Run – do not walk – to pick up a copy of Dark Souls at your favorite video game rental store. You could even stop at your favorite retailer and purchase a copy of this epic, positively addictive Action Role-Playing Game (RPG) and run very low risk of being disappointed. Without a doubt, Dark Souls is one of the best RPG titles to release during 2011 yet, and it can certainly hold its own even with all the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hype overwhelming the console RPG community.
But what makes Dark Souls so incredibly satisfying? Well, for one, all of the RPG elements represented in this video game are done very well. Keep reading for more details, and an even further argument as to why this one deserves a few hours of your time – or a whole weekend, if you prefer.
The developers behind Dark Souls understood the basics of what makes an addictive video game: A storyline which is at least moderately engaging, sharp controls and an easy to use interface (including the backpack and equipment screens), plus combat which is both challenging and rewarding. But Dark Souls isn’t just catering to the high standards of the modern gaming community; instead, this title is hard, above and beyond what many of us have been spoon-fed in recent years as “difficult.” There is no mercy in this video game, and danger lurks around every corner. In one of the first areas upon starting the game, I was minding my own business while strolling up a staircase only to have a boulder fall on my character. Yes, folks – a boulder – out of nowhere.
But it’s also the little things in Dark Souls that are satisfying. You know, those elements much of the gaming community might think is above and beyond the call of duty for developers, but that actually matter to at least some portion of the players? For example, not only can players choose between a male or female protagonist – something I keenly appreciate seeing as a female player – but the female character models are appropriately clothed in battle gear, rather than skimpy little vests and thongs that defy all logic when one is facing melee combat. Things like this really can tip the scale from mediocre to quality, though to be honest Dark Souls sits pretty comfortably in the must-play category even without this consideration for the Gamer Gals.
Unfortunately, Dark Souls multiplayer is online only. This is becoming increasingly the case with many top-notch video games, but it’s a shame that the days of plopping down on the couch with a friend and picking up two controllers to fight either each other or the virtual universe are disappearing. One great thing about the online world of Dark Souls is the shadowy presence other players leave in your world. You can scribe messages of warning or encouragement for others to find, or see blood splatters from fallen Xbox Live comrades as a warning. You can even summon another player into your game, or visit their version of the world. I just can’t help feeling these features would have only been enhanced by an offline, co-op mode.
The opening cinema for Dark Souls explains that when light came into the world, so did the denizens of the darkness now that the line between light and dark, good and evil, and such had been drawn. It isn’t terribly original or all that elaborate, but it’s enough to make this video game at least somewhat interesting right out the gate. I was impressed with the flexibility in character creation, beyond the cosmetics of the avatar; players can choose from a nice list of class options, including Knight, Thief and Bandit. Each class has different base stats, plus some perks specific to that choice – such as the master key included with the Thief option, which is my personal favorite. The flexibility lends well to supporting multiple play styles, though unfortunately your selection of class doesn’t affect the world – or the plot line – very much.
One element that does influence the whole of the world and your experiences therein is the in-game covenants. These faction-like bonds forged with various creatures in the world can open up some new abilities, achievements and other perks, but you must obey the tenants of the covenant or face disciplinary measures by your patron of choice. Your selection influences interactions with different non-player characters (NPCs) within the Dark Souls world, so choose carefully.
Dark Souls is a beautiful game, if you can consider a land full of danger lurking in the shadows to be truly beautiful. Although the different regions offer entirely new types of landscape, the world as a whole feels organic and linked. You can explore freely, moving from one terrain to another, all while trying not to turn your back on too dark of a corridor. The biggest problem with the graphics, which are impressive and up to par with other 2011 video game releases, is the frame rate; Dark Souls has a tendency to get choppy, even while being played on the Xbox 360 instead of a PC version. This flaw isn’t too cumbersome, but it is inconvenient especially while in combat, and both noticeable and frequent enough to knock a point off this category’s score.
The music blends in great with the dark, medieval-style world around you, and the sound effects from other creatures, nearby combat and other audio clues are well done. The boss fights feel even more epic, and wandering through dark dungeons is all the more ominous.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
Honestly, Dark Souls simply should be experienced by anyone who considers themselves an RPG fan. Yes, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is likely to overshadow it in the long run, but that’s a shame; this Action RPG title has plenty to offer gamers looking for an in-depth world and engaging atmosphere. If you haven’t cut your teeth on the RPG genre yet, you could certainly do worse than to start with Dark Souls.
Fortunately, both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions of this title are available at RedBox locations across the country, and the rental price is $2 per night. Convenient and very reasonable compared to the dwindling larger rental outfits – especially since you can reserve online with a credit card. Do yourself a favor, and the next time you have a free evening to kill in front of your console, pick up Dark Souls and be prepared to be totally immersed in a dark world full of intrigue.