Cover art used in Western regions
|Publisher(s)||Namco Bandai Games
|Release||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Dark Souls[b] is an action role-playing video game developed by FromSoftware and published by Namco Bandai Games for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows. A spiritual successor to FromSoftware's Demon's Souls, it is the second installment in the Souls series of games. Dark Souls began development under the working title of Project Dark. The game was self-published and released in Japan in September 2011, and worldwide by Namco Bandai Games the following month.
In August 2012, the "Prepare to Die" edition of Dark Souls was released for Windows, featuring additional content previously unavailable to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 users. In October 2012, the additional content from the Windows version was released as downloadable content for consoles under the subtitle Artorias of the Abyss. Dark Souls takes place in the fictional kingdom of Lordran. Players assume the role of a cursed undead character who begins a pilgrimage to discover the fate of his kind.
Dark Souls received critical acclaim upon its release, and is considered to be one of the best video games ever made, with critics praising its combat depth, intricate world design, and deeply rooted lore. However, the game's difficulty received mixed reviews. While some praised the challenge it provides, others criticized it for being unnecessarily unforgiving. The PC version of the game was less well-received, with criticism aimed at numerous technical issues, bugs and crashes. In April 2013, FromSoftware announced Dark Souls had sold 2.37 million copies. The PC version was the second most played Games for Windows Live title in 2012 based on unique users. The game spawned two sequels, Dark Souls II and III, released in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
Dark Souls is a third-person action role-playing game. The core mechanic of the game is exploration. Players are encouraged by the game to proceed with caution, learn from past mistakes, or find alternate areas to explore. Dark Souls takes place in a large and continuous open world environment, connected through a central hub area (Firelink Shrine). Players are able to travel to and from areas and explore various paths at will, although certain prerequisites have to be met in order to unlock certain areas.
Central to Dark Souls are Bonfires. Bonfires are scattered throughout the world and serve as check points for each level. When rested at, the player is healed to full, healing charges are restored, but all of the enemies (except for bosses, mini-bosses, and specific characters) respawn. While resting, players can level up and perform other key functions.
Another aspect of Dark Souls is the "humanity" system. There are two "forms" the player character can be in during the game, human form and hollow form. Whenever the player dies in human form, they are returned to hollow form and can only have their humanity restored by consuming an item (also called a "humanity"). In order to gain the assistance of other players, the player must be in human form. While in human form, the player is subjected to invasions by other players and NPCs who seek to kill the player and restore their own humanity.
Humanity can be acquired in many ways, and 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 revive as hollows at their most recent bonfire with one chance at returning to where they died to recover all lost souls and humanity. If the player dies before reaching their "bloodstain", the souls and humanity they previously accrued are permanently lost.
Communication between players is deliberately limited. 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.
Throughout the game, there are multiple non-playable characters the player may encounter on their journey. These characters add to the plot of the game, but are not mandatory to engage with. If the player does choose to engage with them, the characters are able to assist the player by being able to be summoned for certain boss fights.
Dark Souls has a minimalistic plot. 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, flavor text from items, and world design.
The opening cutscene establishes the premise of the game. The world was once shrouded by grey fog and ruled by dragons. In this time period, Gwyn happens upon the First Flame and finds a Lord Soul. He and his allies use their power to defeat the dragons, beginning the Age of Fire. Over time, the flames begin to fade with the rise of humans, and Gwyn sacrifices himself and his soul to prolong the Age of Fire. With the flame artificially rekindled, the undead curse begins to plague humanity, causing certain humans to continually resurrect upon death.
The player character is a cursed undead, locked away in an undead asylum. After escaping the asylum, the player travels to Lordran to ring the Bells of Awakening. The bells awaken Kingseeker Frampt, who tells the player to ascend to Anor Londo. In Anor Londo, Gwynevere instructs the player to succeed Lord Gwyn and fulfill the prophecy. To accomplish this, the Lord Souls must be acquired from Gwyn's primordial allies and returned to the flame.
The player may encounter Darkstalker Kaathe, who encourages the player not to link the fire, but to let it die out and usher in the Age of Dark. Once the player acquires the Lord Souls, they travel to the Kiln of the First Flame to succeed Lord Gwyn. Once Gwyn has been defeated, the player is given the choice of linking the flame to preserve the Age of Fire, or letting it die out to instigate the Age of Dark.
Artorias of the Abyss
At some point in the past, a being known as Manus awakened and began to spread the Abyss—an expanse of darkness—over the land of Oolacile. Knight Artorias was sent to Oolacile to stop the spread of the Abyss, but he failed and became corrupted. Meanwhile, Manus searches desperately for his long-lost pendant across space and time. Once the player obtains the pendant, Manus pulls them into the past. There, the player defeats the corrupted Artorias, and destroys Manus, halting the spread of the Abyss.
Development and release
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Following the game's release for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, many gamers expressed their hope for a PC version. Namco Bandai administrator, Tony Shoupinou responded on their page that a PC version was possible. On January 6, 2012, fans started a petition to bring Dark Souls to PC, with over 93,000 people signing it. 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 FromSoftware 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 circumvent the resolution cap appeared shortly after release. Later this fix was extended to an unofficial fan-made patch which additionally fixed a non-configurable frame rate limiter.
On December 15, 2014, Games for Windows Live was removed from the Steam version and replaced by Steamworks. The ability to transfer both achievements and save data was provided. In April 2016, Dark Souls became available on Xbox One via backward compatibility.
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Dark Souls received critical acclaim from critics upon its release. Famitsu gave the game a 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 [role-playing game]" 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. 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 role-playing game 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, arguing that the game's "vertigo-inducing breadth makes it the gaming equivalent of a marathon." Killingsworth praised Dark Souls' length, stating that he began a New Game+ upon finishing the game and that he "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.
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. FromSoftware announced in April 2013 that the game had sold 2.37 million units worldwide.
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 FromSoftware 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." One of the producers 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.'
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" (FromSoftware), 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.
In 2014, Edge magazine named Dark Souls the best game of the seventh generation of games consoles, noting that while some may initially tire of it, "We've yet to meet a single player for whom persistence has not been enough to transform apathy into all-consuming love."  In September 2015, Dark Souls topped the magazine's special issue The 100 Greatest Videogames.
In 2015, the game placed first on GamesRadar's "The 100 best games ever" list. The game also placed first on USgamer's The 15 Best Games Since 2000 list. The game was titled the "Best RPG on PC" by Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
Dark Souls is considered to be among the most important titles released during the seventh generation of consoles. Games said to have been influenced by Dark Souls include Destiny, Alienation, Lords of the Fallen, Salt and Sanctuary, Shovel Knight, Titan Souls, Enter the Gungeon, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Nioh.
A sequel, 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 Bandai Namco assured fans during the Electronic Entertainment Expo that Dark Souls II would 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. An updated version of the sequel, subtitled "Scholar of the First Sin", released the next year for the same platforms as well as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The third title of the series, Dark Souls III, was announced on the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2015 and was released in early 2016.
A Dark Souls board game was licensed to Steamforged Games, which sold it through Kickstarter in 2016. The campaign raised more than $5.4 million, making it one of the 20 highest funded projects of all time.
- For PlayStation 3 only
- ダークソウル (Dāku Sōru) in Japanese
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- Official website (Archived)