Dark Souls

November 7th, 2011

I can’t take this…

Yes, more strange, inscrutable gothic fantasy with the difficulty level ramped right up to INSANE from the folks who tested your sanity with Demon’s Souls.  In many ways this game appears a big improvement over the last one, which was certainly interesting itself.  The upsides?  The game world is pretty amazing, the combination of medieval euro-style fantasy 101 with loopy japanese lateral thinking makes for a dark, weird, fascinating, and certainly original experience.  Also the design and the way in which everything interconnects is pretty damn impressive – you’ll see a ruined tower on a hill in the far distance and think, huh, nice scenery, then four days later you’ll be standing on a ruined tower on a hill and think, ‘hold on, is this that tower I saw from over there?  I think it is, you know…’  On the whole the bizarre, incomprehensible mythos is alluring and atmospheric rather than feeling like a bunch of ill-explained mumbo-jumbo.  Then there’s the difficulty level, of course.  Few, if any games, come anywhere close to the savage unforgivingness of this one.  On the whole it felt somewhat fine-tuned, though, there are more shortcuts than in Demon’s Souls, which mean you’re not as often asked to negotiate a long-winded and extremely difficult build up before being instantly killed by an impossible boss.  Twelve times.  Now you have a much shorter route to run twelve times before being instantly killed by an impossible boss.  Which is something.  And on the whole patience and care reap their rewards.  Sloppy players will be crushed to dust.  Instantly.  The upside of all this difficulty is that when you do finally overcome the boss, it’s a feeling of triumph like no other in computer gaming,

The downsides?  Well, there’s that difficulty level again.  I mean, it wears you down, it really does.  Painstakingly working your way through half an hour’s worth of traps and pernickety fights in order to be crushed by a boulder you couldn’t have known was coming and knowing you’ve now got to do that painstaking half hour again?  I play computer games to relax, you know?  I admire the test, I do, but I’m not sure I’ve got the time or energy any more to be tested this hard, and the unrelenting, punishing, hurting darkness and pessimism of the whole thing, unlit by any apparent spark of positivity doesn’t help in that context.  Graphically?  In some ways great, in some very so-so.  Distant vistas can look absolutely incredible, bursting with atmosphere and visual imagination, especially when you know that strange bridge in the far distance is sure to be one you’ll be edging painstakingly across later.  Probably screaming.  But close up the textures and so forth are pretty ropey, which makes a lot of the enclosed spaces feel really dank and dull.  Plus animation on the main character is clunky and cumbersome, and this does translate to some pretty clunky and cumbersome gameplay, which wouldn’t be so bad if total precision weren’t being demanded so often.  I could live with the really narrow swaying walkways if my character wasn’t prone to woodenly topple off even wide stable bridges when you press the attack button.  Fighting isn’t really a reflex affair.  It’s a grind of careful planning, working out how to draw out one enemy at a time, knowing exhaustively the timings and ranges of your (and their) attacks.  Lovers of fluid, devil-may-care character control such as you’d find on Mario 64 or Prince of Persia need really, really not apply.

So mixed feelings, all in all, and there are just so many great games coming out around the end of this year that, having put some thirty or forty hours into this one and being, I’m sure, no more than half way through, I’m just going to have to mothball it.  Maybe that means I don’t have the guts, I don’t know, but it feels more like I don’t have the time.  I’m just not enjoying it enough.  So I started playing Rage yesterday, and when I saw a common-or-garden pessimistic apocalyptic wasteland my heart just sang like a bird released.

DARK souls indeed…

Posted in games by Joe Abercrombie on November 7th, 2011.

25 comments so far

  • A says:

    I am going through Dark Souls myself and yeah you can easily double or triple your play time before you are finished with it. I love it because it’s so different from the usual AAA games released these days.

  • Pauly says:

    You stopped playing after 40 hours? Pick that pad up sir you are only half way through.

    I am 70 hours in so I can empathise with your pain. Still, no other game can instil the panic, dread and elation that you experience in DS. I had to take a break for several days after being cursed a few times.

    The utter despair that washes over you when you see the words “YOU ARE CURSED” is indescribable. From Software must employ some truly sadistic B*stards.

    Are you gonna try Skyrim on Friday? Looks pretty darn good.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Well, it’s one I can imagine myself returning to, which can’t be said of many games. Maybe one just needs to recharge the batteries from time to time. But then there is so much else coming out. Skyrim, as you say, the big one, though I’ve had my problems with Elder Scrolls in the past this does look amazing, and I really liked the Fallout games (especially 3) so if they’ve been able to incorporate some of that in the character development it could be a humdinger. But I’ve got Uncharted 3 (which I’m sure will be a magnificent twenty hours or so, as was the last) and Arkham City on order as well. By the time I’ve knocked all that off it looks like Mass Effect 3 may be on the horizon…

  • Angelos says:


    A humble suggestion sir, since you’re coming out of Dark Souls and going into Rage, I feel that you should set the difficulty of Rage to Hard.

    The normal difficulty is a very straightforward walk in the park. Being a 35-year-old-ps3-playtime-only-on-weekends-gamer myself, I had a total of 3 deaths from scratch to finish on the normal setting, 2 of them due to my own “what will happen if I try and finish this level by sniping with the pistol”.

    Oh, and since it appears that you were a fan of the first Dragon Age, I would then strongly suggest you move to Bioware’s Mass Effect 2. Lots more variety on the missions, smaller and more “manageable” world (if you crave the need to finish every single side-mission you won’t lose endless hours of repetitive gameplay) and the characterisation and drama is top-notch. And if you’re looking for some inspiration, I’m sure that the Abercrombie-fantasy-equivalent of the Vanguard class in ME2 would be a totally and massively awesome beserker death machine 🙂

  • Pauly says:

    Don’t forget Zelda Skyward Sword. Earned a rare 10 from Edge and apparently they have implemented the sword swinging motion control perfectly. Now you will be able to swing a sword for real! (sort of)

  • Dan says:

    People! Stop encouraging Joe to play more video games! He needs to be writing!!

  • Tim H says:

    Spot on review. It took me 15 attempts to take out the first boss, the Taurus Demon. I gave up at that point, picked up Borderlands GOTY, and had the most fun I’ve had with a game since Fallout 3. But in four days, it’s all about Skyrim. Bethesda claims it’s closer to FO3 than Oblivion; if so, it may turn out to be one of the great games.

  • Koko L says:

    Don’t feel any kind of grief for the left behind, half dead Dark Souls. It didn’t for the many times it killed you. I did end up beating the game after 90 hours, but in all honesty, the end didn’t satisfy me at all. And there’s so many things in the game that are just there to be dick moves. Like there’s a whole area that is complete darkness except for a little light on the ground 10 yards ahead of you. You walk from light to light with enemies around the corner in the complete darkness and other enemies shooting arrows at you from beyond. It was terrible.

    Right now, I am personally waiting for Skyrim to give me over 100 hours of joy. At least in that game I can build myself up to be a complete bad ass, I’m sure. At least if it’s anything like Daggerfall/Morrowwind/Oblivion.

  • […] This is why I’m not even going to bother to pick up Dark Souls, the sequel to Demon Souls by From Software / Namco Bandai:  I mean, it wears you down, it really does.  Painstakingly working your way through half an hour’s worth of traps and pernickety fights in order to be crushed by a boulder you couldn’t have known was coming and knowing you’ve now got to do that painstaking half hour again?  I play computer games to relax, you know?  I admire the test, I do, but I’m not sure I’ve got the time or energy any more to be tested this hard, and the unrelenting, punishing, hurting darkness and pessimism of the whole thing, unlit by any apparent spark of positivity doesn’t help in that context. […]

  • Tim H says:

    Koko, I agree with you on Dark Souls. At one point, when I screamed after antoher death to the Taurus Demon, my wife said, “Are you having fun?” Me: “No, but I’m gonna get this bastard before I give up.” Borderlands was the perfect antidote.

    And I’m counting on 300 hours in Skyrim, at least on my first playthrough.

  • David says:

    That’s a question I thought I’d never ask myself, “does this game have too much play time?” Sure it makes the game more “valuable” but at the end of the day how many hours of fun do you really need out of one game/story/novel. Especially when so much of it in today’s games are spent walking through non-story fields/roads/blank spaces and replaying the same dungeon that becomes punishment for not beating the boss.

    It appears gamers asked developers to give them 20+ hours out of a game to make it more enjoyable, but I don’t think many would complain if 8 hours of great gaming replaced 6 hours of wandering around and another 10 of actual fun.

  • Luke says:

    “…and the unrelenting, punishing, hurting darkness and pessimism of the whole thing, unlit by any apparent spark of positivity doesn’t help in that context.”

    Heheh. Sounds like it could be a line from a (foolish, unenlightened, etc) non-fan reviewing one of your books.

  • Storm in the High Places says:

    Hey Joe, what do you think about the Assassins Creed games.

  • ColinJ says:

    I saw enough reviews and footage from this game to know that it would kick my arse and make me hate it pretty quickly.

    Only a few more days to SKYRIM, folks!!!

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Angelos, Storm,
    You click on the little ‘games’ tab on the left all the games-related chat will come up, including talk about Assassin’s Creed (which I like a lot) and Mass Effect 2 (which I love).

    I might be a little ticked off at eight hours, but I hear what you’re saying. Uncharted seems to be the epitome of the sort of game you’re talking about. The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long…

    Koko, TimH,
    I’m counting on 17,000 hours.

    I was aware of that as I wrote it, in fact, but at least I don’t make you re-read the darkest and most pessimistic bits a dozen times before you can continue to the next chapter…

  • Dav says:

    Gotta say, War In The North actually looks good. Nothing compared to Skyrim or Arkham City, but for a nice little sit down with some very Tolkien-esque material. Obviously, Tolkien gets old after awhile, but I’d really suggest it to anyone who just likes a low-average level of complexity and a relaxing experience. As you said, you play games to relax (stay AWAY from League of Legends), and games like Dungeon Siege 3 and War In The North are basically the smooth antithesis of Dark Souls.

    All my life, I be suggestin’.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    I love the first Dungeon Siege. Great, atmospheric game. Thought number 3 was pretty weak, if I’m honest.

  • Harvey Quinn says:

    After finally beating the Tarus demon and then immediately getting killed by a dragon flying overhead and spewing fire I figured it was time to put down the controller before I hurt somebody or roundhouse kick my TV…

    Then played and completed Arkham City, absolutely loved it.

    I’m now playing through Uncharted 3, which is incredible so far, if a little familiar.

  • Doug says:

    I just finished this thing yesterday, after pecking through it for about a month. I think the secret is to take breaks from it regularly. I loved Demons Souls and I like this one a lot too, though I thought Demons was much more difficult overall.

  • Tim H says:

    Harvey, there is one cool perk after killing the Taurus Demon involving that dragon.

    [Spoiler]: Go down around the steps on the right side of the bridge approaching the dragon. Find the ledge that allows you to see his tail, and shoot it with arrows. After about 20+ arrows, you are awarded the Drake Sword. There are youtube videos showing the entire sequence.

  • Shane S. says:

    Took me 81 hours to beat Dark Souls. What an absolute awesome adventure it was. But man they need you writing the story for these games Joe, it was as if a story really didnt even exist in the game.

  • Robb says:

    They said Dark Souls was “On par with Skyrim”. Somehow. But after watching the trailer I could tell I wouldn’t have the energy or the patience for it. My heart is on Skyrim and, eventually, Thief 4.

  • Lasse says:

    Well the only thing that I can say is that sometime you just have to accept the challenge and stick with this decision to the end.
    Played both Demon and Dark Souls and never hat greater joy at completing a game. Because you just know you earned it. Not like the games nowadays which just give you a present of completing the game.^^

  • Miller says:

    I’m very disappointed that you made no mention of the plot on this one. Dark Souls has one of the deepest,most interesting back stories I’ve ever seen in a video game, told in an organic way. The plot and lore isn’t dished out through long codex entries or dialogue sessions, but is delivered almost entirely through the flavor text on items. I think it is truly incredible that to this day not only new answers but also new questions are being found about the plot of this game. I’ve never cared about lore in games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or Skyim. It always felt kinda fluffy to me, and was rarely if ever presented in an engaging way. Dark Souls does it completely differently. One item will offhandedly mention that Lord Gwyn had a son. Another will mention that that son watches over warriors to this day. Put the pieces together, and suddenly a certain jolly knight starts to look like a lot more than you would ever learn just by talking to him. Or maybe not, depending on how you read it, and that’s the beauty of it.

  • Miller says:

    Except you did make brief mention of the story and now I feel dumb. Neat.

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