My character falls to his death and I don’t even move. I don’t scream, I don’t curse, I just sit and wait for the animation to complete so I can get back to what I was doing. I’m Anthony and I’m a veteran of Demon’s Souls and now Dark Souls.
As we all remember, I was a huge fan of Demon’s Souls, the intense and famously difficult action-RPG from From Software. The tough, but fair challenge, the amazing online experience…it all just clicked for me and for many other gamers as one of the best games of this generation. Now, with Dark Souls, From Software is back to give you nightmares all over again.
The first thing you have to realize is even though this isn’t a sequel to Demon’s Souls per se, it totally is. Not in terms of story or the world, but gameplay wise, it can’t be mistaken for anything else. It looks and plays largely the same as Demon’s Souls. Thankfully, there are enough differences to the game that it feels like an improved refinement, rather than just more of the same. Not that I would even mind that.
The main mechanic of the first game returns, in which you get souls for killing enemies and use those souls to buy items and to level up your character. If you die, you leave a bloodstain and lose all your souls. If you can get back to the bloodstain before dying again, you will regain your souls, but if you don’t, they are gone forever and you just wasted your time.
What makes it different this time around are bonfires. These are located throughout the world, which is now all inter-connected rather than having a hub world like the previous game. Bonfires act as checkpoints, allowing you to heal, refilling your meager supply of healing potions and letting you level up, repair weapons, etc… The only downside? All enemies (except bosses) respawn. So if you just barely survived running a gauntlet of zombie warriors and you light a bonfire, expect to fight them all again. The good news is that you instead of spawning at the beginning of the level, you begin at the bonfire. A fair trade, in my estimation, one that relieves much of the tedium that plagued the first game.
In the previous game, when you died, you went into Soul Form, losing half your health, but gaining attack strength. You stay in this form until you beat a boss or kill a player that invades your game. Dark Souls does away with the Soul Form and instead uses the Humanity system. You start off as Hollow and can become human as you play.The way this works is enemies will sometimes drop an item called Humanity. You can then use this item to give yourself Humanity points and turn yourself human when you get to a bonfire. When human, your defense increases and you can summon other players who are in Hollow to help you defeat a boss. Bosses also give you humanity when you defeat them. I’m still trying to work out the intricacies of this system, but it is an effective way to make sure no one else invades your game as that only occurs when you are in human form. This was one of the more frustrating faults of the first game and I’m glad they fixed it without removing it entirely.
Another new feature is the ability to join Covenants. These are joined by talking to the right NPC and swearing an oath. While in a Covenant, you must follow certain guidelines, such as agreeing to be summoned away from your game to prevent other players from killing a certain boss. You are rewarded for not forsaking your oaths. Some Covenants will send other players after you if you break your promises. I have not had a chance to fully explore this system, but it is very promising and certainly is a unique new aspect to the online component.
I don’t know if you are aware of this because it wasn’t really reported prior to release, but Dark Souls is hard. Really hard, even more so than Demon’s Souls. Even with the new features, such as the bonfires, to make the game easier, it is still super difficult, but always fair. The main reason for the new higher challenge level is that the mundane enemies are tougher, smarter and more plentiful. Even with a sword that one-hit kills most enemies on the opening stages, I had a tough time traversing. As always, the key is patience, which can be difficult to remember when all you want to do is get back to your bloodstain and reclaim your souls. I die the most when I am rushing through the game.
Dark Souls is a really tough game for me to judge because it sticks close to the formula of Demon’s Souls, which received an “S” from me when it came out, but it improves on so many aspects of the game. I was afraid that the bonfires and other new elements would make them game easier, but if anything, it’s even more of a challenge, one that I never grow tired of even when it’s 1:30 in the morning and my palms are a sweaty mess and it’s all I can do to keep from waking the whole neighborhood when I die for the 3,745th time against a boss. The developers know the difference between difficult and tedious and this makes for a smoother, more polished experience than the first game. If you enjoyed Demon’s Souls you will enjoy Dark Souls, which is an improvement of what I feel is one of the most unique experiences of this generation of consoles.
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