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Review

Dark Souls Review

  • First Released
  • Reviewed: October 3, 2011
  • PS3

Dark Souls is an extraordinary role-playing game that transports you to an awesome and menacing world you may never forget.

Any game can deliver a few cheap scares. It takes a special one to terrify you. Dark Souls is such a game. It's a thoughtful, atmospheric, and mysterious role-playing adventure that challenges your mind and your mettle. It takes the concepts of deadly environments and unflinching difficulty introduced by 2009's infamously tough Demon's Souls and cranks up the challenge, the fear, the frustration, and the eventual triumph. Dark Souls' enormous world is vast and dangerous, filled with terrifying fire demons and homicidal lizardmen, all with a single goal: to annihilate you. And so you die, over and over again, as you make your way through this strikingly fearsome land. But in Dark Souls, death and resurrection is a core mechanic, not a roadblock, and because the combat is so precise, you ultimately feel in control of your destiny. Dark Souls plays by its own rules, and in doing so, provides an unforgettable adventure that seeps into your being and invades your thoughts. It's a landmark game, destined to be loved and talked about by anyone who has the pleasure of unraveling its mysteries.

Like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls is a third-person dungeon crawler with precise and responsive combat. You create a character, select a class, and enter a bleak kingdom populated by undead horrors, shrieking gargoyles, and iron-clad knights. The tutorial introduces you to the impending terrors in fine fashion. You fight a gargantuan ogre, get rolled over by a giant ball, and encounter a sad fellow who issues you a warning in his final moments. After this sinister and enthralling introduction, a giant raven flies you to the shrine that serves as your initial hub. And so begins your exploration of Lordran, where non-player characters offer a few vague notions of where you are and what you must do, but little else. NPCs muse on their undead conditions and emit disturbing giggles, but Dark Souls doesn't focus on plot, character development, or questing in the traditional sense. Rather, it provides you with a captivating world spiced with narrative details, and encourages you to craft your own tale. You might expect that such thin storytelling might lead to aimlessness, but Dark Souls is anything but aimless, in part due to the structure and design of its large, seamless world.

Demon's Souls was a collection of large levels attached to a hub area; Dark Souls is a single, massive realm, separated into distinct regions. You can't explore with impunity, however: certain areas open up to you only when you beat bosses. Watching a giant closed gate swing open after a nail-biting battle is a fantastic reward for proving your dominance: You are filled with trepidation and excitement at the prospect of investigating a mystifying new territory. That region might contain dim forests, crumbling castles, dilapidated bridges, and ominous fortresses. Each area has its own defining visual characteristics, yet feels like it belongs to the same melancholy medieval universe. A giant red dragon perches above a stone bridge and breathes fire upon you. Undead knights clad in capes charge at you. Ghostly figures descend on a murky village. Dark Souls is beautiful and terrifying all at once--yet as horrifying as it is, it draws you in. No one should ever want to reside in a land in which death lurks around each corner. Yet once you're there, Dark Souls convinces you to remain, promising new vistas to ogle and new creatures to slay. The biggest blight on this land is the inconsistent frame rate. It isn't a pervasive issue, but things get choppy in certain areas. The slowdown isn't likely to affect your exploration, but it's noticeable enough to stand out.

Poisonous frogs? Curses!

You eventually unlock shortcuts between regions and make good use of them, especially when trying to best Dark Souls' immense and numerous bosses. They include twin gargoyles atop a parish roof, a giant fire demon, a huge wolf with a sword in its mouth, and a deceptively beautiful butterfly that sings a soothing lullaby when it isn't trying to murder you. And there are minibosses too, such as a blue dragon guarding a narrow path and a giant diseased rat skulking in the sewers. Every boss looks gruesome, and each plays differently enough to keep you on your toes. Even standard foes are wonderfully hideous in Dark Souls and are suited to their environment. Each enemy attacks differently from others, with some taking advantage of openings to whittle away most, if not all, of your health bar. However, smooth animations and clear sound effects signal the most powerful moves, allowing you to block properly or roll out of the way. Yet each dog and demon has enough different attacks to make every encounter a surprise; it's a great mix of consistency and unpredictability. And with so much combat variety, you might find use for multiple weapons and sets of armor, each with its own attack and defense benefits (one for fending off poison, one for fire protection, and so on). One moment, you might look like a hooded wraith in your gold-trimmed cloak; the next, your gleaming armor gives you the look of a virtuous silver knight.

Fortunately, the combat is weighty and exact, which is why Dark Souls feels fair and rarely cheap. In all but a few instances, the collision detection is flawless. When your blade makes contact with a shield, it glances off; when it meets flesh, it sinks into it. If you hit a wall rather than the flaming minotaur rising above you, he will take advantage of your error. These might seem like small details, but without such accuracy, Dark Souls wouldn't be such a triumph. Combat isn't perfect: a drake might clip into a mountain and get stuck, or you could perish due to mistakes caused by the finicky lock-on mechanic. But such issues are easily overlooked, and more apparent than they might otherwise have been, because the action is usually ultraprecise.

Water is a source of life. But it can also be a cause of death.

Thank goodness for such precision. Without it, you could never survive in this wild world. On your travels, you cross narrow beams and avoid deadly swinging blades. Evil shrubs spring to life and pierce you with their branches, and the bones of skeletons you just defeated reassemble themselves before your very eyes. And so you die. Often. Afterward, you resurrect at the most recent bonfire you rested at. These bonfires are scattered around the world, though they are far enough apart that you don't feel totally secure in your travels. Resting at one saves your game, replenishes your health and your supply of health flasks, and restores the number of times you can cast a particular spell. (There is no mana bar in Dark Souls.) The catch: every enemy, apart from bosses, respawns when you rest.

Death also means losing the souls you have in your possession. Souls are the game's currency and are used to level up, buy equipment, improve your weapons and armor, purchase new spells, and more. If you want to retrieve those lost souls, you must return to the bloodstain that marks the ground where you expired. And so you must ask yourself while exploring: Is it worth the risk to press onward, and accumulate more souls, or should you spend them now? It's a more difficult decision than you might think. With so many beautiful and terrifying possibilities waiting out there, you will feel yourself drawn to continue, even knowing you might sacrifice your very lifeblood.

Like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls possesses a number of incredible online features that make you feel like one node on a giant web of identical worlds. You see the ghosts of other players on your travels, and they are less transparent the closer you are to a bonfire. These players don't exist in your world, but are more like echoes from a parallel kingdom that resonate with your own. You also encounter bloodstains that mark the deaths of other players; by activating one, you watch the player's ghost reenact the final seconds before death. These aren't just neat features that impart a sense of community, though they certainly do that. They also let players serve as silent, inadvertent guides to each other. By both living and dying, you might be another's quiet savior. It makes Dark Souls an unusual and wonderful contradiction: you feel remarkably alone in this frightening place, yet simultaneously part of a large multiverse where simply playing the game makes you part of a chorus of silent voices urging each other forward.

You can offer more direct assistance by creating helpful messages from a series of canned words and phrases and leaving them for other players to read, and you can heed advice others leave for you. And if you need extra help, you can summon a stranger to your world, or be summoned to another. Tackling a boss with one or three other players is a lot of fun, though there are other ways of assisting your fellow travelers. One way is to drop an item; left long enough, it will transform into a phantom and wander into someone else's game. Such phantoms leave behind precious items, though they must be vanquished before you can reap your reward. Of course, you might prefer antagonizing other players rather than assisting them. In that case, you can invade them as a black phantom. Just like in Demon's Souls, being invaded exponentially increases your tension level, because you have to worry not only about standard creatures, but also about another player hunting you down.

Dark Souls shares many attributes with Demon's Souls, yet possesses enough distinct facets to feel fresh and exciting even to veterans of the older game. One of those distinctions is an uncommon currency called humanity. Your basic form is that of a hollowed soul--that is, undead. In this state, you can't summon others to your side or invade their worlds. Doing so requires you to possess humanity. Humanity has benefits beyond allowing you to summon and, like souls, can be retrieved after death if you return to your bloodstain. It can also be sacrificed at bonfires to increase the number of health flasks you receive when resting, which can be a real boon. But being human makes you vulnerable, because it opens you to invasions. Other players don't steal into your world just for the fun of it; they want your valuable humanity. The good news is that if you defeat your pesky invader, you receive his humanity for your troubles.

In Sen's Fortress, expect no sanctuary.

Covenants are another element unique to Dark Souls. These are like factions, and joining one offers distinct benefits, not just for you, but possibly for other players. Finding covenant leaders isn't always straightforward. One is a cat lounging in a window, and it's easy to miss as you rush past, trying to lose the soldier dogging you. Another is a demonic monstrosity lurking behind a hidden wall you might have walked past a dozen times or more. Joining that cat's ranks has a great benefit: you can walk peacefully among the wolves and ghostly figures of the forest. That hidden demon has powerful pyromancy spells to grant you, among other choice offerings. Furthermore, players in the same covenant share certain benefits. For instance, comrades might enjoy the effects of a miracle you cast. Which covenant you find most appealing depends on what you want to get out of the experience; some benefit player-versus-player fanatics, while others are more appealing to sorcerers than to thieves. The game isn't always clear about the risks and rewards various covenants offer, but unraveling these secrets is one of Dark Souls' cerebral delights. Not sure what donating humanity to your faction leader might accomplish? Do it and find out for yourself. But be careful, because betraying a faction has consequences, and forgiveness isn't something you can pray for: it must be bought, and it doesn't come cheap.

Covenants aren't Dark Souls' only source of mystery. You experience events that you couldn't have seen coming but that still make a kind of demented sense when they occur. Touching a glowing ring after defeating yet another skyscraping boss initiates a memorable voyage. A creature appears where none was before, eager to exchange unused equipment for a few souls in return. You also encounter strange characters locked in cells and trapped in golems. Should you rescue those imprisoned individuals, they may appear later in Firelink Shrine with words of advice, gestures to teach you, and new spells to purchase. Others may not be what they seem, and if you have reason not to trust them, you can drive a sword into their flesh. Doing so may grant you a helpful ring or piece of armor, but you might lose certain benefits by denying yourself future access to these folk.

You can fend off these evil dogs, but it's more fun to get them to leap into the fire and burn to death.

Not all unexpected circumstances are pleasant ones, however. Falling victim to a curse halves your health bar, and curing it requires purchasing a special stone--or sprinting through haunted ruins, where a special healer offers his services. Idle long enough near a disgusting, larvae-filled foe, and it might infest you, turning your head into a giant egg that eats half of the souls you earn. Finding the right cure for your head tumor is a quest of its own, though it isn't one granted by an NPC, but one born of circumstance. Such occurrences might seem harsh, but they're actually a sly method of making the adventure feel like one of your own making, rather than one governed by a structured quest log.

Dark Souls requires intense focus. This isn't a lighthearted romp in a bright and colorful fantasy world; it's a methodical journey into the frightening unknown. And that's what makes it so riveting. Some games try to scare you with bump-in-the-night shocks and far-off howls, but Dark Souls doesn't require such predictable methods of terror. Its terrors emanate from its very core, each step bringing you closer to another inevitable death. How amazing that such a terrible place could be so inviting. The game's world is so memorable, and its action so thrilling, that it might invade your thoughts even when you aren't playing, silently urging you to escape the real world and return to this far more treacherous one. Dark Souls doesn't just surpass other dungeon crawlers; it skewers them with a razor-sharp halberd and leaves behind their soulless corpses.

The Good
A gorgeous and frightening world you won't want to leave
Abundant, amazing bosses test your skill and determination
Superb combat in which every attack feels powerful and precise
Fantastic online aspect lets players both cooperate and compete
Covenant system and other features lead to constant surprises
The Bad
Frame rate gets choppy in certain areas
Finicky target lock
9.5
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Dark Souls

About the Author

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

Discussion

166 comments
Derugs
Derugs

 On the top 10 since Oct 4, 2011...  Luv this game!! 

Arcturuss
Arcturuss

Can't wait for DS 2...  been waiting to see some more casuals crying on youtube about the difficulty.

monicker
monicker

I love this game so much. I'm currently playing with multiple characters. This game may not be for everyone, but for those who it's for, it's a fantastic experience. Graphics, game play, and story all fantastic. The "story" is more like uncovering the lore of the world in a slow and roundabout way, Everything about this game appeals to me. Just a goddamned work of art.

Loshead
Loshead

I can't wait for dark souls 2

Loshead
Loshead

I absolutely love this freaking game I cannot put it down. 

carolino
carolino

got it from 10 €

the game that sucks all my senses in and makes me feel like a hero ONLY when i deserve it

im 50 hours in ..its defo a 96% rate game..

Derugs
Derugs

The No.1 game is back!

focuspuller
focuspuller

Looks amazing. I need to finish The Witcher before I play this.

Sfr528
Sfr528

I sincerely wish this idea that a game can be broken down into a metric score that somehow encapsulates all that a game is would die already.  How can anyone fairly decide how many points to dock for whatever reasons?  Playing a game is not like taking a multiple choice test -- you cannot easily deduce the total score.  I feel the same way about movies by the way... it's ridiculous to put a metric score because you're literally pulling a random number out of your ass.  I'd rather just see recommendations -- such as must buy, rent, play if a fan, don't touch with a 50 foot pole...

As for Dark Souls... the games immerse world and fun combat completely overshadow the sometimes wonky camera and lag.  It's hard, everyone knows its hard, you are going to die a lot.  It harkens back to a time where a gamer would die on a stage all day before completing it and than miraculously be able to clear that same stage in a few measly minutes.  It's very rewarding to see your skills and reaction times sharpen and how once formidable foes fall to your blade without a sweat being given. 

turtlethetaffer
turtlethetaffer

Playing through it so far and I'd say the game is a solid 8- 8.5.  I don't dig the minimalist storytelling too much, but I like the atmosphere and combat.  My complaints with the game are mainly with the camera.  There are many times where you're in a cramped corridor and if you try to lock onto an enemy the camera will get caught up on a wall or something and you can't see it.  I died a few times on Gaping Dragon because I was near a wall and his huge mass blocked my character so I couldn't see what I was doing.  Aside from that, pretty good game so far. Although not for everyone... This is definitely a "gamer's" game.

Derugs
Derugs

 This game is still in the top 10; I love that! 

Mister_Tucakov
Mister_Tucakov

This is fantastic game , for hard core players , i prefer playing it in co-op  , but next part should have better story teling .

jagdedge124
jagdedge124

Downloaded it on Xbox. Great made game, great mechanics, great graphics. Too difficult for average gamers. Unless you want to spend 2 hours trying to kill one boss, having to go ALL the way back, and start allover again about thirty times the game is beyond frustration. If i could get my money back i would. 7.0.

walehinmi
walehinmi

thanks @NuarBlack  that was very helpfull,,last question .. i dont have the strength to carry some weapons why ?what do i have to do ?

walehinmi
walehinmi

this is the only game that kills me .. how do i became human ... to summon 

walehinmi
walehinmi

@NuarBlack please add me on skype am having porblems with this game id :wale.hinmi

NuarBlack
NuarBlack

Great Game but by no means did it deserve a 9.5. Blight town problems were enough to dock it the .5 alone. Then the lock on system is a very core mechanic so that is almost another point. Next is that the game gets really redundant. Pathing through most levels is too linear on narrow walkways so you just end up parrying your way through 90% of the game which seems cool at first but gets old. Magic Casts were about the worst I have seen in a fantasy RPG. Character development was a double edged sword while it was nice that it never outpaced the game and made things too easy it did feel like your character stopped developing in a way that impacted game play too early. probably only deserved an 8-8.5 

RustedTruck650
RustedTruck650

Wow, some users actually rated this game with awefull scores. They obviously are your everyday-illiterate-unintelligent-casual-COD-can't learn from experiences Twits!! Well, i guess the world does need people like that, after all the world thrives because of both, stupid and intelligent people.

tuckie27
tuckie27

I like the fact that you can always be sure that you will never know what's going to happen next.
The most frustrating yet exciting part I've explored was the catacombs, not being able to kill those dreaded skeletons until you've removed their immortality. It's aspects like these that make a game shine. Brilliant!

Derugs
Derugs

Back again on the top 10!  Greatest game ever! 

RustedTruck650
RustedTruck650

To anyone who hasn't played Demons Souls or Dark Souls i have something to tell you; you are missing a hardcore gaming experience. Buy it, fools!!!!

shravan_perne
shravan_perne

i bought the game .... played it ... hated the repetition in combat and all the dying... did not feel like continuing .... then a friend persuaded me to try investing a little more time.... I am thankful to him.... to all the people who are frustrated .... "Atleast kill the Tauras demon and proceed a little and see a whole lot of things DS has to offer ... There is a reason why you have repetitive combat .. But you have to stick with it a while and be patient to understand .....  

kamcsat
kamcsat

It took me 92 hours... what else can I say... one of the bigest gaming experience of my life... The scarry thing is: Once I finished it, I immediately started playing with the thoughts... What if I would try a knight this time... sick.. so I immediately gave it to my friend just to avoid temptation...

Crazed8
Crazed8

Everyone whose died a million times playing this game remember, "It's just a flesh wound" (Monty python)

 

obey21
obey21

things i've learnt from this game:don't fuck with black nights, don't run around corners without your shield up, kill anything before hesitation, never surprise attack a dragon, spend your hard earned souls before losing them all, get that mothafuckin' drake sword before you do anything, never roll/jump backwards, don't think your shield is indestructible and will block anything, don't expect to kill the boss the first go (or twenty), and blighttown is your worst enemy. otherwise this was the most challenging games i have ever played, but non the less amazing.

Dragongod29
Dragongod29

This is one of the greatest action game i have every play

 

CKeenan07
CKeenan07

So I've decided...BEST GAME EVER. IMO

n8VT
n8VT

I really like this game. It's tough, probably more difficult than Demon Souls (which I've played through many times.). But, there is something about the graphics, I think possibly the zoom level, that makes the game much tougher to visualize, for my eyes at at least.. I really have a tough time watching this game the screen. I didn't experience that with Demon Souls. 

 

Also, I really do wish that classes were slightly more partitioned. 

toolboxwi
toolboxwi

I love the RPG features, the controls, and the combat.  But it's just too difficult and frustrating for my casual gaming skills.  I've spent the entire day clearing the same board over and over again just to get killed repeatedly by Taurus Demon.  That's not fun.  If the game restarted me in front of Taurus I'd love to keep trying.  But the monotonous 15 minute journey to get to him is so miserable that I just can't do it anymore.  This game beat me.

monicker
monicker

@Sfr528 Totally. Every flaw in this game is overshadowed by so many positives.

Arcturuss
Arcturuss

@jagdedge124 Yes, needing to get good at a game to beat it sounds horribly unfair, success should be guaranteed.  giving you the illusion of choice and gameplay when in fact you're just playing a on rails cinematic experience.

Dark souls is one of the best games ever made because it does absolutely NOTHING to pander to casuals.  

NuarBlack
NuarBlack

@walehinmi Yea you need humanity. This is accounted for by a number to the left of your health and stamina. So you actually need it to say you have at least one not just have consumable humanity in your inventory. Using a consumable humanity item will add to that number though. Then access a bonfire and there is an option in the bonfire menu to turn you human.

RustedTruck650
RustedTruck650

@NuarBlack Yeah, blight town can get crazy and character stat scaling development seems to slow down somewhat after level 145.  The lock on system is perfect and i've never heard any complaints about it other than in this review. But you dumbing it down to 8-8.5 because you don't like the spells and you think it's easy...? You must be from the mmo world.

sayoose
sayoose

@tuckie27 Then you accidentaly figure out that divine weapons kill the skeletons. The level design is pure genius. You can travel that huge world in short amounts of time with the brilliant shortcut system. Cant wait for Dark Souls 2

RustedTruck650
RustedTruck650

@shravan_perne Repetitive combat? Dks is not a game for the usual skyrim player. If something doesnt feel right about the way you are playing then you're doing something wrong! Souls is not a "I want to finish it on the weekend "  kind of game.

sayoose
sayoose

@kamcsat 154 hours in 3 weeks. Dont know how I held down a 40 hour a week job

TheKrustaceox
TheKrustaceox

 @toolboxwi don't give up. Beasts like Taurus Demon dont wear any armor, so buy 15 fire bombs and you're done with it xD. You can also jump from the tower and stab him in his head to take out 1/3 of his health bar. I believe 90% of the players died a LOT on first bosses, even if they say they didn't (which is a lie or pure massive no-life nerd bragging skills) It's the way of the game to make you learn enemy patterns, keep that in mind , you need to LEARN PATTERNS. Proceed the game, level up, train your shield skills and be brave ;)

Atermi
Atermi

 @toolboxwi Man if you still haven't beat him I can help! The fight is not straightforward, there is a trick that is supposed to be used to slay Taurus Demon. You must run from him to the first tower (clear it of archers first), then jump onto Demon's head from the top of the tower (jump-strike). Do this 3 times and Demon is dead, and you don't lose any health.

jagdedge124
jagdedge124

@Arcturuss @jagdedge124 Most people i know never even heard of this game. The 2 people on my friends list that have, have achievement scores of roughly 20 and 40. They just simply gave up and in NO way will recommend this game.

I've been playing video games of one sort of another since roughly 1975. With my knowledge of the video game market, and knowing by FAR the vast majority of people being "casual gamers", a game such as this will NEVER be a big selling item, but will remain a cult classic for a very small yet voiceful amount of Fans.

My guess is being Companies want to make MONEY, this game within the next title WILL change, in effort to reach out to a more vast audience who have LIVES, and don't have hours to spend to get thru one level. It's just the way business works. Hope that helps.

NuarBlack
NuarBlack

@RustedTruck650 @NuarBlack Never heard complaints about the lock on system except in my review? Gamespot's review complains about it. The only addition I made in my review was I pointed out it was especially troublesome on large bosses since it lacked the option to target specific body parts but wasn't part of my comment. My actual review goes into more detail on the casting as well. How it was more than just aesthetically displeasing. Casting felt cumbersome especially compared to the melee combat. Sorry I didn't hone my criticisms in my quick comment. 


sayoose
sayoose

@RustedTruck650 @shravan_perne The combat in Skyrim has no weight. Its like hitting a pillow. Dark Souls has ruined that game for me forever. The combat in Souls is so precise, it's almost like a sports game.

shravan_perne
shravan_perne

@RustedTruck650 @shravan_perne Agreed ... I meant 'Repetitive Combat' as my first impression (which was bad)... Reading my comment I do sound like I am bashing the game... But believe me I was praising it... And I have completed two playthroughs and love it ....

Errorcutive
Errorcutive

The lock on mechanic seem useless cause i have been playing it on pc and i almost never lock on the target cause locking on make you blind of your surrounding and by not locking on you can retreat faster if you in a emergency

Errorcutive
Errorcutive

guys i have better metode GRINDING, grind your self until lvl 23 (i use knight,focus on endurance,and strenght) then get the astora straight sword bellow on the area bellow firelink shrine (use the lift) on the cliff near the half drake, then jump attack the boss, on this metode he will drop the health to 1/4, then finish him

NuarBlack
NuarBlack

@RustedTruck650 @NuarBlack True enough. That is what a review or opinion stated in a comments section is after all. And people are free to disagree. I'm just giving my honest take on the game. There is no such thing as an objective review. You have to evaluate them in context of other gaming experiences especially so when evaluating them on a scale with to maxims that forces comparison with all other games rated by the same scale.

Dark Souls More Info

  • First Released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • Xbox 360
    Dark Souls is a dark-fantasy action role-playing game by From Software, and is considered a spiritual successor to the studio's 2009 hit Demon's Souls.
    8.8
    Average User RatingOut of 4998 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Dark Souls
    Developed by:
    From Software
    Published by:
    Bandai Namco Games, Namco Bandai Games, From Software, Namco Bandai Games America
    Genres:
    Action, Role-Playing
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Violence