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Dark Souls [Review]

You know those kung-fu movies where the master beats the living snot out of the student in an effort to make them a better warrior? Usually there’s a moment where the trainee gets one, small hit on the master, and the student exults and the master cracks the faintest of smiles.

Dark Souls is like that—but without the smile.

One of the ways that video games have changed the way gamers think is that they’re not afraid to die and learn from their mistakes. Dark Souls will give you the ultimate chance to die and learn from your mistakes, because you will die. A LOT.

Let’s move back a bit. Dark Souls is a successor—but not a sequel—to the hit Playstation 3 game Demon’s Souls. The designers decided to expand the new game’s reach by making a Playstation and Xbox 360 version of the game.

You begin the game as a nameless warrior—who happens to be undead. You’re trying to find a way to end the curse, and the story slowly unfolds as you progress. But it’s not the story that’s compelling in the game—it’s the gameplay.

The game is full of interesting and terrible creatures and traps, and every one of them is capable of killing you at any time. You can’t rush through Dark Souls; the game punishes those who lack patience. There are traps and ambushes and hyper-aggressive enemies everywhere, who will chase you down and end you.

It’s a throwback to the days of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, where games didn’t hold your hand. A game like Dead Space lets you push a button and the game literally lights a path to show you your way. Darks Souls won’t do that. You have to wander around—with death around every turn—until you find the right way. There’s also a helpful system where other players can leave messages on the floor for you—from a limited palate of words. Of course, while this is usually helpful, players can also lead you astray—convincing you there’s treasure off the edge of a cliff, or that you should attack a character even though that’s a TERRIBLE idea.

The game’s currency is souls. When you defeat an enemy you collect souls, which you can use to level up your character or purchase weapons or repair your equipment. Yet another difficult aspect is that if you die—sorry, when you die—all of your accumulated souls are left where you died. You have one chance to get back to that spot to recover the souls you’ve lost.  If you die before you get back there, they disappear forever. Frustrating!

The literal lights in the darkness are the occasional bonfires you’ll encounter. They’re the spots where you recover health, level up, and save your progress—and in a Dark Souls-ish evil twist, as soon as you activate a bonfire all of the enemies respawn.

As if the smaller deadly enemies weren’t enough, the game is peppered with bosses—powerful demon behemoths that can kill you in no time. But they all have a pattern just waiting to be exploited…

For all of the amazing things this game does well, I simply can’t recommend it. It’s a game without hope—full of… despair. As I found myself wandering the utter darkness of the Depths, facing the sickening monsters, cursed and alone and trying desperately to find a bonfire, I wondered what effect this might have on a teenager. They have enough trouble with isolation and feeling hopeless; they don’t need a game reinforcing that.

This is a perfect example of why I think the video game ratings are so important. You can argue that Halo: Reach doesn’t deserve the M rating it has, but there’s no way Dark Souls can be anything else. If you hear about a kid playing this, pay careful attention to their state of mind. I mean it.

Stuff to consider:

  • Alcohol—None
  • Violence—The game is all about killing things. It’s dark and bloody and violent.
  • Language—None.
  • Sex/Nudity—The ratings say there is partial nudity, but the only evidence I’ve seen is a picture of a boss with a monstrous lower half and a human female upper half—with hair covering her breasts. I don’t know if there’s anything else.

I’ve played this game for ~15 hours, and I’m only a fraction of the way through it. Few games have sucked me in and captured my imagination like this one. I’m still not sure that’s a good thing…

[Rated M for Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Violence.]

Scott Firestone is the editor for Group Magazine and He’s really happy Batman: Arkham City is coming out this week, so he’s not tempted to play more Dark Souls. Follow him on Twitter: @firestone.

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Dark Souls [Review]

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