Having been a child of the NES/SNES/Mega Drive (Genesis) days I know a thing or two about hard computer games. Whilst these consoles' (particularly the NES') reputation for difficulty more than precedes themselves, they weren't always the fairest bunch. It could be down to numerous things, bad level design, cumbersome controls, horrendous difficulty spikes etc. However almost none of these dynamics apply to this game. I feel compelled to address this issue right off the bat because someone who's viewing this game, and is pondering purchasing it, must have heard of it's "punishing" difficulty by this stage. Well take it from me, ANYONE with ANY semblance of patience, skill, understanding and courage will have very little difficulty in conquering this (in my opinion) masterpiece of a game.
First things first, story. There's barely any, well that is to say initially. After your opening movie (no need to explain this) you wake up in an Asylum (an "undead" one), given a crappy weapon and told to go on your merry way. After that the story is barely explained, only through careful observation, i.e. checking item descriptions, listening attentively to NPC dialogue, can you begin to try piece it together. To be honest the story isn't what'll drive you through this game, nay only your willingness to succeed, get better, and realize the next glorious environment is what will.
Everything you need to know regarding basic combat btw is explained in the tutorial. How to roll, block, parry and most importantly, how to attack. Keep in mind although the game mechanics are very sound, allowing you the fairest challenge possible, there are some elements to factor into the equation. Your shields stability (how much abuse it can take before it's broken) and your stamina bar (very important, governs nearly everything you do) need to be monitored and tweaked in regulation. Also no matter how powerful you think you've become, the game always seems to have a knack of bitch-slapping you back to reality if you get complacent for 1 second. I'm on roughly my *TWENTIETH play through and it still happens to me. This is turning into a "Beginners guide for Dark Souls - Prepare To Die" so i'll stop now, just wanted to give you the gist of the game.
The game most certainly rewards you for your efforts. A high point for me was being stuck on a boss duo for two days, finally beating them, then being presented with a nice sight and some soothing words (the developers will know of your strife, they designed it that way). My next point is a crucial one, and one which could spell the difference between people loving or hating this game. DEATH. It's an integral part of the experience and one which is completely necessary to hardening you up, making you learn from your mistakes, and making you an all-round better player. Lightning weapon not doing so good against those lightning emitting Bat Demons? Switch to a different weapon! Having trouble avoiding attacks? Lower your equip load! Don't understand a weapons/armors/items properties? Read the item description! Getting absolutely annihilated over and over in a certain area? Get the hell outta there, you probably shouldn't be there yet! (The game doesn't give you a specific linear path to follow).
Always remember one thing. Although the game can seem grim at times (it did for me), just remember...you're not alone. You may be stuck on a boss/area for what seems like forever, I was stuck on a difficult boss called The Four Kings for a week on the games unbelievably harder NG+. I was at the brink of f***ing the game out the window and then I realized, the answer to beating the boss was staring me straight in the face. Not a cheap cryptic thing like you got in the old days, no all I had to do was level up some more, juggle my buffs (rings in this game) change tactics and voila!
The online aspect to this game is revolutionary to say the least and was pioneered in it's brilliant predecessor, PS3's "Demons Souls". Offline this game is tremendous fun but I think it shines brightest in the "clouds". People can leave you hints to help you (or hindrances to troll you) which can be very useful. If you're having considerable difficulty with an area you can summon someone into your game and vice-versa. Player vs player is also prevalent although it's implemented in a nifty invasion mechanic that (for the most part) is fair and balanced.
As with all of my reviews I'm an honest man so I'll be fair and point out one or two shortcomings. The frame-rate can be quite bad in certain areas making your gaming experience less enjoyable (however never to the point where it becomes unplayable). Some bonfires (the games checkpoints) seemed placed carelessly. Having completed a particularly brutal area and accumulating a fair amount of souls (the games currency) there was no checkpoint and I died. However once again this scenario could have been dealt with better on my part. There's a certain item that would've warped me back to my previous bonfire where I could've levelled up, upgraded weapons etc, essentially not wasting my souls. The invasion mechanic can be infuriating at times, getting backstabbed due to lag etc has happened to me on numerous occasions leading to some cheap deaths. However like everything else in this game, you'll eventually formulate a plan to deal with these situations. Those are the only things wrong I can think of and with the amount of things this game gets oh so right, it's merely a drop in the ocean.
That was for the newbies, this is for both virgins and experienced players. EXTRA CONTENT! What you get here is nothing short of staggering for such a fair price (well lower than it's original older brother). New Fire Magic, Dark Magic and tons of new weapons and armor sets. We get new NPC's, new bosses and best of all, new areas (about 5 in total). I've yet to experience all of these features (played them on my friends PC couple of months back) as I wanted to wait for the official console release. Also for the first time we get organized arena fights, 1v1, 2v2,etc. These are entertaining enough, though the old summon/invasion mechanic is where it's at. The extra content on offer here delves more into the lore end of things, probably to appease the demands of the hardcore fans (I without doubt fall into that category). This portion of the game is told retrospectively, telling the tale of Artorias and his numerous companions' exploits. Unlike the bog-standard, tacked on, obvious money making DLC you get these days this is a revelation. This content is HUGE and is a welcome addition which actually expands on an already fairly hefty gaming experience (it took me roughly 50+ hours to complete the original version).
Having fully explored the new areas, conquered all of the bosses, and interacted with all of the Npc's i'll say this. For experienced players it'll be a treat to get clued in on some juicy backstory, but if you're not on Ng+ the content shouldn't be too hard to complete. There are probably two of the BEST cutscenes in the whole of Dark Souls. One involves a massive black dragon, a giant...and i'm saying no more. For newbies it'll feel like a MASSIVE extra chunk of which you'll have just as much trouble (and fun) as you would in the "normal" areas.
So that's my review. Believe it or not there's a TON of stuff I missed, but I think i've gone on long enough. Oh yeah the title of this review is something to think about. If this game sinks it's teeth into you, no game will ever feel the same again. Just ask Syndicate, MLB 12 - The Show, Catherine, El Shaddai and the countless games I've downloaded and never played. It's a nasty, addictive, ruthlessly difficult piece of work....and I wouldn't have it any other way.
*Original Dark Souls - Released early October 2011.