Dark Souls Review: Death by Design

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These kills are not easily won. The foes you encounter in Dark Souls are all tough, cautious, and deadly. Combat — From’s second design triumph — is a matter of waiting patiently for an opening and exploiting it carefully.

Pragmatism in swordplay is the result of the Endurance bar, the game’s crucial combat mechanic. This dull green rectangle is the arbiter of everything you do in Dark Souls. Every swing of your sword, every blow absorbed on your shield, every frantic dodge roll, every white-knuckled sprint — all have a certain cost in Endurance.

Endurance recovers quickly when not being used. Combat is therefore an intensely tactical experience, determined not by the total amount of Endurance you spend, but rather how much you spend at any given time. Can you afford to swing your sword once more, knowing that if you don’t deliver the killing blow, there’ll be no Endurance left to absorb the counter-attack?

Positioning is also a key factor. By clicking the right joystick, players can lock on to an enemy and strafe around him. Most of the fights in Dark Souls quickly settle into a harrowing rhythm; the two combatants circle like knife fighters, hoping to lure their opponent into a mistake.

Suddenly, an opportunity presents itself, and a weapon swings into motion. Dark Souls’ combat animations feel heavy and powerful, undergirded by real physics. Momentum can be devastating or debilitating — depends on whether or not you land the blow.

The variety of weapons is immense, and it is matched by the variety of different attack animations. Some players will prefer large, heavy weapons that swing slowly and eat up endurance, but deal huge damage. Others swear by lighter slashing weapons that take advantage of the game’s stacking damage model — each successive attack within a short span of time triggers a multiplier.

With no limit on the amount of gear you can carry, players benefit by selecting the right tool for the right job. Thrusting spears, for example, are poorly suited to killing giant flies, but make quick work of slavering, hard-charging demon dogs. There is a limit on the amount of gear you can equip, presenting a trade-off between defense and mobility. Too much plate armor will slow your sprint speed and turn your dodge roll into a pratfall.

Those that like to do their damage at a distance can wield powerful bows and cast fiery spells, but not without a certain amount of risk. Time a fireball wrong and that rapier-wielding skeleton will quickly close the gap, plunging his sword into your gut.

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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.