Think back for a moment to the most challenging game you’ve ever played, but not the kind of challenge that resorted to cheap tactics and made luck a tremendous factor in succeeding. Instead think back to the game that challenged you to accomplish its tasks, the puzzles that resisted being solved and the bosses that could not be overcome in a single try. When you did succeed, how did it feel? Were you excited over your accomplishment, or walk away frustrated that the ordeal took so long? This kind of question is important when discussing Dark Souls, as it is a game based entirely around defeat and success.
Like Demon’s Souls before it, Dark Souls is about the exploration of places that have not seen fresh life in a long time. The world itself is silent, with the exception of the wind that pours through the vacant alleys and the moans and cries uttered by your enemies as they watch and wait for a hero such as you. The combat is just as slow and methodical, placing a strong emphasis on learning your foes attacks before you strike, rather than charging in hacking and slashing away. If you somehow survive long enough you might make your way to a boss, only to find it significantly more capable of stopping you in your tracks.
The quasi-multiplayer is also maintained, unchanged from its roots. There is still the capacity to either invade another players world and challenge them in an attempt to steal their humanity (a necessary monetary unit that’s seldom found), or aid someone in their quest as a phantom. The ability to write and rate messages also comes into play, though the messaging system is simplified, forcing you to choose between sets of pre-written messages. The quality of the messages themselves vary in their specificity because of this, leaving you to find anything from, “Beware of parry,” to “Glorious view imminent.” Only one of these warnings will prepare you for danger ahead, though depending on their placement it’s hard to guarantee which.
Between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls there are a few improvements to its functionality, one of them being the class system. The former had a class system that was obtuse at best, featuring class titles that felt incomprehensible. While some had names that gave a clear idea as to what the character class is (magician, thief), others were harder to figure out (royalty). The latter provides descriptions for their classes, telling you the type of weapon that they use, along with the stat that’s important to them. The trouble is it’s not good enough.
The problem with the class system is that it forces a choice prior to playing the game. Not knowing the mechanics, especially if you haven’t played Demon’s Souls yet, makes it tricky to figure out what to expect out of an individual class. Looking upon the class list gives you various names, some simple (warrior, sorcerer), others not so much (wanderer, bandit). Look at the description and it will tell you that the wanderer uses a scimitar, while the warrior uses a longsword. Without playing the game, there is no way to tell how one weapon performs over the other. Much like the rest of the game, the individual classes require their own exploration in order to make sense out of them, although the game does not tie you down to them. Level whatever stats you wish and use whatever weapon you like, the class system only really intrudes in the beginning.
A minor issue within the game is a lack of a pause button. There’s a reason why you can’t pause your game: because you’re technically playing it online. Kind of. The inclusion of a pause button would interfere with the ability to interact with other players, but that doesn’t explain why a pause button is unavailable within the game’s offline mode.
And considering its difficulty, some have said that it isn’t cheap, and that’s mostly true. There are a strong set of rules that tie everything together. Virtually everything that kills you can be traced back to a mistake you made. You would have survived if you dodged in time. You would have made it if you didn’t attempt to backstab the giant monstrosity that wasn’t paying attention to you. You would have survived if your dodge didn’t take you off the side of the building.
That said, calling it cheap is a flawed argument, considering that playing the game assumes that you accept its inherent difficulty. The packaging even warns you with a message on the back, “Prepare to die,” in multiple languages. This isn’t the kind of game that allows you to progress at a rapid pace, slashing through monsters and otherwise cutting a bloody swath from beginning to end in a few short hours. This is the kind of game where even the most emaciated of villains can dispatch you if you’re not being careful. Dark Souls provides an amazing experience through a fantastic world, and it demands your patience and control every step of the way.