My hands are just the slightest bit sweaty as I grip my controller and guide my character down the cramped, water-logged sewer tunnel; one of many tunnels and chambers that make up a section of the world known only as “The Depths.”
Despite the tunnel’s dank atmosphere, my character actually looks quite impressive in his full suite of plate armor, wielding a shield in one hand and a spear in the other. The spear allows me to keep most enemies at a safe distance in combat and the shield and armor offer whatever meager protection they can against the merciless foes I encounter.
In The Depths alone, those foes include rats the size of large dogs that can poison me, scaly frog-like basilisks that can potentially afflict me with an HP-draining curse that persists through death, sentient slimes that hide on the ceiling; just waiting for me to walk under them so they can drop down and corrode my armor and weapons with their attacks, and at the end of it all, a rat the size of an eighteen-wheeler truck whose idea of saying “hi” includes charging at me and flinging me about the room like a rag-doll. And this is just the upper section of The Depths; a dungeon players must brave within the first third of this long and sadistically difficult adventure.
This is Dark Souls.
I remember feeling trepidation about purchasing Dark Souls back when it showed up on Steam last year. As much as I love gaming, my passion can quickly morph into frustration when I encounter an obstacle I deem to be too difficult or “unfair.” I even wrote a whole blog post explaining my concern towards the prospect of plunking down $40 for a game I’d potentially get fed up with and give up on because of its infamous difficulty. However, the combination of support from friends who had played Dark Souls themselves along with my relatively weak willpower soon had me installing the game onto my hard drive.
Make no mistake, Dark Souls is one of the most ruthlessly difficult games you will ever play. You will kick and scream and beg and plead and at the end of it all you will thank Dark Souls for dragging your sorry butt through it all. The genius behind Dark Souls’ popularity lies in the game’s ability to perfectly balance challenge, struggle, and payoff.
Yes you will die many many times against seemingly unbeatable bosses. Yes you will have to make more than a few runs back to your corpse while dealing with newly respawned enemies (all normal enemies respawn when you die). Yes you will have many tense moments of fear and anxiety as you creep down a tunnel or through a ruin, wondering if there’s some giant monster around the next corner waiting to skewer you before you can even utter “oh crap.” And when you finally do managed to beat that unbeatable boss, make it back to your corpse by the skin of your teeth, and take down that giant monster that was waiting to skewer you (what, you thought I was being metaphorical?) you’ll feel a sort of elation and relief you probably haven’t felt while playing a game since you were ten years old.
Believe me when I say I understand your hesitation. As a gamer who tries to avoid frustrating situations whenever he can, I understand all too well. But Dark Souls is far more than just a difficult game. It’s a game that reminds us why we play games in the first place; to pit ourselves against fantastical digital foes and emerge victorious, to become immersed in breathtaking and dangerous worlds not our own, to swing and bash and kick and struggle and, when we finally taste that elusive nectar of victory, to look back, grin, and say “Well that was fun…Now what’s next?”
Dark Souls will test you. It will punish you. It will make you grit your teeth and squeeze your controller with anger. Heck, if it could it would most likely laugh at you while it did. But for those who are willing to brave the difficulty, to face their inner demons in addition to the demons that inhabit Dark Souls (yep, it’s got those too), the ultimate reward awaits. No it’s not treasure or powerful weapons or praise (not to say you won’t attain such things cause you will), it’s that feeling you had back when you first thwarted Bowser in Super Mario, when you first escaped Dracula’s castle in Castlevania, when you first beat Mike Tyson in Punch Out. I can’t speak for all the other gamers out there but for me, personally, there’s really no other feeling like it. And it feels pretty darn good.