Dark Souls Review: Death by Design

Dark Souls
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Released: October 4th, 2011
MSRP: $59.99

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There’s a scene in Zulu, the 1964 classic about war in South Africa between the British Empire and the titular locals. A young Michael Caine, playing the extravagantly named Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, leads a small contingent of troops as they defend the hamlet of Rorke’s Drift against 4,000 Zulus. As the battle begins, a troop of Zulus charges forward, then suddenly stops and begins chanting. They are cut down by British rifle fire.

Turning to Adendorff, the garrison’s Boer collaborator, Bromhead asks the obvious question: “what’s wrong with them? Why don’t they fight?” “Can’t you see that old boy up on the hill,” replies Adendorff, pointing to a greying Zulu general. “He’s counting your guns. Testing your firing power with the lives of his warriors.”

In Dark Souls, you will become a Zulu general. Every time you die, you’ll learn something about the challenges you face. It could be the location of an item or an enemy lying in ambush, the layout of a level, or the attack pattern of a boss. As they did before the barricades of Rorke’s drift, Dark Souls deaths become acts of suicidal reconnaissance.

Before you beat the game, you will die hundreds, if not thousands of times. I made an abortive attempt at keeping count when I started my playthrough, eventually losing track at 161, just two days in. Five days later, I persevered, after 75 hours that mixed triumph and sublime enjoyment with setbacks and agony.

Characters in Dark Souls can expect to be stabbed, beaten, burnt, devoured, crushed, and knocked off ledges to plummet to their demise. Created by iconoclastic Japanese developer From Software, the game is a follow-up to 2009′s sleeper hit Demon’s Souls, which also embraced uncompromising difficulty.

Dark Souls is not for everyone. Gamers have been increasingly conditioned to expect success with little effort, a convention that From Software abandons within about five minutes of Dark Souls’ beginning. The game is adept at eliciting frustration, hopelessness, and despair. If you play games to relax, or for some simplistic, circumscribed notion of “fun,” you’d be better off spending your money on something else.

Though the multitudinous deaths are frustrating, they’re rarely unfair. Staring grimly at the loading screen, you can usually ascribe your recent demise to some combination of carelessness, excessive ambition, desperation, or flagging concentration.

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11 Comments on Dark Souls Review: Death by Design

Darkraidor

On October 14, 2011 at 5:03 pm

damn, nice review ben

Hangedman

On October 14, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Good work on this huge review ! I loved your opening, it is EPIC !

JosephPS3 Dead State

On October 15, 2011 at 7:58 am

great in depth review Ben.

Turbo-Maniac-

On October 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm

After reading your review I will not yell
at the tv screen anymore and die with without
complaint. Cheers

LeonPS3 Hollowed

On October 17, 2011 at 5:43 am

One of the best reviews I have ever read. Well done.

Method

On October 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm

EPIC Review !!! This is the only Dark Soul’s review that has even came close to describing this masterpiece of a game into word’s like you did.

Atmic

On October 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Absolutely fantastic review. I’m going to use this review to describe it to any newcomer friends unaware of this fantastic series.

Adam

On October 24, 2011 at 9:58 pm

the problem is, the better you get at something, the more you should be rewarded. Simply dying as a REQUIREMENT to overcome obstacles because there’s NO WAY to avoid it without knowing the encounter beforehand is STUPID. Not fun.

Ninjat_126

On January 5, 2012 at 2:32 am

Just a note, the invasion-aiding-consumables have been patched so they’re only consumed on a successful invasion.

Also, bosses can be breezed through with some aid from a phantom: my pitifully low-levelled character killed the Taurus Demon on the first try with a little jolly cooperation. After my other character died twenty times trying to block the hammer/axe with a parrying shield.

cbogen

On February 16, 2012 at 3:41 am

I just beat the great gray wolf earlier, and later learned there was a way to spare him. I found it strange the sympathy I felt for this giant beast, after it was recently trying to kill me. I played a few more hours, and in his memory, I have not and will not use his soul for anything. Rest in peace Sif.

Jordan

On January 29, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Love the review. I am a Dark and Demon’s souls veteran and you just pointed out every detail someone needs to know before even attempting to play this game, 5/5 star review.