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Why Dark Souls Could Win Game Of The Year 2011

on 9 March 2011

Fancy a challenge…a real challenge? Well, if you haven’t done so already, go and grab yourselves a copy of Demon’s Souls, one of the most formidable RPGs that you’ll ever play. Though it wasn’t marketed particularly well outside of Japan in the lead up to launch, word did get around fast among the gaming community. As such, by the end of 2009 and into 2010, forums were buzzing with talk of Demon’s Souls' challenging yet incredibly rewarding gameplay and appealing dark fantasy aesthetic. In our own review, we praised From Software’s RPG for its compelling action combat and smooth integrated online multiplayer. PSU’s U.S. editor, Adam Dolge, summed up the Demon’s Souls experience perfectly when he wrote, “Be prepared for an exciting, brutal, and cruel action RPG experience unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed before.”

With Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, due for release later this year — and with Namco Bandai steering the marketing wagon in North America and Europe — there’s no danger of anyone missing out on the marketing hype this time around. And with each droplet of information, and every screenshot and trailer we see, we’re getting more and more excited about its release.

If it does hope to grab a few Game Of The Year awards this year, Dark Souls is up against some tough opposition in the RPG genre. With the likes of the award-winning Mass Effect 2 debuting on PlayStation 3 in January and with Dragon Age II and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim coming up — not to mention big PC titles such as The Witcher 2 and Guild Wars 2 — it’s a tough genre to compete in. But Demon’s Souls was a great game, and Dark Souls already looks like it will offer something different to the others that could make it stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons.

This is where Dark Souls looks likely to excel…

An Appealing Game World Full Of Fantastical Beasts

The dark fantasy setting in Demon’s Souls was an enticing and dangerous place to explore, and Dark Souls looks even more ominous, yet appealing to any suicidal RPG enthusiast. Judging from screenshots and trailers, the game will offer an open-world steeped in both dark fantasy and high fantasy themes, with a heavier focus on exploration and rewards for having the guts to stray where angels fear to tread.

Furthermore, you can now seamlessly move from one area to the other completely free from load times. Any open-world game that doesn’t have load times always makes for a more immersive experience, so there’s high hope that Dark Souls will have that ability to suck you into its game world. The screenshots released so far show familiar RPG locales, such as forests and castles, brought to life with clever lighting effects and solid design, while the creature concept art showcases the creativity of the team at From Software incredibly well.

Dark Souls is a PlayStation 3 exclusive in Japan — and Demon's Souls was a proper exclusive — so there’s no doubt that it’s a game developed specifically to take advantage of the console’s hardware. We firmly expect the PS3 version to knock the socks off the Xbox 360 release.

Groundbreaking Online Features

Since the announcement of Dark Souls we’ve heard a lot about the “groundbreaking online experience” we can expect, but very little has actually been revealed. We know that they’ll be cooperative and competitive play with other players. We also know that the recently announced Beacons, which will also act as safe havens and respawn areas in the game, will come into play, run alongside and merge with the single-player experience.

Dark Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki talks about a multiplayer component that distances itself from traditional multiplayer gameplay by offering some unique twists. We know, for example, that players will be able to leave messages for each other when they die, perhaps revealing the failed strategy that caused them to die prematurely. If multiplayer turns out to be a solid evolution of what was produced in Demon’s Souls, then we’re in for a real treat. One thing’s for sure; multiplayer and co-op play is going to be something very different to the norm, and if it’s as “groundbreaking” as Miyazaki suggests then it could make other developers think twice about their own RPGs.

Pulsating Battles: Button-Mashing Just Won’t Cut It

From Software isn’t going to make it easy for you; Miyazaki has made that crystal clear. The creatures that you will face will make you work hard to beat them. Miyazaki recently outlined his cunning plan by saying: “My goal is to kill all players who think there is a safe zone in Dark Souls." Part of his strategy is to create A.I. that has high attack powers but low defences. That means you’ll be faced with a strategic battle as you frantically try and work out the best way to kill monsters before they kill you.

Judging by some of the concept art, there’s going to be some tough battles against some fearsome looking creatures. If the developer can make these battles against the likes of armoured rhinos, minotaurs and fire-breathing dragons as intense and exciting as the concept art and screens suggest, then we could be talking about these tough opponents for years to come. Furthermore, straying off the beaten track in search for loot is going to be made all the more exciting by not knowing what’s around the corner, and what you’ll have to fight to get it. All of these ingredients, if put together in the right order, could make for a deliciously satisfying combat system that challenges RPG fans to their limits.

Getting Rewarded Well For Being So Clever And Tough

From Software plans to make Dark Souls tougher, but hopes to repay the blood, sweat and tears that you put into the game by giving you plenty of rewards. There’s always a feeling of satisfaction to be gained from competing hard, winning and being rewarded for your efforts. It’s clear that button-mashing won’t get you through, that trial and error might occasionally, but where the winners will prevail will be through the knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of weapons and opponents. And the sweet loot gained from working out what you need to do to get it, should make the challenge well worth the while.

Satisfying Character Development

Any good RPG has a good character development system, and it does look like From Software has learned some lessons from Demon’s Souls to deliver a more flexible system in Dark Souls. The class system has been ditched in favour of an open development system where you can completely define your own play styles and play to your strengths and try as you will to avoid your weaknesses. That doesn’t mean that Dark Souls will be any less in-depth than its precursor, though. The developer claims that there will be still be hundreds of weapon types in the game and part of your development will be to try and understand and utilise their various attributes. The key to unlocking Dark Souls’ challenge appears to lie in developing your character cleverly and strategically. This is further testament to the fact that Dark Souls is a game that really does want to challenge RPG gamers in a way that many others do not.

In the same way that some gamers hated Demon’s Souls, some people are going to shy away from Dark Souls’ tough battles and steep challenge. For those hardened RPG enthusiasts up for a serious and rewarding challenge, however, this could be the game you’ve been waiting for. It’s a massive and speculative prediction on our part, but mark our words: come the end of 2011, Dark Souls will be taking home its fair share of gaming awards.