Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lessons in Futility: Dark Souls

Occasionally, I play something that isn't an unknown indie gem, or an ancient roguelike, or an esoteric simulator. Last year, when I wasn't commanding a city of mountain-dwelling dwarves to their inevitable destruction, I was sinking 300 hours into a game that the majority of people I have met revile with a deep, seething hatred. Those who don't outright loathe it seem to be perplexed by anyone who finds any appeal in the game. There seems to be only a select bastion of staunch supporters, who champion the game as if it is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant market.

I'm that guy. I fucking LOVE Dark Souls.

It's not often that I play a game and feel a genuine sense of accomplishment, but Dark Souls did that for me. 5 minutes into the start of the game, a giant demon with a hammer smacked me to death in one hit. I had no idea how to fight him, my hits dealing the most minuscule of damage, while his tore me asunder. As it turns out, you're not really SUPPOSED to fight the Abyssal Demon at this point (although you are rewarded with a unique, powerful weapon should you defeat him at this moment), but I had no way of knowing. I also had no way of knowing that I could not strike ghosts without being cursed. I also could not have possibly known that the basilisks in the sewers would curse me, reducing my maximum HP by 50%, even after death, until I found some item I had not yet even seen.

See, Dark Souls is a game that will never, ever give you a break. In a day and age where the majority of games feature regenerating health, mountains of ammunition and power-ups, Dark Souls gives you your abilities. When you die, it's because you weren't good enough, because you hadn't learned your lesson. You will die, and while you struggle to return to your bloodstain (and retrieve your souls, which is your currency for everything from items to leveling), you will rush to it, trying to run past the enemies. Dark Souls will punish you with a quick death, and you'll lose those original souls forever. Depending on the amount, that could be literally hours of time and effort. Bosses are infrequent, but sudden, and will break you easily if you are not on your toes, forcing you to fight your way back to them, a little tougher for it.

He doesn't look happy.
To call Dark Souls difficult isn't inaccurate, but it feels lacking. It's a fair game, where you get out of it exactly what you put in. It's a game that demands your respect at every moment, that urges you to be careful, to be patient, but decisive. A game where you must commit to your decisions and follow through, even if they may get you killed, because inaction surely will do just that. Over time you will increase your Soul Level and attributes, improve your equipment, and gain spells or miracles to aid you in your journey. Things will begin to feel easier, and you'll progress.

And then you'll reach an entirely new area, with new challenges and enemies to learn, and it'll feel like square one all over again. You'll learn to adjust, or you'll give up. Dark Souls doesn't much mind which.

A great sense of scale.

Most weapons control differently than one and another, and physics are taken into account. A larger weapon is likelier more slow, but also more powerful and able to break enemies' blocking abilities. It also takes more stamina to wield, and usually requires more room to utilize. A smaller weapon might be fast, and be able to be used in enclosed area, but will lack the stopping power you might be accustomed to. It's a decision of practicality and preference, but it's your decision to make.

Dark Souls is also absolutely beautiful. Areas range from the depths of Hell, to a forest alive with snakes and aggressive trees, to the city of Anor Lando, a massive, barren area of marble and ancient knights. As you progress, you'll find yourself standing in naturally high areas, capable of observing where you had been previously. The view brings with it another sense of accomplishment, that you have made it this far, and can continue to do so.

You'll see this a lot.

Beyond a doubt, for me, Dark Souls was the most rewarding game of 2011. Whether you love it or hate it, the game never compromises, and I can respect that.

Dan is an EMT, as well as a casual Spaceman. Feel free to follow him on Twitter.


  1. I played this game for like eight hours got nowhere fell for the same mistakes over and over again and loved every minute of it.

  2. You assholes are gonna make me buy this game, aren't you?

  3. Dammit dammit! I'm with Chris on this one! No game that I've yet to play has made me feel so conflicted!

  4. Unless you relish in overcoming serious adversity, the game is going to frustrate the fuck out of you.

  5. That said, I do, so the game is basically the best thing to ever grace my PS3.

  6. I dislike hard games and usually play on Easy unless I'm reviewing it. I hate dying over and over and get easily frustrated. So I'm the perfect audience, right?

  7. If nothing else, I'd say you should check it out because it's absolutely unlike anything else. I played the game at launch, and no one had any idea what anything is. It was surreal and magical to be discovering how a game fucking WORKS alongside the rest of the world.

  8. this game is like drugs once you stop you come back for more