"You Should Try" is a series of articles where I'll showcase you a game I really enjoy while explaining what exactly makes it fun. This can be any game, new or old, indie or AAA, the only requirement is that it has to be something I've found myself greatly enjoying and in need of sharing with the world.
Today I think you should try Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition - a combat orientated RPG that is so good it practically ended up creating a genre of its own. It features an expansive and interconnected world, plenty of viable playstyles and weapon choices, a difficulty curve that will always keep you on your toes, and just the right amount of frustration to make each victory feel all the sweeter!
As you're no doubt aware, Dark Souls has a reputation for being an absurdly difficult game, but is such a reputation really deserved? Even though Dark Souls is my favorite game of all time, and one that I've already spend well over 500 hours playing, I will be the first one to admit that yes, it is incredibly difficult. But it is important to note that while Dark Souls is challenging, it is never unfair! No matter what sort of a terrible fate befalls you, it is always going to be your own fault and something that could've easily been avoided through proper positioning and spatial awareness. The entirety of Dark Souls features maybe one or two cheap deaths, and both of those are intentional, while every other instant death pit can be easily avoided by spotting it before hand.
The same principle applies to the enemies. No matter how big or strong they are, there is always a simple way to avoid their blows and punish their mistakes, though doing that consistently is where the challenge lies. And best of all, the same rules apply to both you and your enemies, so you can use their very own tactics against them! They will try to push you off cliffs, but you can simply dodge away and push them instead; they will alternate between being aggressive and passive in order to throw you off your guard, but you can do the exact same thing to them as well; they will try to attack you from behind in order to score an easy backstab, but you counter that by spinning around and stabbing them straight through the butt cheeks. All of this sounds simple on paper, but when it comes down to the actual gameplay it makes the whole combat system much more enjoyable, and much more fair!
This is something that will take you a while to adjust to, have no doubt about that, but once you stop playing recklessly and start putting thought behind your actions, the true majesty of Dark Souls will slowly reveal itself to you. Unlike most games out there, Dark Souls is perfectly content with letting you fail over and over again until you finally learn your lesson, after which it will lay down a red carpet for you to walk all over it. This is probably going to frustrate you to no end while you're still new, but once you finally learn the ropes you will feel so triumphant you will never want to put Dark Souls down until you're done showing it who's boss. Dark Souls is a game that requires a great deal of patience to play, but in turn it will reward you with gaming memories that will last a lifetime, so take my advice and don't give up!
Sometimes its okay to run away, especially if there's a giant dragon on the other side!
Difficulty aside, Dark Souls is also well known for its nearly perfect combat, and once again the reputation is well deserved! Every single attack is powerful, as it should be given that you're most likely using a gigantic sword, so the battles never draw out for an eternity - its all about catching your opponent off guard and punishing their mistakes. This is easier said than done given that Dark Souls takes the somewhat realistic approach to combat, so the heavier the weapon and stronger the attack, the slower you will actually swing. As such, finding the right balance between power and mobility is of the utmost importance, as is figuring out what type of a playstyle you enjoy.
I personally love sacrificing a shield in order to wield a massive two-handed weapon, opting to cleave the enemy in half before they even have a chance to attack me, but you might prefer something else entirety - and this is perhaps the best aspect of Dark Souls. There's well over a hundred weapons and magic spells available to you, and nearly every single one of those is perfectly viable from level one to the very end of the game. Even daggers, weapons most players tend to ignore due to their low attack damage, can be used to defeat bosses with ease once you enchant them properly and select the right kind of character build. Since every weapon has a somewhat unique move set, it is going to be up to you to find what type of weapon you enjoy using, and what exactly will you become the god of war with. For me it is the mighty Zweihander given that it has the ability to turn enemies into plated pancakes!
It doesn't matter what weapon you use, as long as it gets the job done
While normal enemies can occasionally be dispatched through brute force, especially if you're using a weapon so huge it crushes their puny shields, the bosses are an entirely different matter. Nearly every single one is designed to humiliate you at least once or twice before you finally learn their pattern and come back with a vengeance. As before, this might sound frustrating, but once you finally figure out a boss fight you'll get to feel like a fantasy version of Batman - dodging quite literally every attack the clumsy enemies try to land on you, and punishing them with devastating strikes!
That said, the bosses are also one of the biggest problems in Dark Souls given that their difficulty is all over the place. Some of the end-game bosses are so weak and pathetic that I often stop my playthrough half way through the game because there is no more challenge left for me, while some of the early bosses are so punishing for inexperienced players that it drives them away from the series forever. If you find yourself stuck at one of these bosses, most notably the Bell Gargoyles and Ornstein & Smough, worry not as there are ways to make the fights easier.
Ornstein and Smough, the bane of anyone new to Dark Souls
First and foremost, if you find yourself consistently beaten down by a boss and just wish for the torment to be over, you can head over to the bonfire and use up one of your Humanity items in order to become human. Once you're human you'll be able to see yellow and white signs on the floor, these will allow you to summon helpful players and NPCs to aid you against the boss, essentially making the whole fight a much more enjoyable and relaxing experience. I would recommend you don't rely on summoned help all the time because overcoming challenge is the name of the game in Dark Souls, but don't hesitate to get some help if you ever get stuck.
On the other hand, if you're a stubborn bastard like me and feel that summoning help would be admitting defeat, don't worry as there is a way to make your life easier as well. No matter where you are, and no matter what boss you're fighting, you are never more than a minute away from the nearest bonfire. So if you end up dying on Ornstein and Smough for example, don't bother clearing out all of those difficult enemies all over again, just run! You heard me, just run! As long as you keep a little bit of distance between you and your enemies, and dodge the occasional spear attack, you will be able to return to the boss fight pumped up and ready - all within a minute of your death.
When in trouble, make it double!
The reason this is possible is because the world design in Dark Souls is best I have ever seen, and I am not exaggerating here in order to make some sort of a point. You see that giant castle in the distance? You can go there! You see that random spooky forest off the side? You're going there! You see that giant building perched on a cliff so far away you can barely see it? You're going there too! And best of all, these locations feel like they are an appropriate distance from each other, so if you decide to run all the way from the toxic swamps of Blighttown to the very top of Anor Londo, you're going to be in for quite the marathon. Not only does this mean that the levels in Dark Souls are wast and expansive, but it also means that the world feels strangely realistic and logical even though you're fighting giant mushroom men while looking like a big ol' purple raisin yourself.
But the best thing about the level design in Dark Souls is how interconnected all of it is. I cannot even begin to describe how satisfying it is when you're exploring a level for 20 minutes, end up without a single estus flask to refresh your HP, and then you find a random ladder that just so happens to lead back to a previous checkpoint! That moment of confusion and exhilaration once you realize that you are well and truly safe is beyond compare, and is one of the main reasons why each new Dark Souls game excites me to no end! Well, that and the copious amounts of secrets scattered throughout the levels, some of which are so insanely well hidden you are unlikely to find them unless someone tells you. And just as a little teaser, allow me to say that the giant tree in Blighttown hides within it quite the surprise... if you're brave enough to check it out!
I wasn't joking about the mushroom people... or the purple raisin
As for the story, your enjoyment of it will greatly depend on how much you're willing to delve into it. You can simply ignore every single character and just focus on the combat, Dark Souls won't punish you for it, so if you couldn't care less about any of this feel free to just skip all of the dialogue and continue on your merry way. On the other hand, if you would like to unravel the fascinating world of Dark Souls, be prepared to put in a lot of effort. Rather than simply give you cutscenes with plenty of exposition, most of the storytelling in Dark Souls is told through item descriptions and environmental clues.
Naturally, this won't give you a cohesive story, so you're going to have to fill out the blanks through either careful research or your own imagination. This might sound silly, but Dark Souls is just that kind of game, its story is fairly open-ended and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. On your own you might not get far as there are thousands of little details to consider, but Dark Souls breeds a particularly dedicated type of fan, so there are plenty of communities out there that can help you fill the gaps.
And if that doesn't help, try asking some of the friendly locals
In a world of endless sequels and reboots, Dark Souls is a one-of-a-kind game. It will drive you to the edge of madness, only to bring back you back stronger and more resilient than ever before. Most importantly, Dark Souls isn't just any random game you can play for 30 minutes and then completely forget about - it is an experience that will keep you constantly coming back for more, even after you've played through it a dozen times. It is also my favorite game of all time, and this is something I don't say lightly, so if you're up for completely different type of RPG then I do believe you should try Dark Souls - Prepare to Die Edition.
And as a final note, if you decide to play Dark Souls on the PC, it is imperative that you download DSfix - an amazing little mod that improves the visuals, framerate, mouse controls, and a whole bunch of other little things that all combine together to make for a more enjoyable game. If possible, I would also suggest playing with a controller as Dark Souls was designed from the ground up with it in mind, but if you can't, don't worry as the mouse and keyboard will serve you just as well. The DSfix mod is non-negotiable, however, so do make sure to download it before you start playing - its that good!
Looking for more interesting games to play? How about trying The Witcher 3 - the gold standard when it comes to open world RPGs. The game-world is absolutely massive and the majority of the locations are well worth visiting; the graphics are some of the best you will encounter in any game today; the characters are well written and quite complex; and most importantly, none of the side-quests are designed to waste your time by making you collect a dozen bear asses. That doesn't mean you are going to save any time, however, as The Witcher 3 has already robbed me of well over a hundred hours, and because I hate seeing other people have free time I would like for you to discover how fun it is as well.
Oh, and did I mention how amazing the armor sets are?