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Dark Souls Online Review

Cart: Dark Souls
Cab: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC
Coin: From Software

On the face of it, Dark Souls seems to have an approach to online gaming that for many will seem limited, dated and maybe even a little backward thinking.

Those young gamers who have been weaned on the online offerings of both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have been collectively balking at what Dark Souls is offering.

No voice chat, no playing with friends, PvP gameplay that is seemingly random and a co-op mode that only allows you to take on bosses together at certain point, if you meet certain conditions, if other players are actually in the area that also meet complex conditions, and all this only ever with complete strangers.

Modern gamers are used to playing through the entirety of Gears of War with a real life buddy, going toe-to-toe with dozens of players in the latest Call of Duty or even a cast of thousands of players in World of Warcraft, all with online capabilities designed to make finding, chatting and befriending other players as easy and seamless as possible.

Yet, they may be missing the point. Dark Souls may be obtuse, complicated and limited in its online modes, but its offering is not only understated and uplifting, it is sublime.

To understand the online portion, you have to understand the game. Dark Souls is a struggle. You inch through the darkness alone, with death around every corner, a rich but lonely quest against an overtly aggressive and merciless batch of creatures.

However, there are moments of light in this harsh land, moments provided by other people, anonymous strangers. Messages left around the levels by other players give helpful hints and also humorous camaraderie. ‘Grief Ahead’, indeed.

You also catch glimpses of other players, busy in their own games, white shadows that remind you that, although you are on your own, there are others sharing your experience, in that level, against those horrible enemies, at that exact same time.

Respite is given by bonfires, temporary oasis’ against the onslaught, and here you can see other players sitting around the fire, again reminding you that you are not alone, reinforcing the sense of relief at finding the one area of safety. You can even provide fellow warriors gathered there with a little extra health by kindling the fire.

Actual online play is difficult to find, as you first have to find a certain item to even allow it, and then you come to those conditions I mentioned. You can leave a sign near a boss door to let any players know that you are ready to be summoned to help them take out a boss, but to keep your summon sign alive you have to stay within the local area. If you want to be the one performing the summoning then you have to use a fairly rare item to make yourself human, and you can then see other players signs around the levels.

Then, you and up to three other players all go through the door to face the boss together. This does make the bosses a bit easier for the host, but with Dark Souls, every boss is as difficult as other titles end game bosses, so the real boost here is the thrill of connecting with other people for a few minutes, an exhilarating feeling that reminded me of the first time I played a game online, back in the days where you actually needed the other players telephone number to play.

The fact that you can hear when another player rings the bell, signifying that they have just beat a real tough section with a difficult boss sends a shiver down the spine. Some players will wonder if they themselves will ever reach that bell, while others will smile, remembering the feeling they had when they reached that point, hours in the past.

This all adds up to an online system that doesn’t compete with the single player mode, but augments it, that doesn’t let you play against 64 other people, yet really allows you to actually connect with another player in a human way that no other game, save for the first Demon Souls, allows you to do.

So, in holding back and rewarding patience, Dark Souls has an online system that makes you look at other players as candles in the dark, and in doing so provides a true taste of that rarest of things in gaming, humanity.


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Editor and founder of VoxelArcade and The Smartphone App Review. Favourite games: Uridium 2, Frontier: Elite II, Sensible World of Soccer, Far Cry 3, Zelda: Ocarina, Metroid Prime, Solar Quest, F-Zero GX, Monkey Island 2 and Tetris.

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One Comment

  1. I’m one of those wusses who found Demon Souls too demanding, so for me the online play of both games are their greatest legacy. Without it I don’t think we would have had the unconventional online modes of Dragon’s Dogma or Hitman Absolution’s Contracts. I’m interested to see where developers take it next.

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