During the course of the Herculean undertaking that this series has proven to be, I’ve found time to beat Dark Souls. It’s been a wonderful experience, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frustrating, always addictive. It’s easily one of the best-looking, most well-designed, and all around greatest games of the past console generation. It is everything that Demon’s Souls promised to be but didn’t quite live up to.
It’s not quite a sequel to Demon’s Souls, as it takes place in a slightly different scenario in a nominally different world, but it is in all respects similar. The controls and gameplay style are very much the same—though I note with enthusiasm that Dark Souls is designed to allow a greater variety of approaches to the game, so that its plethora of classes have actual distinctions between them. One of the innovations is a third class of magic (other than the traditional white and black) called pyromancy, which is available to all classes of character. This means that some low-level magic is accessible to anyone, which allows warrior and knight-type characters to use the spells they need without crowding in on the casters’ territory.
The promise of Demon’s Souls was difficulty and big scary bosses. It delivered on one of those things. For the most part the bosses were rather pesky pushovers, none of whom were very impressive-looking. In Dark Souls, you fight a massive demon within the first ten minutes of the game. There are a few lazily palette-swapped demons, but there’s a much wider range than before and they are so imposing in size that it seems scarcely believable that you can block their attacks.
Dark Souls is at least as difficult as Demon’s Souls, but in better ways. The enemies are too powerful to be taken on in several at a time, the way you might in a different game. But this means that it forces you to play intelligently. Instead of a hub world with very few checkpoints inside the levels, Dark Souls has a continuous world with checkpoints at regular (though often distant) intervals throughout. Each checkpoint restores your health and status, refills your healing items, and respawns all the enemies in the world. You can upgrade these checkpoints to increase the number of healing items you get, which allows you to venture farther in one go. This makes the sense of being at home in the world, of pushing forward and establishing camps along the way, much more palpable.
Another similarity with the previous game is that the levels are extremely well-structured, with a coherent sense of geography throughout. The innovation of Dark Souls is that it all takes place in one more or less continuous world. So the background scenery in one area becomes playable territory later on and vice versa. The graphics are also much improved, which makes for stunning visuals—the fantasy city of Anor Londo is by far one of the most remarkable-looking levels in recent gaming history. Continue reading