I’m thirty, which means I remember when games were actually challenging more often than not. I’ve got Pac-Man patterns memorized in my muscles. On a single quarter I can play Dig Dug and Galaga for so long that I don’t walk away when I lose all my lives, but when I simply don’t feel like standing at the game cabinet any longer. When I was a kid, acquiring a home video game was so rare, you had to learn to love the ones you actually got, and most of them were terrible. Here’s one of the ones I had to pretend to love:
Nowadays I still love games, but they’re just not challenging. It’s not that I’m more practiced because the games from my childhood are still hard. Mario titles are a piece of cake, Call of Duty holds your hand too much, and whenever you die in GTA, you can more or less reload where you left off. Even Doom 3 was easier than its predecessor. When the average video gamer is an adult (no bullshit), you wonder why so many of these games seem to be tailored for people who have never played a game in their lives. You can’t even get stuck in games anymore—I think the last time for me was Quake 4.
That is until I played Dark Souls.
Until recently I had heard about the brutal cruelty known as Dark Souls, but I had no idea what the game was about. I finally picked the game up on a Steam sale and loved it so much I bought a copy for my PS3 so I could have the game in my office as well as my home. (For those wondering, the PC version is a pretty lame port, so if you’ve got the option, get it for a console.)
Let me let you in on a little secret: the game’s not nearly as hard as the reviewers make it out to be, at least in the beginning. I was pleasantly surprised by how far I got before I was killed for the first time. But all the hype over the game’s difficulty is a good thing: it makes you feel like a total bad ass when you clear two or more bonfires (checkpoints) in a single day. Playing this game in my thirties was the equivalent of playing The Legend of Zelda for the very first time. The Japanese creative team behind it has a wonderful take on the western fantasy setting. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, yet somehow so damned familiar.
When you begin the game you chose a fantasy archetype, a gender, starting stats, a gift (just choose the master key), and find yourself fighting your way out of a dungeon. Glimpses of the sun are so rare in this bleak setting, that players often scrawl “Praise the sun!” on the floor whenever it actually makes an appearance.
Which brings me to the most impressively unique multiplayer mode I’ve ever seen: you’re typically alone in the world of Dark Souls, but other players can write messages—usually extremely limited tips—that appear in your game. Using a special item, other players can actually force their way into your world and beat the everliving shit out of you (at least that’s usually the result for me). Another special item allows you to team up with other players to take on a hard section.
A funny thing about Dark Souls is it’s not nearly as frustrating as you would expect. I’ve been stuck on the same boss fight for weeks, but in my defense I don’t get to play the game very often. I ain’t even mad, though. Shortly before finding myself stuck there, I had planned to marathon play the game while my girlfriend was out of town for a week. Guess what? Didn’t even progress to the next checkpoint until long after she got back.
If you’re like me and feel the setting, mood, and exploration opportunities of a game are the most important features, you could do a lot worse than Dark Souls. Hell, I’m fairly certain you can’t do better, period. It’s been far too long since I took my time with a game and absorbed every tiny detail of it. Get this game, play it, and don’t rush it.