Here at D+PAD, we always try and review games as close as possible to their launch date, giving a timely assessment to help guide our readers through the maze of titles available. Unfortunately, there are occasions when this isn’t possible, and once the window of opportunity has passed, it can feel a little redundant to review something that is to all intents and purposes old news. On a more positive note, some games actually benefit from or even demand a longer period of assessment; be it a constantly evolving MMO or an epic RPG with seemingly bottomless depth. From Software’s Demon’s Souls fits into this latter category and also demands coverage for the sole reason that it is without question one of the most engaging and well crafted gaming experiences of recent memory.
Such is its notoriety, there’s every chance that you have a smattering of knowledge about the game, but for the uninformed Demon’s Souls can most simply be described as an action orientated role-playing game. However, don’t let such an easily digestible tag disguise the fact that Demon’s Souls is, above all else, unique.
So, if you’ve read the reviews, heard the horror stories about its difficulty and, despite your better judgement, decided to take the plunge and commence your journey into the dark and twisted world of Demon’s Souls, is the experience as self-flagellatory as you’ve been led to believe? It seems compulsory that any review of Demon’s Souls has to contain a line emphasising the frequency of death and its (seemingly) harsh rule-set and in fairness, this assertion is completely true – there’s no denying that Demon’s Souls is a difficult and demanding game in which even the most experienced gamers will die frequently and horribly. However, the game’s difficulty is just one tiny facet of a gloriously layered and crafted experience that richly rewards players who are willing to don a suit of armour and step into The Colourless Fog that permeates the game world.
The opening few hours of Demon’s Souls are (for the newcomer) a nerve racking experience, and there’s every chance you will be left doubting the wisdom of your purchase and be unable to shake the nagging suspicion that you simply may not be good enough and that it will only be a matter of time before it chews you up and spits you out, all while mocking the misplaced arrogance that led you to believe you were up to the challenge in the first place. These feelings are perfectly natural and in fact actually actively fostered by the game; the land of Boletaria (where your adventure is set) is a cold, haunting and hostile place. And yet, despite its demands, and despite the punishment it dishes out, Demon’s Souls manages to get away with it, mainly by being built on mechanics that are very rarely, if ever, unfair and by the fact that the world of Boletaria is so utterly enchanting.
Demon’s Souls’ core structure and narrative are actually fairly straight forward. The land of medieval-Europe inspired Kingdom of Boletaria has been enshrouded in a thick colourless, “Deep Fog” that was unleashed by the awakening of The Old One – a monstrous demon – and bringing with it all manner of horrors. Isolated from the rest of the world, Boletaria looked for help beyond its borders, and it is here that you step in. Yes, in true RPG fashion, it’s up to you to become the hero of the day and release the stricken kingdom from the icy grip of The Old One and its minions. Hackneyed though this may sound, From Software does an astounding job of making the plot feel fresh, mainly by resisting the desire to be too explicit about the calamitous events on which the game is based. As the game unfolds, NPCs flesh out fragments of the mythology, but the unknown remains a constant theme – and indeed, a constant threat – throughout.
The game itself revolves around a central hub, known as the Nexus, from which you can access five Archstones – gateways to the five levels that make up the bulk of the game. A place of tranquillity and (most importantly) safety, the Nexus serves all your adventuring needs; giving you time to breath and gather your thoughts, to buy new weapons and armour or to repair and upgrade equipment already in your possession. It also houses the Pantheon, a gallery presenting the top Demon’s Souls players. Like every other facet of the game, the Nexus is wonderfully realised, with a languid, ethereal sound track lending an eeriness to its dark corridors and winding staircases that lingers long after you’ve shut down your PlayStation 3.
Once you’ve selected your chosen character class (from a roster of 10), designed your avatar and made your acquaintance with the Nexus, how you go about exploring the five Archstones is left up you. Striking out from the Nexus, you enter the hostile lands of Boletaria and with sword in hand you must face up to the horrors that have been dreamed up by From Software. To go into too much detail in describing the lands that lie behind the five Archstones (just take a look at the screenshots on this page for a rough idea!) would be to rob you of much of the experience, but it is not an understatement to say that Demon’s Souls is a master class in aesthetic design. Each world – from the epic castellations of the Boletarian Palace to the creaking, rotten scaffolding of Valley of Defilement – is perfectly realised with each tapping a very specific kind of horror.
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