Dark Souls is an RPG by From Software, a sequel-in-spirit to Demon’s Souls. The whole idea of the game is this: you will die. A lot. You’ll die because the game is without pity or remorse. It will kick your ass over and over again. That is, if you’re not a bad enough dude to kick it back harder. The difficulty of the game is what makes it stand out, what makes it fun. The right tactics, timing, gear and a cool head should see you through the ordeal. This isn’t the hard mode in most games where the enemy cheats and is buffed beyond reckoning, you can win fairly, though if you can get a piece of rubble between you and a boss throwing lightning bolts while you chip away at his health with a crossbow is totally acceptable. You outsmarted the boss. There is no such thing as an easy fight. It’s a very distinct possibility that you screw up, or the enemy gangs up on you, after which you die. And you lose all your souls, the game’s currency, upon doing so. You can try to retrieve your money, but die again and they’re lost for good. It’s refreshing to play a game that’s really challenging.
There is only one enemy in the entire game that I feel is just absurdly difficult to deal with. It isn’t a boss or a mini-boss. It is just one type of mob. The wheel skeleton. These annoying cretins roll around in their spiked wheel and if you happen to be in their path, you will get stunlocked from the first hit and then die. Your shield will not do you much good either, they’ll just roll right through your stamina and then kill you. The tactic to dealing with these things is to sidestep just at the right time and hope you have a wall behind you. The silly bugger will keep rolling right into the wall and remain there for a precious few seconds for you to stab, slash or smash them to bits. Be wary, if you try to swing too close, you’ll come into contact with the wheel. Then you will die. You’d think that these things roll for a distance then stop, but I’ve actually seen one of them remain in a roll indefinitely as I was stuck in the middle of a ladder with the wheel spinning away at the bottom and a horrible blob monster with a spear at the top.
Thankfully, the wheel skeletons are only found in two areas of the game, but they are both very open and dark areas and there are a lot of them.
Now, the game’s core gameplay isn’t anything to balk at and neither is the story. Both are a tad clunky. The game does feature an interesting, seamless world that is interconnected with hidden passages and shortcuts. You’ll be surprised where a secret path may lead. But its most unique aspect is its online component. It’s not your average multiplayer, more akin to an MMO in my mind. You’re alone, most of the time, but other players can leave messages informing you of traps, treasures and such. You choose from a list of words, so no one gets upset because someone might write something naughty. Something like “Be wary of trap” may be written a few metres away from a pressure plate for instance. Players have the ability to vote on a message and an up vote grants the writer one point of Humanity, so if you see a lot of messages asking for Humanity before a boss, consider up voting. There has also been a few hilarious instances where the messages were used for comedic effect. One such instance was right before a boss, “Weakness: Amazing chest.” After entering the boss zone, a cutscene played where this spider-thing crept into view. Then the camera started panning upwards and you realise the creature is some sort of drider. A spider lower half and a luscious woman, naked, as the upper half. And of course the camera lingered on her bosom. Weakness: Amazing chest indeed.
Whether funny, useful or detrimental, these little scriblings are not the only thing that players can do to interact with each other, but other than messages, you have to sacrifice Humanity to revert from being a Hollow, a zombie-like version of yourself back to, well, human. And you always go Hollow upon death. You can summon other players to your game to help you defeat a boss for example. Sounds all well and cool, but that’s not all.
A player whose character belongs to a specific covenant, the Darkwraiths, may use certain items to invade other people’s games and attempt to murder them to gain humanity and souls. Unlike summons, you may be invaded at any point during the game, assuming of course you are not Hollow. The only warning you get is a black banner in the middle of the screen informing you that ” has invaded!” They then appear close by as a shadowy, red phantom. You have a number of options, either fight, die or quit the game. While quitting the game at first sounds lame, heed this: There are no systems in place to balance this. The invader may and most likely will be tens of levels higher than you and toting the best gear in the game. This system, in theory, sounds exhilarating. In practice, it fails miserably. I would welcome a fight against an even foe, but no. So far, I’ve only been invaded twice, thanks to the covenant I belong to. The first time, I got very lucky. My opponent was obviously better equipped than I and brandished a nasty looking spear. The fight wasn’t that long as my would be killer rolled off a bridge to his death. I looked down from the bridge and saw his broken body at the bottom and thought to myself, “Wow, that was cool.” I felt the familiar feeling of being hunted, the very same you get when you play on a very active PvP realm in World of Warcraft. Then the next invasion took place, whether it was the same guy or not, I don’t remember. Needless to say the guy hit me once and I was down. I then remembered why I transferred my character from my old PvP realm in WoW after getting so sick and tired of it. That thing was ganking.
One covenant that caught my eye was the Forest Hunters. The idea is simple. There is a forest in the game. If anyone kills NPCs in that forest and you happen to wear a ring given to you upon joining, you are taken, and automatically mind you, to the offending player’s world. In addition, more than one member of the covenant may be summoned to defend the forest. Sounds great, right? Again on paper yes, but there are a number of problems. First, to enable this form of invading, you must sacrifice a ring slot, denying you helpful buffs to slay the offenders. Second, the leveling problem is still there. Lastly, unlike Darkwraith invading, the offender may have one or more summoned co-op allies. So you get all psyched up and upon arriving, you see four people decked like the Dark Lord Sauron smacking the NPCs and your fellow Forest Hunters about, you kinda realise that this invading spiel isn’t all that fun. For you, at least.
Furthermore, after doing a bit of sleuthing, I discovered a very, very distressing fact. Those summoned buddies are not there for added protection per se, but are there for farming souls from the Forest Hunter invaders. No. Just no.
Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: Dark Souls’ multiplayer was envisioned for a much larger player base, certainly more than what I believe are playing it right now. The concept is cool and exciting. I really like the idea, the added tension that another player may make an attempt on your life at any point in the game. But as it stands, it is broken. It isn’t about trying to beat the game when suddenly someone invades and the better man emerges victorious through evenly matched mortal combat. No, as it is now, if you get invaded, you either have to be one of those who invade regularly, so you’ve maxed out your levels and gear or hope that your assailant makes a blunder and falls to their demise. So, either be devoted to PvP or just lucky.
This is where Dark Souls outright fails at; you simply cannot do any PvP on the side. You have to be committed if you want to have any fun doing it. The whole system is based on involuntary PvP and it doesn’t work as such. The fear of getting ganked is a great big mark against any online feature. There are ways to avoid PvP altogether. Either play offline or as a Hollow for the entire length of the game. The former option means you lose a significant component of the overall game, something they advertise on the back of the damn box or you look like a desiccated corpse. Pick your poison.
There are other types of PvP available, like the Gravelord Servants’ ability to spawn souped up mobs into the worlds of three random players who then hunt down the griefing bastard and put an end to him or the Blades of the Darkmoon who basically invade the invaders through indictments, but other than those described in length, I haven’t had much if any contact at all.
Still, I like Dark Souls for its challenging PvE. It just would be leagues better if not for the faults in the PvP aspect.
Perhaps for the sequel…