Monday, July 3, 2017

First Impressions: Dark Souls

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I want to start by emphasizing that this "First Impressions" blog entry is likely an even earlier impression than most of my other reviews.  I'm only about four hours into the game, and three of them were spent getting killed by the same zombies over and over.  Also, by all accounts, this is a really long game, so maybe I'll give periodic updates if I don't rage quit before then.

In the summer of 2015, I got a deal on an Xbox 360 and played roughly 100 hours of Skyrim.  It sucked me in like no non-Pokémon game has before or since.  Then, after completing the main quest, many of the side quests, forging the perfect armor and weapons, and grinding up the ideal skillset, I was ready for a new game.  An employee at my local video game store recommended Dragon Age.  It didn't hook me.  Nor did Fallout 3, Red Dead Redemption, or Arkham Asylum.  I got through the first disc of Wolfenstein: The New Order, but I eventually lost interest.

Since then, I've taken a deeper dive into vintage gaming, with several large stacks of cartridges to go with it.  Games like Super Mario World, Earthbound, Cruisin' USA, and Streets of Rage are great and timeless, but they do not have the immersive experience that a game like Skyrim offers.  Breath of the Wild is definitely on my radar to play eventually, possibly after a price drop if that ever happens, but Half-Priced Books had Dark Souls for $10, and I figured it would be worth a shot to see what the big deal was, especially after I guested on Let's Place and one of the hosts was rather offended that I didn't know what Dark Souls was and thought the gameplay looked a lot like Skyrim.

From my perspective, as someone who hasn't played many modern action RPGs, this game seems a lot like Skyrim.  It's a fantasy setting where your uniquely designed character is the chosen one with an emphasis on exploration in an open world.  The world doesn't feel as open as Skyrim yet, but I'm confident it will open up once I get through the first few things. 

The controls leave a little to be desired, but it's still playable.  It's the standard Xbox 360 control scheme of one stick controlling movement and the other controlling the camera, but the camera seems a bit wilder than most similar games.  Also, there is no jump button, which is just weird in an action game.  The third issue with the controls is mostly my issue.  The game feels like Skyrim, but the buttons by default are mapped differently.  It just occurred to me right now that there is a way to change the button mapping... oh well... forget that last thing.

Dark Souls' claim to fame is its difficulty.  It's pretty early in the game, so I'm still at the point where my character is extremely fragile, but the enemies are also probably not as difficult as they may later become, so I can't speak to how it levels out.  There are some mechanics that seem to be a made to intentionally infuriate the player however.  The most notable is the item screen.  Unlike most games, pulling up the item menu does not pause the game.  It does, however, prevent you from attacking, as the attack buttons are mapped to move between items on that menu.  Closing the menu is also a two step process, which led me to select the proper items to equip before rushing into battle only to not be able to attack the enemies more times than I'm proud of.

In spite, or perhaps because of its punishing, somewhat clunky nature, I'm definitely having fun with the game.  After losing progress in Final Fantasy III because I didn't realize a total party kill was game over, and playing other classic games with limited lives and continues, it's really nice to play a modern game that just kicks you back a few minutes worth of game time when you die thirty or forty times in a spot.  Beyond that, the graphics are beautiful and immersive, and the story has a lot of potential.  I look forward to documenting my changing opinions and telling the tales of being killed by the same random enemies over and over. 

Dark Souls may just be the next game I put one hundred hours into... or I may get mad at it and buy Breath of the Wild on my next payday...

Thanks for reading!

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