Why do I do this to myself? I knew exactly what to expect going in. I died over and over and over, but I still came back. It’s an addiction, it’s like heroin, I need to feel the needle of being slaughtered by a skeleton or crushed by a statue. Such a rush.
I think it’s easy for many people to write off Dark Souls as simply ‘too hard’, and ragequit immediately in frustration, which I think has led to a sort of divide among players. Those I know seem to either avoid them at all costs, or go all-in and play everything that From Software has ever produced, a fascinating divide, and one I fully understand after having been exposed, as it were.
Let me make it very clear when I say that Dark Souls is punishingly difficult, at least much more than anything we’re typically used to. Even the game’s most basic enemies can rip you a new one if they swarm you, or you might fall victim to one of the many elaborate traps set by the developers. Or simply fall down a hole, your choice. Worse still than this, dear viewer, is that you lose all your collected souls upon dying, and are immediately transported back to the bonfire at which you last rested. Souls effectively act as your experience points, used to upgrade your abilities, and the bonfires as checkpoints, but they are spaced widely apart.
"...while the bonfires are not placed physically incredibly far apart, many challenges could lie inbetween them."
Well, in a manner of speaking, of course. Dark Souls takes place in Lordran, one large continuous area in an almost open world affair. The game is still broken up into various zones that are usually progressively unlocked, but you will often come across shortcuts or find keys which open doors to link areas together in a fantastically gratifying way. With that being said, while the bonfires are not placed physically incredibly far apart, many challenges could lie inbetween them. The result of this is that in some areas it feels like an eternity trying to find that next glimmer of hope in the brutal and unrelenting environment.
In order to make your way further into Lordran and progress your quest in working out just what the hell is actually going on, you must - I repeat MUST - get to grips with Dark Souls’ intricate and sometimes bizarre controls. To jump, for example, you must hold the sprint button, and then tap it again when your character reaches full speed. Each to their own, I suppose. But when one slight tap from a demonic undead entity could send you back through fifteen minutes of progress, knowing when to dodge and when to strike is of paramount importance.
On that subject, I noticed during my experience with the game what have previously been described to me as ‘skill walls’, points wherein all your skill will be tested. It feels like Dark Souls is checking your competency in preparation for the next area, in a sort of gruelling job interview where your CV is a sword and rolling is your ability to bullshit. And by god am I good at rolling. These walls usually take the form of a particularly difficult boss creature - one of the game’s great strengths. Every new encounter with one of these things feels incredibly cinematic and varied, with new vulnerabilities to find and exploit, assuming you can do that before being ripped violently to shreds.
"...Or equally they will lead you right into the path of something ready to slaughter you at a moment’s notice."
And believe me when I say that Dark Souls as an experience is exactly what you make of it. You are given extraordinarily little direction in the game, and my first few hours were spent blindly wandering around until I found something interesting to pursue. And so were the next fifty. You are never ever spoonfed or even helped, just sort of unceremoniously dumped in this hellscape and left to get on with it, supposed chosen undead though you may be. Without the vast compendium of the internet wiki sites at your side or more experienced colleagues who have previously faced the trials of Lordran, you’re in for one hell of a bumpy ride.
But therein lies my truly masochistic fascination with the game. And I’m certainly not alone either, as evidenced by the incredibly fanbase the series has accrued. I am of the opinion that it was a bold move by From Software to choose this direction of laissez-faire design coupled with brutal difficulty reminiscent of the NES era, potentially risking sales. But stoic gamers everywhere have embraced the Souls games and the more recent Bloodborne, and it’s not hard to see why when you take a closer look.
If you haven’t played it yet, Dark Souls is definitely one to try - the first game is so cheap nowadays. I got my copy for less than £5 on PC with the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, which is also a must-have - adding some amazing new areas and boss fights, as well as new gear. Just be warned, your patience will be tested time and time again, and hours of your precious time on this planet may vanish into the aether as your humble ass swiftly and repeatedly becomes the proverbial grass. Prepare to die.