Dark Souls Review: Death by Design

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The meticulous care lavished on Dark Souls’ environments is nothing short of astounding. From has created one of the most impressive open worlds in video game history, which can be traversed in its gargantuan entirety without seeing a single loading screen. “Lordran,” as the world is known, fits together like some hideous protein; its tangled and variegated areas connect effortlessly, despite their labyrinthine layouts.

The range of different environments makes Demon’s Souls look boring by comparison. Dark Souls depicts verdant forests filled with glowing fauna, lonely, haunting dunes made of ash, snow-covered ruins, and towering, bizarro-gothic piles, replete with flying buttresses.

The attention to architectural detail is meticulous, abetted by the evocative, painterly quality of the textures. Pausing to inspect the scenery is a good way to get killed, but in moments of relative safety, the eye is captivated by the veined marble floor of a sumptuous elevator, or the ivy creeping across crumbling masonry. Even the rocks are stylized and artistic. As a Japanese developer designing a game with a distinctly European aesthetic, From is free to hone in on the best visual aspects of Western RPG’s, while discarding the worst.

From Software, perhaps more than any other developer, has an acute understanding of the uncanny. The game’s levels are frequently unsettling, and sometimes downright disturbing. Designed to prey on our phobias, they include massive piles of bones, tiny rooms infested with crawling insects, and vertigo-inducing cliffs. One area requires you to find your way around in pitch darkness. Another is navigable only by traversing invisible bridges, marked by the patter of tiny snow-flakes.

Placement of enemies is the final element of From’s level design accomplishments. Carefully calculated to border on unfair, the game requires players to proceed methodically, luring out one enemy at a time whenever possible. Anything less than complete caution and concentration will get you killed, as will the sudden addition of a second foe to the fight. You’ll find yourself creeping around every corner with your shield up, deadening the nerves on the tip of your left index finger. Every time you pick off a single enemy, it feels like a small victory.

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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.