Wot I Think: Dark Souls – Prepare To Die Edition

By Adam Smith on August 30th, 2012 at 4:00 pm.

This is the closest Dark Souls will ever come to hugging you

Demanded and then reprimanded, Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition is the most basic port of one of the most peculiar and powerful games of recent times. It’s unforgiving, mysterious, bizarre and thoroughly rewarding, but are there enough graphics to let the brilliance shine through and does the game deserve its reputation? Here’s wot I think.

Dark Souls is Groundhog Day but in the ruins of a fantasy realm rather than the weather-blighted Punxsutawney. Or maybe it’s an exercise in self-abuse and language lessons, the eventual player commentary an inventive catalogue of insults and blasphemy. I reckon it’s both of those things but it’s also Zelda in Hell, and to a far greater extent than Darksiders is, despite that game actually pretty much being Zelda in Hell. Souls doesn’t borrow mechanics, it borrows a philosophy.

The original Legend of Zelda, so it goes, was Shigeru Miyamoto’s attempt to capture the childhood wonder of exploring the woods and caves around Kyoto, to place that sense of adventure and awe in the home of anyone with the necessary hardware. As the next screen flipped into view, new possibilities slid into being, some revealing themselves instantly, others concealed and requiring determination, guile and an item from the other side of the sodding map to uncover.

If Miyamoto had grown up afraid of the forests and caves rather than intrigued by them, he’d probably have made something like Dark Souls and sent us all straight from Lode Runner to Lordran rather than to the brighter climes of Hyrule. Perhaps there’s already a Demon’s Souls demake that imagines just such an alternate history of gaming, and if not somebody really should make it so. That said, the Souls games do have a pedigree of their own and if you’re left wanting more after battling through the gruelling nightmares of Dark Souls, the prequel is more of the same (and also not at all essential to understanding or enjoyment of the second). Then there are the King’s Field games, From’s first foray into the kind of dark fantasy that should have made them much more widely known back in the ‘90s.

I can only assume we were all too busy forming very important opinions about Blur and Blair to bother making petitions demanding a PC release of King’s Field back in the Britpop days, although this fan translation of a PC remake could be worth a look. Haven’t tried it myself because I’ve been too busy playing Dark Souls during almost every waking moment. And, yes, I do want more, and that’s having already played both Demons and Dark on PS3 before carving my way through the Prepare to Die Edition over the last five days. I’ve killed the same elastic-boned undead torchbearers what seems like a million times, my journeys through the bristling bleakness now artfully perfected, but I’m not done yet because there’s more soul-searching to do and, from the start, it could all have been so different.

When you die in Dark Souls, whether it’s the first time or the thousandth time, your carcass awakes at the last bonfire that you rested at. These tiny beacons are the one-stop shop for all the business of healing and soul-spending, although there are merchants dotted around the world as well for your actual shopping needs. They’re usually either trapped or insane, which is pretty much a requirement for setting up a stall in the midst of this much bleakness and horror.

Back to the bonfires though, which you will learn to love and to curse, overjoyed when catching sight of one in the distance for the first time and sick of the sight by the billionth time you have spawned at it. Not only can you spend your hard-earned souls at a bonfire, which prevents them from being lost the next time you die, you also heal when you rest and you also refill your Estus flask, which is the only health potion in the wide damned world. Unfortunately, every minor monster in the world also heals when you rest. It’s the ultimate balance of risk and reward. Gathering lost souls from your own corpse is also possible, although dying a second time before retrieval causes them to be lost for good. So, best not die near a massive dangerous monster then, eh?

While at a bonfire, you can also spend humanity to revert from the undead state in which you begin the game but more on that later. Being a shambling, hollow corpse isn’t a problem that needs to be resolved immediately. The first thing to do is to escape from an asylum, take a trip in the claws of a bird and decide whether to die in a graveyard, a burning village or a haunted lake. That, after choosing your class, is the first real decision Dark Souls allows you to make.

Dark Souls resembles an RPG, with its levels, stats and classes, but that’s only one aspect of the game. Killing monsters and collecting souls is kind of like gathering experience, sure, and it’s certainly possible to grind, min-max and become the best possible version of whatever it is you want to be, whether agile assassin, armoured knight, archer, cleric or wizard. Thanks to the multiplayer sharing of the world I’ve seen phantom images of other players who are as unlike my character as another humanoid could be. One lonely figure, clinging to the solace of a bonfire’s glow, was the spitting image of Rincewind, pointy hat and all.

Ghosts are everywhere, the images of other players passing by as they explore a world that is perhaps parallel to the one you occupy. Bask in the warmth of a bonfire and other wanderers fade in and out of view as you save your souls by the light of the same flame. There are ways to invade those parallel worlds or to call their inhabitants to your aid but this costs humanity rather than souls, the game’s other major resource. Humanity restores your hollow corpse to its living glory, allowing multiplayer interactions and other things besides. The joy of discovering features, places and creatures is strong so there shan’t be too many specifics here. That’s not to say the multiplayer component isn’t worthy of consideration; it’s superb, populating an already haunted world with phantoms and memories, and providing an eventual gateway by which to become an all-but anonymous hero or villain.

Instead of details, it’s story time. Here are two standout moments that should help to explain how the game deals with death and difficulty, and also how varied and exquisite combat can be. The first story tells the simplest of all Dark Souls’ tales. I call it ‘The fucking bastard knight thing bastard that killed me and killed me and then killed me again’.

It starts at the bottom of a watchtower, although it could start anywhere really, anywhere claustrophobic, contained and home to a fucking bastard knight thing bastard. I, playing the part of spear-wielding warrior-rogue Majolica, enter through a door and the fucking bastard knight thing bastard hits me with a chunk of metal so large and heavy that he rocks backwards as he raises it above his head. It flattens me and I am dead.

Even as the screen fades, the words ‘YOU DIED’ barely registering, a mere comma in the activity of my last few days, I notice that the thing he hit me with doesn’t resemble any sort of weapon I can think of. It’s like a man-sized cudgel if anything. I come to the conclusion that Havel, for that is his actual name, hasn’t even bothered fashioning the hunk of titanite or unobtainium or whatever the heck it is he’s carting around, into a recognisable shape because he quite simply doesn’t give a single shit about how it looks. He just wants to be able to flatten people with it. People like me.

As the next half hour taught me, the cudgel-lump is extremely effective and Havel, ponderous as it makes him, is a difficult man to kill. Or at least Majolica and me found him to be a significant obstacle but a magic user or an armour-plated, double-handed axe-waving maniac might have found him much easier. The most traumatic hour of my life to date was spent fighting a giant butterfly. If I’d been able to lob magical death at the glittering monstrosopillar I’d probably have been done in five minutes.

Here’s how combat works. You look at the thing you have to kill, whether it’s an enormous and terrifying abomination or a fat man with a lump of metal, and then you look at yourself. Then you die, look at yourself again, try to work out how you can dodge, block or neutralise the enemy attack using your own equipment and talents, and how you can strike back. Then you die because there’s never just one or two patterns to learn and you rolled into a wall when trying to dodge, or fell off a cliff while circling, ready for the kill. So you look at the environment, you look at the enemy and you look at yourself, and you try to work out a way to combine all of those things effectively.

Then you die but you realise that you’ve found a technique that might just work provided you can perform it effectively, dodging and thrusting, for five minutes without making a single mistake. Then you die so often that you think your patience will run out but you keep sprinting back from the closest bonfire, killing every enemy on the path without hesitating or thinking, because it seems like you’re making progress, closer to the kill each time. And then you die because that lack of thought and hesitation means that one of the respawned simpletons between the bonfire and the true enemy slips a lucky (you tell yourself ‘lucky’ but there’s no luck here) blade into your gut and you’re overconfident and nonchalant, and that’s a surefire way to die.

So it goes. You die and you die, then you die and in between that you die again. But eventually you win and what happens? Does Havel explode, spewing loot and coins everywhere in jolly little piles? Does he tell you where to go next as he coughs up blood and cliches in an agonisingly drawn-out cutscene in which you learn that his metal banana was forged in the keenest flames of the darkest pit? Not bloody likely.

There might be some glowing stuff on the ground and reading the descriptions of how Havel’s gear worked might give you a clue as to who he was but there’s no explanation, no exposition and no celebration. Well, as far as the latter is concerned, there’s no celebration onscreen but I punched the air so hard I shattered its jaw. Sorry, the air, but that’s how good it feels when a game’s reward is a better understanding of its systems and the character I have built.

It is necessary to level up and find new gear but Dark Souls is never so crude as to tell you that you’ve improved to a suitable degree and hand over a key to a more dangerous area. Instead it challenges you to improve yourself and lets you go wherever you reckon your fragile little body can survive, and if you’ve found the route or the correct key then you’re welcome to all the horrors that each grim corner of the world has to offer.

My second story took place in one of those grim corners; The Depths, an actually acceptable sewer-type area of the oddly vertical urban sprawl that exists at one edge of the mausoleum that is the game’s world. Down there are basilisks, all rubbery skin and goggling eyes. They swarmed me and they turned me into a horribly serrated statue. Still I awoke, back at a bonfire down in those depths, and I was cursed, my maximum health halved until a cure was purchased. Too weak to recover the souls that clung to my corpse, I instead travelled up, fighting and failing, trying to reach the surface where I knew a cure could be found.

I was trapped for hours, too afraid to go deeper, too weak to ascend. It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling completely lost and doomed to eternal death in a game for a long, long time. Curses, like so many boosts and buffs, do not immediately explain themselves and nor is a solution or purpose directly communicated. Experimentation and exploration are the key to discovery and victory.

For all the game’s complexity, if you understand that it is better to dodge an attack rather than be struck by it, and that heavier armour and weapons will make leaping and dodging more difficult, then you will make progress, slow but sure. As for the more complex systems at work, they make sense in time and the weirdness of the game always seems an intentional part of the murky lens through which it is viewed rather than evidence of poor documentation. It dares the player to explore and to learn and it will more quickly bite off his/her hand than hold it. That feels liberating. You’re in a fight from the start, not a dance, and that means it’s OK to hit back however you can. Once the tutorial is complete (and even that will probably kill you) the world is open and there are no warnings and no signposts. Go, see, suffer.

There is lore and history to Lordran, although the game can feel entirely plotless if you don’t intentionally search for and piece together the scraps of information. Is the entire world in the same state as me, dying and trying, then dying again? Hollowed out and withered of face, I seek out ruined watchtowers, sunken cities and a snow-kissed painted world, which makes for a particularly strange excursion even in the confusing context that has come before. The few talkative inhabitants of this weird landscape have referred to me, variously, as a saviour, as dead and as doomed, but none of them seem particularly keen on telling me where to go or what to do. That excites me. Without guidance, in a dangerous and alien world, mistakes are inevitable and they will not go unpunished. That frightens me.

Aroused and afraid, I’ve rarely been happier.

The whole thing runs smoother than on console, where there was terrible and consistent slowdown in certain areas. Blightown, the worst offender on PS3, was fine for me, although heavy use of particle effects, particularly during a waterlogged fight, did cause a framerate drop. The extra content isn’t necessarily as expansive as Namco claim, although that will vary from player to player, but it’s up to the same standard as the rest of the game rather than feeling as rushed as the journey to PC.

Of course I wish the port was strong rather than perfunctory, in fact I wish the game had been developed on PC from the start, but with the current speed of customer-built fixes hopefully there’s more to come. I played with a 360 controller, which works as well as expected, but the mouse doesn’t seem particularly well implemented, the view swinging somewhat sluggishly and the cursor always managing to litter the screen for no good reason. And, yes, Games For Windows Live is an interruption I find hard to ignore, particularly since it took me two or three hours to break through its barriers when I first installed the game.

All has been fine since then but I’d much rather a game this good didn’t have to come with any excuses or apologies. The fact that it does is frustrating but doesn’t alter the fact that this is, even on a second appraisal, one of the freshest and most astonishing games I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter.

Oh, piss.

Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition is available now.

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255 Comments »

  1. trjp says:

    It’s certainly a premier title in the “tell the player sod-all and let them find out the hard way” school of gaming – it’s just that, at least on console, I thought it also added to that “treat the player’s time with contempt” by making you repeat enormous areas, thanks to sparse savepoints in some areas (and the 360 version rinsed my save twice too!!)

    Does the PC version retain the “one save game and that’s IT” mentality??

    I’m tolerant of games which require me to learn stuff – I’m less tolerant of games which gloat when I die and make me repeat long walks, lengthy conversations and other shit which is really just tedious.

    My experience with DS on 360 was FAR too full of the latter and so I just chucked-it. I guess, if you can get the past feeling the developers have no respect for you or your time then there’s much to see in here – but whilst I love the exploration and mystery, my time is just too damned valuable to waste wearing-out pavements…

    • Henke says:

      “Gloat”? That’s not the feeling I got. It felt more like indifference. As if the game didn’t give a shit what I thought of it.

      That’s not to say that I didn’t love it’s cruel, cold heart. <3

      • PitfireX says:

        That’s the best part of the series. In Demon’s Souls you learned very quick that the game hates you and will destroy you in every chance it gets, and will sometimes break its own rules.

        I had times when red knights would one hit me through my shield as a Knight with full HP and stam….but god does it feel good breaking the games rules right back at it…. by kiting the red knight off a cliff, or shooting arrows through the fog to kill one of the gargoyles.

        Its the glory of thinking outside the box and realizing that even though the game gave you rules…they can be stretched, both for and against you.

    • Timthos says:

      There aren’t save points. Bonfires are respawn points. You can leave the game and come back anywhere in the world because it constantly saves.

      • AmateurScience says:

        It took me about 3 days to figure out that quitting doesn’t return you to the last bonfire and respawn all the enemies :)

        • DarkFenix says:

          It took my internet going down for me to figure that one out. GFWL lost connection and dumped me back to main menu, prompting a massive torrent of swearing from me (I was literally 50 yards from activating my next bonfire). Then I started it up again in offline mode and was precisely where I was so rudely interrupted.

    • Kaira- says:

      I got the feeling that the game does respect your time, but respect must be earned. No easy hand outs.

      • AlwaysRight says:

        Exactly.

        The game isn’t actually ‘that’ hard nor repetitive as long as you stay alert at ALL times and are aware of you’re surroundings.

        And don’t make the mistake in thinking the game has contempt for your time, it doesn’t.
        It HATES everything about you.

        Fuck me I love this game.

    • dongsweep says:

      If you think that dying and replaying parts of the open world is a waste of your time then this game is not for you. It is difficult, it requires you to learn different enemies. Even once you have learned an enemy you need to retain that knowledge because when you die to the boss you will have to refight those enemies you fought before – if you still remember how to beat them you will be fine, if you slip up or forget, your boss fight will be that much more difficult. This is not a game that caters to people who are not willing to get better at it. Your character will get better, the items will get better, but ultimately if you do not get better at it you will never get very far in it.

      I do not think this game is for you after reading your post. You will have long runs back, but that is what makes this game so great, and if you cannot appreciate that then you will not enjoy it.

      • codename_bloodfist says:

        I can’t disagree more. What makes this game good is the very solid melee combat and interesting bosses. A nice art direction also helps. Having to beat the same thirty enemies over and over to get to the boss is simply artificially increasing the game length. Quite frankly, I don’t think people would call it this difficult if the placement of spawn points wasn’t complete ass. After a while I was just running past trash mobs and going straight for the boss to save time. This has nothing to do with skill.

        Don’t get me wrong. I like this game, but its “difficulty” is very much tacked on by simply wasting your time.

        • stonetoes says:

          This has been pretty much my experience. I was on board with the game right up until the point that I was beaten by a boss a dozen times, had to replay the same area every time, then once I did defeat the boss then the next checkpoint was after a fire-breathing dragon which promptly killed me before I could reach said checkpoint. The whole thing felt less like difficulty and more like tedium.

          I’m surprised no one has mentioned the part where the checkpoint in the main “hub” (firelink shrine) just ups and disappears. The only difficulty this added was more trecking from a different area.

          I’m now using a trainer to cheat relentlessly. I get to explore the beautiful world and enjoy the combat with much of the frustration removed. I’m sure many people would say that I’m ruining the game for myself, but really the game did that for me by not observing the basic courtesy of putting save-points before bosses. I mean in any other rpg that would be considered poor level-design, yet dark souls fans speak of it like it’s a virtue.

          • raidsoft says:

            You unlock shortcuts between places all the time and once you know an area it can get very easy to just sprint past a lot of places and not have to fight everything, if you were to try and do that unless you knew the area you would most likely die a horrible death so it’s not like you are skipping anything, you earned it by learning and make use of it.

            And the bonfires aren’t “save/checkpoints” but they are respawn points, the game is constantly saving as you kill and loot things. You also have limited resources (healing pots and spells) and a boss is balanced with the area leading up to it in mind, if you are good you will get to the boss with more tools at your disposal.

            There is a reason the firelink shrine bonfire disappears, it’s not obvious but you can find indications about it here and there (as with everything else story related in the game) but you will of course miss this if you just blast through conversations with NPC’s and don’t bother exploring everything you can.

            If you look at this game like “any other RPG” then I can see why you would be wondering why there aren’t checkpoints everywhere but this is not just any other RPG, it’s made for a specific type of player and if you aren’t that type of player then too bad. You are completely missing the point of the design of the game if you are just cheating through it but I guess you will be able to appreciate a small piece of it then at least rather then nothing at all.

          • stonetoes says:

            raidsoft, the fact that you can sprint past doesn’t remove the tedium of having to do so. The levels are beautiful in their grandeur, but that grandeur entails a hell of a lot of running, which takes time I’d rather spend doing other things.

            Whether you refer to them as checkpoints or respawn points, they are still something that reduces the amount of time you have to spend replaying the same content over and over. And bosses could be easily rebalanced in a game like this (just add more hitpoints!) if having too many estus potions was a problem. A time penalty instead is possibly the most inelegant way of doing so.

            The fact that there is an internal logic for the disappearance of a pivotal checkpoint doesn’t change the fact that the amount of running between areas that you have to do is increased. They could have found a more out of the way checkpoint for the quest, or made the bonfire be “burning low” or something instead, allowing respawns but not other functions. Instead they went for maximum inconvenience.

            Yes, Dark souls isn’t like other RPGs (in some ways it’s grander, in some it’s very effectively understated) but in this aspect it deserves the criticism.

          • raidsoft says:

            There would be next to no penalty to dying then if you had no risk of dying on the run back, reason you fear dying and the game keeps you on your toes all the time is because you don’t want to lose your stuff. This builds tension in the game compared to other games where you just don’t care if you die, you just try again with no penalty whatsoever.

            It’s a completely different design philosophy and if you can’t understand why they do it like they do then obviously the game is not designed for you, maybe you will appreciate more “modern” games that hold your hand and has no penalty to making mistakes.

            There is a reason why a lot of people love Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls and that’s because it doesn’t follow the same dull easy mode that games seem to follow nowadays where it’s treating the player as someone that barely can use a computer. They try to appeal to the lowest common denominator for mass appeal and that severely limits the game design and makes it hard to appreciate for those that want more then that.

            I can understand if people can’t appreciate the game since it’s not something they are looking for but calling something poor design just because it’s not designed for you is just stupid.

          • popej says:

            stonetoes – Each to their own dude but to be honest, this game isn’t for you. Cheating at Dark Souls is so contrary to the experience that it’s almost absurd.

            Still, as I said, each to their own, if you extract enjoyment by cheating your way through the game so be it. I can’t help but feel that everyone would enjoy it more by gritting their teeth and playing it properly though. It’s often an experience filled with anguish and frustration, but (cliché time) that which hurts us only makes us stronger, and ultimately appreciate what we did and why.

          • Hidden_7 says:

            That which hurts us only weakens us until we’re dead.

            The penalty to failure could be, as in most games, that you do not succeed and thus do not progress. If you don’t pass a challenge required for progression, obviously your penalty is you don’t get progression.

            Sure you can always add yet more penalties to this. Spaced out checkpointing adds busywork/tedium/cooldown/the requirement to repass already completed challenges as an extra penalty for failing a challenge. This game also, correct me if I’m wrong, I’ve only played Demon’s Souls, takes away resources when you fail a challenge, resources that could have been used to complete that challenge, but now aren’t available.

            There’s nothing wrong with this method of game design, it’s valid, but it is also exceptionally cruel. Imagine if you were requiring a kid to solve a difficult math problem before they got to go outside to play (do kids go outside to play these days), and each time they got it wrong they had to walk into the next room and solve a sheet of easier math problems, the exact same set each time. Also if they got it wrong a couple times in a row they then had to do it without pencil and paper, just all in their head.

            People say of this game that it both rewards and demands learning its systems, but it doesn’t sound like it actually does that all that much. No more than other games, at least. What it does in particular is demand and reward a bullheaded perseverance and desire to succeed. Every (most) games function as tests, that require you to master skills to continue progression. In Demon’s/Dark Souls the difference is that it requires this, and a show of dedication as each failure drains more and more extra time, requires more perseverance, and makes your eventual victory that much more difficult to obtain.

            This isn’t, like a said, a “wrong” design, but it’s cruel. Some people really like this cruel design, and more power to them, but I think that it’s a little disingenuous to suggest that people that aren’t overly enamoured of a cruel design are looking for a hand-holding easy mode. The bosses would be no less difficult if each failure required less recompleting tasks you’ve proven yourself on time and time again, it would just require less perseverance.

            Which, when the grand noble outcome of all this perseverance is one more video game beaten, a little more virtual world explored, it doesn’t exactly seem like the most straightforward and obvious of virtues.

    • e82 says:

      Then I’d be inclined to say that ‘this game isn’t for you’, and there is nothing wrong with that.

      Death in this game, is a learning experience. What did I do wrong? how do I fix it? then trying your new approach. Then that feeling of satisfaction that you get once you master a level / enemy and can swiftly defeat it is so immense and rewarding, that the journey to get there feels worth it.

      Also, with pretty much every boss fight – once you learn the lay of the land, you can charge straight from the bonfire to the boss-gate and not fight a single enemy along the way. I can bolt right from the bonfire in the Undead Burg, to the Taurus Demon – not get hit once, not fight a single enemy. Turning what previously seemed like an hour+ slog through hell and back, into a speedy 30 second dash.

      This is still a ‘one save game and that it is it!’ system (although you can backup/move saves more easily than you can on the consoles), but part of that is what brings a sense of weight to the world – every choice and action has a potential consequence, and one that you can’t un-do.

      Sure, I accidently killed the Pyromancer trainer my first time playing – any other game I’d load up a previous save. This game? I was on a mission to figure out how to learn Pyromancy again. Scoured the wikis, talked on forums, shared theories with other players on when/where to get the other trainer to appear.

      Once I finally accomplished this (and late into the game), what a glorious feeling it was to be throwing fire from my hands – I literally jumped with joy. Would reloading a save from 30 seconds ago give me that same feeling? probably not.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      TRJP, I have to agree with you broadly. I’m half way between enjoying Dark Souls (I ADORED King’s Field, but this is not the same by any means), and loathing its guts. I posted the following on my blog summing up my feelings, perhaps you and some others may partially agree:

      There are major issues with Dark Souls that are severely diminishing my enjoyment of it.

      Firstly, it is not possible to pause the game. So if you have a phone call, the door bell rings, “real life shit” that has to be dealt with and you’re in the middle of a battle, you are buggered unless you quit the game.

      Secondly, third person. God, how I have come to loathe third person games. They allow far less movement precision than first person games, and having a bloody great avatar taking up a large amount of the display requires one to flail around with the camera at all times just to see where to progress next.

      Though combat IS excellent, one of the finest melee systems ever allowing huge flexibility. Movement is swift and responsive. But most of the time it’s difficult to see where one is aiming or going next because of the bloody camera. Switching in and out of target lock mode is simple but often leaves one running in the wrong direction. It’s VERY easy to hit right-trigger and target an enemy far, far away from those that are right next to the player (e.g. the roof-top fire-bombers in the Undead Burg). Also, dying from a spear in the back while one’s avatar is in the middle of an “un-cancel-able” combat animation is an occurrance that happens rather too often.

      Finally, the gameplay as a whole can be boiled down thusly: explore, fight, die. Explore the same places again, fight the same enemies again, die again. Make a tiny bit more progress, die, then do the same shit over and over again.

      This goes a long way towards killing the experience for me. I have no issue with the difficulty, I’ve completed all four of the far more enjoyable King’s Field series (also by From, people, if you could get past your obsession with visuals, you’ll find equally good dungeon crawlers in all four of them). I enjoy exploring the truly fantastic, imaginative world that From have created in Dark Souls. I loathe seeing the same few square acres over and over again as some undead thing kills me for the 34898th time. Also there’s almost nothing to interact with save for doors, the odd NPC or levers that open doors.

      I’ll concede one massive positive design choice that every game developer on the planet should consider: Dark Souls plonks you in a unique world, and just lets you get on with it. This is similar to Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and King’s Field. You’re given a specific goal, but little or no hints as to how to achieve it, or the events that will happen during the course of your journey. There aren’t hours of exposition, and NPC banter is at an absolute minimum. This is something to be encouraged, as is the beautiful hand-crafted (if rather static) world.

      But it sucks having to see the same parts of that world so many times just to progress further.

      • Grundig says:

        Nice move, Hijacking the first post to advertise your blog and amateur reviewing skills, and all you’ve proven is your no good at reviewing and are rubbish at dark souls.

        • kemryl says:

          troll in the dungeon. it was an insightful post, CB.

          • Grundig says:

            Insightful? Its a wall of text that basically advertises his blog and puts across missguided personal opinions as ‘major issues’, “its a third person game and i dont like third person games”. Brilliant! how insightful.

            …Also to imply the game needs a pause button is to totally miss the spirit of the game.

            This is a perfect example of a game where every aspect of its design from its story, graphics, game mechanics and sound are all intrinsically linked.
            To wish for more accessible game mechanics is to wish for a whole different game.

            …also to say that there is nothing to interact with is disingenuous, as is saying you HAVE to see the same area over and over again.

            …also his boiling down of the game is a major oversimplification.

            So, yeah… maybe I was a bit harsh but reading that post does not give you a fair representation of the game and is therefore not insightful.

          • Ashnal says:

            Asking for a pause feature is reasonable at least. Some people don’t have the luxury of uninterrupted gaming sessions. A game punishing someone for factors outside of its own realm is unacceptable.

      • Mark.W.OBrien says:

        Agree with kemryl. Nice post, you raised good points. In particular I agree that the lack of a pause function is ridiculous. I don’t care what the aesthetic of the game is, not having a pause feature is sheer arrogance. No game should punish you for having to deal with a real life interruption.

        • Casimir's Blake says:

          Thanks Mark, but it seems I probably should have qualified my post with a proper conclusion, so here goes:

          Dark Souls is a fascinating, unique and relentlessly creative visual and exploratory experience. However it is not the exploration-focussed dungeon crawling that I was expecting, instead it weighs rather heavily on character creation (which is very deep but not interesting to me), combat (as diverse as melee has ever been in a game?), and lots of trial by dying, repeating, and gradual refinement of one’s tactics.

          Ultimately, it aint King’s Field V. :(

        • Jesus H. Christ says:

          yes, because every game should be like everyother game.

      • Xantonze says:

        No pause? Just quit the game, you’ll get back at the very same point you left. It takes about 2 seconds to hit the “quit to title” option.

        3d person view being a “problem”? You would rather have 1st person view? This is really strange, considering the way combat and movement are intertwined in DS. You need to be able to see your immediate surroundings to pace your fighting in DS (dodge, roll, run away to lay traps, avoid projectiles and enemies from behind while fighting close quarters)… It’s just impossible to imagine this being possible in 1st person view. It would just result in a watered down version of the awesome DS combat (see: Skyrim, Xeno Clash et. al.).

        • Snidesworth says:

          While I agree that Skyrim’s combat is crap I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Zeno Clash. The first person view combined with the lock on system reinforced the idea that fighting one on one is good and that dealing with any more enemies than that is a bad idea. Much of the combat revolves around isolating individual foes, beating the crap out of them and then darting away before their friends can surround you.

          It’s also a game largely free of hazardous terrain and with virtually no exploration elements, things which have a strong presence in Dark Souls. Complaining about the third person camera in it is farcical or, at best, comes from someone who hasn’t grown used to controlling them. Which makes the complaint about on par with people who complain that first person games give them headaches and are therefore terrible.

      • MikoSquiz says:

        Quitting pauses; the game autosaves every three seconds or so. (Yes, this should be advertised more prominently.) You’re invincible during backstab/riposte-kill animations and holding down ‘block’ will bring your shield up as soon as you’re vulnerable again. (This should also be actually told to the player instead of making you guess or look it up on Google.)

        But yes, the camera is your worst enemy and the lock-on system is laughably bad. Quite apart from that one goddamned bridge in the Undead Burg where trying to lock on to the enemy right in front of you that you’re running towards will instantly flip the camera 90 degrees and fling you off the bridge to your death, trying to lock on to a distant but rapidly closing enemy so you can hit him with a spell or firebomb before he’s right in your face usually results in the camera flipping away from said adversary, leaving you to painfully slowly rotate it back the direction you wanted it while trying to run away in a straight line at the same time. You’d think by the time they were working on a special edition with extra content From could have fixed it – if it actually works the way they wanted it to, they can go chew on a mouthful of wasps.

        I should point out that Dark Souls is still my Game of the Year despite these and various other issues – it’s a maddening mix of genius and ineptitude, like eating a stunningly delicious Heston Blumenthal-type meal that unfortunately has has the occasional bollock hair and half a razorblade nestled in it.

      • Saviour says:

        You can just use “quit” whenever you want, you will start the game at the exact same spot as before.
        If this game would be first person you would have a way harder time defeating your foes imho.
        So instead of having to see the same area again we have to make it a completely linear game with respawn points in front of every group of monsters ? You would miss the amazing masterwork that is the level design and all the shortcuts that spread so cleverly, you would miss that feeling of accomplishment for finally beating the boss.

        This game isn’t hard at all, it just requires patience and a good observer. If you are patient and figure out the moves and weaknesses of your enemy the areas are extremely easy. I guess the problem is that most players today are more accustomed to the big titles that cater to the masses which sadly leads to those demands of super accessibility and easy game play. But to be honest most of those modern games steal more time from you than repeating an area in Dark Souls. In most modern games I play the first 3 levels and I can see that completing the game is just a matter of spending more time, there won’t be any challenge, there won’t be anything different or interesting happening. I’d rather have a challenge that punishes me for failing than wasting my time with something that can be beat by just spending 2 more hours.

    • voidmind says:

      The whole “restarting an area over and over again” is part of the game mechanics. I agree with you. For other games, I expect regular checkpoints or being able to save at any time but for DS, restarting an area is how you get better. It’s hard to explain, but I think you will understand and even appreciate your many strides through most areas, especially since you’ll notice how better you are getting at the game.

      I have platinumed DS on the PS3 and now I p0wn almost every area without breaking a sweat (almost).

      The trick for me is to see DS not a a fantasy role playing game but as a complex fighting game (like Soul Calibur) set in a fantasy world. It should be renamed Epic Boss Fight Simulator.

      • Bauul says:

        That’s how I’ve described the combat to people: “Imagine Soul Calibur where you both only have a couple of health point left. Cautious, restrained and with a shed load of blocking!”

    • Sardaukar says:

      GFWL will always run the risk of eating saves, but this being on the PC means you can combat that. What I’ve done is make a GFWL Backup folder with Dropbox. Within this folder are shortcuts to three places: The save folders for games that use GFWL, the C:UsersUSERNAMEAppDataLocalMicrosoftXLive folder, and the C:UsersUSERNAMEAppDataLocalMicrosoftGFWLive folder. After every session of Dark Souls I spend about a minute archiving the current set and copying things in a new backup. I haven’t had to resort to restoring a save with these yet, but it saved my bacon in Iron Brigade.

      The location of the Dark Souls save folder is C:UsersUSERNAMEDocumentsNBGI, by the way. You must backup all three, though. Or at least the XLive folder too.

    • ZephaniahGrey says:

      I have to agree here as well. It feels more like you spend more time fighting poor game mechanics and shoddy controls than you do monsters. The claims of this being a “awesome and challenging” game looked more like the emperor’s new clothes once I sat down with it. People are told the game is “challenging” and then don’t want to call it shit for fear of calls of “LEARN2PLAY!!” The reality is the graphics are ugly (not low poly or badly done, just unattractive and bland as hell) the gameplay is sloppy and unbalanced, and the whole “You’ll die a lot!” mechanic just feels like a cover for the game makers inability to correct these issues. Frankly a forgettable wast of money.

      • Saviour says:

        The Port is horrible and sadly you have to play with a controller and they failed at making the resolution work properly (its “locked” to 1024 x 860 or something). But if you fix both of these issues (there are user mods) it’s a good game. If you really think it’s bad game design I’d advice a brilliant game company for you: EA, because it’s in the game you bought last year.

    • thekdawg21 says:

      A penalty for dying heightens the tension and immersion. None of the creatures in the game would be nearly as exciting or scary if dying was meaningless and you could just load up another save. The penalty is your time, and it’s an effective way of instilling fear in you, is it not?

  2. Patches the Hyena says:

    Very good writeup, Adam.

    I would maybe add: Don’t be afraid to look things up! The Wikidot and Wikispaces wikis are quite excellent and you don’t need to spoil yourself plotwise to look up something.

    • SpakAttack says:

      Agreed – before you reach mind-splintering levels of frustration, get some clues from the interwebs (just don’t reach for it first and spoil your experience)

    • Adam Smith says:

      Very tempted to write something entirely separate about that once the game has percolated on PC for a while. I’d go so far as to say that the wikis and internet communities have become an offshoot of the multiplayer functionality in a weird way.

      • RedViv says:

        The intention of the message system is to enable players to help each other out, rewarding the bearer of hints with precious refills of lifesaving liquid. A telegraphed wiki of hints, that clutters the ruins of Lordran, ranging from well-intended to easily misread to a room filled with comments on ample endowments.
        The collection of data on wikis works similarly, so I can see how that can be linked. It’s an interesting connection of communication and shared dedication.

        • Drakale says:

          Praise the sun!

          • Kaira- says:

            Amazing chest ahead!

          • AmateurScience says:

            ‘Need head’?

          • PatrickSwayze says:

            Try jumping!

          • Reapy says:

            That phrase sums up dark souls for me. The first time I read it I had no clue wtf it was, thought it was some sort of joke / trolling weird rp thing. I googled for it, still didn’t understand it.

            Hours into dark souls, that phrase is everything, it is the feeling of triumph and the discovery of a little bit of light in a dark, dark world.

            Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll stay behind, to gaze at the sun.

          • AmateurScience says:

            I love the inevitable collection of ‘I did it!’ messages after a boss fight or difficult sections.

          • DarkFenix says:

            I love the endless scattering of “Try jumping” next to bottomless pits.

          • oWn4g3 says:

            Liar ahead!

          • Hardlylikely says:

            I can’t take this.

          • JackShandy says:

            Weakness: Hope.

          • Harlander says:

            In the brief play of this game I had on my cousin’s xbox, among the numerous “try jumping” messages, there was one which struck me as the best advice for the whole game.

            Beware of despair.

            Indeed.

          • Xantonze says:

            The Demon’s Souls messages where better, though..
            “This is harsh! Please evaluate me.”

          • Snidesworth says:

            I’m disappointed we didn’t see a return of “The real Demon’s Souls starts here!”

          • Sardaukar says:

            Try rear.

      • JackShandy says:

        It’s the best attempt I’ve ever seen at translating old-school friendship group hints into the internet age.

        In the old days (Or at least, the mythical paradise version in my head), your main source for hints was this small group of people who played the same videogame as you. You’d share erratic hints: “Hey, last night I got to the Boiler Demon – did you know you can capture him with the Exorcism Prism?” If only you’d known that using the Prism three times teleports you to the Kill Hills!

        Now, your first resort is the internet, which knows absolutely everything. It’s really hard to make a hint system suitably cosy, social, mysterious and prone to failure. Dark Souls does a fine job.

    • rookarike says:

      The internet is definitely a good resource, but I really think that more so than any other game I’ve played, beat it once before you go to the internet. Or at the very least exercise extreme caution: if you just need to know how to get past one part, just look up that one single part, don’t be tempted to look up builds or items or more walkthroughs. The exultant moment that Adam describes in the article when he beats Havel the Rock wouldn’t be nearly as exhilarating if he had looked at a guide, and Dark Souls is allll about those moments. Don’t rob yourself of that.

      • Xantonze says:

        Exactly! There are some moments where you will be lost as to where to go next (see:after ringing the first bell. hint>small crappy “previously locked”door near the npc “praise the sun knight”). Just look that part up, don’t spoil yourself the rest or the game will become a giant spoilferfesty chore, just as running through a point and click with a faq.
        The comment down il very true as well.
        Hint: do NOT spend any point in RESISTANCE: this stat is totally useless.
        Instead, level up your stamina via ENDURANCE as much as you can (up to 40). The rest largely depends on the requirements of the weapons you find…

        • thebigJ_A says:

          Actually, that advice about Resistance MAY not be accurate anymore. They’ve made several subtle (but important) changes in the PC edition, and an adjustment of that stat is one of them. It seems the players are still working out the specifics.

          Among the changes are things like subtly slowing the attack speed of heavy weapons (so stunlock is less likely in PvP), making it so Dark Wood Grain ring only gives the ninja flip when below 25% burden (thank the Lords!), and increasing medium roll speed just a tad. One important effect is that poise isn’t quite the be-all end-all of PvP it once was, which my preference for light caster builds is very grateful for.

          See here: (there are some spoilers ofr the new content down near the bottom, but the mechanics changes are at the top and safe to read)
          http://darksoulswiki.wikispaces.com/PTDE+content+and+changes

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Also, a tip for new players: do not fall into the trap of believing that Dark Souls is like other CRPGs and that your stats and level are important. They matter, but nowhere as much as your equipment does. Take every opportunity you get to upgrade your gear at blacksmiths. You should be spending roughly 75% of your souls on doing so!

      • Tuor says:

        I’m not sure I completely agree with this. Rather, I would say that it is very important to know what the effects and benefits are of each and every stat. For example, some weapons require certain minimum stats even to use them. Some crystals modify weapons to better scale with certain stats. Knowing, for example, how your strength effects your load points: the points being where your mobility is affected.

        IMO, once you have decided what sort of skill-set you want to use (classes, in this game, being rather nebulous), you need to know which stats are important to make yourself more effective at those skills: do you need more Intelligence, or more magic? Faith? Are you going the heavy armor approach, or do you want to stay light and nimble?

        So, yeah, I think it’s good to have a firm understanding of the stats, especially since soul levels grow increasingly laborious to acquire (as they should) as you get more of them.

        I really loved Dark Souls (and Demon’s Souls). It really rewards the player that puts a lot of thought and careful attention into what they do.

        • Alexander Norris says:

          You’re right in that stats are only useful to meet minimum equip requirements, except for endurance.

          Load is based on END, not STR.

          • Cyrius says:

            This is somewhat wrong as well

            When you look at the weapons they have A-E ratings on each of the stats. This is the benefit which you get based on your stats. If you see an A rating on DEX and you really like that weapon you better be loading DEX into it because it matters. If you decide you want to use divine weapons Faith is very important.

            This game is like peeling the layers off an onion, the more you play the more mechanics appear. It also makes you tear up sometimes. It is quite simply my favorite game of the last several years.

          • Cyrius says:

            Also, I rock Havel’s armor at 50% load at CL 72. Although it looks rather dumb to be hulking in it and moving that quick.

            I love END!

        • Alexander Norris says:

          Oh, also; raising your stats raises your Soul Level, which is what determines whether other players can connect to you or not. If you raise it too fast, you will be locked out of co-op (effectively) and will get invaded by players with much better gear than you.

          • Tuor says:

            Very true. I usually try to kill the boss of an area as soon as I can once I enter it: players cannot invade areas where the boss of that area has been killed. I pretty much hated invaders… except the few times when the invader was at a much lower SL than I was, and I had a +10 flaming longsword. :P

            As for the Str/Sta thing: My bad. I don’t know why I confused the two. OTOH, it’s been a while since I finished playing this. :P

          • Commissar Choy says:

            I didn’t really get the whole Soul Level/Humanity thing during my first play through (my fault, I never bothered about it) so I ending up beating it completely solo (quite the pain but no invaders so…). NG+ was a much different story since I had about a billion Humanity saved up. Invaders abound..

          • Cyrius says:

            @Tuor
            That depends on the type of invasion as there are several.

          • Tuor says:

            @Cyrius

            That’s true, but most of them require you to have “sinned” or something similar — killing the boss is not a *guarantee* you wont be invaded, but it does make it *very* unlikely. Of course, there are also certain areas where you can get invaded just by being there (I’m sure you know where I mean). Still, after a while, I was able to pretty much control when and where I got invaded.

          • MikoSquiz says:

            The worst thing an invading player can do to you is nick all your Humanity off you, and killing the boss of an area prevents you from scoring Humanity in that area (except in the form of items). Try to put off killing the boss as long as possible unless you’re already in human form and liable to be invaded.

          • Cyrius says:

            @Tuor

            It is very easy to sin in Dark Souls :-P Switching covenants counts as one…

            And yes, I know the area I am in the covenant.

          • Tuor says:

            @MikoSquiz

            Giant rats are your friends. Learn to love giant rats! I spent a *lot* of time killing them in the sewers. And increasing your humanity level increases drop rates. Once I got my humanity level to a certain point, I’d keep any excess in storage as that is *not* lost to invasion. Essentially:

            1. Enter new zone as undead.
            2. Learn zone while undead.
            3. Use humanity.
            4. Get to boss ASAP (note: even if you get invaded, if you can get to the boss, the invader will be expelled *regardless* of how he got there.
            5. Kill boss and then farm for whatever it is you need (like certain crystal types or humanity).

            Also, the comment about leaving a convenant being a sin is only true of certain covenants. I think I only had to purge myself of sin twice in the multiple playthroughs I made (the second time was *really* expensive). After the second time, I became *very* careful about doing things that could lead to me being sinned. :P

            Wow. Talking about this stuff brings back fond memories…

      • Zeewolf says:

        That’s the thing I don’t really understand about the game. To me almost all the equipment look approx. equal. Especially the armors, the differences seem tiny. Am I missing something?

        • Cyrius says:

          Yes :)

          How far are you? You may not be far enough to notice the difference…

          Just wait til you find the incredibly awesome armor that is too heavy for you to use, then it will become apparent.

  3. Commander Gun says:

    Heard so much about this, i feel almost obliged to try it being the hardcore gamer that i am. However, GW2 and Borderlands 2 are on top of the list, so this will be on the “Steam Sales to Watch List”.

  4. Tacroy says:

    Tip: humanoid enemies (including in multiplayer!) can be backstabbed for extra damage if you make your way around them. Havel, for instance, is pretty easy to backstab if you roll at him when he winds up for one of those big vertical swings, but you have to time it juuust right otherwise the bastard will do a little pirouette and slam his weapon on your face. He’s agile for such a fig bucker.

    The one thing that always trips me up is that you can’t have your shield up when you backstab, otherwise you do a normal attack.

    • Kaira- says:

      Also, any humanoid enemy which is somewhat of same size as you can also be parried and riposted. It’s merely a question of timing. Here’s a video guide for parrying. Warning: may cause feelings of insignificance and incapability.

      • AmateurScience says:

        Parry/riposte is the perfect balance between extreme risk and extreme reward. Right now all hitting the left trigger ever does for me is leave me wide open to be eviscerated. Some day I will learn how to do this effectively.

        • Tuor says:

          I preferred using my shield to block in such a way it caused a rebound/stumble, which I could then exploit with lethal effect — usually the enemy became dead before he could recover, or I could use it to get behind him for a nice backstab and generally keep him out-of-position for the remainder of the fight. Sometimes, though (the Old King in particular), you had to use the advice Apollo Creed’s trainer gave him when fighting Rocky: Just stick and move! Stick and move!

        • Reapy says:

          There are some good spots in the game to practice, esp enemies near bonfires, that way it is trivial to get back to your body, so it’s ok to keep dieing over and over. I spent a bunch of time practicing against black knights on your return trip to the undead asylum. He is right near a bon fire, so you can just practice parrying all day long as long as you back up from his spawn area before engaging him.

          Also for havel if your equipment load is light, you can essentially lock on and facehug him while walking left, as soon as he starts an attack animation he’ll stop tracking you and you can slide right around for the backstab.

          Still, that moment you run into him walking through the door for the first time is something that most of us will always remember :)

        • MikoSquiz says:

          I find it’s actually easier with enemies that hit faster – the ones that raise their weapon and just stand there with it raised for a while always throw me off. Also, you hit that trigger just a hair before the enemy’s weapon actually hits you, not when they start swinging (assuming you’re using a parrying dagger or a light, fast shield like the target shield, which you bloody well should be).

          I’m currently finding the spear guys easiest to parry (although failing an attempt almost gets me instakilled, and attempting to do so at any distance is automatically a failure) – lock on, walk right up to the bugger, give them a whack on the shield or two until they wind up, then hit parry as they thrust forward and immediately hit normal strike without waiting for the sound cue, and they’re a corpse. Well, moreso. If you didn’t time it right you’ll know by the way they hit you, then hit you again while you’re attempting to hit them, then probably hit you again and kill you.

          ..in general, although I can fairly reliably parry a couple of enemy types, I mostly just play it safe and whack them with the bandit’s blade (which is very, very fast) whenever they try to hit me, interrupting their attack. But it is massively satisfying to take down a group of tough attackers with one neat, tidy parry-riposte each. (The bandit’s blade does hefty criticals, and I’ve upgraded it to a +5, and I believe the Thief gets a critical hit bonus, so I currently riposte/backstab crit for something like my own maxhp.)

          • DarkFenix says:

            I tend to find the slow enemies more difficult to riposte too. Those basic zombies hit me every time because they stand there hovering before striking. That first black knight you encounter in Undead Burg on the other hand I found absurdly easy to parry.

            I’m slowly getting the hang of following the cues properly though. I’ll have to try another dex based dodge/parry character sometime.

          • ffordesoon says:

            The most annoying attack in the entire game is the one where the standard zombies swing their dagger a whole bunch of times in rapid succession.

  5. UncleLou says:

    “but the mouse doesn’t seem particularly well implemented, the view swinging somewhat sluggishly ”

    Yes, m/kb is horrible. And it was always clear it would be, for a simple reason: the speed at which your character turns depends on equipment and stamina, and that means it’s not possible to map your hand-movement to the character like we’re used to. You move the hand quickly, your character turns slowly, and you’re immediately “out of sync”, so to speak.

    Seeing how agility is such a fundamental mechanic of the game, I have no idea how they could have implemented mouse controls that don’t feel terrible withut compromising the design of the whole game.

    It’s one of the reasons why the mouse controls in Dead Space were so bad, and why Armed Assault also always feels a lot more sluggish than other first-person shooters.

    That aside, playing it with a controller and the mod, it looks splendid, with textures that are, by and large, higher res than in many “better” ports, and it plays like a dream, responsive and precise, with a pad.

    (I’d also like to point out that it’s one of the best games ever, reminds me of Looking Glass in many respects, and that the PC version is *far* superior to the PS3 version.) :-)

    And a last point:

    Finally a game where metal looks like metal, and not like grey papier mâché! You put on a metal armour in this game, and you immediately feel a lot safer (and heavier).

    • mrmalodor says:

      “the speed at which your character turns depends on equipment and stamina”

      Uhm, you misunderstand. The camera in DS moves independently from the character. The mouse moves only the camera, not the character. The WASD keys move the character.

      • UncleLou says:

        Only when you stand still. When you move, the character follows the camera respectively you turn your character, and the speed with which the camera turns is tied to your character’s speed, not your wrist movement or mouse sensitivity.

    • Teovald says:

      I started playing with Kb+m and let’s be clear : it is just a nightmare. It is acceptable to die because you did not use the correct tactic or were too slow, but it is extremely infuriating to die because the controls are absolutely awful. They are all over the keyboard and the on screen messages only give you the console buttons.
      It you don’t own a console gamepad, stay clear of this game.

      • catmorbid says:

        After quickly testing the PC version I sadly have to agree: Controls are disgustingly horrible mess. You could probably get used to them, but it’s far from comfortable and lightyears away from the industry standards – which sadly aren’t even that high (surprisingly many games manage to completely screw up camera controls!).

      • Lambchops says:

        I was going to try keyboard and mouse and had a quick look at the controls. As soon as I realised they were returning back to the bad old days of two hands on the keyboard and that remembering what buttons did would be a thankless chore of the highest order I decided that it actually was worth rooting around my drawers (ooh err) for my X-Box controller.

  6. mrmalodor says:

    The multiplayer is crippled due to the fact that it’s P2P-based. There is no central server. If you are like me and have a shared IP address or live in a dorm and can’t get the necessary ports forwarded, you’re fucked. You will never be invaded, you can’t invade, you can’t summon and people will never see your messages. This also means that cheating is child’s play and almost every PVP player has a modified character. From didn’t get ANYTHING right in this port.

    • Eskatos says:

      That sucks man, but I’m in a dorm with shared internet and I’ve had no problems with summoning or getting invaded. It could also easily be some setting on your computer that you do have the power to fix that’s causing your troubles.

      • mrmalodor says:

        No, it isn’t something on my computer.
        If you can’t have certain ports opened in your router, you’re fucked. The multiplayer won’t work properly.

        • Alexander Norris says:

          …what, so like the multiplayer for 80% of all video games?

          Dark Souls’ multiplayer is an excuse to screw you over, so you should be happy. You can summon friendly NPCs to help with bosses, and not having asswipes invade your world and kill you when you’re walking back from the boss is well worth the price of not being able to co-op with other players.

          • mrmalodor says:

            “…what, so like the multiplayer for 80% of all video games?”

            80% of all video games with multiplayer have dedicated servers in some form, not fucking P2P. It’s a bad solution for multiplayer games due to the aforementioned connectivity issues.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      Yup, I got invaded at a low level by a guy who was presumably somewhere around my level (i.e. just starting out) and had some sort of elaborate unique armor set and enormous shiny sword. I managed to get a couple of power strikes through on him for 2hp each, then he whacked me once for 260 damage and a second time, killing me. Yay!

      Prob’ly best to just not let the game communicate with the internet at all, really.

      • lordcooper says:

        He probably wasn’t cheating. A lot of invader types stay low level on purpose.

        • Wedge says:

          Yep, the cool part about the game is you can choose to barely level up at all (other than the minimum requirements for your gear) and still do quite well. Not that I’m saying the person wasn’t hacking, it’s unlikely their defense would be that high, but making fearsome low-level invader characters is a guilty pleasure.

      • MikoSquiz says:

        Yeah, this was with the Drake Sword. I’m pretty surprised if you can legitimately get your defense high enough at a low level to only take 2hp damage from a clean R2 strike with it. And even if you can do that without hacking, that guy’s still a dick and I hope he gets chased by wasps and falls over in some dog poo while the girl he likes is watching.

      • Snidesworth says:

        I had a similar experience in the Undead Parish. Someone in full silver knight armour with a greatsword invaded while I was still using starting Bandit gear. My plan to kick them off the underside of the bridge didn’t work out so well.

  7. Godwhacker says:

    Purchased last night, and after finally getting past the tutorial I’m looking forward to the rest.

    I’m playing with mouse and keyboard, but I’ll be getting an XBox controller this evening. It would have been nice if they’d bothered to replace the buttons in the interface, because ‘RB’, ‘A’ and ‘Left Stick’ mean fuck all when you’re using a keyboard.

  8. Lambchops says:

    Games for Windows Live is a pain in the arse that I don’t particularly want to defend but I found it only took about 15 minutes (and can’t imagine signing up for an account, which I didn’t need to do this time, would add on much time), several of those being failed attempts to remember what my password was. 15 frustration filled minutes too many to be sure, but I guess it did put me in the right frame of mind to contend with the frustrations of the game itself!

  9. Amnesiac says:

    I want to fight Artorias again. That was a great boss battle.

    I have noticed that I don’t feel as fragile while walking around in his armour even though it’s not actually that strong. It just looks like I’ve become as strong and twisted as the enemies trying to kill me.

    Whereas my knight armour made me feel hopelessly out of my depth.

  10. Zelnick says:

    I live in the US and I imported the UK retail version (gotta have my hard copies). Is the online mode locked to a specific region or is it (mostly) worldwide?

    • Alexander Norris says:

      It’s P2P and depends on your location and IIRC the country your GfWL account is set to. There’s no separate online mode or anything.

  11. Ateius says:

    Sterling praise from RPS means this moves from the watch list to the buy list. Good thing too, as it’s been looking ever so tempting.

  12. Dominic White says:

    It’s worth noting that this game is all about skill. You CAN grind stats to improve your options and help you past a part you’re stuck at, but it really does bear repeating that the entire game can be conquered in just a couple of hours without ever levelling up.

    It’s possible to do that, yes. But most players will take 30+ hours on their first time through.

    • Tacroy says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if sub-hour runs are possible without any sort of trickery – you’re only ever required to kill bosses, and there’s a couple of weapons that are powerful-ish no matter who wields them.

  13. AmateurScience says:

    It really is very good, and despite being tough, is generally fair (*usually* when you die you can see why, and can change something to avoid dying in future).

    The multiplayer absolutely elevates the experience though how it actually works can be a little impenetrable. I’ve spent an afternoon or two engaged in jolly co-operation since last week: very rewarding experience. Reminds me a lot of those moments in (eg) early WoW where people would spontaneously jump in and help if they saw you in trouble.

  14. Eskatos says:

    An interesting fact that I discovered about our good friend Havel. He’s not actually wielding a malformed hunk of metal, it’s a dragon’s tooth. Though it has an obscene strength requirement to use it also has the unique advantage of being unbreakable.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Knowledge!

      • Kaira- says:

        Also, Havel is (was?) a bishop. Of what church, no one knows. But apparently it’s one of those churches you don’t want to mess with.

        • Tuor says:

          The Church of Heavy Armor?

          • Tacroy says:

            So close – either the Church of Heavy Metal or the Church of Hard Rock would have worked so much better.

    • db1331 says:

      Yup, it is a dragon’s tooth. He holds the pointy end, and smashes you with the big end. I’m actually building a high-strength character right now, just to use the dragon’s tooth for the lulz.

      • Kaira- says:

        One of the best things you can do in PvP is wear some NPCs full set. Some people seem creeped out when they are attacked by a Solaire with sunlight maggot helmet. Or Smough.

        • db1331 says:

          I love collecting armor sets. Last night I was trying to farm sunlight medals by helping out with O&S, but I couldn’t get any summons in about 10 minutes of waiting. I warped out and went to the appropriate vendor and bought Ornstein’s full armor set, tossed that on, and went back to Anor Londo for summoning. I guess I look a lot more appealing as a big metallic lion. I was getting summons within seconds of dropping my sign. It was fun killing Ornstein while cosplaying as him. I just wish the helm came with his hair…

    • klaim says:

      On PS3 I actually got that Dragon Tooth with my first character. Because I prefer to kill in one or not much more hits, I used heavy armor, heavy shield and heavy weapons like this.

      This weapon is very good, it might be the more equilibrated super-heavy weapon to me.

  15. JackShandy says:

    I think you should go earlier than Zelda. Dark Souls comes straight from Dungeons and Dragons.

    There’s a concept I’ve learned from D&D blogs: Games as Sport VS. Games as War. In a sport, everybody is given a totally equal chance to win; Boxing, or Street Fighter. In War, everybody tries to slant the odds in their favor so that you have an overwhelming chance of success before you even start the fight; An assassination attempt, AD&D, and Dark Souls.

    In Dark Souls the enemies will lure you into the center of a room and then burst out of hiding behind you, use attacks you can’t block, come out of the god-damn walls in droves, throw fire at you while you fight their friends below. This is all totally unfair. The only possible way to win is to use that clever human brain of yours and make things unfair in your favor. Lure them out, jump on them from above, kick them off cliffs, call on other players for help.

    Almost no game today demands that of you. Games just don’t let their enemies use a full range of tactics. There are these Ghosts in Dark Souls who hover over the edge of a cliff, stabbing at you. Stab back, and I’d fall off the cliff. An enemy that melee players can’t reach? That’s insane! But it works, because I am a smart human and they are dumb robots, and I can use every system the game has to offer and outsmart those fuckers right into the grave.

    Winning by using every single element of the game like that is just the best feeling on earth, and Dark Souls – along with D&D, and some games like Deux Ex and Thief – is the only thing that scratches that itch.

    • AmateurScience says:

      Learning to use the environment to my advantage was a hard but important lesson to learn. Also: never fight them on their own terms, define the battlefield!

      • RedViv says:

        The foes take cheap shots, so you have to take those too.
        I’ve often sat in front of the screen, and me love just commented on how it looked like I was just abusing the environment.
        I died three times to show her that, indeed, my enemies are not shying away from low blows either.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Brilliantly put. I’m currently playing through both Thief and Dark Souls and it’s definitely true of both of them (in very different ways).

  16. Tim James says:

    “Sorry, the air, but that’s how good it feels when a game’s reward is a better understanding of its systems and the character I have built.”

    But that’s not why you were excited about finally defeating Havel. This understanding happened much earlier. What followed was repetitive manual dexterity. Even when you knew how to defeat him, you still had to execute the maneuvers properly. On some fights you might have to do that over and over again. The joy you feel for winning is the same cheap thrill at defeating the boss in Contra or Mega Man. I get excited too. (More like relief.) But it’s not a new profound experience.

    That feeling of discovery and understanding does occur during this game. But it doesn’t happen in the boss fights. That’s merely pattern recognition and NES-style execution after a long walk from the checkpoint. Despite the spectacular design of the bosses, it’s the weakest part of the gameplay.

    That is unless you like that kind of thing. Then Dark Souls is a gift from heaven. Make sure you understand why so others can put the game in context.

    • Lambchops says:

      I have a feeling that’s where I’m eventually going to bounce off this game, when I know how to defeat an enemy but can’t put together the perfect run to do it and furthermore have to repeat the section before said enemy each time.

      It’s just a question of how early it happens!

      • Alexander Norris says:

        Ten or so hours in, when you reach the silver archers in Anor Londo.

        • Wedge says:

          Unless you were a clever git like me and had a stealth spell that let me waltz right past them, thus never suffering that storied complaint.

        • dongsweep says:

          Wow am I playing this game too slow? I rarely die, maybe once or twice a boss on average. Yet I am ten hours in and only in the Darkwood Garden bringing Shiva of the East around (so I can go shopping!) How in the world are you in Anor Londo already? That is assuming you have to ring both bells correct? Did you do the bosses with other players? What level are you? This is mind blowing, I don’t plan on getting there for another 10-15 hours.

          • Bauul says:

            Not at all, after ten hours I think I will still in the Undead Parish.

            Andor Londo was about 30 hours in, and I finished the game at 60 (things do speed up as you progress, simply because you get better at the game).

            Incidentally yes, those two silver archers can jump off a cliff. I ended up running halfway up the ramp until the left one couldn’t see me, then dodging the right one’s arrows until the left stopped firing. I knew when he saw me again (when I ran to the top of the ramp) I had about 4 and a half seconds to make it to the right one, kill and get around the corner before he let loose his first arrow. Turns out 4 and a half seconds is just about how long you need. :D

      • Jenks says:

        You won’t get to a boss, die, and then try the boss over and over until you figure it out.

        You’ll finally get to a boss, die, and then die trying to get back to the boss repeatedly. You’ll get to the boss 1 in 3 tries, half, eventually you’ll be getting to it more than not and with a good amount of health and potions remaining. That’s when you start figuring the boss out.

        • Skabooga says:

          Pretty much describes how I went through the original Ninja Gaiden.

    • JackShandy says:

      He felt a sense of achievement because the task was genuinely difficult and he overcame it by using everything he’d learnt so far to the utmost of his ability. I can’t see any problem with testing your skill at agility and reflexes as well as your skill at tactics and planning.

    • Dervish says:

      I’m pretty sure everyone knows Dark Souls is not a turn-based tactics game. I’m also sure that it is dumb to portray anything involving reflexes as obviously inferior and “cheap” thrills.

    • Kaira- says:

      “The joy you feel for winning is the same cheap thrill at defeating the boss in Contra or Mega Man”

      I am at loss of words here.

      • ffordesoon says:

        Not to mention that no genuine thrill is cheap, just like no genuine pleasure is guilty.

    • KilgoreTrout_XL says:

      Condescending snobbery is great on its own, but when you’re also full of shit, it’s better than Mega Man. Or something.

      • Tim James says:

        Sorry, I wasn’t intending to be a snob. I brought it up because I think some people who wax poetic about Dark Souls are a certain type of gamer who like a certain type of challenge. That’s awesome that they have the perfect game to fulfill that desire. But I think they struggle to explain why they’re so overjoyed.

        For most of us, the reward is the melee combat, the exploration, the discovery of systems (outside of boss fights!) and the unique multiplayer. For some it’s the endorphin rush of dashing yourself against an impossible level or boss until you finally conquer it. There are whole subgenres of platform games dedicated to this back to the NES days and earlier. I shouldn’t have called it a cheap thrill because it’s perfectly valid. I just think it’s important to be clear to better inform people before they dive into an experience they may not care for.

        • Hardlylikely says:

          Part of that excitement is that games with those attributes are comparatively rare in these days of ungames and follow the leader simulators.

    • klaim says:

      In some game designer circles, there is a word for this feeling: Fiero.
      Actually it is explained in Jane MacGonigal’s book “Reallity is Broken”, page 33:


      There’s one more important emotional benefit to hard fun:
      it’s called “fiero”, and it’s possibly the most primal emotional rush we can experience.
      Fiero is the Italian word for “pride”, and it’s been adopted by game designers to describe an emotional high we don’t have a good word for in English. [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Geography_of_Bliss
      Fiero is what we feel after we triumph over adversity. You know it when you feel it-and when you see it. That’s because we almost all express fiero in exactly the same way: we throw our arms over our head and yell.

      I copied by reading the dead-tree version so excuse me for mistakes.

      My point is I felt and did this too in a lot of occasion in Dark Souls, mainly after vanquishing boss fights.
      Remembered me Mega Man 2.

  17. Jenks says:

    There is a fantastic irony to Dark Souls. It presents almost zero story, but it truly gripped me and made me curious about every area of the game, every npc, every monster in a way no typical script could. The world it takes place in is just so absolutely awesome.

    I remember reaching Ash Lake, a place that in any other game would be considered impossible to navigate to. If I remember correctly, nothing there was essential for progressing through the game. I can’t explain the feeling of wonder looking out over the lake. I must have sat there for 10 minutes just looking over the water letting my imagination run wild. Of course, what wound up coming out of the water, and what I found at the end of the lake, were even more fantastical than I had hoped for. I think if you are a person with a wild imagination, someone who always prefers the book to the movie, this game is a must have.

    Dark Souls is truly as hard as it is made out to be, but that’s not the reason I’ll always remember it.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      The thing with Dark Souls is that From have an amazing grasp of what makes fantasy fantastical and what makes stuff seem mythological. There is absolutely a plot and a setting to Dark Souls, but you need to piece it together. The game won’t tell you.

      • Bauul says:

        I think that’s one of the defining features of Dark Souls: it feels mythological. Not fantastical (which often attempts to fully flesh out its world), but more like a fable handed down through generations.

        Even the intro cutscene, which doesn’t make any sense as soon as you start to unpick it, ranks up there with some of the best creation stories from the major religions.

        God created the world in seven days? Nope. Originally the world was grey and everlasting, with nothing but endless arch-trees… and dragons!

        Hell yes!

    • PatrickSwayze says:

      Dat bleakness eh?

      Somehow despite a more varied pallet it manages to be bleaker than Demon’s souls.

  18. Soon says:

    I know nobody believes people who say they can’t use a gamepad, but I can’t use a gamepad. If you’re like me, I’d actually recommend just using the keyboard, one hand on the numpad for the camera, and the other on WASD. Map things to keys around those as you find convenient. I personally found using num7 and num9 as left, right attack effective, with holding ctrl as a strong attack toggle. But…anyway…

    I’m enjoying it, but can’t say I love it yet. I’ve often been frustrated enough to quit, but then load it straight back up again, which is always a good sign. It shares a similar philosophy to Gothic, but it’s design is much more elegant. The beauty of it didn’t register at first, until I found myself thinking “Ah, well, I’ll kill these, then rest to heal and…oh wait… HMMM”. If anybody hates the game, I would completely understand. I’m a convert.

    • mrmalodor says:

      I had to go back to K&M after using a gamepad for days. It literally made my arms and neck hurt. I can’t for the life of me understand how people can use these things. The jerky mouse movement doesn’t bother me as much now that I know all the controls.

      • PatrickSwayze says:

        Try not holding the gamepad above your head?

        That’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard.

        Unless of course you’re a hobbit?

        • Moorkh says:

          My neck and finger muscles start cramping already at the thought of having to use a gamepad. Having tried my hand at a few including the original NES pad, I’d loathe having to learn an entirely alien control scheme developed for people who cannot afford stable surfaces for their game interfacing that I’ve experienced to be unsuited for.
          Too bad for this game, as this will force me to abstain until some coder god mods some decent workaround for it. Like they did for the other annoyances…

        • mrmalodor says:

          What the fuck made you think that I was holding it above my head? It’s the gamepad’s inherently retarded design that makes muscles hurt after a while. Everything is cramped onto this little device. Your arms constantly have to be in the same weird, restricted, twisted position.

          • Fiatil says:

            It’s really weird to me that people can honestly believe that a keyboard and mouse have a better and more comfortable design than a gamepad for long play sessions. I use my KBAM for 95% of gaming and it’s great, but modern controllers were designed to be as comfortable as possible for vidjagames specifically, and playing a game like Dark Souls without one is sort of silly unless you completely lack the funds to get one.

          • Harlander says:

            I find my hands pretty cramped too on the 360 controller.

            If it was just about a third bigger, it’d probably be perfect.

          • MikoSquiz says:

            I’m trying to picture what kind of weird Lovecraftian body shape you have, here. I rarely game with a gamepad, but “sitting with my hands in my lap” isn’t exactly a weirdly contorted position.

  19. Kinth says:

    Dark Souls really rewards the explorer who has an eye for details.

    For instance that butterfly fight you mentioned, if you had looked in the bush under the stairs of that tower you would have found a summoning sign. Had you been human you could have summoned a witch and made the whole fight a cake walk. It’s already a cakewalk for mages, that sign just helps us feeble melee out.

    I had fun with Havel too, I just left him on his own the first time I got splattered, came back a bit later with a crystal shield I bought in some festering old dungeon and I was able to block at least one shot from the guy, still took me forever to kill. The thing is Havel isn’t even a boss, he is completely optional and easy to run past. But it’s like they knew that putting him there would tease you. It’s like he spits in your face and laughs every time you run past. You just have to kill him at some point. Not because the game demands it but because you yourself demand it.

    If you like hand holding then stay away from Dark Souls. It’s the equivalent of learning to swim by being chucked into the middle of the Atlantic ocean and being told to find the nearest land. It’s brutal but it’s bloody damn fun and it never tells you what to do after the first bit, you either fumble around in the dark or you survive on scraps on information others have left lying around the world, Information that can be fake and someone trying to lead you to your death.

    • AmateurScience says:

      What I love about the game is that, even when you’ve got to grips with an area it can still challenge you. Getting through to the bell gargoyles without spending any souls/resting at any bonfires is butt twitchingly tense. Taking on havel at the earliest opportunity *just because you can* was another seriously heart pounding moment. All this despite having already bested these areas/bosses before. It just keeps on giving.

    • MortalWombat says:

      It’s the equivalent of learning to swim by being chucked into the middle of the Atlantic ocean and being told to find the nearest land. It’s brutal but it’s bloody damn fun

      Whoooo… I’m drowning… weeee! Here I come, Jack…
      Weeee! SO MUCH FUN!

  20. Alexander Norris says:

    For all the game’s complexity, if you understand that it is better to dodge an attack rather than be struck by it, and that heavier armour and weapons will make leaping and dodging more difficult, then you will make progress, slow but sure.

    This is actually not true.

    Dark Souls is one of the few games where dodging isn’t better than blocking. Your shield is your best and most trustworthy ally. You will spend 98% of the game with your shield up. Yes, you need to dodge as well (and the bit about going over 50% of your load limit is correct), but you definitely want to be blocking most things rather than always trying to dodge.

    • JackShandy says:

      Is it ever a good idea to go over 50% load?

      • Kaira- says:

        Some of the heavy armor increases your poise, meaning it’s harder to interrupt your actions. And for some bosses it’s best to just to go in with very heavy gear and smack them harder than they can smack you.

      • AmateurScience says:

        As Kaira says it’s situational, but you can build for it: having a sufficiently large shield and a lot of strength (to wield the shield) and endurance can mean that you can genuinely tank through a lot of the big hits. But it’s a play style the same as the nimble rogue or ranged magic user.

      • lordcooper says:

        Sure. Being over-encumbered means you stay down for longer when rolling. There are a few parts of the game where this is very useful indeed.

      • Alexander Norris says:

        Yes – situationally, and only if you have a STR/END build, go for the best greatshield possible in terms of balance, and roll with as high a poise as possible. It’s just a case of blocking everything in that case.

        You will still want items that increase your stamina regen, as it’s ass-slow otherwise, which means it takes forever for it to recharge when you’re not blocking (and you can’t really dodge during that time since you move slowly and faceflop).

    • Wedge says:

      It’s a bit confusing too, because dodging WAS always superior in Demon’s Souls, but they nerfed it heavily in this game. And now in this game you can make a beastly shield that can withstand a barrage from a giant wolf wielding a ten foot sword in it’s mouth, so blocking is often quite practical here. And the pyromancy Steel Body kind of skill simply let you wail right through some bosses, though I hear it was nerfed in the rebalance patch. Never patched my PS3 copy because I wanted to retain a version with all the fun glitches, and plan to get the PC version once I have a video card again…

    • Vagrant says:

      Blocking is nice, but screw the parry system. Not sure how you’re supposed to hit some monsters without parrying with a shield, or rolling out of the way for a backstab.

      • AmateurScience says:

        Kick then stab, a combo for winners!

      • Alexander Norris says:

        Let your enemies break themselves against the steel bulwark of your shield, then strike them down when they recoil in terror!

        Basically block, then get a swipe in while they’re bouncing off your block.

        • Vagrant says:

          Things like the giant dark knights you find once or twice climbing torwards the bell tower have attacks that either ignore my shield, crush my defenses, or just hit so hard I still take damage.

      • MikoSquiz says:

        Kick ‘em. It’s forward+attack. If you can’t be arsed to wait for a spear-and-shield wight thingy to try to hit you, just forward+attack->attack->attack and it’s dead.

  21. derbefrier says:

    The game is awesome. I am loving every second of it and there are so many hidden nooks and crannys i seem to find something cool all the time. if this is your first time i would recommend taking your time and get it out of your head that dying is bad and takes things slow and easy until you feel comfortable. I watched a friend rage all night the day it released because he just kept trying to run around and button mash(he eventually got he hang of it and now is addicted to it). and always remember to look EVERYWHERE there are secrets and hidden loots everywhere in this game. Also be wary of some of the text you see in the ground. I laughed my ass off as i watched my same friend try to hack an NPC to death because some asshole left a message on the ground that said “try attacking” the horrible thing is the NPC doesn’t loose agro when you die :P. so the lesson here is don’t blindly follow messages.

    • ffordesoon says:

      “get it out of your head that dying is bad”

      This is the best advice so far posted in the comments.

      Dying is very frustrating sometimes, absolutely, but it is not actually a penalty in the way it is in most games, Any items you pick up stay with you when you die, and as long as you get back to your bloodstain and aren’t human, you lose practically nothing of value. That’s the secret that makes Dark Souls’ grind feel so blissfully ungrind-y; you lose ground, yes, but you’re always progressing. You might quit before the end, but that’s the only way you can really fail to beat it. It’s a monstrously difficult game, and yet its death system is in some ways more forgiving than the most casual-friendly linear shooter.

  22. rookarike says:

    I think Dark Souls is the single greatest thing to happen to adventure, fantasy, and rpg games in a really long time. It drives me nuts when people even try to compare Skyrim to DS. Sure, they’re different animals, but Skyrim just picks at the OCD completionist part of my brain that wants all the boxes to be checked. DS on the other hand is a tightly crafted, well thought out, honestly challenging game. The closest thing to it is old school X-Com. Do against all odds or die, the game does not give a f–k either way. But the sweetness of success reminded me why I love video games.

  23. Shantara says:

    Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition is available now.

    If you happen to live in one of GFWL supported countries, otherwise Steam just refuses to sell it.

    • mrmalodor says:

      You can still get it via Green Man Gaming.

      • RedViv says:

        Get it, and then likely not play it, iirc, due to the GfWL region lock. Unless they allow to select an offline profile.

        • AlonePlusEasyTarget says:

          Or just create a new account and pick a GFWL supported country like United States to play online. It works all the time for me.

        • mrmalodor says:

          Except I’m not in a GFWL-supported country (whatever that means) and am playing it with an online profile. Get with the program.

        • JackDandy says:

          I’m playing it as well, and I’m not from a supported country. Just made up a fake account. It’s easy to pull a random zip code from Wikipedia.

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      I’m in Uruguay, South America, couldn’t be more ignored by GFWL. I bought the game from Gamersgate on release day, and I’ve been playing it happily since then without any problems (other than the port quirks and the brutal asskickings). I even got invaded once, so the multiplayer part is working too.

  24. AmateurScience says:

    What I really love is how the defining mechanics: the frequent deaths, the challenge (and learning how to overcome it) and the multiplayer all tie into the themes explored in the game narrative. Mechanics as metaphor and all that jazz (see: Extra Credits’ last couple of videos for reference).

    I had this kind of epiphany when I came across a dead body, looted it and found the initial equipment of one of the classes you can start as. It makes you realise that you’re not the first/only one to be attempting to do the thing you are attempting (being deliberately vague here), and the deaths, and the multiplayer/parallel worlds and the actual spoken exposition all tie back into that theme and and and…well I like it. A lot.

    • RedViv says:

      That is what I would consider the Souls’ greatest achievement.
      They are not only hard, but fair, but also tie this into the unrelenting and cruel nature of the setting. The atmosphere is almost palpable. The lack of a musical soundtrack outside of boss battles and a few areas leaves the player focussed on the sounds around them, in a way that usually only good horror-themed games utilise.
      Change any of this, give it a stereotypical drum-heavy battle track, allow to keep multiple saves, allow to change the difficulty, and the game loses value.

  25. Mitchk says:

    I’d already made up my mind to buy this, but the RPS seal of approval is always nice to see. Im on holiday at the moment but I’m really looking forward to giving this a go when I get back home. Should help to fight the post-holiday blues!

  26. FunkyBadger3 says:

    I must have done the run from bonfire to Havel 50 times before I murdered that son-of-a-bitch.

    But it felt gooooooooood.

    • AmateurScience says:

      I’m certain I could do that run blindfolded now (and then be ground to paste by havel) :)

      once you’ve been through an area once it almost becomes like a score-attack mode: find the optimal route using the least estus and defeating your enemies as efficiently as possible. ‘sprint for 3 seconds, strong hit, turn 90 degrees, weak hit strong hit, shield up, strong hit spring for 3 etc etc’. It’s almost poetic.

      • FunkyBadger3 says:

        Mmmm, the poetry of violence. Or more properly, movement…

        Lovely.

  27. pixelpusher says:

    Fantastic review. Delighted that you chose to focus on the game itself rather than the shortcomings of the port. \\o

    • Jenks says:

      From Eurogamer

      In general, the arguments are wearying and all that needs to be said is this: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition does not come with the technical options you would expect from a well-engineered PC game, because it’s a port of a console game, and that’s all From Software ever promised to deliver. Anyone who passes up Dark Souls for this reason is cutting off their nose to spite their neckbeard of a face.

      http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-08-28-dark-souls-prepare-to-die-edition-review

      • Shooop says:

        How about those who are passing it up for now because some of those technical limitations actually make the unable to run for some people and would rather wait for a significant price drop and more community-made fixes?

        • derbefrier says:

          how so? if its resolution problems your referring to there’s already a mod for that and it works great.
          If your one of those people that cant or wont use a controller there’s a mod to improve M&KB controls already too. I haven’t tried it yet but the thread in the steam forum is full of praise so it must be good.

          what else is there?

          and as a parting gift

          resolution mod
          http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2900105

          mouse and keyboard camera fix mod
          http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2910072

          only other problem i can think of is ATI card issues which i don’t think there is a fix with that though i have heard the resolution mod helps quite a bit in some cases

          • Shooop says:

            Only concern I have are performance drops, I’d wait a bit to see if those are around. But aside from those there’s the problem of GFWL. Maybe I’ll just wire a few dollars to the devs and get a torrent.

          • ffordesoon says:

            Honestly, It’s not that bad in Dark Souls. I mean, it’s janky old GFWL, but it works as well as GFWL can ever work. You type in the CD key and ignore the overlay, and everything’s fine.

          • eclipse mattaru says:

            @Shooop: I have a 3GHz quad-core CPU and a GeForce GTS 450 video card, and I get fairly decent framerates all around –not spectacular, but completely playable for the most part.

            I haven’t reached the dreaded Blighttown, mind, but I did stroll around New Londo and even though I get a noticeable slowdown (the game has a problem with everything related to particles, and there’s quite a bit of mist in there) it’s still bearable.

  28. ColonelClaw says:

    Considering that there’s a coding genius type out there fixing many of the bad things about this port, I may just wait a while before picking it up. In fact, I bought so many games at the Steam Summer Sale that it might naturally come to pass that by the time my schedule is free enough to consider this, the Steam Winter Sale will have come around.
    This is fast becoming my model for Steam purchases – wait until the sale and you can pick up games with all the bugs fixed and DLC bundled in for a bargain price. If you buy enough you can keep it going indefinitely.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      To be honest the only real problems were the m&kb controls and the resolution: download the resolution mod and stick an xbox controller in and you’ve basically got a perfect port of a 10/10 game. Playing on a 5770 i5 and haven’t had any problems (but if you do then turning off the in-game AA fixes it 99% of the time).

      YMMV with the price of course, I thought £30 for a quick port of a couple of years old game was a bit steep personally, but on gardening leave for a bit and wanted to capitalise!

  29. Ross Angus says:

    This whole thread reads like a support group.

    AND I LIKE IT.

  30. JackDandy says:

    Ahh.. I’ve been waiting for this for such a long time.

    Having no console, I really wanted to play and challenge the game’s world. It hasn’t disappointing me one bit.

    Let’s do hope the next PC incursion won’t be an afterthought, though.

  31. ThinkMcFlyThink says:

    When I see people describe this game, it reminds me of how my friends with kids describe life with kids. The things they say make the experience actually seem awful, but then they also say they love it. As much as I want to enjoy this game, I can’t read the descriptions and believe this is for me.

    • zapatapon says:

      I have kids, and I feel as you do. Concerning the game, I mean.

      • Eddy9000 says:

        Rewarding but punishing just about sums up both! Perhaps we need a gaming dads support group?

  32. CyberPunkRock says:

    This game is just brilliant.
    I bought an xbox this spring only to play this game (me being a PC-only gamer for decades). Now that it’s on PC using the userpatch with high resolutions and close to no frame rate drops and with the new content I can’t imagine an action rpg/adventure game that can beat this experience in the foreseeable future.
    The atmosphere, design and combat mechanics of DS actually ruined most other RPG’s for me because they just can’t compete. Skyrim, I’m (no longer) looking at you.

    And I know the m+k controlls are broken but as many others said before me, it’s designed for a gamepad. If you’re invited for a tennis match, don’t bring your ping pong racket.

  33. Vagrant says:

    Now that you mention a retro ‘demake’-esque version of Dark Souls… Anyone ever play Faxanadu? Because that’s the same vibe I’m getting from Dark Souls.

    So far my favorite part of the game has been the environment design. I desperately want to explore this castle, to stand and marvel at it’s vistas. To me, the game is a heavy mix of Ico & Vagrant Story, where the environment tells a story visually (IE my favorite kind of story design).

  34. CaLe says:

    I myself made the Groundhog Day comparison when explaining this game to someone. Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill might be more accurate though, as it emphasises the gaining of combat skill through fighting until death (repeatedly). I recommend the novel to anyone interested in the concept!

    I finished the game the first weekend it came out on consoles and don’t think the extras are worth double dipping for. I will get it during the Christmas sale anyway, I’m sure. Whether I’ll be in the mood to play through it again… I don’t know. Unfortunately, blades dull with time and I don’t know if I have the patience to ready this claymore for battle once more.

  35. DuddBudda says:

    cheapest place to buy this in the UK?

  36. piecewise says:

    Welp, now the pc has a game the rest of us have had for like what, a year?

    Have fun pc only gamers.

    • Kaira- says:

      Well, the PC version has the DLC which will be released for consoles on October.

    • lasikbear says:

      Thank you, I am having fun!

    • StormFuror says:

      This is true, but thanks to the mods pc’s can offer, we are enjoying the game in true 1080p or higher. Not to mention the areas like Blighttown and the 3 Great Felines that choked hard on consoles runs buttery smooth… well at least for me.

      Coming to RPS to state something like you have is silly. There are plenty of gamers out there that stick to Xbox only , or PS3 only, or PC gaming only, etc. No matter what, these specific “platform” only gamers are missing out on great games. For the most part PC gaming is the best platform. Better graphics, faster loads, mods, and better game prices. I have all 3 current gen consoles and a gaming PC and I would chose my PC over any of the consoles. It is everyone’s own preference and opinions on what they want to game with. So why even bring it up?

    • ffordesoon says:

      @piecewise:

      It’s people like you who ruin gaming for the rest of us. I don’t know if you’re trolling, and I honestly don’t care; petty, judgmental, snide, utterly useless comments like that one really are the resin at the bottom of the barrel that is the gaming internet. People like you spew drive-by negativity, and you lower the discourse in the process. And for what? What is the purpose of your little pinprick of poison, beyond making the world feel just that little bit shittier for everyone who reads your twaddle? I cannot fathom why someone who obviously likes a given game wants to make other people feel bad for also liking the game simply because they didn’t play it on another platform.

      I don’t usually say things like that, but your comment was so pointlessly mean-spirited, so loathsome in every way, that I felt it appropriate to unstop my decanter of vitriol.

      Jesus Christ, some people…!

      • Eddy9000 says:

        I thought you were doing really well there until you said that people who whined about the treatment of the PC platform by game devs were worse than people who eat kittens.

        • ffordesoon says:

          Fair point, actually. What I meant by that wasn’t as clear as it should’ve been, and it was probably overreaching a tad regardless. I deleted the offending line.

      • MikoSquiz says:

        You’re rewarding him by giving him attention. Trolls just want attention; they can’t get the “good boy, you’re smart and handsome” kind so they’ll settle for “fuck off”, just as long as someone acknowledges their existence.

        It’s sad, really.

  37. StormFuror says:

    Great article! I am a huge “Souls” fan. I have put over 200 hours in Demon’s Souls, over 140 hours into Dark Souls for PS3 and I’m up to 14 hours on the PC now. I have been gaming since the late 80′s and after playing Dark Souls for the third time I have come to the conclusion that is my favorite game ever now. Nudging X-Com Ufo Defense off its #1 position.

    No other game keeps me engrossed for so long. I have over 100 games in my Steam Library and there is not one game I want to play that isn’t named Dark Souls.

    Was it a straight port, yes. But to be honest I would play the game if it used 800×600 resolution. But luckily we got a mod right from the beginning. It’s amazing how much better the game looks running 1920×1080. Not to mention, the Anor Londo area looks SOO much better on PC.

    I’m not quite sure how people are still having problems with GFWL. I have only had one game in the past year to give me any issues. I don’t know how it would take 3 hours to get GFWL to work. Maybe I’m extremely lucky. If you guys pass up playing this game because of your hatred towards GFWL you really are missing out on one of the best games that has been released in the past 6 years.

  38. Farsearcher says:

    I pre ordered this from Amazon after reading your impressions Adam. I’m in love frankly. It’s incredibly atmospheric. I love the sense of mystery, of discovery, they’ve drawn in the corners of the world and left you to fill in the other pieces.

    It feels very roguelike to me, just with real time combat, a triple A graphics budget and a none randomised world.

    Oh and I would advise a wired 360 controller for this, I bought one specifically to use for dark souls and within 5 seconds it felt better than mouse control.

  39. DanDeath says:

    Definitely not going to get this at full price due to horrible control with mouse and keyboard. In the meantime, I’ll stick to replaying The Witcher 2.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      I dunno, I know that only PC’s use a mouse and keyboard and it’s become a kind of badge of identity or pride for fans, but I just think a gamepad is a better controller for some games, and for me DS is one of them. I remember back in the day when no serious gamer would be without a trackball, joystick, gamepad or other control peripheral. Still got my x-wing edition joystick somewhere…

  40. felisc says:

    Sorry to be that guy but the 3/4 first hours of the game can fuck right off. Now i am in Blighttown and loving this game absolutely, haven’t been hooked like this for a while, but I struggled with frustration the first day I played this and don’t look back on this with fondness. Even as fantastic is the game, I still think the beginning was a bit shit. ! yes !
    Also it sucks to be an amd card owner.

    • DanDeath says:

      If you’re talking about low fps, it’s not just you. The game is capped at 30 fps.

      EDIT: Just did some quick searching, seems that some people with AMD cards are getting very low fps drop, maybe because of drivers.

  41. Rudel says:

    I did not check all comments, but what the heck did you do at the butterfly boss? It is by far the easiest in the whole game. Just dodge his attacks until he needs to rest on the wall. Then hit him with all you got, put your weapon in both hands. A ranged class is not needed there. A spear-wielding character with pyromancy is the easy-peasy build avalable in DkS, it will not get easier! ;)

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, I beat the butterfly on my first try, as a near-naked, zweihander-wielding barbarian.

      You just dodge its attacks for a while until it tires itself out, then it sets down on the wall to catch its breath. Just unload on it. It took me just two sets of attacks to kill it.

  42. Cut says:

    Adam,

    Believe it or not, in spite of (or perhaps because of) an intense interest in gaming, I only ever find two or three games a year I actually *want* to play (and one of them is always Nethack… :s).

    I mention this because I’ve just taken the unprecedented step of ordering Dark Souls purely on the basis of your review. It’s strange… I am excited by this game and a lot of the dynamics you hinted at, even though I still have very little idea how any of it works. Above all I think, I am hoping that for once – just for once – there may be a real challenge ahead…

    Anyway… I actually had a technical question for anyone who can help:

    Given that I have *never* used any kind of console or console controller before, would I be better off sticking to the m+kb I know and love (with or without mods) despite it’s flaws, or investing in an xbox controller for windows even though it may be equally frustrating to use at first?

    Thanks all

    PS I was going to use the forums to ask another couple of more general questions, but I can’t seem to log in using my RPS ac/pw – is this how it’s supposed to be or am I just missing something obvious?

    I also can’t seem to find a button anywhere which would allow me to change my RPS pw from “nghgdlgr0tSplurg” (or whatever) to something I might possibly be able to remember… am I just blind?

    • JackDandy says:

      For all that is good and holy, get a wireless 360 gamepad for this one. It’ll do you a world of good.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Xbox. Xbox Xbox Xbox.

      The M-KB support is execrable. It functions, barely, but it’s absolutely hideous. The game was designed with a pad in mind. And the 360 controller is an industry-standard gamepad anyway, so if you do ever feel like getting another game suited to gamepad controls, you’ll have the best gamepad available right there.

    • Eskatos says:

      I’ve been using keyboard and mouse exclusively with almost no problems. My only complaint is that changing locked on targets is done my moving the mouse left and right, which means you have to be careful not to do that unless you want to present your back to the enemy you were just targeting. Otherwise I’ve had no problems.

    • Cut says:

      Thanks guys.

      @Eskatos – was that with or without the m+kb mod mentioned earlier in the thread?

    • Soon says:

      I’ve been using just keyboard since the mouse control was so bad (I wasn’t aware of the fix!) and finding that very playable. So that’s an option if you’re feeling a bit archaic.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      Both hands on the keyboard is tolerable if you don’t have gamepad (and seems to be the intended configuration, judging by the way the keys are bound), but I would sooner stick my face in an anthill than try playing this thing with the mouse again.

  43. Commissar Choy says:

    I got really lucky on my first character and the BK dropped his longsword, making the early portion of the game cake. (Taurus demon boss? Two shotted in the face and I didn’t know about the DT sword until way later but they end up being about equal in attack anyway). I loved using Havel’s gear in boss fights (fully upgraded BK axe instead of the tooth though) and the assassin gear for exploring. The final boss though? He can fuck RIGHT OFF in NG++.
    God damn I love this game.

    • Rimesmoker says:

      Learn how to parry his attacks (the best way is to block the first strike, then parry the followup), and feel bad afterwards for beating allmighty Lord Gwyn som easily.

    • Tuor says:

      Best armor in the game, IMO, is the Old King’s armor. Of course, you have to get it first…

  44. ramirezfm says:

    Platinum! And I will probably buy the PC version just to be pounded into the ground again. This is one of the best games ever made.

  45. Ruffian says:

    As said as it makes me to say it, this is the first triple A game I’ve bought in about the last year and a half that has actually lived up to my expectations of it. Me like.

  46. D3xter says:

    If one can jump over one’s own shadow and ignore the porting problems that can mostly be eliminated by using said resolution mod and a X360 Controller (or any other) I could really recommend the game to every fan of 3rd person RPGs.

    The games it reminded me the most of were Gothic 1+2, I kind of got the same feeling exploring the world (with a pinch of Darksiders) and it is definitely up there as one of the best games of the last 10 years as far as I can say.

    The world that was designed around the game (even the lore, though the game doesn’t really have a classic “story”) and the fighting system especially stand out.
    All levels are closely interwoven and form a gigantic world that one wants to explore and experience and I love all the shortcuts that fill out that missing part and give it some depth after fighting through an area for several hours and then finding one leading back to another part of the world that one has already visited.

    Constantly thinking about the game, about my “build” and about things I still wanna see/explore/test out and strategies to beat some stupid boss or get through an area I failed at before

    I think one of the main attractions of the game is that unlike most other games nowadays it isn’t a watered down, AAA, Button=Awesome, mass market experience.
    And you can clearly see the amount of honest effort the developers put into it to make it happen (and not following some checklist of what a game has to have), all the little details one can discover or miss without talking to other people about them (christ they’ve hidden two entire areas behind illusionary walls) or reading some Wikis, to the texturing of the game and the model design that is in parts phenomenal despite console ancestry to all the different kind of weapons that feel and play completely different (with different attacks and animations) like spears, axes, hammers, two-handed swords, katanas, halberds, even whips.

    People are also still working on improving the graphics despite already fixing the resolution and fixing the bad low-res Depth of Field.
    For instance this is a 2560×1440 shot with 4xMSAA and enabled SSAO through NVIDIA Inspector: http://www.abload.de/img/data-2012-08-27-18-5600ocz.jpg

    • D3xter says:

      Oh yeah, one thing to add… don’t know why so many people are recommending Steam for buying this game, it makes no sense for me.

      The retail version is on the level of The Witcher 2: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Souls-Prepare-Die-Edition/dp/B007X1458W/

      It includes all these things for … sake:
      In box physical content:
      * A stunning 150 page Art Book (featuring art from the new Artorias of the Abyss game content)
      * Original Soundtrack CD
      * DVD containing the complete behind the scenes video series
      * Poster
      * Postcards

      http://www.incgamers.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/dark-souls-prepare-to-die-1024×602.jpg

      AND it can even be added to Steam via CD-Key/Code.

      It’s even cheaper in the UK £25 with Free Delivery instead of the £30 on Steam. I really, REALLY don’t get it.

      • Wedge says:

        Yeah, I was a bit sad it only has a retail release with all that fancyness over in the Europelands =/. I know it’s because retail is a bigger market over there, but still.

      • TeaDrinker says:

        I can’t buy this game on Steam due to GFWL not being available in my country (Malta), anyone knows whether the retail version from Amazon will work instead?

        (EDIT: I have a XBOX 360 gamertag (registered in the UK)..will this work?) God how I hate these useless country restrictions!

        • eclipse mattaru says:

          @TeaDrinker : I live in Uruguay, South America, no GFWL for me either, and the game just vanished from the Steam store one fine day.

          What I did was, I bought it on Gamersgate, they gave me a serial to activate it on Steam, and voila! There it was again. It’s been running mighty fine since August 24th, and I spent some 10 hours on it so far without any kind of problems (other than the ones related to the poor porting and the massive ass-kicking).

  47. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    It seems to me that this game’s difficulty is a bit overrated.

    I suck at games, softened by years upon years of simplified AAA products you can blast through without even paying attention – and yet I’m certainly not “dying over and over again” or anything like that.
    Dark Souls certainly keeps you on your toes, I’ll give it that.
    Actually I find the experience of playing it similar to… Silent Hill games. It will annihilate you the moment you get careless, making you jump at every rustle. But DS controls infinitely better, doesn’t have scares and gives you a choice of where to go, so it’s actually kind of… easier???

    • ramirezfm says:

      Good for you then. It took me more than an hour to beat the gargoyles for the first time. The game is definetely easier on NG+ or NG++, but still… Go fight Four Kings on NG+ or the sneaky bastards in the woods and then tell me it’s easy. It’s not that hard when you get used to the mechanics, but you will still die over and over again.

      • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

        Oh, sure, I’m looking forward to some of the horrific things people are posting about. I’m sure I’ll die plenty of times yet. But for now I’m 14 hours in, and the gargoyles were the only truly frustrating part so far. The Metal Lump guy kicks my ass, but it seems that that fight is optional anyway.

        What this game provides in spades is that sense of isolation. The one you got when you strayed too far from town in Morrowind, and fast travel wasn’t there to save the day. I get this every time I explore a new dungeon in Dark Souls and can’t seem to find a bonfire. No more Estus Flasks left and a few thousand souls to lose. Every encounter becomes epic. It’s exquisite.

      • MikoSquiz says:

        I’m finding the game to be a bit nails overall, but I invested the one humanity to Unhollow, summoned both of the handy NPCs hanging around just before the mist gate, and demolished the gargoyles with no effort whatsoever. I’m guessing it’s a lot tougher if you don’t bring backup.

        • AmateurScience says:

          Sooo much tougher. Getting double teamed without backup is extremely tricky unless you can dish out a lot of damage very quickly.

    • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

      Yay, I defeated! (the metal lump guy) Turns out, whenever he swings and misses, you can use your halberd to poke him gently in the chin until he dies. The same applies to most of the enemies, really. Prize for beating him is pretty sweet!

  48. bill says:

    This game sounds remarkably similar to Ninja gaiden – and while I remember the addiction and the rushing home every night for a week to try a new tactic to beat Alma, I don’t think I have the free time to get into that kind of game again. It’d end in divorce..

  49. Victuz says:

    Maybe it’s just me but is nobody concerned with the fact that if you buy this game and don’t have a controller (preferably a 360 controller because the game doesn’t even bother to change the button indications in the menu) you’re pretty much screwed? Mouse acceleration is completely botched, the slower you move your mouse the faster you spin, but when you have to turn quickly and instinctively move your mouse quickly it turns your screen at a snails pace.

    It’s nigh unplayable without a controller. That should be mentioned at all times. I’m relatively ok with situations where mouse+ keyboard combo is not as good as a controller. But not to that level.

    And yes I don’t own a controller.

    EDIT: I have to point out. What I’m saying is not that the game doesn’t have mouse controls, because that would be a lie. The issue is the fact that this simple thing is completely and utterly botched.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      I found WASD+IJKL to work surprisingly well – even if I didn’t have a gamepad, I just wouldn’t bother with the mouse. The keybinds are also not designed to work with a mouse; you have to jab O on a regular basis, and try doing that with your only keyboard hand on WASD. I don’t think From were expecting anyone to use the mouse outside of menus. PC gaming’s a bit weird over there.

      • Victuz says:

        I wonder in what universe that even begins to make sense O_o

      • bill says:

        Maybe it’s because i’ve been playing PC games for a very long time, but I’m perfectly used to playing games without the mouse.
        Back in the day there used to be a large number of games that wre keyboard only, and it’s only really in the last few years that developers have worked out how to make PC action games not suck with mouse controls.
        But also back in the day everyone had a range of controllers.
        I’d say that back then probably only RTS and (later) FPS games used the mouse, action games were controller or keyboard only.

        • Victuz says:

          Yes but those games were designed with that specific control scheme in mind. In case of Dark Souls it just seems like the devs went “mouse controls? rofl” and decided to opt in for digital only controls.

          I understand your point but we live in the time where people got accustomed to mouse controls and they work perfectly fine. Not using them is not only lazy, it’s nonsensical.

          You don’t see cars controlled with two levers (left and right) instead of steering wheel any more for a reason.

  50. Nim says:

    Sounds like wow raiding. Dying, respawning, running back, dying again, respawning again, running back again. Trash mobs will kill you if you don’t watch out. Respawning trash.

    I’m getting this game.