A child throwing tantrums, and throwing controllers even harder; a teenager thinking they’re invincible to everything around them; a hurried adult stubborn in repetition.
These are the many faces of Dark Souls‘ frustration.
Yet Dark Souls is always cruel to be kind: pick up the sword and the shield that it offers you and you can fight those inner demons, because without them this would all be too easy. Minutes in and you’re that child – cursing your fate and the monsters who have killed you. Progress further and you’re that teenager – five minutes of unabated progress and enemies falling to your sword. Nothing can stop you now. Look at you go.
And finally you’re that adult. Progress halted through stubborn repetition, whisked through a waterfall of emotions in this fast-forward evolution, until you reach your stumbling block, falling again and again and never truly seeing why, because you’re not sure what to look for.
The enemy within
To truly progress you’ll have to cast them aside: defeat those inner demons that are holding you back. For all the heralding of Dark Souls as the judge, jury and executioner, you are your own worst enemy within its realm of Lordan. Even more so than the giant creatures that you stare at with a morbid curiosity, entranced by their appearance as they crumple you under their hammer/mace/finger for the umpteenth time, casting you aside like a feather in the wind.
You feel angry because this is unexpected: years of gaming past have taught you, trained you, for this, but that experience does you no good here. In fact it only hinders you, as Dark Souls doesn’t play by your rules, and the quicker you’re able to adapt the quicker you’ll be on your way. Whether you cast flames or cast aside bodies with the sharp edge of a sword, the enemy is always the same: your exuberant mind and your inexperienced fingers.
So Dark Souls, then, is a game to be learned. To be observed and studied. A rare beast in this industry where there are always so many hands grasping out to you in the dark, leading you along the merry path to “Well done, you… did it?”.
Order in the chaos
Stare long enough and you see that there’s some method to this madness. Everything here has a purpose, even if most of those purposes all point in your direction with poison-tipped darts. Walk, swing a sword, block with a shield – you see that every decision is a commitment, and not one to be taken lightly.
Die once, and you lose the souls you’ve collected from your journey so far. Die again on the journey back to your body to reclaim them, and they’re gone for good. “No worries,” some might think, but you’ll be less relaxed when you find souls act as your currency for both items and levelling, spent at bonfires that litter the environment like beacons of hope kindled in the dark. But even they stab you in the back as they comfort you with their warmth, reincarnating every enemy you’ve faced along the way. Dark Souls is less executioner, more a sick necromancer, never letting you truly die and escape this world. You will die again. And again. And again.
You’ll die until Dark Souls finally holds a mirror up to you and shows you that you’ve been fighting with yourself all along.
So now you finally see it, no longer faced with mistimed swings. Instead they’re replaced by a pin point riposte. A parry. A lunge. A slash and a stab. Fumbling fingers soon learn their place, like a Starcraft veteran hovering over hotkeys or a Street Fighter superstar, playing their part in rhythmic synchronicity, and you see Dark Souls’ combat for what it truly is: a fine ballet.
The mystery ruined
It’s that skill you need to traverse Lordan, in what is a world whose intrigue has worn away with the passage of time. The great discoveries took place when Dark Souls first saw the light of day on consoles, when the inexperienced were thrown in like guinea pigs to test the toxic waters. Now innumerable wikis and FAQs lay bare those secrets, and friends are only too eager to offer advice, and while it may be hard, it would be wise to shun them in favour of the first time experience.
Because Lordan is a world worth experiencing blind, traversed easier once your fingers have learned what they’re meant to be doing and can guide you through not unchallenged but more capably. You’ll wind your way through the interconnected labyrinth, twisting in every which direction before twisting back on yourself, more directed and detailed than its semi open world title may let on.
It’s a world that only makes heavier your heart in the worst of times, and at others provides a sweeping vista to lift your spirits. A world that feels tired, worn even, not lived in but bled for, left to decay. Hiding secrets in every corner, connected via halls, forests and castles all built for the sole purpose of carrying the echo of your footsteps to your ears and making you run that little bit faster.
It’s a world recreated pixel-for-pixel in its PC debut, awakening the demons in the very community that asked for it. Contrasting outrage and joy. Dark Souls is always the experience of dual emotions.
The PC experience
From’s openness in their struggles with the movement of their land of Lordan to the PC carried similarities of every cry for help from those locked within its lands. And it’s fitting, then, in a game where community is the only real thing that gets you through — summoning fellow players to help you slay those demons that halt your progress — that the Dark Souls community stepped up to the plate to help From take those last few steps.
With a simple patch — no larger than 150KB – they’ve taken Dark Souls from a recreation and turned it into a release worthy of the platform. It may not be feature rich, but then Dark Souls is never the game of extravagancy. It asks you to be utilitarian. Lightweight. And its performance is no different.
A barely serviceable keyboard and mouse scheme aside, there are no noticeable bugs here. None of the crashes that plagued the console version. No more of that dreadful Blighttown lag or awkward responsiveness. Dark Souls’ performance is perhaps the only reliable thing you can latch onto amidst the dark, and it brings you closer than ever to apologizing for being just so mad at its dreadful console performance.
Old veterans returned
For those who are awakening to Lordan for the second time, the clarity is both awe-inspiring and at the same time a little bit iconoclastic — but look a little deeper, with learned eyes, and you see Dark Souls still has something to say. A chance to bend it to your will, perhaps. To test its bounds. And a familiarity that can bite: you’re ever your own worst enemy.
And for those just awaking, who are haunted by their own demons, you couldn’t have chosen a better time to join the hollow undead. For once all the cards are in your favour. You’ll have a newfound clarity some of us never had the first time around, and those creatures you face will be all the more horrifying for it.
One day, perhaps, you will defeat those inner demons holding you from Dark Souls success. Not mastery, but a control of yourself you never knew you had, because no one can ever truly tame Lordan and the monsters that reside there. The best you can ever do is say “I Defeated”, and that, truly, is the one and only face of Dark Souls joy.
- Rewards those willing to learn
- A twisted fantasy world that stands tall in a genre full of dragons and elves
- An otherwise stable and bug-free PC release
- Extra content leaves this release as the most feature complete, best performing version of the game to date
- Keyboard & mouse support may as well be non-existent
- Requires a community patch to achieve acceptable visuals
- Pre-patch resolution is blurry and annoying