Ah, Demon’s Souls. The 2009 action RPG that slowly became a cult classic, known for its brutal difficultly.and unique online multiplayer, took the hardcore RPG players for a long, rewarding ride. It was a game that no one really knew about, and most of its popularity was generated through rumors and word of mouth. Now, 2011 is here, and From Software is back to make you die all over again in the spiritual successor entitled Dark Souls.
The story takes place in the dying kingdom of Lordran. Many people of this world have been cursed and turned undead. The undead are thrown into a prison called the Undead Asylum. You are one of those unfortunate souls, but you escape and make your way out of the prison only to find that the kingdom has been overrun by demons, monsters, and the undead. All is not lost, though. There is a way to reverse the undead curse by ringing two bells that are placed in the kingdom. Getting there will be a mighty challenge, but it is your only hope for reclaiming your humanity.
Unlike Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls is a more open world game. There are no sections anymore, everything is intertwined together. This allows for the new, quite brilliant mechanic of bonfires. Bonfires serve as checkpoints for the player to use when they die. These will also heal you and refill your Estus flask (the only real healing item in the game). Here, you can also use Humanity you obtain to turn yourself back to human form and to kindle the bonfire. Kindled bonfires restore your Estus flask to 10 instead of 5. This is also the place where you level up your character with the souls you own. The drawback to resting at bonfires is that it re-spawns all the enemies of the world. So, killing a ton of enemies and running back to your bonfire to heal up may be a bad idea. Those enemies you just killed will be back in the same spots.
Through exploration, you will eventually find shortcuts and branching paths that lead to new bonfires, as well as old ones. That way, you won’t have to travel as far the next time you die. Bonfires also allow for easier leveling up through “suicide runs.” This is where you kill a number of enemies in an area, gain many souls, die intentionally, run back to your body to collect your lost souls and kill the same enemies again while gaining more souls.
The Souls in the game are just like those in Demon’s Souls. They are used for leveling up your character, buying items and forging new weapons and armor. If you die, the amount of souls and Humanities you had on your body are left in the spot where you last died in the form of a bloodstain. You must go back to that spot and recover them before you die again. If you die before reaching your bloodstain, those souls and Humanity are lost forever, and the new spot where you died is now your bloodstain.
Humanity is a new addition to Dark Souls. Humanity is what is used to bring your character back to human form. Being in human form will result in NPC’s treating you differently as well as and better loot drops from enemies. The biggest part about being in human form is the ability to summon other players into your game to help you out in difficult areas and brutal boss fights. If you want to be summoned into someone else’s game, you must lie down a summon sign you obtain early on from an NPC, and a player in human form must see it and activate it. There are some fights that are so difficult that having an extra one or two players helping you out is a godsend. One other thing: there is no voice chat allowed. You communicate with your co-op partners through a series of gestures. The game requires you to always watch your partners to make sure they aren’t getting killed. It’s a unique aspect that gives off a very nice charm since everyone you come across through online play is unknown.
Some small touches to the multiplayer that shine are passive things that add just a small effect to the player’s experience. The messages from Demon’s Souls are back. This allows you to write small, quick messages to help or hinder other players. These can be warnings of an ambush ahead, or tips on how to beat an upcoming enemy. The developers added some brilliant touches that add nuance to the passive interactions. For example, if you’re near a bonfire and another player is near the same one in their own game, you share certain things. Sometimes, a player will kindle their bonfire and it will add an extra use of the Estus flask to other players around that bonfire in their game. If you belong to the same covenant as another player, sometimes their healing and buffing spells will heal you as well if you’re in the same area as another player. Small things like this really give the game that awesome charm and a sense that you’re not really alone. The other players are in this with you.
Dark Souls, for the most part, plays almost identical to Demon’s Souls with a few changes and a few upgrades. It’s an action game at heart with a ton of RPG thrown in. You can equip your character with a wide variety of weapons, armor, shields, and accessories that you come across while exploring or by purchasing and creating them via vendors. Most of the time, you will be using a shield and weapon. Keeping your shield up is essential for survival. Knowing when to block and attack is the name of the game. One small mistake can leave you low on health or, more times than not, dead.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360
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