Dark Souls

Dark Souls
Dark Souls Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Genre Death inducing RPG
MtAMinutes to Action 13
Keep Playing? No
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There’s different flavors of “difficult” in video games. Some games are hard because of limited lives and crushing level design, like the original Ninja Gaiden, for example. And take Nethack, its difficulty resides in the massive amount of “unknown” in the game combined with a bit of luck. And then there’s Demon’s Souls and its sequel Dark Souls, known for their incredibly challenging, but fair gameplay.

I have not played Demon’s Souls, but when Dark Souls was released last month for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, I was determined to at least give it an hour of my time. That opportunity has come, and while I survived, I did not come out unscathed.

Dark Souls was developed by the obnoxiously named From Software, known for their double-noun named games such as Shadow Tower, King’s Field, and Ninja Blade, along with the Armored Core series. They also published 3D Dot Game Heroes, which as far as I can tell is the extreme opposite of Dark Souls.

Here is its first hour.

Minute by Minute

00 - I select New Game and the first hour of Dark Souls begins. The game would like me to adjust the settings now, so I take a moment to check the basics. Yes, I invert the Y-axis, and yes, that’s the default in this game. Take that, uninverts.

01 - Time to create my character, name and sex are easy, but what class?

02 - All I know is I probably shouldn’t take the Deprived, basically a naked guy with a club and crappy shield. I’m going to give Pyromancer a try.

Dark Souls Character Creation

03 - Now I pick a gift, basically little perks my character gets. Goddess’s Blessing sounds the best: “Divine holy water. Fully restore HP and status.” But is it a one-time use? That would be kind of ridiculous, right? Maybe I’ll give Master Key a try instead, “Opens any basic lock. Initial equip for thief.” If there’s one thing I hate it’s locked doors.

04 - Next I select my physique. The options make my character grow bigger or smaller in the head, torso, or legs. Tiny Head is pretty hilarious, but... why? I’ll just go with Average. There’s also about a dozen faces to pick from. I should make the point that this is really, really basic character creation. After that I pick my hair style and color.

05 - Well, you can also set a bunch more settings such as maturity and hormones, so it’s not quite as basic as I thought, but still ughly. I’ll skip the extras for now.

06 - “In the age of ancients, the world was unformed, shrouded by fog.” The game’s opening cutscene kicks off with a woman narrating about the beginning of the world, which of course, included dragons. It kind of sounds like a 14 year old wrote it, and the graphics accompanying it aren’t that original.

07 - Until Nito appears, that is. The first of the dead shows up as a skeleton with a ton of bones and skulls forming his body, looks pretty cool. Then the game names a few more special beings that challenged the dragons. A bunch of battle scenes showing off the super powers of our heroes(?) defeating the dragons once and for all.

08 - “Thus began the Age of Fire.” Pretty dark and gritty stuff.

Darks Souls Nito Cutscene

10 - Loading now, I think. In-game graphics show the inside of a dungeon, though the narrator is still describing something called the Darksign. The undead are corralled northward, locked away to await the end of the world. I think I might be one of the undead. Oh, that’s me in a cell.

11 - Some dead guy gets tossed into my cell from above and I get control. I try out the buttons, the X button makes me look like I’m howling without making any noise. I have a red and green bar at the top, the green bar goes down temporarily when I swing my little axe.

13 - Just killed my first bad guy! Well, he didn’t even attack me, just some sad, starved looking prisoner I hacked away at. There’s this really creepy pounding noise, don’t know what it is. Oh, there’s a big monster thing in a cage!

14 - There are tutorial messages written on the ground on how to attack and dash.

16 - I light a bonfire and rest there for a moment, which recovers my HP and probably acts as a checkpoint.

17 - Death Count = 1

Okay, this game is not frakking around. You know that monster I saw a few minutes ago? I was just forced to fight it. It was an Asylum Demon and I got my butt kicked. I’m not sure I even did any damage. How do I use my fireball? Am I supposed to run away?

Dark Souls you Died Game Over

19 - I guess I didn’t actually use the bonfire last time, just lit it, so I had to run through the beginning part again. Okay, here we go again! Hah! I just ran by him this time through a door on the left. Sucker.

20 - A floor tutorial says, “get your shield!” Huh? I run around a corner and get shot with an arrow which sticks into my shoulder. Ouch.

21 - Ah, there’s a shield slightly down the hall, got stuck with another arrow but I’ll live.

23 - After a moment of fumbling in the menu (you have to use the D-pad as the sticks still move your character around!), I equip the shield in my off-hand. Let’s take down this archer.

24 - The archer only takes one shot, which I block, and then runs away sensing I’m going to chop his head off. I pick up a Small Axe, which I equip and then kill the archer with.

25 - I go through some white light and appear... in more dungeon. This area is a bit more open, however.

Dark Souls Knight Wallpaper

26 - A bad guy thought it would be funny to Indiana Jones roll a boulder down the stairs I was climbing. Bastard.

28 - I find another bonfire, but that pounding indicating the big monster is nearby begins again.

29 - Instead of going through the doors I’m guessing the game wants me to go through, I find a ladder and climb down it into a deeper dungeon.

30 - Never mind, it’s the ladder I climbed up before at the beginning, this looks nothing like that. How the heck did I get turned around like that?

31 - Crap, that means the monster is behind that door. Umm... let’s try going somewhere else.

32 - Dead end, apparently the game really wants me to fight the monster again. Am I actually ready? I have a stronger weapon and a shield, maybe that’s all I need.

Dark Souls Bonfire Wallpaper

33 - Or not, can’t even get through that set of doors anymore! “Locked by some contraption.” No idea where to go, then.

35 - Oh! The rolling boulder broke part of the wall, I kill a guy inside that and he mutters, “but... why?” Oops, maybe I was supposed to talk with him?

36 - Well, I got a key and a flask that restores health with the press of the X button. Let’s try that locked door where the boulder guy was (what’s the point of my Master Key, anyway?).

39 - Making some progress now, killed a bunch of guys but a tutorial tells me that resting at a bonfire brings all the baddies back to life!

41 - Death Count = 2

Went through some white light, which immediately brought me back to the Asylum Demon! I did some damage to him this time, though, so I think I stand a chance.

42 - All of these tutorials describe parrying and riposting using pictures for the Xbox 360 bumpers and triggers, but I can never tell them apart. Why do the right bumper and right trigger curve in different directions?

Dark Souls Skeleton Sword Shield

43 - Death Count = 3

Well, my experimentation with parry and riposte against a simple looking knight went horribly wrong.

45 - Death Count = 4

That battle against the Demon went really, really bad. No comment. At least I know how to use magic now.

48 - I WON! I beat the Asylum Demon! The trick is when jumping down from the entrance, to stab him in the head like you’re playing Shadow of the Colossus! Took about half his damage away, then I tossed fireballs at him to finish him off. I will admit, it was pretty scary there for a second.

49 - Got another key, I think I know where to use this one. The only bad part about killing the demon? The stomping is still going on in the background.

52 - What am I supposed to be doing with all these points I’ve been collecting? I have about 1500?

53 - The door I thought I had a key for wasn’t a match, time to keep looking. Oh, it’s probably for the door inside the boss room. Lame.

Dark Souls Raven

55 - Yep, I was right. A floor tutorial says, “Good job, go straight ahead.” Bust right through that fourth wall over there.

56 - The next tutorial says, “Be wary of fall. Rating: 0.” Then, “Wings ahead” and “Tough enemy ahead.” Also both with ratings.

57 - I head to the edge of the cliff and a giant raven swoops down and grabs me. The narrator tells how an undead like me was destined to be chosen.

58 - We’re flying to some other location and I’m dropped off in Lordran right in front of a bonfire. I have additional options here now, I can level up, Kindle, and Reverse Hollowing. I know what one of those means.

59 - I’ve got enough souls to level up two attributes across Vitality, Attunement, Endurance, Strength, Dexterity, Resistance, Intelligence, and Faith. I don’t even know where to begin.

60 - I can’t Kindle while Hollowed, and I can’t Reverse Hollowing because I have no humanity. All right then, on that note, that’s the end of the first hour of Dark Souls.

Bonus Deaths! I sliced at some NPC after he told me about the Bells of Awakening. He then stood up and killed me in about three hits, I wasn’t doing any visible damage. And whenever I resurrected at the bonfire right where he was standing, he would immediately begin to strike me down. I highly recommend you do not attempt to fight this guy! Your saved game might be screwed!

Dark Souls Roof Boss Dragon

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 13

Bias: I didn’t really have any opinion at all going into Dark Souls, I knew it would be a hard game, and I was honestly expecting to die a lot more than four times. I do have sort of a bias in general against purposefully hard games. I’ll readily admit that due to having a full-time job with a commute, two little kids, and the responsibility of running this site, I don’t have as much time for gaming as I’d like. Thus, struggling with a game like Dark Souls sounds unappealing. So...

Would I Keep Playing? No.

I can understand why some people love this game: with great difficulty comes great reward, and it sounds like gamers are getting huge highs from investing tons of time into Dark Souls and coming out on top. I don’t have a lot of time these days, and can’t see myself giving the game the time it needs to really enjoy it.

I do have positives to say, starting with the gameplay. It really is tough, but it really is fair. The biggest skill I can take out of the first hour of Dark Souls is simply not to get hit. This may sound pretty obvious, but in a game like this (or Nethack, for that matter), getting whacked once or twice could spell death and loss of minutes to hours of your time.

Weapons also feel great in your hand, swinging a sword along a wall causes a bunch of sparks, or may just stop you mid-strike. You can also feel your character getting extra strength out of each hit when they use two hands to swing. But I wouldn’t expect anything else from a title with such punishing enemies.

Dark Souls is a bit light on the story, which I don’t mind as long as it is shelved for the right reasons, which it is in this game’s case. Will we learn more about the dragons and all those gods we saw in the opening cutscene? Probably, but they’re not pertinent to the tutorial and general enjoyment.

So I am a bit reluctant to say I’m not going to continue playing, because in this case: it’s not you, it’s me.