As part of a contest by CD Projekt Red to win a review copy of The Witcher 2 for the 360, I sent this review and won one of the 1000 copies.
With that said... Enjoy the review!
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Action-RPG
Platform(s): 360, PS3 (Reviewed on) (Japan PS3 Only.) PC - August 2012.
Developer: FROM Software
Publisher: FROM Software (Japan), Namco Bandai (West.)
Release date: Japan: September 22nd, 2011
North America: October 4th, 2011
Australia: October 6th, 2011
Europe: October 7th, 2011.
Dark Souls is the spiritual sequel to the phenomenal 2009 (or 2010 for those located in Europe and Australia) Action-RPG, Demon's Souls which was a PS3 exclusive, while Dark Souls is both on the PS3 and the 360. While Dark Souls does have many similar features to Demon's Souls, it has enough to separate itself and still be unique despite being a sequel to an already unique predecessor.
Unlike Demon's Souls which had the nexus being the hub that lead to all the other levels, Dark Souls is a more open world but manages to not make it large enough that you can get lost in it but there is still plenty to find and explore and all the environments are nicely varied and keep to the fact that the world is in a crisis and there is very few left standing.
When you start the game, you will first pick your gender and class, and able to customize their appearance. While you do pick your class, you aren't locked out of any equipment or skills as the game progresses, instead your class merely determines your starting stats and from there you can then level any stats and if you reach the final level of 712 you become every class in one with absolute freedom. Which is essential to the game, Dark Souls is all about freedom of choice, allowing a flexible leveling structure which allows people to play their way.
You level up by gaining souls by killing enemies or absorbing soul items dropped by items, but it is also the game's currency for everything so you need to balance it. Your level is the accumulated number of all your stats put together, so if your level is 25, if you raise your strength; your level will be 26. Each level, no matter how high or low that stat is the next stat you raise will require the increased number of Souls.
As you explore the world of Dark Souls, there are lots to find and lots of secret weapons and armors that can be found and acquired across the world. Some can even only be acquired if you cut off a bosses tail or random drop. Even after almost one-hundred hours there are still weapons and armors I still haven't found even after dedicating time to just find new items. It's also complimented by the fact that there is no real best weapon, only good weapons for different playing styles, since unlike some other RPGs, you won't just find a good weapon early on and it beats all the rest.
Now, while it is open, the world at least for the start is fairly linear, you can go to other area's but will be blocked off from the bosses or the area all together because you haven't gotten far enough into the story, but the story itself isn't straight forward with you. While there are NPCs that will talk with you, the world's lore and overarching story is discovered through environments and little things that tell you the story. It's really refreshing and it's makes it all the more satisfying when you pursue subplots and figure what happened in a dungeon or area.
As you explore you will find bonfires which are check points essentially, you sit at a bonfire and that's your resurrection point, it is also the only place you can revive yourself and level up your stats as other various things. It is also where you can use Humanity to upgrade the bonfire so that you get more Estus flask which is the main way of healing yourself which can itself be upgraded. Humanity is another form of currency which can be obtained various ways such as killing certain NPCs, Fire Keeper Soul consumption, and killing bosses. It is also used to revive yourself from your hollow form.
Combat in Dark Souls is precise and has a sense of weight to it and requires planning. Dark Souls is a tough game, there is no running in and hoping for the best or you will die... a lot. Just swinging a weapon has weight to it, and just swinging it won't do the job. Locking on to an enemy and moving around them, blocking and parrying, all at the same time maintaining your stamina levels which if such goes low your character can't run or attack thus leaving you in a defenseless state.
Stamina can also be influenced by your equipment; there are some weapons and a ring that increases your stamina and also one that increases its recharge rate. But wearing heavy armor won't increase stamina use but it won't recharge as fast. Also armor affects your weight capacity, so too much armor and your character will move slower making you less agile which can either be a benefit or make a battle much more difficult. Some battles will require speed, but some require heavy defense and even in one case makes a boss almost impossible to beat without heavy armor.
Magic is also a big part of the game, there is simple spells, pyromancies, and miracles. Spells do various kinds of attacks such as homing spells and powering your weapons, pyromancies specialize in all fire attacks, poison, and three buffs, Miracles focus on light spells, buffs, and healing spells. You can only have a certain numbers of spells and all of the types are from the same source, so if you have 3 slots, a pyro spell that takes up 2 and a Miracle that takes up 1, you can only have the one pyro and miracle spell.
All of this comes together to create a strategic combat system that favors playing smart which is rare in most games today. Now as mentioned, you will die a lot, and death is handled unique in Dark Souls and it connects into the multiplayer which is integrated into the single player. When you die, you are in your hollow state, when in this form, you can be summoned into other players worlds and aid them to beat the area's boss. You do this by placing a summoning stone on the ground and a player will see it in their world and then summon you. Then there is invading another players world, you can invade a person's world and kill them to get their soul and Humanity. You can only summon a player if you're alive, but you can be summoned and invade while alive.
Then there is a faction system that ties into both of it, throughout the world there are various factions you can join, some of these specialize in invading, while some are aimed towards helping others. These can affect who invade your world or who you are allowed to summon. They even allow you to get special weapons and skills. If you betray a faction by killing one of their members or abandoning it, you will need to get atonement if you wish to rejoin it. If you're a trophy or achievement hunter, you will want to meet all the faction leaders.
Now for some of the bad stuff, when Dark Souls released its multiplayer was broken, you could barely find a game and even after a couple of months, its system is still iffy at times and trying to invade a person's world can still result in failures. Compared to Demon's Souls which used a dedicated server system almost rarely ever failed, Dark Souls uses a new matchmaking system that failure is common. It is sad and the reason for change is unknown but is a decision that didn't make fans happy, but with recent patches, it is better, but not completely fixed.
There is also some really low FPS (Frames per seconds) in some areas such as Blight town, which can get so bad that the game looks like a slide-show and it is easy to be swarmed or fall of the edges of the area which has many heights and enemies. But while it's not as bad, some areas can still get laggy and can cause annoyances, but Blight town can cause some rage quits, so it is good to go slow and take your time, don't rush in as there is also not many bonfires.
It's time to talk about the graphics; Dark Souls is a dark game and helps its feel as being a Dark Fantasy rather than just a game with lots of blood. While it's not the most graphically intense game or uniquely styled, it's detailed and puts its emphasis on atmosphere to immerse the player in the universe which is effective in many ways. But overall there isn't much to talk about.
Lastly its soundtrack and sound effects is top notch, while there isn't music always playing, the times it is such as bosses and some areas, the music is phenomenal and is always a pleasure to listen to. The sound effects are good, but if you played Demon's Souls, you will notice some reused sound effects, but there is still plenty of new, and this won't be a problem for new players who never played the original.
Dark Souls is a deep game, it's fun, challenging and immersive, it has unique systems that make it stand out and plays similar to old rouge-like RPGs of past generations which are less common in recent years. I recommend playing Dark Souls; it's a great game, and one of the best RPGs of this generation.