Dark Souls: Death Is Your Friend
The second game in FromSoftware’s Soul series wants to introduce you death, to have you embrace it. The back of the case reads “Prepare To Die” and you will die a lot. Extraordinary deaths that will bring rage and yelling, which may even feel cheap but will improve your play. Dark Souls makes no apologies for its difficult onslaught, there is no pause button and you can be attacked while in item menus. You will learn and you will win or you will have to do it over.
You start out as a hollow and, after a brief tutorial through messages written on the floor and a brief NPC chat, you learn of two bells that when rung make something happen. You are on your own from there. In many games today, you are the one, the dragonborn, the savior of us all. In Dark Souls you are the opposite: lowly, inconsequential and alone. You may well be the Chosen Undead that will end or continue The Age of Fire but the game does not really care. Any help it gives you is at a cost. It refuses to hold your hand and to acknowledge your uniqueness. After enemies kill you they nonchalantly walk away as if they had just killed a bug.
All is not hopeless. The innovative online aspect allows players to write messages that may ease this hostile open world. You may summon other players to assist you on your journey but doing so also opens you up to invasions by players who want your humanity and souls. The feeling of being lost and alone never quite leaves you and at times is so prevalent it starts messing with your mind. After hours lost and poisoned in the fetid swamp near the Second Bell, you just want to see sunlight again. The environment is designed to reinforce the despair. The beauty of grandiose cities of medieval architecture diminishes in the loneliness.
The only respite comes from bonfires, the checkpoint system of the game. There you may turn human, level up, stock healing items, improve weapons and plan. This is all done by spending humanity and souls, the currency acquired by killing enemies, bosses, invaders and by helping others online. Upon death a bloodstain appears holding the souls you collected since the last checkpoint, where you also respawn. If you can make it back to that spot, you may retrieve your souls; die on the way and they disappear forever. The price for using bonfires is that all the enemies you killed on the way, except for bosses, respawn.
Why play such a hostile game? For the sense of achievement. No enemy fears you. At first your sword or spells may damage for 30 or 40 points. Once the rich weapon upgrade and scaling systems are figured, hits can be for 500 points, by adding rings and buffs, hits can net thousands. One shot killing that Black Knight that made you cower in fear 10 hours ago is a rush. Exacting revenge on that invader who took the last humanity you had to summon for help, thus setting you back hours, does wonders for your happiness. Assembling the story from item descriptions and NPC dialogue will keep you busy for weeks.
The brutal combat and steep learning curve will keep casual players away. Button mashers and rage quitters will not last a night. This is for people tired of easy 8 hour games with free maps, pause menus and dying without repercussions. A game for lovers of the difficulty of titles like Megaman and Ninja Gaiden Black. The 80+ hour campaign, increasingly difficult New Game + plays and endless combinations of gear used in the thriving PVP matches give it high replay value. There is new downloadable content coming with new enemies, bosses and perhaps answers for those interested in the lore of the game. If you play games to relax, this is not for you. If you like fighting for your spoils, come join us. We will be happy to help you and to kill you. Death and you are going to be the best of friends.