It feels like Dark Souls has been with us for far longer than just eight years. Since its release, it’s single-handedly created an entire new genre – the soulslike – and changed the face of gaming in unexpected ways. I used to feel reluctant in citing it as my favourite game of all time – not just because it felt particularly in-vogue to do so but because these things take time to see clearly, away from the hype of a new release. Now, in 2018, having beaten the game literally hundreds of times (I really got into speed-running it), I feel vindicated in claiming it as my number one.
So I was really excited to get the chance to play it on-the-go with the Switch release, though I was concerned about how it would play on Nintendo’s little-console-that-could. It turns out I had nothing to worry about.
Rising from the dead in a dingy prison cell, Dark Souls starts out humbly. It doesn’t take long to show its hand, but at the start of the game you might think this is an action-RPG like many others. There’s an opening cinematic that, to this day, I don’t really get – about the dragon wars and the fire of the world threatening to go out – and should you care there’s plenty to dig into. If you don’t, however, you don’t need to.
This is because Dark Souls tells its story in the margins – once that cinematic is over you won’t be treated to another until you beat the game; no small feat. Instead, it tells the story of its world in the item descriptions of gear and trinkets you pick up, and the sparse dialogue you can claw out of antisocial NPCs. The world is a deep one – figuratively and literally – and you can mine it for as much or as little story as you want. Should you decide to dive deep into the lore (and I’d recommend you consult the scholars of YouTube should you want to get really into it) there’s incredibly rich lore and expansive world building going on behind the scenes, just waiting to be discovered.
There’s a conceit that Dark Souls is a terrifying hard game. Rumours of its difficulty have been greatly exaggerated. You see, Dark Souls is demanding, and punishing, but I wouldn’t call it hard. In fact, I’d go as far as to say pretty much anyone can beat Dark Souls. It’s ultimately a game about accepting ones’ fate – the game even warned you on the back of its original box with its tagline ‘Prepare to Die’. This wasn’t a threat, this was an urgent plea for you to wrap your head around a completely different playstyle than we’re used to as modern gamers. You have to prepare to die, because you’ll be dying, a lot. But death isn’t failure in Dark Souls. It’s a learning mechanic, and one that’s as vitally important as levelling up or claiming new gear.
Dark Souls will kick your butt time and time again with its sneaky enemy placements, treacherous level geometry and massive, intimidating bosses, but it’s your job as the player to learn from your mistakes and come back more prepared. Whether that be going off to farm some levels because your damage output was miserly, or to simply dodge when the boss telegraphs that move that killed you last time, it’s up to you to not fall prey to your previous missteps. Dark Souls demands you to be attentive and persistent – but not necessarily ‘skilled’ in the way hard games often do.
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