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Denny Markovic
21 Oct, 2011

Dark Souls Review

PS3 Review | Fight, Suffer, Struggle, Endure, Live.
Editor’s Note: A decision was made to revise the score originally submitted by the reviewer. Following reflection on the reasons made to change score, it was decided that these reasons were not sufficient to justify this decision. The score has now been changed to reflect the writer’s original submission.

It's cold, dark and you sit by a bonfire deep underground, your only safe haven amidst a tomb of dead giants and deadly traps. Your armour is worn and on the verge of breaking, and your shield does little to protect you from the arrows thrown at you through the thick darkness of the tomb. Walking away from the bonfire means almost certain death, tiny yellow eyes blinking and staring you down in the pitch black darkness, waiting to pounce on you and reveal their immense size and strength. But all you can do is move forward, dreading every step and terrified of what is waiting for you around every corner.

This is the kind of atmosphere and dread that will consume you if you dare play From Software's Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to the brilliant Demon's Souls. It's not a closet monster game; far from it, but it fills you with a sense of terror as you very quickly become aware of the fact that you are facing monsters of all types that are significantly more powerful than you. Half of the time something is awaiting you, whether it be a grotesque ogre with a poisonous stench or a deadly trap triggered by your very own steps, but the other half is your own imagination and fear, largely due to its extraordinarily dense atmosphere and simply not knowing what to expect.

And all this begins the moment you start the game, which is in an Undead Asylum. Messages are written on the floor as you slowly progress giving you some small advice on how to play much like Demon's Souls, but apart from this the game tells you almost nothing, or so it may seem. Apart from the beginning of the game, there are no tutorials or hints to tell you how to use a newfound battle axe or spell, or how you can overcome specific hurdles, though there are NPCs in the world who, if you're curious enough, will shed some light on minor issues that prove to be a massive help in the long run.

The world of Lordran is dark, but beautiful.

The world of Lordran is dark, but beautiful.
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Dark Souls is all about the exploration and the curiosity of the player, and gives you almost no hand to help you with. After escaping the Asylum with the help of a crestfallen knight, you are grabbed by a mysterious and large crow and flown over to the land of Lordran, only with the knowledge of a pilgrimage that escapees embark on, which the knight hopes you follow. After landing here, you may speak to a few NPCs in the area, all with their hope lost and their humanity slowly draining. These NPCs will give you an idea of what lies ahead in Lordran, and also what the pilgrimage is all about. Through this, and through the players curiosity, you embark on an adventure that eventually flows into a cryptic and deep storyline that is discovered through your own accord rather than being narrated to you.

Dark Souls is unique in this regard, in that though you are given vague hints at the beginning of the game, the rest of the way must be paved by you and you alone, with the freedom to go at your own pace and explore as much of the world of Lordran as you so desire. There is a huge amount of lore and storyline behind Dark Souls, and it's up to the player to seek it out if they wish. And though the game may not help you in your quest, the other players of the game will.

Dark Souls incorporates the online system of Demon's Souls in that players can leave messages on the ground to warn of traps, hint at nearby treasure or simply wallow in despair, and through this much of the game's content and secrets are revealed. Bloodstains can also be touched to see shadow images of other players and how they died, and time to time you'll see the shadow of another player walk by you, as they are in the exact same place as you are at that very moment. It's a brilliant system just as it was in Demon's Souls, and this also applies to the game's co-op system too, which is based around strangers helping one another through soul signs.

One of the many deadly enemies encountered.

One of the many deadly enemies encountered.
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Just like in Demon's Souls, Dark Souls has a life and death state, named Human and Hollow respectively. Being human allows you the ability to summon other players who are either human or hollow into your world if they put down summoning stones, which are white inscriptions seen on the ground. Through this system they can help you defeat the boss of that specific area and help you clear out the area of tough enemies in general. People who help and successfully defeat a boss are rewarded humanity points and souls (the currency of the game), which can help reverse their potentially hollow state in their own world, which is extremely beneficial in a number of ways, particularly with the use of bonfires which is the new 'save' system of the game.

Bonfires replace the hub based system of Demon's Souls and allows for much more flow and connectivity within the world, allowing for a truly open-world kind of experience. Sitting at a bonfire ensures your safety as the game has no pause, and allows you to spend your souls to level up some stats (which increase in price every time you spend a point), reverse the hollowing by spending your humanity point, or using the humanity point to 'kindle' your flame if you're already human. Kindling is based on the new health system which ditches the grass pick ups in Demon's Souls for Estus Flasks which are basically health potions. Every time you go to a bonfire your Flasks are restored to the maximum number you have, so managerial and effective use of Flasks are much more encouraged as they are limited. Kindling however upgrades the bonfire you're currently at to raise the maximum amount of flasks you can hold, so instead of the usual 5, that bonfire will give you 10. Kindling is an individual bonfire system though, so kindling one does not universally upgrade your maximum flask capacity.

The problem however is that humanity is rare, and much of the time you'll be using the humanity you do find to reverse your hollow state as you were killed, and Dark Souls will kill you a lot. Much like Demon's Souls it is a difficult game, though this time it ups the ante even more and punishes you very harshly for making mistakes. Didn't wear curse-resistant gear when walking into that cursed sewer with the Basilisks? Prepare to have your health halved permanently until you can find someone to abolish the curse or acquire an item. Walked into a poisonous lake and didn't bring along antidotes? Good luck at ever remaining human. These are just a very, very small handful of things that will kill you, and throughout the 60+ hour journey you will be crushed, burned, electrocuted, frozen and cursed by monsters, traps and hideous giant bugs of all types. Dying also comes with the loss of all your souls as well, and like in Demon's Souls if you make it back to your place of death and touch your bloodstain, you get them back. If not though, then tough luck, it's back to square one for your soul hunting quest.

White phantoms may aid you, or simply slow your death.

White phantoms may aid you, or simply slow your death.
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And yet regardless of all the pain and suffering you go through, you will endure against all odds and once you've toppled that vile Goat Demon that relentlessly attacks you with its enormous cleavers, you will feel like a God. The world of Lordran is a horrific place and everything save for the few remaining adventurers that have not gone mad wants to slaughter you, and you are genuinely quite unprepared for what lies ahead. But with perseverance, learning from your mistakes and slowly mastering your skills, you will prevail. This is the key behind Dark Souls design; everything is just as efficient at killing you as you are, the only difference is one of you doesn't know how to be that efficient yet. The game teaches you to play through revealing your mistakes, and eventually you become accustomed to the act of dying, as every time it happens it's a harsh lesson of learning to play.

But the best thing about Dark Souls gameplay mechanics is that there is no one way of doing things. If you wish to be a heavily armoured warrior with a massive two-handed Battle Axe that spits fire or a nimble but squishy sorcerer with powerful spells that can incinerate any undead, then so be it. They all come with their pros but also their cons, and it's the players job to cater for every situation. Sometimes even changing around your style and moving to perhaps casting instead of melee may prove beneficial, and since the game does not have any restricted class systems like most RPGs do, you can literally be anything you want to be.

But even when you're finally learning to overcome your weaknesses and become stronger, something unexpected might happen. Dark Souls does not play by the rules of a normal game; things can change and AI will do unexpected things, and occasionally those people that you thought would help you will come out to try and kill you by invading your world. Black Phantoms from Demon's Souls make a return, and basically allow players to invade your world and kill you, giving them the bonus of your souls and your humanity. It's a nasty way to make progress but it's fair game, as anyone can do it. It is initially limited in its use as you must find Cracked Red Eye Orbs in order to invade, but as you progress into the later stages of the game and by meeting certain requirements, you can invade whenever you wish.

One wrong move and you're dead.

One wrong move and you're dead.
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Dark Souls introduces a system called Covenants, which are a variety of different groups a player can join assuming they haven't already broken one of its rules, or have met specific conditions. Once joined, the player is either given items or specific passive bonuses which help in some form when it comes to the online system. The early game Covenant of The Way of White makes it easier to see summoning stones and allows for more helpful co-op, while later on you can join a Covenant called The Forest Hunters, a band of players that protect the Darkroot Forests from invaders. With a covenant like this you are given a summoning ring, and as long as you wear it you are summoned into trespassers worlds the moment they enter that territory and if you defeat them, you take all their souls.

On the other spectrum there are evil Covenants such as the Darkwraiths, where their entire job is based on invading other people's worlds as black phantoms and taking their souls and humanity. These are countered however by Blades of the Darkmoon, who basically invade 'guilty' players worlds and punish them for sinning. Sinners are detected through the book of the guilty, which black phantom players are put into if a player reports them through a specific item. The system is incredibly complex and there are actually several other covenants to join and find in the game, but what's there is one of the most unique and interesting online systems we've ever seen. They can also potentially affect your progress into the main story of the game, altering your path to the end, and so they are very significant parts of the game.

And it all comes together to create a unique experience for every single player that beats Dark Souls. Unlike many other games, Dark Souls is a game that you actually must beat and experience, not finish like you would a movie. It requires work and planning to trump many of its deadly encounters, but the end result is well worth it as there is almost no game out there that will deliver such a feeling of satisfaction and glory. The final fight also comes to a spectacular close too, where after hundreds of deaths, the darkest tunnels, the largest beasts and the most terrifying monsters have been trumped, you're finally at the end of it all and up against the best of the best. Unlike Demon's Souls, the final boss is no push over and will test everything you've learnt on your long journey there.

Adventure unlike any other.

Adventure unlike any other.
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It is without doubt then to say that Dark Souls is a game that is unlike anything before it. While Demon's Souls was brilliant and set in motion the concept of this type of game, Dark Souls completely eclipses it with a world that is completely and utterly free to explore, twice the reward and more than double the playing time too. Its world is unique and grim to explore, with pitch black catacombs, hollowed out trees, demonic ruins engulfed in lava and lost cities made of gold, all beautifully designed and unique in flair. The sound is eerie and pierces your ears, with the sound of a Titanite Demon breathing heavily in the darkness ahead of you filling you with a sense of impending doom. The voice work of lost NPCs too will only make you realise just how brutal this world is, their depressed state and hopelessness echoing through their words. And when things get even more chaotic with a boss fight, music will boom through your speakers or headphones with beautifully orchestrated tones, sometimes intense and dramatic, other times melancholy and haunting.

It's an incredible title that begs to be played and beaten, as the reward and satisfaction behind your victories result in an unforgettable and unique experience. Its flaws are few and far between and slowly become non-issues as you delve further into the game, and those who dare journey into the heart of darkness will be rewarded with one of the most unique, unforgettable and innovative titles this generation. Highly recommended.
The Score
Dark Souls is one of the defining RPGs of this generation that goes above and beyond the genre to bring us something terrifying and unforgettable. An unmissable gem for the daring. 9.9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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43 Comments
2 years ago
Epic review Denny. I'm still waiting on delivery of this, but I'm really looking forward to it after Demon's Souls.

Alternate tagline: Die, die, die, die, die
2 years ago
Yep, pretty sweet review dude. I've put in 30+ hours and I feel like I haven't even scraped the surface of this game. Definitely gonna to be 100% absorbed into it after exams! icon_biggrin.gif Great game so far.

I'm a little bit disappointed at the online multiplayer functionality though. Not being able to specifically summon your friends kind of sucks as I find playing with people you know to be much more fun. Guess it does build up the atmosphere of the game, playing with strangers and all that. :/
2 years ago
Excellent review, considering the praise though why didn't this get a 10?
2 years ago
you know what the say in some exam instructions, round it to the nearest whole number! icon_biggrin.gif
2 years ago
no, i want to see something other than mario get a 10
2 years ago
There is something extremely engaging and addictive about demon's souls and dark souls that no other game is like.

I wonder what will be the peoples RPG of the year this or Skyrim.
2 years ago
What an excellent review. You could see by your PSN status you really put the time in as well (much appreciated, I suspect a lot of reviewers didn't go the distance).

When playing the only reason I found to not give this a 10 was the sometimes shaky framerate. Also, I am nowhere near completing it (@2hrs or so most worknights its hard, but amazing).

I have added Demons/Dark Souls to my holy grail of gaming (MARIO/ZELDA/SOULS).
2 years ago
Denny, you are such a loooooserrrrr. Dood, other review +sights+ had reviews up even before the release! Get with the times man. 360 roxors!

heh... that twit, you know who I'm referencing icon_smile.gif

In all seriousness, awesome review, and thank you for all your posts in the official Dark Souls thread icon_smile.gif
2 years ago
Quote
I have added Demons/Dark Souls to my holy grail of gaming (MARIO/ZELDA/SOULS).
Dude! no Dragon Quest!? icon_surprised.gif
2 years ago
yeah gotta ask, what held it back from that half a point?

Great review though.
2 years ago
Having not played Demons Souls, will I be missing anything storywise by jumping straight into Dark Souls?
2 years ago
No, it is really just a spiritual successor and made along the same lines rather than a continuation of demons souls
2 years ago
David No.1 wrote
I'm a little bit disappointed at the online multiplayer functionality though. Not being able to specifically summon your friends kind of sucks as I find playing with people you know to be much more fun. Guess it does build up the atmosphere of the game, playing with strangers and all that. :/
A valid reason for disappointment, though as most know it's not part of Dark Souls game design philosophy. If you could properly co-op with friends, it'd make things a lot easier, defeating the purpose. A lot of the newcomers to the series are asking for it a lot though xD

ManeKast wrote
What an excellent review. You could see by your PSN status you really put the time in as well (much appreciated, I suspect a lot of reviewers didn't go the distance).
Cheers mate, much appreciated comment. I did pull out 100 hours into the game now and it's been completed twice, third playthrough now being done. I feel like I live in Lordran. Taking a few days off of it this weekend though haha.

Cyph wrote
In all seriousness, awesome review, and thank you for all your posts in the official Dark Souls thread
Thanks and no worries! It's awesome being able to rant on about my latest death or discovery and hear about other people's tales.

Benza wrote
yeah gotta ask, what held it back from that half a point?
Well I won't beat around the bush with this question. I went for 10 and am still confident in the game being a 10, but keep in mind that anything over 9 on PALGN goes through approval. You can piece it together from there. Sucks but that's how it is.

But yeah, though this isn't in the official review, the game is to me, THE game of this generation by a country mile. Yes it's hard, it's sadistic and it has some small frame rate issues at points, but the actual experience and exploration aspect of the game is exactly what video games are all about. There is no fluff in the game and everything you do is through your own hard work, and there is no feeling in video gaming greater than the satisfaction of victory in Dark Souls. It's basically Zelda turned evil and several times deeper than almost every RPG released this year. If you think you can handle its challenge, pick it up immediately and enjoy one of the most incredible and awe inspiring journeys in a video game, ever.

Hell, I want to start painting again after this game.
2 years ago
Take 1/2 a point off for the lower res graphics and textures from Demons Souls, there you go icon_smile.gif
2 years ago
Jahanzeb wrote
Quote
I have added Demons/Dark Souls to my holy grail of gaming (MARIO/ZELDA/SOULS).
Dude! no Dragon Quest!? icon_surprised.gif
OMG. Whoops.

Yes the holy grail has 4 points in my world (MARIO/ZELDA/SOULS/DQUEST!).

Thanks for pulling my head in!
2 years ago
Fetidchimp wrote
No, it is really just a spiritual successor and made along the same lines rather than a continuation of demons souls
This review makes me want to buy this game... But I'll pick it up over christmas if I decide to get it. UC3 and Skyrim will be occupying me over the next couple of months...
2 years ago
There is nothing wrong with this article. Even without a 10.

Although I would like to know if there are any games that didn't launch on a Nintendo system that got a 10? icon_razz.gif
2 years ago
PALGN wrote
bonfires which is the new 'save' system of the game.
Most of the Dark Souls reviews I have read make this assumption, but it's incorrect.

Bonfires are a safety zone and allow you to recharge health/flasks etc (and respawn enemies), but they are not save points.

Actually, the game continuously saves as you play. If you need to stop playing for some reason, you can simply quit the game. When you restart later, you will be in the same spot you were before. You can do this whether you are at a bonfire or not.
2 years ago
GooberMan wrote
There is nothing wrong with this article. Even without a 10.

Although I would like to know if there are any games that didn't launch on a Nintendo system that got a 10? icon_razz.gif
Mario Galaxy and Resident Evil 4, both by the same reviewer.

icon_think.gif
2 years ago
YMM wrote
PALGN wrote
bonfires which is the new 'save' system of the game.
Most of the Dark Souls reviews I have read make this assumption, but it's incorrect.

Bonfires are a safety zone and allow you to recharge health/flasks etc (and respawn enemies), but they are not save points.

Actually, the game continuously saves as you play. If you need to stop playing for some reason, you can simply quit the game. When you restart later, you will be in the same spot you were before. You can do this whether you are at a bonfire or not.
You are indeed correct. I'm aware of being able to exit at any time, though I'm so used to sitting out at a bonfire that it felt like my save point.
2 years ago
Great review Denny!

This game is kicking my ass hard, but, I shall prevail!!!!!!!
2 years ago
Demons Souls was the greatest game of all time. And Dark Souls looks pretty close to it. icon_smile.gif
2 years ago
Dark Souls looks to be harder than Demon's Souls. However I know that From Software only hurts us because they love us icon_smile.gif
2 years ago
I think veterans of Demons will find as a whole, Dark Souls to be easier. There are some seriously pathetic bosses in Dark Souls and a lot of the difficulty in Dark comes from the more cramped environment, making a shield much more popular from early to mid game.

In addition, all melee and physical builds can use some seriously powerful magic, without having to raise INT. Which makes life a lot easier for those who don't run with a ranged weapon.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  07/10/2011 (Provisional)
Publisher:
  NamcoBandai
Year Made:
  2011

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