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En-duhl-jer: The one who indulges

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Monthly Archives: October 2011

DARK SOULS Review

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Ahhhh DARK SOULS! The follow-up game to 2009’s cult hit DEMON’S SOULS. Having LOVED the first game, DARK SOULS was far and away my #1 most hyped videogame of 2011. Unless something drastic happened, this game was going to consume my life. I knew it would. I told my girlfriend it would. It did.

Over the last few weeks I’ve averaged more time playing this game than I’ve spent at work! On one occasion I believe I stayed up until 7AM playing, took a three hour nap, and then played the entire next day! All told so far, I’ve beaten the game twice, gotten my Platinum trophy (PS3), and started a new character. I’ve played the game for over 150 hours. This is one of the most addicting games I’ve ever played. I cannot believe my girlfriend puts up with me!

If you’re unfamiliar with the “SOULS” games, then…what’s wrong with you?! But, I’ll briefly run down the game nonetheless. It is an action RPG within an MMORPG-lite world. That may sound confusing, let me explain. You will go do things you would normally do in an action RPG. You kill enemies and take their “souls”. You find armor, weapons, and treasure. You level up. You beat the area boss. You go to the next area until the game is over. But what makes this game so different than just a normal hack-and-slash action game? The multiplayer system and the notoriously brutal difficulty.

Here’s how it works: throughout the game you have the opportunity to be either “undead” or “human”. If you’re human you have the ability to summon other players to your world to help you fight, however other people have the opportunity to “invade” your game and fight you. Whoever wins gets humanity and souls.

For those who are “undead”, if you’re summoned and help the player kill the area boss, you will get humanity to help you become alive again. It’s the cycle of life. An important note is that only people +-10% of your level can invade or be summoned to help you. So if you’re level 10, only players level 8-12 can join your game. This makes sure the game isn’t overpowering or easy, you can only play with people on your level.

Most likely you will need to take advantage of the multiplayer system to stay alive. The game is tough. The developers, FROM SOFTWARE, set out to make it more difficult than the original. In some ways it is, but in others they’ve added things that can assist you greatly. You are still able to write comments on the ground to warn users and it’s still as useful as it was in the first game. If there’s trouble ahead expect to see a note to tell you of impending danger. The game can be as tough or as easy as the community deems it!

You will continually be tasked on leveling up your character based on different stats such as: VITALITY, ENDURANCE, STRENGTH, DEXTERITY, INTELLIGNECE, etc. The choice is yours how you wish to allocate your souls. You “spend” souls to increase these parameters; slowly increasing in the amount needed as you keep advancing. This in essence is the simplest way to explain the game. How you decide to level these stats directly influences what your character can use. For example, I like using Katanas, and they require lots of DEXTERITY to wield effectively. Others may like to use magic, so they will focus on INTELLIGENCE. Heavy weapons users will want lots of STRENGTH.

Regardless of your path, you will need to keep advancing, clear areas, take down bosses, and eventually beat the game. Conservative estimate to beat the game once takes about 60-80 hours.

None of this is particularly new from what DEMON’S SOULS introduced. If you’re a veteran of the first game, you’re probably more interested to know what’s changed. Here is a quick breakdown of things I’ve noticed:

Differences from DEMON’S SOULS:
– No longer have an HP penalty while “undead”; previously HP was halved. This is a welcomed change. You will only have a ½ HP penalty while “cursed” (new status ailment) in this game.

– World is no longer hub based leading to different areas. Instead there is one giant overworld that connects fairly seamlessly as you progress. Shortcuts will open that connect to early areas of the game. I rather enjoy the new world!

– Amazingly, the emphasis on characters and story is even “less” than it was in DEMON’s! DEMON’S SOULS was known for its NES-like story and that hasn’t changed (this is good!!). However, there is no longer a MAIDEN IN BLACK type character! 🙁 All of your leveling will be done at Bonfires; which are basically checkpoints throughout the game.

– Inventory management is a lot better! There is no “item limit” any longer. You seem to be able to hold an infinite amount of weapons, items, armor, etc on your person. You also have the ability to dump said things into a “Bottomless Box” that you can purchase. Huge improvement.

– Covenant system introduces a limited “quest” type system. There are around 10 different groups you can join that give you bonuses in different ways. Some may want you to invade others games, some may want you to smite evil people who invade other’s games (you’ll invade invaders’ games :)), others allow you to find other players easier. Another gives you the task of protecting the forest from invaders (my favorite). It gives a fresh spin on the invading infrastructure that made DEMON’S so much fun.

Performing these tasks allow you to collect items that you can “donate” to the covenant and allow you to “level up” your covenant rank. Doing this gives you exclusive weapons and spells. It’s completely optional, but it’s rewarding and can be quite fun.

– Many boss battles let you summon NPC characters to help (only if you’re human). I don’t recall DEMON’S SOULS allowing you to do this outside of one battle.

So with that said, let’s go to a detailed review:

MUSIC
90% of the game there is none, and it’s beautiful. It makes the world seem more alive. However, you will be treated to epic orchestral music as part of the games many boss battles. This music is superb and is composed by one of my all-time favorite videogame musicians Motoi Sakuraba. Not disappointed by one track in this game.

SOUND
With no music for most of the game, if the sound effects aren’t good, it will make for quite a boring aural experience. Thankfully, that’s not an issue. The enemy sounds, the ambient noise, weapon and spell casting all sound great. No complaints here. Well, I take that back, male main character noises sound terrible! Every time you get hit they make an unnatural yelp. Maybe it’s just the class I chose…

DIALOGUE
Impressed here as well. Heavy British emphasis, but this goes with the medieval type feel of the game. All in all, the sound of the game immerses the user into the world.

GRAPHICS
Not changed too greatly from what was seen in DEMON’S SOULS. But, the backgrounds and character designs can be simply breathtaking. For the most part the game runs at a very fluid framerate, however in a few areas (mainly Blighttown) it can get pretty choppy. It’s one of the few problems with the game, but it’s not game crippling.

There are many instances you will just be amazed and say “wow that’s pretty”. Indeed, you even have the opportunity to write “Breathtaking view ahead” of which you’ll probably see a lot from other users.

There are most definitely better looking games out there, but this game is a work of art.

GAMEPLAY
In essence this is a throwback game to an era long past. It is difficult. There is nothing to hold your hand. You are given a set of starting equipment and told to go. You will die. You’re expected to die. You must learn from your mistakes. You must continue to get stronger and overcome obstacles. I must stress that, again much like DEMON’S SOULS, nothing is cheap! That is to say you aren’t going to get killed because of the game being unfair. You’re going to get killed because you’re not prepared, you’re impatient, or just stupid. 🙂

The feeling of accomplishment that comes from beating a certain difficult section that you never thought you would overcome is just amazing. Soon you will become masterful at beating enemies or areas which you would never thought you’d get past.

PROBLEMS
Other than the framerate of a few areas, I don’t have much to complain about. I could mention that NAMCO BANDAI didn’t do a great job in publishing this game, but it’s so minor it doesn’t really matter.

The collector’s edition left much to be desired, but it was free. They charged nothing extra over the regular edition for people who pre-ordered. I would have gladly paid $30 more for a better strategy guide (well I did…), and any other cool features. This is really just a missed opportunity by NAMCO BANDAI, but…that doesn’t do anything to impact my enjoyment of this game.

I would highly, highly recommend picking up the excellent strategy guide made for DARK SOULS by FUTURE PRESS. It’s $25 MSRP, and I gladly paid it. This game is a game you want a guide for. It’s begging for it.

The last semi-major complaint is the matchmaking system for multiplayer. It is no longer server-based. It will randomly pair you up with people all over the world. That doesn’t sound so bad…? Well, the problem is that it is almost impossible to link with someone you want to play with. In about a half dozen attempts, I was able to play with my buddy once! ONE TIME! And that was with carefully timed phone calls to ensure we were at the right level, right area, right covenant, and in a random place nobody would find us so we could drop a Soul Sign without anybody else summoning us.

The bottomline is that you’re not going to be able to run through a game with a friend. The infrastructure is completely different than that of DEMON’S SOULS. This is disappointing, but it is what it is though, I suppose.

FINAL WORD
The fact that I can play this game for dozens of hours at a time has to tell you something. I’m getting on with my age, and I can’t dedicate that much time to gaming like I used to. But I DID for this game. There is NEVER a dull moment. There is always something to do, something to strive for, or something to conquer. Just one. More. Thing. To do. I love when a game brings that out of the player, it doesn’t happen all that often.

DARK SOULS is a quintessential example of a fantastic modern action RPG. It gives you beautiful graphics, wonderful sound, an unprecedented style of multiplayer, brutal difficulty, and combines them to produce a unique experience that nothing else has created before. It surpasses or enhances everything that made the original game great.

SCORE
10/10 – Buy it! We must continue to support originality and good game play!

LINKS
Dark Souls (PS3)

Filed under Reviews, Videogames
Oct 29, 2011

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