Dark Souls Review: Death by Design
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Using special items, players can also temporarily inhabit the gameworlds of others, for good or evil. PVP-minded aggressors will want “invade,” but more sympathetic players (and, in some cases, powerful NPC’s) can be summoned to help with tricky boss fights. Unfortunately, this system is finicky — you can easily burn through all your invasion-enabling consumables on attempts that game’s matchmaking utilities can’t or won’t fulfill.
Covenants are a notable new feature in Dark Souls, enabling players to ally themselves with various in-game factions. Some are more easily joined than others, but all provide special items or perks, along with unique PVP opportunities. The run-up to one boss is defended by a corps of warriors that resemble player characters. By joining a certain covenant and donning the ring you receive, you enable the game to summon you to that location, where you can help thwart fellow players attempting to get at the boss.
The requirements and procedures of other covenants are more convoluted. Dark Souls is a game that puts little stock in tool-tips or explanations — figuring out how it works is part of the challenge. Item descriptions often contain crucial information that is obscured by bad translation. Important stats are easy to overlook. The quests, such as they are, are barely explained. To master the game, it can be necessary to turn to online sources; the game has an active, helpful playerbase that relishes in unraveling its most byzantine secrets.
To your average gamer, obstacles such as these might seem like bugs. Indeed, the Souls’ series cultivates a special kind of Stockholm syndrome, causing players (and reviewers) to excuse design missteps as simply part of the fun. Opaque mechanics can lead to wasted time, missed opportunities and gimped characters. Finicky target lock can lead to dubious deaths.
Most unforgivable is the game’s wildly unstable frame-rate, which slows to a crawl in certain areas, or when there’s too much going on onscreen. Deservedly proud of the word they designed, From’s development team were clearly reluctant to rein it in.