Would recommend if you like: Playing things on hard, Dying
Would recommend if you want: A beautifully crafted RPG/Survival Horror Hybrid
Dark Souls is Hard. Really, really, god damn hard.
All that's really apparent on the outset of dark souls is that your not going to get much in the way of plot, and that 99% of the creatures that inhabit the world of Lordan wish to see you die in a vast array of painful and disturbing ways, and are well versed in doing so. No better an example of this then the players first encounter with one of the games iconic silver knights. Roughly an hour into the game and after besting more than a few undead and a tutorial boss, you travel down a small flight of stairs and see the ominous siloute of said knight in the distance. His back is turned and it looks like he will remain docile, as long as you choose an alternate route. Your instincts know somethings wrong here- each enemy you've dispatched so far has attacked you head on, however this one just stands still, no sign of outward aggression beyond the spiked helm and massive sword. Can he really be that much more dangerous than the skeletons you've dealt with so far?
Its moments like this that show the essence of what dark souls is really all about, and shows so fundamentally the flaws in so many big budget games of this generation. At no point does dark souls force you to confront the knight, nor does it insist on highlighting the danger with an unnecessary cut scene or warning. The Weight of the decision lies soley on you, the only temptation being the curiosity of whether the knight is as dangerous as he looks, and the subtle lure of treasure resting behind him.
This lack of hand holding is Dark Souls greatest strength. Rarely even are you told a specific location to go, Your very much unguided in dark souls vast open world, and though there is a rough set order of events that need to happen to see the games completion, its for the most part up to you in where to go and what to do. This can lead to frustrating halts in progress, as a missed doorway can often lead by passing certain entirely, or trying to take on areas that are too high level for your character. Though frustrating, this is all part of Dark Souls brutal charm.
Of course such an intense difficulty would be pointless if without the proper mechanics to keep the player interested and on this Dark Souls most certainly delivers. The combat systems is grueling, weighty and above all extremely satisfying, each victory and defeat is well earned and you know it. Each new enemy type encountered is a kinetic puzzle to be solved, and with careful planning fights that once seemed hopeless can be won with style and flair. The weapons themselves are a testament to the detail put into the combat system: axes, maces, whips cross bows, spears clubs and swords all feel and act differently. In some situations a light fast spear is ideal, in others its all but useless.
The visuals have been crafted to a similar level of quality. The enemy designs in particular are a testament to the level of skill and imagination on display here, Showing cliched rpg tropes in a shocking and at times terrifying new light (the mimics in particular scare the holy hell out of me). The Bosses deserve special mention here; some of these encounters are nerve shreddingly tense, and there is an implicit sense of dread whenever it feels that a boss battle is looming. Its interesting as well to note the different emotions conjured by these fights. The battle with great grey wolf sif is akin to two seasoned warriors dueling with honour, while another with Dragon slayer orienstein and Exictutionar smog is more like a two on one desperate struggle for survival.
Its a shame however that dark souls perfectly crafted balance between challenge and reward wavers in the second half. One hit kill enemy attacks, bottomless chasms. and at times, downright cruel check point placement can push the the players patience too far. Its tough picking up the controller again when you know that even a slight waver in Patience or tactics can send you hurtling back to the last check point. This isn't really a problem if you have a few hours to sink into the game, but if you only have a limited amount of time it can be difficult to choose this over other titles, considering that progress is hard fought and not guaranteed.
Whether this shift in direction is intentional or not is difficult to discern, but certainly the amount of deaths I considered unfair were far more numerous in the second half of dark souls, and certainly took away from the feeling of impending dread and wonder, replacing it only with frustration.
Ultimately your enjoyment of dark souls will come down to whether you believe games are to be enjoyed or experienced. Much like the silent hill series, Dark Souls falls firmly into the latter, its oppressive, frightening, and at times brutally hostile towards the player. It does nothing to stroke a players ego like hordes of other level up happy rpgs, and is arguably all the better for it. This is harrowing and punishing a journey, and not one for casual gamers, but those that persevere will find a beautifully oppressive world that, at its height, few other games can match.
BIZARRE FACT 1: The director of dark souls Miyazaki Hidetaka swears blind he didn't set out to make a difficult game.