Reputation can hold a foreboding presence. It is passed around by word of mouth and is digested as an underlying anticipation. It brings fear and excites the mind with illustrious thoughts and runaway fantasies. Rarely does the arrival of the reputed object deliver to the promises of the hushed whispers that so eagerly painted its ominous being. On occasion though, the reputation is surpassed by the material embodiment; its presence chokes the throat. Such is the case with Dark Souls - an unrelenting experience that only the audacious should dare enter.
Breath in... and out
As everyone is well aware, Dark Souls is bloody hard. The fact that this is the game's selling point and seemingly remains the sole proprietor of its popularity, is perhaps the oddest occurrence in the current industry. If this were any other game, then its high difficulty would be treated as a negative, a stupid design choice and the central reason to avoid the grinding gameplay. Yet, because its predecessor, Demon's Souls, was popularised by the people, the core gamer, it alone is granted the license to torture and beat its players to a pulp. To the ill-informed, Dark Souls is unnecessarily hard; it is pointlessly so and simply a substitute for those weekends when the masochist get-together is cancelled. Hidden beneath its black steel exterior, though, is a gooey centre rewarded to those willing to chew through the taste of blood. It is the pursuit of this core that drives players to charge head-to-head with hulking creatures three times their size, to aggravate mighty fire-breathing dragons and hack through vicious undead armies time and again.
There is nothing quite so unnerving as rounding a corner and meeting one of Dark Souls' many wonderfully designed adversaries. The sighting of a particularly formidable-looking one is enough for a player to turn off their console and make the decision to come back later. Tackling these beasts requires patience - trial and error mostly. They will inhibit progress for a length of time and will seem impossible to defeat, but once figured out and slain the reward of their abomination is an immense feeling that will flush over your whole body. Similar moments are encountered when the player finds one of the bonfires. These act as respawn points, but as they are so few and far between, players will have to grind over the same old locations and enemies, learning the technique to pass through alive. This causes a lot of tension throughout the game due to its unforgiving nature. Ultimately, these small pockets of relief are what keep driving the player forward. The sense of moving forward has been improved in Dark Souls as players do not have to travel between a spirit world as was the case with its predecessor. Dark Souls feels seamless as the player is constantly travelling forward with no compromise, even if they do seem to be going nowhere for hours at a time.
Good Old Grind
In one sense, Dark Souls is nothing particularly special. Of course it is perfectly designed to drag you through its gameplay relentlessly; the absence of a pause system, the automatic saves and the price of every inevitable death will have you kicking and screaming. Gameplay becomes a quest to reach the spot where you last died to retrieve your lost souls - the only means to upgrade your character. One careless mistake means they are lost forever and progression takes a backseat to collecting more souls. This effort never stops as the game just ups the ante consistently with every new area. It is very exhausting work, it can be granted that much. But this is a type of gameplay that has been around for years and merely lost with the rising popularity of the medium. Does this make it any less riveting or addictive? Of course not. This type of challenge where progress is lost at the drop of a hat is what got most of us into gaming in the first place. Its return in what can now almost be considered a mainstream game is more than welcome.
Nothing challenges quite like it, requires thought, wonderful level and creature design, addictive
Looking a little old, bodies still stick you, though not as much as in the original