From Software’s Dark Souls is the pinnacle of challenging gameplay, something I play now for pure enjoyment – even when I die. I remember picking up the game for the Xbox 360, getting back home, inserting the disc, going through character creation (spent too long there) – and entering the world of Lordran for the first time. The medieval fantasy setting was dark and gruelling from the outset – the world around you in various states of ruin, the plot left barren unless you ventured into it (which you really should, honestly) – and you begin the game as an undead, having to restore your humanity upon your (eventual) death.
The game eases you in for the first five minutes – showing you movement and basic combat mechanics– before you walk into the main courtyard of the asylum and a titanic Asylum Demon drops in from the balcony above the exit, crushing anyone not quick enough. A game had killed me within the first six minutes of gameplay and that was it – I was hooked: this game wasn’t messing around when it told you to “prepare to die”. I was enthralled by the concept of death as a mechanic rather than just a punishment. Every death was part of a learning curve, each restoration of your humanity and subsequent attempt to retrieve your lost souls from where you died last time a challenge and aim rather than a gruelling, repetitive task.
Every fight, whether the hordes of undead or various minibosses or bosses, forced you to think about what you were doing
The game’s combat mechanics revolve around timing and skill – if you rush in, you’re going to die. If you don’t watch your back, you’re going to die. Every fight, whether the hordes of undead or various minibosses or bosses, forced you to think about what you were doing – if you’d thought things through and you were quick enough, you’d be more than fine; if you weren’t fast enough, you’d be dead within seconds.
The game’s actual storyline requires significant focus from players – you’re not given much guidance throughout the game. The game takes open-world gameplay to a completely new level – other characters know as little as you do, and you have to explore through endless sewer passages, tight corridors and ruined cityscapes in order to progress through the game. If you wanted to work toward joining factions, you had to find them first. On top of this, no matter where you are, you could be under threat. If not from mobs of enemies, invasion of your world by other players is always a danger, no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing. The threat of death was around every single corner, and this threat is where Dark Souls has always shone, and how its legacy was secured.