Cover art used in western regions
(Namco Bandai Games)
|Programmer(s)||Jun Ito (lead programmer)|
(lead graphic designer)
|Release date(s)||PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360
JP September 22, 2011 (PS3)
|Genre(s)||Action role-playing, Metroidvania, Dungeon crawl|
|Mode(s)||Single-player, online multiplayer, co-op|
|Distribution||Optical disc, download|
Dark Souls (ダークソウル Dāku Souru?) is an action role-playing video game set in an open world environment. It was developed and published for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 by From Software in Japan and by Namco Bandai Games internationally. A spiritual successor to From Software's Demon's Souls, Dark Souls began development under the working title Project Dark. The game was released in 2011, in Japan on September 22, in North America on October 4, in Australia on October 6, and in Europe on October 7. On August 24, 2012, the "Prepare to Die" edition of Dark Souls was released for PC, featuring additional content previously unavailable to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 users. On October 23, 2012, the additional content from the PC version was released as downloadable content for consoles under the title Artorias of the Abyss.
Dark Souls takes place in the fictional kingdom of Lordran. Players assume the role of a cursed human character who has been chosen to make a pilgrimage out of the Undead Asylum to discover the fate of the undead. The plot of Dark Souls is primarily told through descriptions of in-game items and dialogue with non-playable characters (NPCs). Players must piece together what vague information they obtain in order to understand the story, rather than having it laid out for them by the game. Dark Souls garnered recognition due to its grueling difficulty and unforgiving challenge. The game world is filled with weapons, armor and consumable items that serve to assist the player throughout their journey.
Dark Souls received high praise from critics due to its combat depth, marked but fair difficulty, and deeply rooted mythology. In April 2013, From Software announced Dark Souls had sold more than 2.3 million copies. The PC version was the second most played Games for Windows Live title in 2012 based on unique users. Dark Souls II was announced on December 7, 2012, and was released on March 11, 2014.
Dark Souls is a third-person action RPG. The core mechanic of the game is that it uses death to teach players how to react in hostile environments, encouraging repetition, learning from past mistakes, and prior experience as a means of overcoming its difficulty. Dark Souls takes place in a large and continuous open world environment, connected through a central hub area. Players are able to travel to and from areas and explore various paths, although certain prerequisites have to be met in order to unlock certain areas. Scattered throughout the game world are bosses and creatures of varying types that must be defeated. From almost all enemies killed, the player will receive a relative amount of "souls" which act as both currency and experience points. (Some enemies yield rare ingredients for improving weapons and armor, for example, instead of souls.)
Central to Dark Souls are bonfires. Bonfires are scattered throughout the world and function as resting hubs and save points for the player. While resting, players can level up and repair their equipment, among other things. Resting at a bonfire is restorative and necessary for progression in the game. However, resting at a bonfire causes all of the previously defeated enemies of an area to come back to life and return to their original map placements, except for bosses and mini-bosses.
Another important aspect of Dark Souls is the “humanity” system. There are two states of being in the game. While in “human” form, the character will appear human with healthy skin. They will benefit from minor increases to their character's statistics. Being human opens the online portion of the game, allowing allies to be summoned; and invading/being invaded by other players. However, every time a player dies in human form, they will enter “hollow” form with an undead appearance. To return to human status, a player must spend one humanity point at a bonfire.
Humanity can be acquired in a large variety of ways, including:
- defeating undead enemies (Undead only according to the first "hint-giving" NPC encountered in the game.),
- finding items that grant +1 or +2 humanity (either by looting them from defeated enemies, or finding them as "treasures" in treasure chests, etc.),
- defeating other players invading your player's world [depending on which of the 9 "covenants" (or faction) your player is part of at the time, and the invading player(s)],
- or invading and defeating players in theirs [depending on your player's covenant as well as the covenant of the player in the target world]
If no humanity is available, players are still able to progress in hollow form. Death in either form results in the loss of all carried souls and humanity, but players respawn at their most recent bonfire with one chance at returning to where they died to recover all lost souls and humanity (though they do not recover the point of humanity spent to reverse the hollowfication from their "previous body"). If the player dies before reaching their "bloodstain", the souls and humanity he/she previously accrued are permanently lost.
Although being in human form is a prerequisite for much of the online play, there are still certain functions that occur no matter what state a player’s character is in, so long as the game is connected to the Internet. Players can view the deaths of other players in the area through bloodstains on the ground, which can reveal traps or hidden enemies. Players can also see the shades of other players who are in the same area and what they are doing.
Communication between players is deliberately limited. If the player is in "party chat" on the Xbox 360, the game will set itself to offline mode. On the other hand, private chat between two players at a time is allowed. Other than character gestures, the only other communication players have with one another comes by way of Orange Soapstones, which allow players to write limited messages that can be read by others in the same area, as well as several Archtree Carvings, introduced in the DLC, which say pre-recorded phrases that other players can hear during co-op and player vs. player interactions. Some areas of the game have been designated unofficial player vs. player hotspots by the community, and invaders in these areas often engage in duels.
Dark Souls has a minimalistic plot and it is mostly left up to the player to put the pieces of the story together. Historical events in this world and their significance are often implicit and left to player interpretation rather than fully shown or explained. Most of the story is given to the player through dialogue from characters within the game, item descriptions, or through a number of the game's scarce cutscenes.
The opening cutscene begins in primeval times, where the world was unformed and the immortal Everlasting Dragons held sole dominion over all. The First Flame was ignited from an unknown source, which brought disparity in the form of light and dark. Within the flame, four beings discovered the Lord Souls and became godlike entities: Nito, the First of the Dead; the Witch of Izalith; Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight; and the Furtive Pygmy.
Three of the Lords, led by Gwyn and with the help of the traitorous dragon Seath the Scaleless, defeated the race of dragons in a great war and began their Age of Fire. The first flame of the world cannot last forever, and is doomed to wither and die. Realizing this, the Witch of Izalith and her children unsuccessfully attempted to recreate it, which turned her into a monstrosity known as the Bed of Chaos and birthed the creatures known as Demons. In a last-ditch effort, Gwyn ventured to the Kiln of the First Flame with some of his faithful knights and sacrificed himself to the fire and rekindled it temporarily.
As the flame is in danger of fading, bearers of the accursed Darksign known as the Undead appear amongst humanity. Those branded with it can no longer die, but eventually lose their minds and go "hollow". Since mindless hollows are threats to humans, Undead are corralled and locked away. The player-named protagonist starts the game locked in a cell in the Undead Asylum, but escapes with the help of a knight known as Oscar of Astora. Oscar tells the player about a prophecy concerning a Chosen Undead who is destined to leave the Undead Asylum and ring the Bells of Awakening in Lordran.
Once the Chosen Undead has progressed far enough to ring both Bells of Awakening, the serpent Kingseeker Frampt wakes up in Firelink Shrine. Having awaited the true Chosen Undead's arrival for a millennium, he explains that they must gather the Lord Souls and succeed Lord Gwyn by defeating him and linking the fire, thus undoing the curse of the undead. To complete this arduous task, the player must travel through Sen's Fortress and retrieve the Lordvessel from the land of Anor Londo, former city of the gods. When that is obtained, the player must obtain the powerful Lord Soul fragments to ignite the Lordvessel and unlock the door to the Kiln of the First Flame: one fragment from Seath the Scaleless; one fragment from the Four Kings; one whole soul from the Gravelord Nito; and one whole soul from the Bed of Chaos.
If the player refrains from placing the Lordvessel on the altar, he can instead meet Darkstalker Kaathe in the Abyss, who is another Primordial Serpent who opposes Frampt. Kaathe tells the player that the Furtive Pygmy, whose Lord Soul is known as the Dark Soul, dispersed some of his power in order to create the human race. Kaathe desires to "usher in the Age of Dark" by destroying Gwyn and extinguishing the fire forever, ending the reign of the gods and making the player the Dark Lord, and says that Frampt lost his senses when he allied with Gwyn.
Whichever serpent the player allies with, they must fight Gwyn inside the kiln of the first flame. Once Gwyn is defeated, player may either sacrifice themselves to rekindle the flame, or to let the flame become extinguished.
In the light ending, the protagonist sacrifices his/her body and soul, burns intensely and prolongs the age of fire. In the dark ending, multiple primordial serpents are seen bowing before the protagonist in the new dark age, also known as the age of Man.
Artorias of the Abyss DLC
At some point, one of the primordial serpents convinced the inhabitants of a land called Oolacile to upturn the grave of Manus, the primeval man and Father of the Abyss. Upon his awakening, Manus started to expand the abyss, and the inhabitants of Oolacile mutated into crazed demonic creatures. Artorias, one of Gwyn's knights, was sent to stop the spread of the Abyss, but failed, and became corrupted by the dark. Meanwhile, Manus has captured Princess Dusk, and searches desperately for his long-lost pendant across space and time.
In the DLC, Manus grabs the Chosen Undead and pulls them into the past, if they are able to find Manus' broken pendant. Inside the past, the protagonist defeats the corrupted Artorias, destroys Manus, halts the spread of the abyss and saves Princess Dusk. The events become legends, but the protagonist's exploits are falsely attributed to Knight Artorias.
Dark Souls received critical acclaim for its addictive difficulty and seemingly endless variety. Famitsu gave the game a highly positive review, scoring it 37 out of 40, based on four scores of 9, 9, 9, and 10. One of the reviewers for Dark Souls described it as "a very hardcore dark-fantasy RPG" that is "role-playing right down to the roots," and stated that the "massive field map and powerful enemies serve to rev up both your sense of adventure and your sense of dread." Another reviewer stated that "the sheer happiness you get after the trial-and-error pays off and you overcome the challenge is absolutely impossible to replicate."
GameSpot scored Dark Souls a 9.5/10, complimenting almost every aspect. Much praise was given to the online system, as well as the sense of jubilation felt when conquering boss fights after numerous failed attempts. They also suggested that casual gamers may struggle to progress, whereas RPG enthusiasts will thrive on the difficulty.
IGN gave Dark Souls a 9.0/10, praising the well-thought out level design, variety, strong emphasis on online features, excessively dark tone and atmosphere, and deep gameplay. They also noted that it is not a game that one can simply jump into and play for plain enjoyment. They went as far to say that it is not a game for the timid and that the game requires both skill and strategy almost all the time. While praising the extremely high difficulty, they stated that "there's a difference between punishing, and downright unfair."
Eurogamer gave Dark Souls 9/10, saying "If adventure is to surprise and mystify you and invite you to uncover the secrets of a forgotten world, then Dark Souls is a great adventure game. If entertainment is fun without failure and progress without pain, you'll have to find it somewhere else. But you'll be missing out on one of the best games of the year."
Writing for Slate, Michael Thomsen asked if a 100-hour video game was ever worthwhile, stating:
There is real beauty in Dark Souls. It reveals that life is more suffering than pleasure, more failure than success, and that even the momentary relief of achievement is wiped away by new levels of difficulty. It is also a testament to our persistence in the face of that suffering, and it offers the comfort of a community of other players all stuck in the same hellish quagmire. Those are good qualities. That is art. And you can get all of that from the first five hours of Dark Souls. The remaining 90 or so offer nothing but an increasingly nonsensical variation on that experience.
Jason Killingsworth wrote a response to Thomsen's review for Edge:
Thomsen mentions that we could use that 100 hours to train for a marathon. Dark Souls' vertigo-inducing breadth makes it the gaming equivalent of a marathon...Reading War And Peace? Dark Souls immerses us in war, and lots of it. But it also lets us taste the most incredible peace—sublime moments of quiet interspersed between the violence like rests in a musical score...Taking a roadtrip from New York to Los Angeles and back again? Dark Souls invites us on a journey that makes the sights of middle America pale in comparison...invites us to criss-cross a world. To adore games is to be an insatiable wanderer.
When I finished my long trek through Dark Souls, do you know what I did? I clicked on the New Game+ option and began all over again. And I didn’t look sheepishly at the clock on the wall to beg its permission.
Edge later retroactively awarded the game 10 out of 10 in their October 2013 20th anniversary issue, stating that over time the breadth and quality of the game's design had overruled complaints about its difficulty. The magazine would go on to name Dark Souls the best game of the seventh generation of games consoles, noting in particular that while players may initally tire of the game, their views inevitably change:
There are only two ways to play Dark Souls: you either bounce off it entirely or fall head over heels in love with it. The only thing preventing the former from becoming the latter is a lack of endurance, and we don't mean the in-game stat of the same name. We've yet to meet a single player for whom persistence has not been enough to transform apathy into all-consuming love.
In a post-release review of the game, Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw praised Dark Souls in his Zero Punctuation video for its deep gameplay and immersive atmosphere, expressing that there should be a "rule that [the developers] can only put stuff in [their] skybox if the player gets to visit it at some point", but was "disappointed" with the late-game bosses and criticized the difficulty of getting into the game, stating that: "while it's fine that [Dark Souls] seeks to court the hardcore audience, a gentler barrier-to-entry might have turned less new players off".
Post-release, the game's director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, contemplated adding an easier difficulty level, saying: "Dark Souls is rather difficult and a number of people may hesitate to play. This fact is really sad to me and I am thinking about whether I should prepare another difficulty that everyone can complete or carefully send all gamers the messages behind our difficult games." Namco Bandai claimed Miyazaki's statement was mistranslated, and should have read "This fact is really sad to me and I am thinking about how to make everyone complete the game while maintaining the current difficulty and carefully send all gamers the messages behind it."
Namco Bandai’s yearly financial report stated that the game sold 1.19 million units in the United States and Europe by March 2012. From Software announced in April 2013 that the game had sold 2.37 million units worldwide.
Game Revolution gave Dark Souls the Community Choice Game of the Year award. IncGamers also gave it the "Game of the Year" award. Q-Games' Dylan Cuthbert and Double Fine Productions' Brad Muir chose Dark Souls as Game of the Year. Electronic Gaming Monthly's Eric L. Patterson chose it as Game of the Year. GameTrailers gave it the "Best Role-Playing Game" award, while also nominating it for the "Best Multiplayer Game", "Best Trailer" and "Game of the Year" awards. GameZone gave the game the "Best Action/Adventure" award and chose it as the runner-up for the "Best RPG" award.
The Daily Telegraph gave the game the "Best Integration of Online Features" award, and nominated it for the awards of "Best Director" (Hidetaka Miyazaki), "Best Level Design", "Best Sound Design", "Best Original Score" (Motoi Sakuraba), "Best Developer" (From Software), and "Game of the Year". TeamXbox gave it an honorable mention as the runner-up for the "Best RPG" award. 1UP.com gave it the "Most Rewarding Game" award. Game Informer gave it the award for "Best Boss Fight" (Sif). It also received the "Best Boss Fights" awards from GameSpot, including both the Editors' Choice and Readers' Choice awards. Famitsu gave it an Award of Excellence in its 2012 awards ceremony.
Following the game's release, many gamers expressed their hope for a PC version. Namco Bandai administrator, Tony Shoupinou responded on their page that a PC version was possible, saying:
There is always possibilities to have games adapted on PC and the good news is that Dark Souls is not a 100% typical Console game so the adaptation is possible. Now to make things happen, let's say the demand has to be properly done. Someone to make a successful petition?
Damn you are amazing! I honestly wasn’t expecting such a massive support. My boss(es) even came to talk to me about this, after it exploded all around the world. If you wanted to have the attention of Namco Bandai Games, now you have it. The future is in your hands, and I hope you will keep supporting this. I make a personal objective to make sure every relevant person at Namco Bandai Games is in touch with this formidable effort.
The PC version of the game was confirmed on April 7, 2012 via the PC Action magazine. It had been reported during the development process that From Software had been having difficulty with the port due to inexperience with PC as a platform, and were focusing on adding content rather than optimization. Re-branded as Prepare to Die Edition, it came out in August 2012 and featured new content, including bosses, enemies, equipment, and NPCs. The new content, titled Artorias of the Abyss, was released for consoles in October 2012 in the form of DLC. Soon after, it was announced that Dark Souls for PC would use Games for Windows – Live for online play and DRM, spurring fan backlash.
The PC version of the game was released on August 23, 2012. A fan-made mod to 'fix' the resolution cap was made shortly after release. Later this fix was extended to an unofficial fan-made patch which additionally fixed a non-configurable frame rate limiter.
In GameSpy's review, the port was referred to as "shabby", citing the game's limit of 30 frames per second, poor mouse and keyboard controls, and nonadjustable resolution, but the expanded content was praised, giving the game an overall favorable review. Eurogamer also commented on the quality of the port, stating: "Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition does not come with the technical options you would expect from a well-engineered PC game, because it's a port of a console game, and that's all From Software ever promised to deliver. Anyone who passes up Dark Souls for this reason is cutting off their nose to spite their neckbeard of a face."
Producer of Dark Souls II, Takeshi Miyazoe, responded to the criticism of the PC version by saying:
This is going to sound bad but our main priority was to get the game onto the PC as fast as possible, because people wanted it on the PC. The PC market in Japan is so minimal that originally there were no plans to make it on the PC, but with the strong petition from the North American and European fans, even with the lack of experience of working on a PC platform we still did our best to try to get it out as fast as possible. [The problems] were expected to a certain extent.
We did know there were PC-specific features like key-mapping and use of the mouse and keyboard, high resolution and higher frame rate, stuff like that, but... It's not that we ignored it, but it would have taken too much time for us to implement it, test it and get it up to the level people expected. It was more of a publisher (Namco Bandai) decision to say, ‘Guys, don’t worry about this – let’s just get it out and see how this works on PC.'
In July 2014, it was rumored that Games for Windows Live would be shut down, and as of October 2014 From Software confirmed the game would remain online using the Steamworks software.
A sequel, titled Dark Souls II, was announced at the Spike Video Game Awards on December 7, 2012 for release on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Amid rumors of a possible decrease in the difficulty of the series due to comments made by the new director to Edge, Brian Hong of Namco Bandai assured fans during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles that Dark Souls II will be "viciously hard." Dark Souls II was released on March 11, 2014 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and for the PC on April 25, 2014.
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