Friday, August 11, 2000

Dark Souls (PS3) 9.5

Well, these are exaggerations on both counts but... you get the idea.

I do not consider myself a hard core gamer but there were a few grand games that I played hard and long on the PS3: Oblivion, Fallout, Grand Turismo, Demon's Souls. Of these, Demon's Souls was the only Platinum I've ever earned and it clocks at over 500 hours of pure fear, strong anxiety and intense frustration punctuated by brief moments of pride and joy brought by the hard earned sweet victories.

I started talking about Demon's Souls because to us, PS3 gamers, Dark Souls is NOT the first coming of unspeakable terror onto our consoles. Dark Souls is the SECOND coming. And what a visitation this promises to be :)

Okay, here it is, after the first few hours. I am going to post updates (not spoilers) as I progress through the game.

THE COMMONS

Deomon's Souls has many, never-seen-before, amazing innovations. We hoped and we expected to see most of them again on 'chapter two' and Dark Souls does not disappoint even though Dark's seems to be a Universe unrelated to Demon's. It's not even a parallel Universe (I like to think of parallel Universes as those in which the other fellow Dark Souls players exist - if running around as a hollowed-out soul you can call 'existence'. It's a different world but a lot works in seemingly familiar ways.

Here's what I would call the Demon's heritage:

- One-save only. And this is a BIG thing because the game saves itself every couple of seconds. Once you get hurt or you hurt someone you didn't mean to you can't go back to the previous save because there's no such thing. Unless you have one hand on the power cord ready to pull it, everything you do has consequences and you can't go back and try again. Be VERY careful when you talk to them merchants or blacksmiths because one unintended slap and they will never deal with you again.
- Human vs. Soul form. Can't be invaded by other players while in Soul (Hollow) form. As a Human you can invade other words, help others, seek help.
- Classes. You pick yours from 10. Not exactly the same as in Demon's though.
- Stats. Again, 10 different categories, some differently named, some totally new like 'humanity' and 'attunement'.
- The ability to seek help and to help others. I believe that you can have up to 3 others helping.
- The Stones. They are of different colors but they have uses not unlike the Demon's stones, possibly more: to seek help, to leave messages, to invade.
- Souls as currency of the land and the price price you must pay to level up. And you lose them all every time you die so... use them (buy, uplevel) before you lose them.
- Every time you rest all non-boss enemies respawn.
- The ability to play nasty and invade other players' worlds.
- Blood stains. You can see how others died.
- Second (and ONLY second) chance. You can recover lost souls if you can touch your own blood stain before you die again.
- Messages. Can leave messages but don't expect to be able to type away detailed clues. You pick your message from a pre-approved list.
- Incredibly precise combat. Each class of weapons acts differently and you can see/feel the difference between hitting flesh, bone or armor.
- Uchigatanas!!! Need I say more? These are by far the coolest katanas you'll ever swing in any game and probably the best you can get through this one at least through mid-game. Demon Souls most terrifying black phantoms (invading players) where the 2-Uchigatana dudes. Most, possibly all of the Demon's weapons can be found in Dark: Claymores, Halberds, Clubs, Axes, Estocs and so forth.
- Practice makes perfect. Like Demon's Souls, this is a struggle for perfection because in most instances only perfect or near-perfect attacks and defenses will save you from yet another horrific death.
- Continues the Deomon's tradition of no difficulty levels. Like its predecessor, there's only one difficulty level on Dark and that's 'very easy', as in 'very easy to get yourself killed'. Seriously, for anyone who played Demon's, Dark feels like the second or third playthrough only you start at a low level, have no weapons or armor and find yourself in completely unfamiliar territory now so it takes a little bit of dying, observing and experimenting before your learn the ropes.

THE DELTAS (new and never seen before)

This, I'm sure, is going to be a growing list and I'm going to update it as I progress into the game. If what's going on in this game can be called 'progress'.

- One-world design. This appear to be a huge world but gates, bridges and passes are all well guarded so be prepared to shed a lot of blood and die a lot to earn your right of passage. Unlike Demon's which had a hub that was the only connection between the several separate 'worlds', Dark's world regrions are very much interconnected and much of the fun and mystery is your gradually discovering and unlocking sometimes secret doors and passages.
- The healing system. The role of 'grasses' is drastically reduced (there are some mosses that you can still use to cure ailments) but Dark doesn't make it as easy when it comes to your ability to recover health. It's no longer near-unlimited.
- The Covenants. Each of the 9 will open new play modes and, as always, every action brings about consequences. Joining may appear an easy decision but separation can be painful and costly.
- Pyromancy as a THIRD class of magic, joining sorcery and miracles. For anyone who likes fire and explosions... it's awesome.
- The Gifts. Interestingly some seem to have no effect while others such as the Magic Key you get if you pick the class of Thief is quite useful.
- Danger times 2. It may be just because I'm a little rusty playing Souls or because I know Demon's so well now it's like a walk in the park but Dark appears to be a lot harder. But... we play, we learn. We shall see :)
- More color. Can't imagine Demon's with colors but in this world the occasional bright splashes blend well and don't subtract from the feeling of danger.
- No Luck. You COULD get lucky in Deomon's Souls but that's no longer the case. That particular stat has disappeared, replaced by your ability to hold 'humanities' which you lose every time you die.
- Sweet revenge. One of the covenants mission is to hunt down and kill those nasty dark phantom bullies.
- And, of course, Dark Souls does away with all the gentleness and hand-holding occasionally found in Demon's. It really does. Remember that nice Russian lady in the Nexus that you must kill if you want your Platinum? Gone! My first impressions: don't trust anyone because everybody seems to be either evil or insane.

THE STORY

Not quite sure what's expected of me yet and I don't think I should spoil anyone's fun anyway. There is a prologue, of course and, clearly, terrible things happened that caused this not to be a happy world. Need to investigate some more but I'm not sure who's to be trusted, who should be used, who can be a friend.

MY RATING

If Amazon's 5 stars stands for 'I love it', what would be the star count for "I love it, I fear it and, 80 hours into the game I'm obsessed by it"? Well... 5's the limit :). I expect to spend hundreds of hours playing this game and, hopefully, with a little or maybe a lot of help from my friends and a lot of priceless advice from some of the game-focused sites - I will name my favorites on a comment to this review.

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