marz's Dark Souls (Xbox 360) review

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  • marz has written a total of 3 reviews. The last one was for Dark Souls

An Ambitious and Challenging Adventure to Remember

These are just my thoughts and opinions about Dark Souls after 100+ hours of playing this game in the past few weeks.   When I think of Dark Souls i think of it as an experience, there has been no other game that has given me so many emotional high's and low's, where one minute I'm telling the game to "F**k Off!" and the next minute I'm in complete jubilation because i just defeated a boss I was stuck on for about an hour.  Dark Souls is sort of a throw back to old school game design where you have to figure things out on your own as you keep playing.  It encourages exploration and testing the waters before you fully immerse yourself into the deeper ends of the pool.  The game is definitely not for everyone and it isn't a perfect game by any means but it's one of the most enjoyable action role playing games I've played this year.

 The Bonfire
One of the stigma's attached to this game is of it having a brutal difficulty and the "prepare to die" slogan used on the game box and advertising leading to the game's launch trying to discourage would be heroes from playing the game.  Also the fact that Demon's Souls was a game released a few years ago by the same company that was scorned and applauded for being that daunting game that no one really wants to make anymore.  Which was a successful game in it's own right and that's why we have a Dark Souls today.  In reality most of the difficulty stems from not actually knowing what to do in this game.  The tutorial in the game will give players the basic controls and concepts like "press this button to attack", "press this button to block", "rest at a bonfire, you recover HP".  After the tutorial you are then dropped in the world and you are on your own pretty much.  There are no waypoints, no quest journal, you are not told what humanity does, how to revive yourself, what kindling a flame does, how to equip magic, what you need to equip to cast magic, and the list goes on.   You just sort of learn this by testing things as you progress and this may be a deal breaker for many people who are new to a Souls type of game.  Then there is the death penalty, which is strict mostly because you lose souls, and souls are the lifeblood of this game.  It's the currency to buy weapons, armor, upgrades, and it is also your experience as you use souls to level up your character's stats.  Now souls can always be redeemed by going back to the spot where you died and retrieving your bloodstain but to do that you must travel from the last bonfire and face every enemy on the path you took to your demise once again because they have respawned.  So if you die a second time without retrieving your body you basically lose all the souls that you left on that previous body forever with no way to get them back. 

 Bosses can be cruel sometimes!
Although there are classes in the game this doesn't ultimately seal your fate into one path in the game.  You can easily start as a Knight and become a pyromancer if knighthood just didn't satisfy your playing style and vice versa.  Starting classes only serve to adjust stats to what that class might benefit from but ultimately it's the player's choice on what they want to develop their character into.  The combat while action oriented strives to be tactical, meaning that you can't hack and slash your way through this game without putting yourself at an extreme risk of being slain.  So unless you are a skilled Japanese guy with tons of practice under his belt and can beat this game in an hour and a half, then you will want to play slow and methodical.  Rushing through the game is a recipe for death and frustration very often.  Again this hearkens back to the difficulty, it's only as hard as you the player make it to be.  So once you learn the layout of a path of progression and what weapons work best for you, you start finding the game easier to digest and then you finally reach what is a big part of the game in the Boss Fights.  These are the most difficult parts of the game and can be very discouraging at times due to the sheer amount of damage that can overwhelm your seemingly underpowered character if you make any sort of mistake.  As with most monsters in this game each boss will have patterns of attacks that you must learn if you want to survive.  I'll admit i hit a wall a few times on some boss fights and had to take some time off and release some steam.  Eventually coming in refocused and rejuvenating helped in some situations.  I wouldn't say that any particular boss fight is being ridiculously cheap, but most deaths were caused due to my own error and lack of proper preparation and timing.  So you may as some point end up grinding souls for levels or upgrading weapons to be ready for more difficult boss fights.  Which is time consuming and not enjoyable at times at least for me.  Some people probably won't mind but i felt that it should be mentioned in this review.

 A Dragon Covenant
Dark Souls while being mostly a single player focused game actually has some very unique online features.  Throughout the game world you will find orange writing on the ground with messages left by other players.  These can be hints to help you find items, find secret passages, warn you of dangers, and sometimes just deceiving you into getting yourself killed.  You get this impression that you are not alone in your adventure and that this community of players is trying to help each other out in a game that doesn't give you much information to work with in the first place.  Also throughout the world you can see other people's ghosts and bloodstains which you can view to see how someone may have met their demise and give you an idea of what can happen if you are not paying attention.  There is also the ability to summon other players into your game world to help you defeat any boss you may be stuck on which is great but you are only able to do this while you are in human form.  The game starts you off undead and most new players will probably not realize that this is actually a feature you can turn on by reversing your status to human at the bonfire by using humanity points.  So once you learn to activate your human form you can make full use of the co-op features in the game. At the same time you risk becoming invaded by another player.  Player invasions are basically a Player Versus Player component also added to the game.  It occurs randomly and it can happen at the most inconvenient times.  Most players will find that invasions are mostly instigated by the covenants throughout the game.  Covenants are the factions in this game world and each has their own unique perks and items that you can receive based on your faction rank and loyalty.  So this in essence encourages PvP in most cases as some covenants are strictly invasion focused to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting adventurer's game world.  Obviously if you don't want to participate in the grief that is PvP it can always be avoided by being in undead form but you also lose the option to summon friendly players into your game world.  As of writing this there are problems and many times I've failed to invade other players either because the network wasn't properly working or because it found no players near my level to participate in.  So it's a shame I didn't get to experience the online co-op and PvP much and hopefully they implement changes to their servers to better match people with each other in the future.
 Gorgeous View.

Now one of the weak parts of the game is the story itself.  There isn't a deep meaningful one in this game and any story elements just serve to move you along a path to explore more areas and kill more bosses.  What Dark Souls lacks in story it is rich with atmosphere.  There are various locations in the game world each with a unique look ranging from castle exteriors, forests, swamps, and lava filled caverns.  This game can be hauntingly beautiful at times and you can't help but just sit back and stare at a few set pieces while you explore.  The sound is also fairly decent and portrays ambiance well enough to feel like you are in such dark and dank environments.  Although there isn't much music in the game, the boss fight music is excellent and reels in the tension and urgency of the situation at hand 

Dark Souls is a unique game, one that requires a lot patience to fully appreciate.  There are some technical problems such as slow frame rates in certain sections of the game on the Xbox 360 version of the game but it isn't a detriment to the full experience of the game.  If there is any huge mishaps within this game it would have to be the lack of explanation of how some game mechanics work.  This is is a very enjoyable game and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for grand challenge and adventure.  
 There is hope in this dark and dangerous world!
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