I purchased Dark Souls today & made it through the prologue, only dying one time. Given that the clerk at Gamestop told me he died twenty times in his first hour (the same time it took me to complete the prologue), I can conclude either one of two things: either I’m better than the average player… or I’m moving along at a snail’s pace. I’m more inclined to choose the second option. But that seems to be the style of gameplay Dark Souls encourages; slow & cautious.
But what do you expect when the very first caption on the back of the box is “Prepare to die”?
So let’s jump right into my experience with the prologue.
When you start a new game, you first get to customize your character. This includes the standard name, gender & appearance. You also choose your class & a gift. My avatar is a red-headed female thief named Sibeal. I’ve read that the Master Key is the best gift to choose, since it allows you to unlock doors. But the thief has this automatically, so I picked “Tiny Being’s Ring,” because it said it slowly restores HP (but in reality it just gives you a slight increase). I did feel kinda dumb taking the time to customize Sibeal’s face when her thief mask covered it anyway.
The game proper starts up with a little backstory. Back when dragons ruled over the otherwise lifeless world, souls began to rise up from the ashes of fire. The life that appeared banded together to defeat the last of the dragons. But now the fire is dying, presumably meaning an end to souls & therefore life. Furthermore, some people are receiving the Dark Mark & becoming undead. These undead are shipped to an asylum in the north. And it’s here that the game starts.
Sibeal, in mummified form, is locked in a cell in the asylum, when a knight drops a corpse into her cell. After absorbing his soul, the tutorial begins in the way of messages written on the ground. They explain the basic controls like how to move, fight, ect. At first the only enemies of other undead who don’t seem to have the brain power to fight back. This is probably a good thing, because I’m pretty sure my starting knife is a half-broken sword handle.
Things go pretty easy at first, but I take things nice & slow, knowing the game’s reputation & trusting nothing. Eventually I reach a large room, & I’m thinking, “Oh crap, boss fight.” Sure enough, Sibeal doesn’t even make it halfway across the room when the Asylum Demon, a fat demon with a huge hammer, jumps down from nowhere. I noticed the writing on the ground ahead of me, but the demon takes most of my attention. I manage to land a few blows, but my glorified pocketknife barely dents his lifebar. When I got close enough to the message, it basically says, “Run for you life,” so I do. Thanks to a conveniently placed door, I escaped with minimal damage.
I light the bonfire right outside the demon’s door, which is something Demon’s Soul didn’t have. It saves the game, restores your health & items… & respawns all the enemies you’ve killed along the way. Fun.
Sibeal continues on through the asylum, fighting more undead & gaining a shield. A little rinky-dink shield that looks no bigger than a plate, but better than nothing. Now that I have a shield, I spend most of my time walking around in a defensive posture.
After reaching another courtyard with a bonfire, I head upstairs, setting off a trap boulder that runs me over & knocks a hole in the wall where the knight from earlier is dying. After agreeing to hear his request, he tells me to ring the Bell of Awakening, & gives me five healing elixirs, which replenish at bonfires. I go up, fight more undead, including an undead knight, & pick up a half decent knife.
Now comes the story of my first death. At the top of the stairs, you’re only option is to go through the white light, which leads you to a balcony above the Asylum Demon. My thoughts at this point were, “Oh crap, he sees me! Go back through the light! Hurry! Hurry!” But sadly, the demon killed me with his hammer. But instead of getting mad, I started laughing uncontrollably. It was pretty funny, & I wasn’t so far from the bonfire that it made me mad. Lesson: if the game tells you how to do something, that probably means you’re going to have to use it soon.
So I respawn at the bonfire. In this game, when you die, you lose the souls you’ve collected (which are used to level up). But they remain at your bloodstain, & you can get them again so long as you don’t die before you reach them. So very carefully, I make my way back up & recollect my souls. And then, paying attention to the cue about a falling attack, I go back through the white light.
Now, Sibeal drops down from the balcony onto the demon’s head, stabbing him & cutting lifebar down by half. From there, it was just a matter of circle-straffing around him, rolling out of the way of his attacks, healing when necessary & whittling down his health until he died. Much cheering & celebrating commenced. And clearly I wasn’t the only one, because there was a new note on the ground that said, “I did it!” I concur, sir.
High from my victory, but paranoid the game was going to screw me out of it & unsure if boss characters respawn at bonfires, I unlock the giant doors & head up a strange-looking hill. But not before following the message on the ground about a Soul being nearby & watching someone’s ghost fall off the cliff, which convinced me not to explore that way. At the top of the hill, a cutscene triggers, which some woman talking about a chosen undead, & a giant crow carrying me away.
The crow drops me at my next level, the Firelink Shrine, complete with bonfire & a less than helpful man who tells me there are actually two Bells of Awakening. Deciding to call it a day for now, I level up some of my stats & use the humanity I collected nearby to return to the living.
So what’s my general opinion so far? So far, Dark Souls is an interesting game. It definitely uses trial-&-error, but aside from losing experience, there’s no real penalty for dying. That being said, the best approach is caution.
I have two chief complaints so far, & one I can’t really blame the game for. One is that a lot isn’t explained in the game. The game doesn’t explain leveling up, humanity or any of those things. You just have to figure it out on your own or look it up. The second, which isn’t the game’s fault, is I’m not sure how much use player messages will be. I haven’t left any myself, but there seems to a limit to what you can say, so there’s a lot of repeat messages. Also, there’s plenty of room for people to abuse the system & leave false messages. I came across a few. One said the wall ahead was illusory, but unless there was a trick to it that I couldn’t figure out, they lied. Another, before reaching the crow, said imminent death ahead. But short of falling off the cliff, there was no danger.
So in general I’m enjoying myself & look forward to a slow but steady challenge.