I might be late to the party on this, but I think Dark Souls is a really good game.
Dark Souls Remastered for Nintendo Switch is a port of 2011’s Dark Souls, an Action RPG that’s infamous for its high level of difficulty. With the release of Dark Souls Remastered on Switch, I took the opportunity to dive into this classic. Having spent over 100 hours with the game, I can confirm that the difficulty is fully intact. But Dark Souls is more than just a “hard game,” it’s a masterpiece of game design and atmosphere.
THE AGE OF FLAME
In a cursed world, where the Flame is fading, more and more humans are becoming afflicted with the curse of Undead. Before long, all Undead become Hollows, losing their humanity and becoming violent, empty husks. It’s become such a problem that Undead are being rounded up and locked in asylums. It is in one such asylum that the player begins their journey. An Undead knight, nearly Hollow himself, gives you a key to escape your cell, and tells you of a prophecy: one day, a Chosen Undead will travel to Lordran, land of the Ancient Lords, and ring the Bells of Awakening. It’s vague, but it’s a start. The scope of the story expands as the game progresses, but many questions will be left unanswered, even after the credits roll.
THE KINGDOM OF LORDRAN
Dark Souls does not take place in an “open world,” but rather it’s a series of interconnected areas linked by doors, elevators, and passageways. It is “open” in that most areas don’t have a loading screen between them, which makes exploring Lordran a very smooth experience. Ladders, lifts, doors and keys all unlock shortcuts from one area to another, and discovering how Lordran’s regions fit together feels like putting together a satisfying puzzle. The world of Dark Souls is as tall as it is wide, from the glorious heights of Anor Londo, city of the Gods, to the primordial Ash Lake at the bottom of the world. Nearly every area in the game has some sense of verticality, which adds to the complexity and connectivity of the world. By the time you complete the game, every inch of Lordran will feel intimately familiar.
The experience of playing through Dark Souls for the first time is a process of discovery, hopelessness, perseverance, and victory. The first time you enter a new area you’re likely to get surrounded and killed by your foes. Upon death, you lose your souls (currency) and your Human form, becoming a withered-up Hollow. As you try repeatedly, you’ll gradually discover the best way to defeat the foes and navigate Lordran’s perils. You’ll try repeatedly until you finally reach the next bonfire. These checkpoints provide temporary respite, and allow you to restore your Human form, level up, and heal, but eventually you need to set out once more into the unknown, fully prepared to die again.
And die you will. Combat in Dark Souls is deliberate and exacting, and your mistakes will be punished. When you press the button to swing your sword, you’re committing to the full animation: wind-up, swing, and follow-through. So it’s important to look for openings, learn the enemies’ move sets, and be patient, making sure you have enough stamina left for an emergency dodge-roll to safety. Taking a sip from your life-restoring Estus Flask stops your character in their tracks, so healing during combat is always risky. Environments are often as deadly as the enemies, with poisonous swamps, precarious falls, and nasty traps lurking everywhere.
The game gives you a surprising amount of freedom when it comes to building your character, regardless of your starting class. There is a massive armory of different swords, spears, axes, and more at your disposal, with most weapons having unique animations and move-sets. Additionally there are three different types of magic—sorceries, miracles, and pyromancies—which can be explored or ignored to your heart’s desire. Ranged combat with a bow or crossbow is a valid option to take out foes from afar, but archery is not overpowered, nor is it ever required.
Dark Souls’ boss fights are where your combat abilities will be tested most of all. Encountering a boss often feels like hitting a wall, an impassable obstacle. Just getting to the boss room from a bonfire can be grueling, much less fighting the boss itself. But as you try again, the run to the boss can be done faster, avoiding most or all enemies. And with each attempt you learn more about what strategies don’t work.
The game’s bosses (over 20!) are a varied bunch. A few call for ranged attacks, but most will have you dodging and rolling at close range, dealing a little damage at a time whilst struggling to stay alive. There are demons, gargoyles, wolves, and more, and with a few exceptions, each boss feels unique and creative. A victory against one of these foes is a milestone on your journey, and grasping that victory after dozens of defeats is one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
If you play offline, Dark Souls is an insanely difficult single-player game. But if you play online, the difficulty becomes much more fair. See, when you’re in your Human form, you can summon other players to help you with a difficult area or a tough boss. Any challenge is surmountable with the help of another experienced player at your side. And if you want to help others, you can be summoned as well to assist other players. Invasion is the other side of the game’s online play. Your human form not only allows you to summon helpful players, but you can also be invaded by players as well, whose goal is to hunt down and kill you. While being invaded by skilled, high-level players can be frustrating, it’s a part of the Dark Souls experience, and when you get to a certain point in the game, you can of course invade other players’ worlds as well.
Even without summoning or invasions, being online adds a signature feature to the game: the ability to view both messages and bloodstains left by other players. Bloodstains allow you to replay the last 10 seconds or so of another player’s life, which can help serve as a warning to upcoming obstacles. The messages on the other hand are left by players to either help or hinder you as you go. For every “Try jumping” message that leads to a secret, there are dozens that will lead to your death. Dark Souls players are a bunch of trolls, but I encountered many helpful messages throughout the game as well, leading me to secrets and providing useful warnings about upcoming enemies.
A MASSIVE JOURNEY
I said at the outset of this review that Dark Souls took me over 100 hours to complete. I would regularly hit “walls” where I was unable to make meaningful progress for hours. And some time was spent on non-essential quests, or goofing around with multi-player features. Regardless of this, Dark Souls is still a very large game that will take a large investment of time to complete. The game’s progression is very satisfying, from surviving the horrors of Blighttown, to exploring the beautiful Anor Londo. There’s virtually no busy-work or filler here. Nearly every area and boss feels significant.
Dark Souls Remastered also contains the “Artorias of the Abyss” DLC contents. This adds around 3 new areas and 4 new bosses to the base game, and they are some of the best-designed bosses in the game. It’s possible to complete the main story and be locked out of the DLC content, so make sure you look up a guide to avoid missing out on this fantastic content.
AN IMPRESSIVE CONVERSION
Dark Souls is a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch. The game runs at a very solid 30 frames per second in every area of the game, with an adaptive 1080p resolution. Handheld mode even runs at a native 720, which looks crisp on the Switch’s screen. While it may look dated compared to today’s games on more powerful hardware, Dark Souls is still a very good looking game. While the Switch version lacks the changes to lighting and effects that were made in Dark Souls Remastered on other platforms, it’s extremely faithful to the look of the original game with improved performance.
The one fly in the ointment is the audio quality. Every voice clip, soundtrack, and sound effect has been compressed, presumably to fit the game on a smaller Switch game cart. The compression was noticeable every time I turned on the game. The sound design is still very good, and I was able to get used to it and enjoy the game despite the compression, but it’s nonetheless a negative mark.
Dark Soul is a fantastic game, and a true modern classic. It’s both punishing and rewarding, beautiful and nightmarish, simple and complex. It’s not a flawless game, but it’s one that is rightly considered one of the greatest ever made.
- Masterfully constructed, continuously interconnected world
- Rewarding combat
- High replayability and player freedom
- Compelling world and themes
- Innovative multiplayer features
- Compressed audio quality