Publisher:Namco Bandai Platform:PC Release Date: August 24, 2012
Looking back after several hours hands-on time with Dark Souls, it’s almost impossible for me to accurately guess at the number of times I’ve died. All I can do is think of all the different ways it’s happened. I’ve been smashed, slashed, crushed, hurled, drowned, poisoned, bitten, burned and decapitated - and that’s all just off the top of my head.
I’ve also been really annoyed too, but we’ll get to that.
Right now, the important thing is that the string of punishing deaths I’ve been subjected to is neither a wholly bad thing, nor a reflection of my gaming skills. You will die a lot in Dark Souls too, no matter how good you are. This is the game in which everyone dies a lot.
You should know all of this, however. Dark Souls masochistic structure and difficulty level are well documented; even the subtitle of the PC version - "Prepare to Die" - makes that clear. It makes it so clear in fact that it can become a bit of a problem in that, when you do die, it's often less of a surprise then it should be.
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A boulder randomly rolls down a staircase and crushes you and instead of either swearing in frustration or laughing in surprise, you merely shrug with disinterest. This is the game that kills you, after all; and you have been killed. Hm.
What stops this becoming a critical flaw for Dark Souls though is that there's more to the game than just the much hyped uber-difficulty, which in truth is really only a tool applied to a greater design. Dark Souls may be the game in which everyone dies a lot, but it's not really a game about making you die a lot.
Instead, it's a game about a sort of adventure that's been long absent from most blockbuster releases - one where you literally don't know what's going to be around the next corner. Dark Souls isn't about death, it's about using death to enhance the sense of physical and tactical exploration. Where will you go? What weapons will you favour?
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Playing the game in a roomful of seasoned journalists, even acclaimed fans of the original console release were discovering new things to get excited about. A constant stream of expletives, gasps and yells were coming from certain corners of the room as they plumbed the new content on offer - what is that thing and how do I beat it?
Personally, I struggled just to make it through the opening sections of the game but still found the slowly unfolding lore and rules to be bafflingly, brilliantly labyrinthine. Dark Souls' unashamedly involved stats and jargon-saturated systems are a breath of fresh air (or possibly stale air from the early 1990s) for an industry that's increasingly orientated towards accessibility.
You might think that this depth means Dark Souls is a far greater fit for the PC than it was for consoles. That's certainly what a lot of people thought and, conceptually, they might be right - but realistically the implementation Namco has taken isn't as good fit as you might think.