March 17, 2014

Dark Souls

Probably the finest games I've ever played are the Dark Souls series.  Specifically, Demon's Souls (2009), Dark Souls (2011) and Dark Souls 2 (2014).

These games are notorious among gamers for being difficult.  You die a lot, lot, lot. The designers pulled no punches, and felt no need to play fair:  it's not uncommon to die from an arrow in the back, while exploring a poorly lit corridor.   Or for someone to leap out from the shadows and push you off a ledge.

The game has absolutely zero "throwaway" enemies to breeze through.  Any enemy can and likely will kill you, many, many times.  So will the environment in many brutal ways:  ledges; pits, winding staircases, traps, you name it.  And the bosses are just ridiculous -- quite often, you'll get mauled before you get off a single hit.

Don't expect it to be fair.
There is also no pausing.  Unlike most adventure games, you can't stop the action to collect your thoughts or gulp a potion.    Nor can you save and reload:  If you die, you're dead:  no take-backsies.  You face the consequences.

As you slay enemies, you accrue souls.   Souls are the game's only currency, and are used to buy or upgrade weapons/armor or level up your stats (strength, endurance, etc).  When you die, any souls you had are left in that very spot, and you're re-spawned at the last campfire (usually a fair ways away). 

If you make it back to the spot if your death (...assuming you even remember how to get back there!), you can retrieve those souls (which are added to the souls you've accrued on your most recent journey from the campfire).   But if you get killed before reaching those souls, they're lost forever.

The net result of all of this: You have to stay on your A-game, or else you will fail, and there are real consequences to failing.  You can't pause to strategize.  You can't save right before a big battle.  

But when it finally all works out, and you prevail, the sense of satisfaction is unlike any game I've ever played.  And that makes the hours of toil and frustration and unfairness and regret totally worth it.  :)

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