How Far I Got: Completed the main quest and the Artorias of the Abyss content. Played New Game Plus up until I got to the Anor Londo archers and decided I didn’t want to go through that pain again.
What I Liked:
- Incredibly absorbing game world full of danger and mystery.
- Subtle, cryptic storytelling instead of typical RPG infodumps.
- Once you get the hang of it, the rhythm of the combat is very satisfying.
- Combining experience points and currency into one unit is great streamlining.
- Illusory walls.
- In spite of the dark mood, there are a lot of bright spots, literal and figurative. See: Solaire.
What I Disliked:
- Bonfires could have been closer to boss arenas without sacrificing too much of the difficulty. Some areas got really tedious to traverse when I died a lot.
- No way to pause the game even if I’m playing offline. I’m not in college anymore, Dark Souls.
- The splashy-squishy sound effect when you strike an enemy.
- Lost Izalith.
- Relying so much on a walkthrough. This was my own mistake; the game was much more fun when it surprised me, and when I discovered hidden things on my own.
What Do I Have to Add to the Discussion Around This Game That Hasn’t Been Said Many Times Over? Not much. Dark Souls is one of the most widely analyzed and celebrated milestones in modern game design. Every point I made above has been made by others before me, often much more elegantly. And yet…something about this game just gets under your skin and you feel like you have to talk about it. I’m writing this seven years after Demon’s Souls came out, and the experience these games offer still feels utterly singular. There’s something special here that no other game developer has yet managed to reproduce.
There have really not been that many games that take direct inspiration from the series, and the ones that do tend to put undue emphasis on the difficulty of the combat. For me, at least, the difficult combat is not really the selling point. It’s the way the difficulty is used—the way it makes exploration feel both nail-bitingly risky and rewarding, the way it ties into the story’s themes of persistence in the face of cycles of hopelessness, the way it forces me to manage my own anger and frustration (the player’s true antagonist here)—that makes the experience of playing so memorable.
Favorite Areas: Firelink Shrine, Anor Londo, The Duke’s Archives, Ash Lake. All of these are gorgeously designed, highly distinct from one another, and provide marked contrasts to the many darker and more claustrophobic areas connecting them.
Favorite Boss: The Taurus Demon. It may not be that tough compared to later bosses, but it seems insurmountable at first, and I like that you can use the seemingly constrained geometry of the level against it. Plus it just feels wonderfully dramatic to fight a huge monster on top of a towering castle wall, with a sea of clouds below you.
Least Favorite Area: Lost Izalith, again. My complaints are the same as everyone else’s: too large, boring and unfinished-feeling. The neon glow of the lava is a nasty eyesore in an otherwise very pretty game.
Least Favorite Boss: The Bed of Chaos. I like the idea of a boss being more of a puzzle than a combat challenge, but there are way too many instant deaths from falling, and it’s a really long tedious trip back through Lost Izalith to try again.
Did I Save Solaire? Yes! I was actually glad I used a walkthrough for this one; never would have figured it out on my own, and summoning him for the final fight with Gwyn felt like a nice conclusion to his storyline.
What About the Other NPCs? I lost track of Siegmeyer at some point and he never showed up in Lost Izalith, although I still saved Sieglinde from the crystal golem. Maybe she’s still out looking for him.
I saved Rhea in the Tomb of the Giants and last saw her praying up in the Undead Parish. I took out Big Hat Logan after he went mad. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the other NPCs, and never joined any covenants.
Multiplayer? Not so much. The PC player base for this game had seriously dwindled by the time I got to it. Funnily enough, about three weeks after I finished playing, a huge group of players—celebrating some subscriber milestone on the Dark Souls subreddit—swarmed back into the game to experience it anew. I imagine my experience would have been a lot different if I’d only played the game a little bit later than I did.