Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3? Haven't played it yet. Battlefield 3? The videos make it look entertaining, but nope, I haven't played it.
Since mid-December I've been absorbed in a game called Dark Souls, the follow-up to Demon Souls by From Studios. It's a swords and dragons type of role-playing game that you might have heard of by now, probably described as one of the hardest games out there. That was one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place — I wanted a challenge, and not the challenge of seeing how many times I could get killed by 12-year-olds in a multiplayer war game in a single sitting.
To call Dark Souls revolutionary would be an understatement.
They were right about the challenging part, especially when you're starting out and have no idea where to go or what all the items and buttons do. You're going to want to stay near a computer at first so you can follow a walkthrough or read a Wiki because you could literally spend dozens of hours running the wrong way and getting killed because other than a few sporadic NPCs scattered around the world, nobody tells you anything. It took me five hours to figure out how to cast a spell, for example, and it was probably 10 to 15 hours before I figured out you could hold down a button to go down the ladders a little faster.
What took me much longer to figure out is the fact that the game does have some mercy. If you die over and over, it's a sure sign you've gone the wrong way or are doing something wrong. The game will never get easy, but it will seem fairer if you take a hint, use the gear that turns up and take the path of least resistance.
Each weapon is different and has different attacks — a light, fast attack, a heavy attack, a running attack, a jumping attack and even a retreating attack. Your sword rings off the stones in tight hallways, or you can switch to a weapon that jabs. And each weapon can be upgraded in a number of different ways to create something unique. You can roll and circle around opponents, waiting for an opening. You can a hold most weapons two-handed for new moves and extra damage.
The shields are different — some heavy shields are just for blocking attacks, while others are good for parrying attacks or have attacks of their own. Ditto for all the armour, clothing and rings that are available.
The game starts off with a difficult choice of what kind of character you want to create. You can be a Thief, Warrior, Barbarian, Pyromancer, Cleric, etc., each class coming with a different set of gear and starting stats, and different gifts that you won't really understand until you start playing. You can change your characters as you go, but it still feels like a big decision to make.
From there, you awaken in an asylum afflicted with Darksign, a disease that is hollowing people out and making them undead. You escape the help of others who believe you might be the one chosen to break the curse.
The plot really isn't important. Everything you kill gives you souls, which can be used as money, to upgrade your character stats or to repair your equipment. There are merchants to buy things from — or kill if you choose. There are bonfires where you can heal and recharge your spells, life potion, repair weapons, etc. There is "Humanity" that helps reverse the curse and turns you back into human form.
When you die you lose all your collected souls and humanity, but you can get it back if you can return to that spot without getting killed again. Prepare to lose a lot of souls...
As a single player game, Dark Souls is incredible — the combat is tough, the bosses are difficult, the atmosphere is tense, the environment is striking. But what makes Dark Souls so interesting is what happens when you play online. You can summon and be summoned into the games of others to play co-op style. You can be invaded by other players and square off in combat.
You can invade other players to earn souls and other rewards. You can join covenants and get called into service in co-op and invasion scenarios. You can read chalk warnings and descriptions of what's ahead and write your own. You can invite people to invade your world and battle — and the Player-vs-Player community is huge.
And when you're done playing the game through the first time — something that can take 60 hours to do — you can start over in New Game-plus mode at level one but with all the knowledge and weapons you gained the first time through. You can build a completely different type of character — a brawler that uses fist weapons, a mage that relies on magic, a faith-based cleric that miracles to battle, a tank with the heaviest weapons and armour, a character built for PvP battles and online play... it's up to you. You can joincovenants, try to play co-op, or just lay down your sign and help new players through levels and difficult bosses.