I stumble into the house at 1 AM. There is a package on my porch. I think to myself, “That seems to be a rather large box for just a video game.” I bust open the package to reveal a collector’s tin box.
Dark Souls. They sure do make this an event. Free upgrade to the collectors edition with a pre-order. The tin has a plastic sleeve around it, emblazoned with the usual box art amenities. Prepare To Die, it says. So I open the tin to find the standard box as well as a fancy-smancy hardcover art book that smells of fresh ink and dead tree pulp.
Hope the game lives up to all this packaging…. I go to sleep.
Eight hours later I dust off the Xbox, perform some system updates and dive into the world of Dark Souls, not to resurface for air until six hours later.
In case you didn’t know, Dark Souls is a role-playing game and the sequel to what has been heralded as one of the hardest games in recent memory, Demon’s Souls. The previous game was a Playstation exclusive, so I missed out on the experience. Dark Souls will be my first foray into this delicious masochism.
The game begins, innocently enough with a simple menu allowing me to create my character, and prompting me to set brightness and controls. A bit unusual that it starts with a control setup, but that sort of fits in with the focused aesthetic. Then I am immediately thrust into a cold and dark dungeon full of the undead. I feel my way along the wet walls of the Byzantine dungeon, and I find messages left for me. Simple messages about the controls, how to move the camera, how to swing my broken sword.
Finally, I make it to a large empty room with an open ceiling. The twilight spills across a courtyard, and I walk across. A gigantic monster falls nonchalantly and yet directly in my path. A scrawled note on the floor tells me to get away. Yeah, too late. I swing my sword heroically, but it is in vain, and the monster smashes me to bits. “YOU DIED,” appears across most of the screen in a garish-looking font.
Way to rub it in, guys.
After a load, I head back to face the monster. This time, upon further investigation, I find a hole in the wall, and scurry away from the monster. “Hmm,” I ponder upon what I have discovered, “they are at least being honest with me. Getting away was what I was supposed to do.”
I explore the dungeon, learning more and more about the combat. How to brandish a real sword, what the value of a shield really is. The game isn’t really hard, it just demands you abide by it’s rules. While traveling, I find a stranger who happily lends me some flasks of life giving juice. He tells me that he won’t need them much longer, and I abide him with some steel. I comment somewhat remorsefully when I notice how little the game seems to care that I take the life of an innocent man. This surely is a brutal world, and I must attempt to be a light of some kind. Since my character does not speak, I can only see myself reflected through his actions.
There is no pause, there is no reload. No takesies-backsies.
I silently vow to not do it again.
After a while, I make it back to the monster, this time armed with some real equipment, and a little half-baked knowledge. I just manage to defeat it after only one death. The game congratulates me, and I find a note on the ground that says, “Good Job.” A very large and somewhat slow moving Raven takes me to my next destination, the name of which I cannot remember. It’s interesting that something so light on story can be so compelling.
I spend the next few hours making an admirably small amount of progress in terms of taking ground, however I do make considerable upgrades to my character. He gets a little stronger, a little quicker. With each life I take, I gather a bunch of Souls, some sort of mystical energy that even lives inside of the undead and giant rats. ( But not skeletons. ) After I gather a lot of Souls, I can meditate on my ventures and level-up my stats. The exact amount of Souls I will need to do this, I’m never quite sure.
As I make headway, I come up against what may be my first wall. There are three paths to choose from. On one of these paths, a giant beast attacks me, and will kill me in one hit. On the second path, there is a tall dark–featured prominently on the box–knight, whom I can block 100% with my shield, but will kill me in one hit if I so much as think about trying to swing my slow lumbering arm at him. And my third option is a normal sized undead with a giant club, who will flatten me if I get near, killing me in one hit.
Dark Souls, thus far, is somewhat hard to describe. It’s not really true that it is designed like an old-school game. It is very modern, but it is just very focused. There isn’t really much else like it. I am enjoying the experience, but it would be hard to classify it as “fun.” I just hope I can figure out my way past these insta-kill baddies. Either I’m barking up the wrong tree, or the game is setting the bar high to teach me a lesson. I will report back tomorrow…