So That Fans May Be Mended
You should know my first impressions of the game weren't great. I almost sent Dark Souls immediately back to Gamefly, which would have been a huge mistake. See, unlike Demon's Souls with its Nexus and world stones, Dark Souls is made up of one giant, open world, and in old-school-RPG fashion, it doesn't necessarily prevent players from entering into areas they shouldn't yet be.
After completing the tutorial level, I walked out to the first area and was greeted by re-spawning skeletons who continued to make quick work of me. After much frustration, I checked in at the NeoGAF Dark Souls thread to inquire if I was missing something. Sure enough, I had headed the wrong way. Without letting them spoil anything else for me, I went downstairs from the first bonfire and ran into some ghosts who also proceeded to annihilate me…
Again, I had gone the wrong way, but at least I felt I was beginning to understand the world of Lordran a bit better. Evidently, I wasn't listening well to the subtle hints from NPCs, but once I settled into the changes of this game's world, Dark Souls really started to take off for me.
Unlike many sequels or successors, Dark Souls hasn't tamed its level of difficulty. Demon's Souls was a brutally challenging game, and Dark Souls actually ups the ante. No more hording grasses for hundreds of heals. This time around you have only a single flask with a very limited number of heals. You also cannot use this healing flask while visiting another player's world, either as a friendly phantom or invading foe.
Oddly enough, once you reconcile some of the changes from its predecessor, Dark Souls is actually a more engrossing, rewarding experience. I absolutely adore Demon's Souls; it's my favorite game of the last few generations. However, Dark Souls' open world and desperate nature make it an addictive adventure I simply cannot get enough of.
At the outset, I thought I would jump right in, no problems. Having played Demon's Souls so much, I felt like Rambo in the city. Obviously, From Software took players like me into account. No, scratch that. Dark Souls was designed specifically for players like me, a game that could challenge even those daring souls who already braved and conquered Boletaria. The foundation of Dark Souls feels completely familiar, but the overall game design is an entirely new beast.
If you never got the chance to play old-school Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) – I'm talking pencil, paper, and many sided dice – Dark Souls is about as close as videogames get in terms of scope. There's so much mystery, so much great lore – and each new area feels completely unique.
One of the coolest elements of the game is the enemy design. There are definitely a few creatures that animate similarly to those in Demon's Souls. Heck, the "Hollow" are pretty much the Dregglings from Demon's Souls. But venture further into the game, and you'll encounter ghosts that attack through walls, multi-headed hydras who hurl magic at you, and necromancers who can summon undead to relentlessly assault you.
Unfortunately, Dark Souls didn't necessarily fix any of the problems inherent in the first game, and it comes complete with issues all its own. The lag found in only small sections of 2-2 and 5-2 of Demon's Souls is now present in quite a few areas of Dark Souls' world. Additionally, there are often issues with input lag. Sometimes when you press the attack button, the animation won't execute until you press another button. In a game like Dark Souls it can and will be fatal in many situations.
The game also takes the clunky inventory system of Demon's Souls and in some ways makes it even more tedious to navigate. Now, rather than having separate categories for shields, weapons, and bows, everything's together under a single tab.
And let's not forget about the random glitches. Demon's Souls had its share – enemies getting stuck onto your character, your character getting stuck on parts of the environment, falling through the geometry. Dark Souls has most of those problems and more. It's a big game with quite a few technical faux pas.
In spite of all my detailed complaints, this is still absolutely an amazing game. It's abundantly evident that Dark Souls is chock full of inspiration. After 80 hours of play, the game just keeps on giving, and I haven't even completed my first playthrough yet. It's not a better game than Demon's Souls, in my opinion, but its grand nature and fresh ingredients make it that much more satisfying. I truly didn't think that could be possible. I felt like $60 for Demon's Souls was a steal. For Dark Souls, it's simply a ridiculous value. The game is hard, its problems can be frustrating, but it just has too much fun to offer for anyone to not appreciate its greatness.
Part of that greatness is owed to covenants, a new addition to the game's world and online experience. This time around, players can join covenants that align them with certain factions within Lordran. Joining and leveling up your standing in a covenant comes with certain perks, including unique items and powers, as well as the ability to hunt down other players of a specific covenant. The online gameplay of Demon's Souls was incredibly innovative, and Dark Souls manages to take those ideas yet one step further.
It's also one of the two best-looking games of this generation, the other being…well, Demon's Souls. Sure, the Havok physics can be quirky at times, but compare the visuals of these two games to everything and anything else currently out there, and the Souls games are complete and utter marvels, both technically and artistically. The new boss designs are spectacular – tons of giant enemies this time around – and the game's world feels new yet still morbid and intimidating. The music is perfectly matched with each situation, though the sound effects are pretty much a cut and paste of the last game.
Dark Souls is everything you could want and more from a successor to a game like Demon's Souls. It doesn't outshine the first game, but it does surpass it with its scope and world design. The areas are created with the sort of love and care you'd expect to see in a flagship Zelda title, and the world of Lordran seems never-ending. The gameplay is still quite tough, perhaps even more so than Demon's Souls, but it's "one for the fans." I perfectly understand the frustrations of folks curious but unprepared for the challenge these games offer, but I'm equally appreciative of From Software's determination to cater to folks like myself. As with my review of the first game, I recommend newcomers give it a rent first. As for Demon's Souls veterans, I propose you jump blindly into the void.