First and foremost, I know I'm late, very late. Didn't play this game until it was free on Xbox Live. Nevertheless, I feel this game is worthy of a review. Let it be said that I have a love hate relationship with this game and my opinions are going to go from praising to assaulting like a bipolar midwife on her period. There will be profanity and possibly some small spoilers. There's your warning. With that said, let's get started.Pros
There are very few pros to Dark Souls, but fortunately, they're very big pros. Enough to keep you coming back and playing even once you realize how shoddy the rest of the game is. Level Design
For the type of game that it is, I couldn't really ask for better. Never have I seen so many atmospheric environments that instilled dread, wonder and overwhelming adventure all at once. For a 2011 release, the graphics and clothing textures weren't anything to complain about. You'll go from an old, frozen prison to a tranquil, grassy mountain peak, to a dragon hounded European styled castle district crawling with undead knights, to an ancient flooded city haunted by lethal ghosts, to a treacherous, poison filled swamp with grotesque and dangerous enemies.
Each with their own atmosphere and vibe that will keep you on your toes and hoping you reach that next bonfire before something one hit kills you. You know, because it's Dark Souls. You can be one hit killed before you realize what the hell. I guess that's why you're kind of immortal?Customization
This aspect isn't half bad. I'm a customization freak and I absolutely love how many options this game gives you to look how you like. Not only do you have a wide variety of armors to play around in, some of them offer additional effects aside from your standard chainmail suit, a very wise game design choice in my opinion. I noted a stat (Poise) that essentially allows you to eat enemy attacks without staggering if you raise it high enough. You can do that by wearing actual tough armor, not flimsy clothing. This makes total sense. I have no arguments against it. It's something I'd like to see in other games with clothing options.
In addition to a huge wardrobe, you get just about as many different types of weapons. Standard knightly straight swords, quick and deadly curved swords, sneaky, high critical damage daggers, punishing greatswords, axes and hammers, spears, claws, whips, you name it. Of course that includes ranged weapons like bows and crossbows and magic too. It doesn't end there, all these things that are available to you are able to be upgraded to become more powerful. If you want these upgrades, you have to explore the world and find the embers to give to the blacksmiths. This is an excellent way to reward wary players who'd rather not risk venturing out of their comfort zones to explore.Exploration
As I just partially mentioned, exploration is astoundingly rewarding in this game. It's hardly ever not worth taking a look as you'll always get something out of it, even if you decide to turn back. (Assuming you make it to the treasure) There could be a sweet new set of armor, a huge amount of souls, some free humanity, a useful ring, a powerful weapon or even a rare upgrade for your Estus Flask. There are also NPC's to find throughout the world that will help you in some way or another, be it giving you an item or teaching you pyromancy or other spells which can really help things go quite a bit smoother. With each bit of major progress you make in the game, more of these NPC's will become available and the ones you've encountered will often change their whereabouts, which adds even more reason to look around in areas you may have already gone through.
After beating the game, I found out that the amount of unnecessary content in the game was quite high and I was quite pleased with that fact. There were still many weapon and armor abilities for me to experiment with, NPC questlines to complete and locations to visit and revisit and weapons to collect and upgrade. There were even more covenants to find and join to see what kinds of unique rewards or benefits they offer, and all of these things are off the beaten path to story completion, giving ever more reason to get out there and explore that beautiful, yet terrifying fantasy world they've built.Enemies
Gotta hand to the guys who worked on the enemy abilities and appearances. I loved encountering new enemies every time I did. I always thought, "What the hell is thaaaat? What can it do?" It was very tense and it urged me to approach my fights in a strategic way most games don't. I'd often wait and dodge a few of the new enemy's attacks just to get a look at the range and charge up times before I decided how to approach. Certainly boring to watch someone study every new enemy like that, but if the controller is in the other hand, it becomes a worthwhile experience that other games probably never considered.All the Badness
I know Fromsoftware isn't the greatest game company in the world. I only know them for making Tenchu Z and the Armored Core games. But here, it seems they were really shooting for the whole double edged sword philosophy...or something equally idiotic or at least questionable in their game design choices. Here we go. Why this game just isn't that good is because...Controls
Yep, I said it. The control scheme is absurd. Not only that, you can't even customize it. Or look at it for that matter. Luckily for my I learn quickly, but what about other gamers? It took some getting used to and most people will tell you that it does. But what is the reason behind it? I'm putting my money on that well hidden game dev secret technique, "fake difficulty." Too few have the time or the desire to fight the controls while fighting enemies that will kill you just as quickly or usually, quicker than you can kill them.
Its not that the controls are hard to adjust to. They just make no sense, they are extremely counter intuitive to their purposes, and they don't allow full control of everything simultaneously. (Try sprinting and controlling the camera using only your thumbs. Hint: If you stop sprinting to control the camera, you're cheating.) While mention of the camera is relevant, why can't we zoom in or out? Isn't that like, basic in most third person games with free camera controls?Combat
This is a big section.
Its a huge no no to screw up the combat in a dungeon crawler. All you really do is fight. But they went and screwed it up nice and good. I don't even know what went wrong or how it did.
There is no reason why they couldn't map quick attack to the X button and sprinting and dodging to the RB. That way, it'd be so much simpler to just hold down the X button for a strong attack since the damned things take six days to charge up anyway. That would easily free up the Y button for some other use like say, an Estus Flask hotkey so the B button could be used for all of your items, giving players an extra slot to put something useful in.
It would be much more intuitive to allow players to do kicks and jump attacks by pressing quick attack X, and jump, RB, together. Some might argue that the controls are that way because of a dual wielding system. I don't believe that is valid because all they'd need do to remedy control muddling is to add in a sheathing/unsheathing system that changes the actions of your combat buttons depending upon whether or not you had a weapon drawn. Hell, you could even allow sheathing your weapons to let you move faster for retreats. But no. Reasons and all that. Sure, whatever.
Combat is far, far, far too theatrically slow. So much that it just looks stupid. Its almost like Super Smash Brothers or some shit where you or the enemy holds his weapon above his head for a solid 2 to 3 full seconds before releasing the attack, somehow making it way stronger. No. Just no. I mean why? Why even? It is extremely impractical and it seems apparent that they made it that way only so they could say "time your strikes."
Get the fuck out. Its not even realistically slow. Timing your strikes hardly matters on some enemies. It is perfectly acceptable in the case where the best strategy is not to use power attacks. I'm fine with that. Strategy is all well and good in combat. But not forcibly slow speeds that leave you wide open for no good reason at all.
Speaking of wide open, I can't understand the deal with the heavy weapons. Even when raising your strength to like, freaking 80, why does a halberd still feel extremely slow and unstable when two handing it? It literally swings its user off balance, when on the other hand, you can take a gigantic fucking Black Knight Greataxe and one hand that son of a bitch, JUMP ATTACK with it, and be fine. No biggie, its lighter than it looks, says the 16.0 stat on its weight.
Even swinging it side to side is faster and smoother than using a much smaller claymore or bastard sword. I must be missing the point or maybe there was some game mechanic I didn't know about. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but absolutely none of that shit makes any sense to me.
Parry and Riposte
Okay, I see what they were going for here, but there's still something I'm missing. Timing is quite crucial in this game. I love that. You can't just dodge constantly without timing it and expect not to get smacked. Many attacks are able to be parried and finding out which ones can and can't may sometimes cost you your life. (Subsequently, everything else with it. -_-)
So my question is this. Why can't you parry with the weapon you attack with? And why the fuck can't you parry with a two handed weapon? You can one hand a two hander, parry with your EMPTY LEFT HAND, then reposte their guts with a huge Zweihander in one hand...but you can't parry with that Zweihander while holding it with two hands. No sense is made here.
If they were smart, they could have even allowed you to parry heavier attacks with heavier weapons. That would have been something. It would have allowed the implementation of even more strategy on certain types of enemies. Heavy weapons for armored, heavy hitters work best. Not a bad idea...is it? o_O The already asinine control scheme makes less sense when two handing. Left bumper and left trigger does the same thing. COME ON, really? How lazy do you get? And speaking of lazy, the same old reposte animations for everything get really old, really fast. There are like, only seven of them and a crap ton of weapons. Really? Really really? This deserves praise?
Hahaha, where do I even begin? I'll try and keep this quick. Its a very useful attack, almost OP. But it's arbitrary. Since the controls and overall mechanics are stupid and wonky, you can't jump or even hang off of a ledge. Your characters head doesn't even track shit, you just get that little circle. The range on that marker is super limited and don't think it's going to help your aim on the way down. You just walk right off the ledge like a sleepwalking moron and hope the heavy feather physics engine doesn't bounce you off of the very same wall you dropped from.
If it does, you just might miss your target and end up with your sword stuck in the ground, a huge chunk of health taken off of you and some smirking dickwad enemy behind you charging up that super slow attack that your ultra slow animation lock won't let you dodge. GG bro.
Stun Lock and Collision Issues
Do I even need to explain stun lock? I will take away points in any game where this is present and inescapable. And therein lies the problem. Stun lock is inescapable. If it happens, get out your marshmallows you're going back to the bonfire. It was 2011 when they released this game. Stun lock should not be an issue we face these days unless we're dealing with fucking tazers. No one has a tazer in Dark Souls. I would ask if anyone had any issues with fighting enemies in tight quarters where your swords would clash against the wall and cause you to get hit or killed...But clashing isn't an issue because its realistic. I don't mind it.
I just want it to happen to the enemy as well. Enemy attacks constantly clip right through walls as if they weren't there at all. They just don't have to abide by the same rules you do. That doesn't make the game difficult. It makes it inconsistent.
Whoops, I forgot this game doesn't have a ukemi or any kind of battle recovery system for when you get knocked down...It likes the unfeasible slowness. Sell every knockdown like you're a professional WWE wrestler. Cutting it short
All in all, its as I said before. I love this game and I hate it. I just downloaded Dark Souls 2 on 12-24-2014. That's right, this year. I get the feeling I'm going to like it just as much, and I'm hoping many of the mechanics are much more improved. If I'm lucky, Dark Souls 2 will not try and pass off broken mechanics as actually challenge and difficulty. I'd rather fight my enemies than fight the game design. The first dark souls challenged me to hammer 6 nails into a wooden board, but they made me do it using a black and decker blender instead of the hammer I needed. I'm hoping part two doesn't ask me to do that. Give me the tools I need to do the job requested. And make sure they work.