Reed: Why Dark Souls is the hardest game I’ve ever played

Friday, 30 September 2011 14:54 GMT By Kristan Reed

Ex-Eurogamer editor Kristan Reed reckons Dark Souls, released next week, is not only tougher than predecessor Demon’s Souls, but is harder than everything else. Ever.

To compound my harrowing nervous exhaustion to the point of mental illness, after 35 hours of play, my save game became corrupted after I ripped out the power lead in the vain hope of stopping myself from becoming cursed. I now have to start all over again.

Dark Souls is gaming’s very own Boot Camp. It is a game designed to separate the weak from the strong, the committed from the casual, and the obsessed from the sane. It is, by an appreciable margin, the hardest game I have ever played, and even harder than Demon’s Souls. You read that right.

When game director Hidetaka Miyazaki dementedly announced that he wanted to make Dark Souls even more challenging than his 2009 classic, there was a suspicion that this was headline-grabbing hyperbole. Besides, why the hell would anyone want to put people off by effectively telling everyone that they would have an even more miserable, nerve-shredding run of abject failure to tolerate the next time around?

But when you start pouring your life into From Software’s latest, the grim reality hits home the moment you face the game’s second boss, the infamous Taurus Demon. After a fairly routine opening hour or so, the unbridled contempt that this lumbering axe-wielding behemoth has for your presence sets the tone for the rest of the game. You arrive, full of piss and vinegar, and within literally seconds get stomped and hacked into a griefhole of your own risible incompetence.

And because this is From Software we’re talking about, there’s no chance of merely starting off from a nearby checkpoint. It’s back to the nearest bonfire for you, sonny, which often necessitates another five minutes of patient death-dealing, taking out all the respawned minions that you fought so hard to wipe off the map. As with Demon’s Souls, you also lose all the ‘souls’ you collected, unless you manage to reach the spot where you died such an inglorious death.

This probably all sounds horribly familiar for Demon’s Souls veterans; so what’s different? The thing you notice even early on is that even the basic grunts are absolute bastards. They hunt in packs, chase you down and are more than capable of taking advantage of any slight mistake. If you dare to let any complacency into your play, you’re toast. The only answer is to take the attack to these little shits. You either take the failure as a positive and get better through practice, or run off crying to another game where you’ve probably won before you’ve even begun, and where nimble skill and fearless heroic acts only ever play out in cut-scenes.

For about six or more hours, I absolutely hit a brick wall. I tried to resort to the level grinding, in the vain hope that my character might eventually be hard enough to take down this roaring menace. But every time I climbed that tower and faced him, I barely made a scratch. And then came the breakthrough.

If you’re dogged enough, you start to notice the tiny flaws in their attacks. The tiny windows of opportunity to plant your attacks where it hurts. You’ll realise that – yes! you can roll between their legs, get behind them and mess them up. The might destroy you again and again. Joypads may end up bouncing dangerously across the room, but beneath the simmering tension, the progress always gives you heart enough to come back for more.

But in Dark Souls success only drags you further into the mire. You’ll peer round corners and be roasted to death. You’ll journey into the festering bowels of relentless misery and meet creatures that will make you genuinely fear that you’re going to leave behind an important part of your psyche.

Death isn’t even the worst of your worries any more. That point emerges later on, when you find yourself becoming exposed to the terrors of being cursed, and losing half your health bar. Get cursed again, and you’ll lose another half, and so on, until the game may no longer be playable.

To compound my harrowing nervous exhaustion to the point of mental illness, after 35 hours of play, my save game became corrupted after I ripped out the power lead in the vain hope of stopping myself from becoming cursed. I now have to start all over again.

But you know what? I’m actually looking forward to it. The one thing you learn from all this bitter experience is that what takes 35 hours could be easily done in 10. You just have to be prepared to fail, and be braver than you’ve ever dared to be in a videogame. When you’ve broken through the pain barrier, you’ll wonder why you were ever such a pussy about it.

I may only be a quarter of the way through Dark Souls, but my fellow forlorn reviewers assure me that it only gets harder – and I can’t wait.

Dark Souls releases on PS3 and 360 next week.

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