Review: Dark Souls


Jake Dubusker ‘15
It’s no secret that a lot of games released nowadays tend to hold your hand through every step of gameplay, drenching you in tutorials, constant in-game hints, and sometimes just outright telling you what to do to advance. It can be frustrating when you want to discover secrets and get good on your own while the game shoves you toward them whether you want it to or not. Dark Souls, a medieval style RPG, is the opposite extreme. You are dropped into the game with basic armor, a weak weapon, and a path to follow. Any tutorial you’re given comes in the form of in-game notes left by other players. Soon you may figure out the way you’re supposed to go and encounter the first demon, which will stomp you into the dirt promptly if you waste even a single second not running away.
Welcome to Dark Souls. Soon enough you should find the way to escape the demon and proceed forward, and maybe find some better gear along the way, but you’ll have to face that demon eventually. Dark Souls throws you into the lake right from the start and refuses to help you in the slightest way, and you will die a lot because of it. You may remain clueless for hours upon hours of gameplay and not know what to do to get past the great obstacles in your way. This is one of Dark Soul’s failures, that in its effort to make the game a great challenge, it creates a massive barrier to entry that can make many players quit altogether. However, Dark Souls is actually very, very good if you have the right information going in. It’s a good idea to read up on the game and follow some guides so that you aren’t clueless and don’t get stomped to death by demons for hours on end making no progress. As far as the plot goes, you aren’t given much to go on. You are an undead person in a decaying, darkening world, everything is hopeless, and your only goal is to ring the “Bells of Awakening” because doing that might cause something to happen. Nobody knows what, since nobody has ever done it, but you’ve got nothing to lose, everything’s doomed anyway. Once you’ve managed to get past the difficulty barrier, this atmosphere of hopelessness becomes your greatest liberty. The only thing you have to lose in death are souls that you collect and use for buying things and leveling up, which you can always get back, so you’re free to explore wherever you want and try fighting, befriending, or jumping off anything because you have nothing to lose. The game is hard but completely fair. If you die and lose enough souls to level up, it’s your fault for not making your way back to a bonfire to level up sooner.
If it wasn’t enough souls to level up, then it wasn’t enough to be worth getting upset about. The atmosphere of the game is beautiful, and any massive building you see distant in the skybox has a good chance of being an actual place you get to go to and fight another huge monster in. Once you get properly equipped and used to the combat, the difficulty ceases to be frustrating and becomes more of a thrilling battle between you and the evils of the world. When it’s a tough and drawn-out struggle every step of the journey, every victory gives an immense sense of accomplishment. Dark Souls as a whole is very deep, beautiful, and dripping with atmosphere, one of the true standouts in gaming.
Next Week — Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
The guide I personally used to get into Dark Souls: