I’m at the beginning of the game, I’ve been taught how to move, fight, dodge and even heal myself – I have no idea where I am or why I’m here though. I’m now lead through a wall of opaque white light to my next area. I find myself on a balcony above a boss which I previously ran away from due to a severe lack of weapons but I’m armed this time around – with Bandit Knife and Shield in hand I prepare for my first boss encounter.
I wait for my moment, looking for the perfect moment to strike. No sooner had I made my decision than the giant overweight demon had jumped into the air much quicker than I thought it could, spun around to face me and bought his giant hammer down onto my face. The next thing I saw were the words “You Died” floating in the middle of the screen as the screen melted into monochromaticity but I knew these words had another – lesser spoken but well known meaning – they secretly said “Welcome to Dark Souls!”
Yes, Dark Souls, the answer to the question “how hard could this game possibly be?” has recently been released on PC in the form of its Prepare to Die Edition and is without a doubt a very, very difficult game. Now, Dark Souls has a very barebones plot – events and their significance are often implicit and left very much to player interpretation rather than being fully explained like conventional games. Much of the lore in the world is given through dialogue from characters, item descriptions or the odd cutscene here and there but it’s all up to the player to put the pieces together. You start the game in The Hallow having contracted Undead-ism that is ravaging the land and from here they must not only escape but also cure themselves of the condition.
Dark Souls, as a game, is very well put together with some truly beautiful vistas and graphics to enjoy – the controls are fairly intuitive and something that you would expect from most action adventure games these days but Dark Souls selling point has to be it’s difficulty – its unrelenting, merciless difficulty.
Now, I say that Dark Souls is a ‘well made’ game – I am of course referring to the original build of Dark Souls which came out on console back in 2011 – the PC (Prepare to Die) edition has been created solely through fan outcry that there was not a PC version. From Software have basically taken their console version of Dark Souls and pushed that square peg against the round hole long enough until it finally fit into place and then pushed it out of the door. Normally this would be a critics dream playground, a shoddy port from console to PC seems to be the ‘in’ thing these days but From Software have openly said that this is all the fans asked for so it’s all that they delivered – I can’t really blame them for that.
Dark Souls is a very challenging game but it contains the promise of victory, even when pressed with insurmountable odds – creatures are able to kill you in one hit, poisons and death-curses can half your maximum health which can therefore only be cured by visiting certain places in the game. At its heart, Dark Souls is a hardcore RPG for people who are sick of the current generation of RPG’s basically holding the players hand throughout the game. It’s a game which will hit you straight in the face and laugh as you hit the floor but you’ll find yourself dusting yourself off and trying again – only to be hit even harder and hit the floor with a sickening thud. But you’ll keep trying and trying to achieve some semblance of reward or recognition from a game which makes no fanfare or celebration of your victories.
Naturally, with the Prepare to Die Edition of Dark Souls comes the addition of the extra DLC content. DLC is a bit of a tricky thing these days, it’s hard to create DLC that feels like it belonged in the game in the first place without it already being on the disc but Dark Souls does a pretty good job of it…mostly…
By ‘…mostly…’ I mean that the DLC comes in two parts, the first part is subline, fitting right into the normal game as though it were there all along, indeed, if I didn’t know it was DLC, I would have mistaken it for normal gameplay as the Oolacile is tucked away roughly halfway through the game.
Playing as a completely new section of the game, you find yourself exploring a large forest similar to the previous forest you will have explored in the game. This area, whilst challenging will submit if you persevere to open up to four separate sections featuring some of the best bosses and most devious fights that Dark Souls can possibly offer – this is true, unrelenting Dark Souls at it’s very best which ends in (SPOILER WARNING) a confrontation with Artorias who is a key character in Dark Souls and is always hinted at but never seen – until now. In true Dark Souls fashion however even after defeating Artorias you still have an (arguably much harder) boss waiting for you if you backtrack instead of pressing forward to the newly designed multiplayer arena.
Yes, the multiplayer arena – tucked away in a tiny antechamber featuring three different challenges (One v One PvP, Two v Two Teams PvP and Four Player Free For All) over two different maps – this was intended to make matchmaking easier in Dark Souls as the current system offers no real feedback or information about the status of the matches. Granted however – neither does the new system. I found myself standing around guessing that the small red circles near my feet were other players waiting for a match to start with me, maybe it’s because the arena is so far into a game and many players either won’t reach here or simply walk straight past it, maybe it’s the actual matchmaking system itself or the small Dark Souls PC version population – I don’t know, I only hope that things improve as Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition offers some of the best single player RPG gaming I have experienced in a long time and has the opportunity to offer some of the best multiplayer out there.
Namco Bandai provided SlimGamer.com with a review copy of Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition.