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, by 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.