I won an award when the boss of that area was killed. Good riddance.
This is a must-have for anyone that favors RPGs. It provides something entirely different and can’t be compared to any game out there right now. It has one of the deepest RPG elements with boss fights that raise the bar of what is considered a “Boss Fight” for me. Controls are rock-solid and the fact that you get better the more you play the game makes the unforgiving difficulty not much of a complaint, but part of the charm of why the game works. The world is huge and you can easily lose 60 hours of your life to this game. So many secrets are in Dark Souls that to see 100% of the game requires multiple playthroughs. There’s really no story to get lost in or even much character interaction leaving NPCs somewhat cold and lacking in personality, which is the biggest con I can think of, one that prevents it from being an absolutely perfect game. I can easily say that Dark Souls is actually the best RPG I’ve played since… well, the first game, Demon’s Souls.
- Very deep RPG elements
- A huge open world to explore
- Solid gameplay
- I love/hate the boss fights
- Needs a real story
- Too little information for the player about features in the game
- Might be too difficult for casual gamers