November 01, 2011

Shield up. Take it slow.

All of the struggle, the frustration, the anguish? Well... Theres actually a bit of a secret you should know about this game...("*Shield up. Take it slow. by Ian Milton-Polley*")

To read more, click below.

Shield up. Take it slow.

As a veteran having served in 3 tours of Demons Souls, Shield up. Take it slow was all I could say to myself to keep from holding that run button down and rushing through the Undead Burg for the fourth time. After 3 consecutive losses to the games first proper boss, the Taurus Demon, I just wanted to get back there and challenge him again as fast as I could. And that little thought, that little desire to try again, right-goddamn-now, is where the troubles start. You see, even having played the predecessor, it was hard for me to accept that, yes, sometimes this game is just going to kick the legs out from under you, watch you slam face first into the floor, and then whisper in your ear do it again.

Its fair to say Dark Souls has something of a reputation for being a difficult game. Its also fair to say its one of the finest games of this console generation. So what makes it so great youd be willing to put yourself through it? All of the struggle, the frustration, the anguish? Well... Theres actually a bit of a secret you should know about this game, but... No, I shouldnt say. Not yet.

Its a seemly looking game for one thing. Its not extravagant, but possesses a quiet elegance. Making progress through the game can be a nerve-wracking experience, what with death lurking round every corner in the form of enemies, more enemies, hidden enemies, deadly traps and deadly hidden traps. Concentrating so hard on not dying makes it easy to miss the finer details of the world, but take the time to survey your surroundings, and the usual feelings of trepidation are washed away with wonderment as you press further on. Dark Souls can be breathtakingly stunning at times. In particular many of the outdoor locations are drenched in a twilit ambience that charges the game with a haunting kind of beauty. This, coupled with the subtle, pensive score, saturates the game with so much atmosphere it virtually drips out of your television.

Similarly, the architecture on display during much of the game is nothing short of astounding, both aesthetically, and as virtual spaces for the player to explore. Areas are often ambitiously large, and so the engine sometimes fails to keep up, resulting in dips in the frame rate, but the sheer scale demands awe in a way Demons Souls only rarely did. At the games best, areas are designed to intricately loop and intertwine, creating a tangibly solid open world to explore.

The fiction of Dark Souls is refreshingly minimal, an interesting take on narrative in a medium which often struggles to find balance between passive and interactive storytelling. After the opening cutscene, the plot seeps in quietly from the background. Though sparse, the content is there for those who find it, told as much by the environments as the characters you meet. The world and story feel very cohesive, and are buoyed by fantastic voice and script work. Each vocal performance is understated, and noticeably British. Its a very welcome change to have this medieval fantasy world free of the out of place, overly-enthusiastic American accents that fill so many others. Its an element easily overlooked, but really supports the coherency of the world, no small task for English voice acting in a Japanese game.

Okay, I think youve earned it if youve stuck with me so far. Heres the big secret. Dark Souls, (whisper it), isnt that hard. No, no, Im not trying to show off, and in no way am I calling it an easy game, especially at the beginning. Thats actually the hardest part, before youve found or gotten used to your gear, developed a play style or really had a chance to customise your character. Its not hard in the way most games are hard. Challenges often seem insurmountable, but this game favours one thing above all else; patience. Not the sexiest quality, I know, but despite the games reputation, you dont need to be a super gamer to play it. Youre definitely not going to be asked for the split second timing and precision control of a Street Fighter III champion at any rate.

What will be asked of you though, is smart decision-making. It can be very tempting to try to bring an early end to a battle by swinging your sword one last time to try and catch your opponent off-guard. But thats the swing that gets you killed, the time the enemy blocks, or even worse, parries, and so you are forced to watch as he sticks his sword through your guts, lifting you off the floor in the process, your limbs flopping like a cut-string marionette, and before you know it you hear that familiar death-chime and see those familiar words. You Died. All because you knew you shouldnt have gone for that last hit, but you did anyway. If reading Sir Thomas Malorys The Mort Darthur taught me anything, its that greedy knights are never rewarded. Nice to see From Software know their stuff!

So, what else makes this game brilliant? Well, the sword and shield combat is sublime. The measured approach the game takes means you have to juggle angles of attack, timing, environmental knowledge and stamina management to be successful. The sheer range of offensive and defensive options, spanning varieties of magics, melee and ranged weapons add enough spice and flexibility to allow for personal styles to shine through. The covenant system tailors the games already unique multiplayer environment in a variety of new and interesting ways, adding layers of replayability to a game already brimming with content. The bloodstain system is an elegant carrot and stick, turning each players death into a tense quest for redemption where the prospect of success is almost as frightening as failure. While failure by dying before you reach your bloodstain means permanently losing all your carefully accumulated souls, the currency of the game, success means having to tackle what just slew you, again. But you will be better prepared for the next time, because you will be armed with knowledge of what hurt you. And if you do manage to overcome your killer, well, thats a delight all too rarely tasted in other games. A sense of genuine accomplishment, a fleeting feeling of safety, for which you will breathe a sigh from the very bottom of your soul. It might not last long, but the next hit is never too far away. Because with knowledge, and patience, nothing in this game is impossible. Its nothing short of cruel genius.

(Ian Milton-Polley)

Ƽ fn_uk : November 1, 2011 07:41 AM