Simply put, Dark Souls is an amazing game. As soon as the player steps out of the game’s tutorial area Dark Souls begins to pull itself away from Demon’s Souls, making Demon’s feel like an early demo version of Dark Souls. On a technical level, Dark Souls received a much needed balance to the status and magic systems of Demon’s Souls making the game as a whole much easier to play. The inclusion of Bonfires, Dark Souls’ fancy term for checkpoints, over the level selection area in Demon’s Souls, along with the open world format not only makes Dark Souls much easier to progress in, but it also leads to the game feeling more like a 3D Symphony of the Night rather than the spiritual sequel to The Game from Hell. Of course, the term “easier” is used lightly here; Dark Souls is still very difficult when it wants to be, and slowly weans players off of frequent checkpoints until entire levels lack any Bonfire at all. But even with its much better soundtrack, strangely engrossing story, improved graphics, and awesome assortment of magical treasures, Dark Souls has to have one major weak point; sadly, that weak point is its online play, which in some ways is actually worse than it was in Demon’s Souls’. Forget about online play, though! Someone with the determination to finish Demon’s Souls probably has no friends to play with, which is all the more reason for them to shut up and buy Dark Souls!
Demon’s Souls was not very friendly to dexterity-based characters or Red Mage-like hybrid characters, but thanks to some very boring work done on the numbers in Dark Souls, nearly every character type and play style becomes viable. Additionally, upgrades to weapons and stats make a noticeable difference in effectiveness. Simply upgrading a sword one level or increasing strength by a few points can knock down the difficulty of an area quite a bit. The ailment system, which previously featured three ailments that all did the same thing, now includes three very unique ailments that, unlike Demon’s Souls again, can actually be inflicted upon enemies. Bleed causes a massive burst of damage after a few quick attacks, poison does what poison always does, and the monster-only curse ability instantly kills the player and permanently halves their health. However, despite all of the effort put into balancing the numbers out, the elemental system still sucks; everything everywhere is weak to fire or non-elemental attacks, and the few enemies that have a major weakness to the other elements are just as weak to non-elemental damage.
Rather than sticking to the level-by-level progression of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls features an open world, with dungeons and checkpoints scattered all over. The world of Dark Souls is absolutely amazing to explore. There are just the right amounts of shortcuts and treasures in each area to keep wandering throughout a dungeon extremely interesting the first time through, and nearly every area has an extremely strong mini-boss monster for players to hunt down and kill on a return visit. While the aim of Dark Souls is still killing the boss monsters, the areas are so amazing that they may drive players to slay a boss not to progress the story, but simply to continue the exploration. Much like Symphony of the Night, each area leads players to a boss fight or power up that progresses the story or strengthens the player.
Dark Souls is easier than Demon’s Souls, but that is not really saying much. Early on, checkpoints always seem to be right where they are needed, and time spent leveling up really makes a difference, but that does not mean Dark Souls is Baby’s First Action-RPG. Levels still remain a pleasant challenge, but no longer resort to shoving players down pits or pushing them face first into insanely strong enemies. Rather, the real difficulty comes from rationing out the limited healing items players get at each checkpoint, because it is very, very easy to spend up all of one’s potions before getting even remotely close to a boss fight. Checkpoints become less frequent as the player progresses through the game, and the final handful of levels have absolutely no checkpoints at all, just like good old Demon’s Souls.
The most disappointing aspect of Dark Souls, and the one it should have improved upon the most, is its multiplayer. It is basically the same as Demon’s Souls, players can summon other players into their world for help, or they can invade the world of others and wreak havok. But this time around, players need to be in human form for either, and reaching human form requires a very valuable and rare resource, aptly named “Humanity,” which has many other uses that are all much better than playing with strangers. Co-op play still requires players to throw down “sign” and wait for someone to decide they are worth playing with, meaning it is impossible to guarantee being summoned by a friend. Covenants, Dark Souls version of factions or guilds, exist that make cooperative and player-versus-player play easier, but there is no excuse, other than “it would make the game too easy!”, for players not being able to simply send PSN friends an invite for a quick boss fight or PvP match. If balance is an issue, simply reducing the rewards players receive if they chose to hand-pick partners from their friend list would be an easy fix.
From start to finish, Dark Souls is a great game, and can easily absorb fifty hours of one’s life. Rather than trying to make its players cry, Dark Souls gives players a wonderful fantasy world to explore, while keeping the difficulty at a reasonable level. If Castlevania plus Monster Hunter without the boring start-up quests of Monster Hunter sounds appealing, go pick up Dark Souls as soon as possible, but anyone expecting an MMO-like multiplayer experience should look elsewhere.