Finally. That’s what those of you with tricked-out PC rigs — who perhaps don’t have game consoles and have had to listen to console gamers brag about just how phenomenal this game is — may be saying this morning, now that Dark Souls, one of the most brutal action-RPGs yet devised, is available on your platform of choice.
The folks at Namco Bandai have re-dubbed this new edition “Prepare to Die,” which is itself almost a euphemism for what you’ll do as you play. I’d be more inclined to call it the “Prepare to Make No Progress at All for Extended Periods” edition. Because that’s what Dark Souls is: a series of vertical trampolines, one in front of another, that you throw yourself at repeatedly, hoping eventually to break through from one to the next.
If you haven’t played it, maybe that sounds like wonkism — major-macho posturing and such. It’s not. I’m from the Glenn Gould school of gaming (well, if Glenn Gould had been a gamer), i.e. “not-really-competitive.” I honestly got as much from Dark Souls just basking in the remarkable artistry of the level design, and pounding away less for the sake of pimping my character than to see what wonders the game held in store next. It somehow manages to combine the hack-and-slash fluidity of an action game with the ambient, alien sense of dread you feel watching a Quay Brothers film.
Here, in case you’re saying “Dark whatzit?”, is what I wrote about the game for our “top 10 games of 2011” story in the magazine last year.
Dark Souls is a brutally difficult old-school action game that forces you to choose between cashing in its eponymous “souls” — hoovered up from the bodies of slain enemies — and losing them if you die before doing so. Even death is a wager, offering a single chance to recover what you’ve lost, but only if you can reach the place you were slain without dying again.
It’s also about scrutinizing sophisticated enemy behavior and pattern recognition, establishing creature-specific combat rhythms with your gamepad as you dash through weird and weirder mythic vistas culled from nightmares. What may seem laborious to button-mashers weaned on hack-and-slash games like Diablo turns out to be less complex if you’re patient enough to employ dying as a puzzle-solving mechanic, treating encounters like tactical conundrums instead of rushing in thoughtlessly.
I played Dark Souls on an Xbox 360, so I’ll have to wait, along with PS3 owners, for a few more months to get the new content. It’ll be downloadable later this year for $15.
Fair’s fair, right?