Dark Souls review
The name of the official website for Dark Souls just about sums it up: Prepare To Die. Because to call this a difficult game severely undersells what a monster From Software has created (and if you want some help then check out our Dark Souls tips). This is brutal. In a way that almost no other modern game does, it refuses to make any concessions to the player: this is an unforgiving, desolate world, and one you’ll never forget.
As with its predecessor, Demon’s Souls, this extreme difficulty will be its most divisive characteristic – and despite what feel like changes designed to help players, such as more considerate placement of the bonfire checkpoints, this is a journey full of difficulty spikes.
The game begins with your character locked in a prison cell and starts as it means to go on, leading you to a room with a huge club-wielding boss and a single line of tutorial: “RUN.” From here, Dark Souls starts its real work of killing you with huge monsters and surprise deathtraps again and again.
In the first few hours, it can be dispiriting. The changes to Demon’s Souls’ systems have to be worked out through trial and error, the equipment available is weak junk and your progress feels painfully halting. Some players will crest this wave; some will drown. Dark Souls makes the conscious decision to abandon those who can’t handle it.
Yet the combat is based on simple elements: you can guard, parry, roll, light attack or heavy attack, with each action depleting a recharging stamina bar. Having so few actions seems limiting, but they’re the building blocks for a nuanced move-set of efficiency and precision.
Your character turns out to have an ever-growing stash of actions and fighting styles depending on their kit, and the occasional blacksmith’s forging abilities can make choice weapons even stronger. Every tiny upgrade and advantage proves vital, because the most common of enemies can be fatal: the smallest misjudgement or slightest touch of overconfidence and you’re mercilessly gutted. Mistime a single parry, and slash after slash will come in and end the fight.
Grind through with a solid defence, or fight on the counter and trust your skill; every choice you make in combat is shot through with both risk and reward, and as fights become more complex there’s a flinty brilliance to the sheer flexibility and utility on offer.
Part of that is the classes: they share common parameters and can be custom-levelled, but small differences in stats enforce profoundly different play styles. The Warrior and Knight work in the most traditional manner – melee specialists effective at close range and in the thick of things – while classes such as the Hunter depend on keeping distance and finding prime terrain to fight from.