Enemies in Dark Souls are bastards. You know you need to be careful with every step and each encounter with an opponent is a fight to the death, with starting over or the glory of a hard fought victory and accompanying rewards as stake.
Just as in an addictive racer, puzzle game or Civilization you always want to take on just one more enemy or discover what’s around the next corner. The urge for more is big and it’s that addictive balance between failure and success that keeps driving you into the beautiful and tempting world of Dark Souls. A world that just like real life is filled with traps, bad luck and disappointment, but also with unforgettable moments and cheers of joy. A combination you don’t often come across!
As Steve Jobs taught us so long ago: it’s the death and the dying that urges us to move forward, to enjoy life and make the best of it. And that also counts here, with that difference that you’ll die a lot. The developers don’t take you by the hand, weak spots of hostiles aren’t pointed out with a neon light, and man-to-man combat aren’t animations you win with a press of a button. A mini-map, light trail or all kinds of extras if you only take the time to open all crates and jars? Forget it!
Luckily there are a couple of classic things that do give you something to hold onto. As usual you choose a character, from hunter or warrior to magician, and build it out by defeating enemies and exploring dungeons, sewers and other less pleasant surroundings. But that’s it. You’re thrown into the world where friend and enemy see you for who you are: a bum who needs to needs to do what he needs to do and can only count on himself.
In some way that philosophy helps creating a credible world. You need to find out how things work by yourself, which roads lead where and which weapons you have to use. The only help you get is from other players and these are as reliable as they are in for having a sadistical joke with you. It’s welcome help – other gamers can leave tips for fellow adventurers – but also a bit the perfect atmosphere of the setting and its lonelyness that breaks through. Up to you to decide whether or not to use them, but know that without these tips things become even harder.
Enjoying the world is what you need to do in this game. I haven’t seen any other game the last couple of years that has managed to be this immersive, only by the constant discovery of new areas, the continuous going forward in a complex and expanding world filled with colorful and black surprises and parts where you may have wanted to go but were afraid to do so. Dark Souls has made something that will force you to continue and will immerse you only by the beauty, darkness and shiny appeal of what’s in front of your feet.
That and the bosses of course. Where standard opponents are already interesting, the bosses aer like gates to more of this amazing world. Each of these monsters was clearly given quite some creativity by the makers and they’re all memorable and different. From beautiful to gruesome, from classic to innovative, from soft to rock hard, from completely inhumane, to very recognisable: the anticipation is there from the moment you hear them from far away until the second you see them arrive in the corner of your eyes and will remain shaking until you start the actual fight.
We of course have to mention something about the gameplay itself. The developers clearly have learnt lessons from the previous game and luckily they hang onto what they feel is the only way to figght their deadly creatures. And that’s cautious, subtle, but at the same time also rock hard and heavy. You need to think about your timing and get into that mindset where you fight for your life. And that’s not by pushing buttons randomly but by waiting, defending, blocking, protecting yourself and finally striking a terrible blow yourself.
You’ll sit at the edge of your seat, and for once not because there’s tons of spectacle being thrown at you but specifically because of this pure focus on that one moment: you and that which wants to take your life away from you.
In these times of endlessly tested games and buttersweet difficulty degrees where gamers are pampered like fragile crybabies with only a need for junkfood Dark Souls is the perfect counteragent. A rock hard world and a setting in which is fought for life and death. No mercy for button bashers or quitters, no mercy for those who don’t like to suffer. In exchange you get an unequalled world, the feeling of true satisfaction and reward, and an experience you can only gather in the best games and the best types of entertainment. That is Dark Souls and that is why you need to show you’ve got balls.