Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Top 10 Games of All-Time (#5)

5.) Dark Souls

If you've spent any time at all on the internet, you know how often games develop an intense, passionate following that may not always translate into mass success. But those fans remain ever vigilant, taking every opportunity to encourage others to play the game they feel so strongly about. Dark Souls is one of those games. And yes...you should play it.

Believe me, I know how easy it can be to ignore my pleas. After all, I ignored Demon's Souls and Dark Souls for years. The games were described to me as insanely difficult, ruthlessly unforgiving, and incredibly deep. With such a description, the excuses came easy.

In fact, I started Demon's Souls on three different occasions. After playing for just a few moments the first time, I promptly deleted it from my system, shaking my head at all those who felt so strongly about it. Then I tried it again a few months later and liked it slightly better, but still not enough to play it to completion. And finally, on the third time, everything clicked. I beat the game and jumped straight into Dark Souls with a full understanding of what I was getting into. Yes, it's insanely difficult, ruthlessly unforgiving, and incredibly deep; it's also fun, rewarding, and unlike anything you've played before, save for Demon's Souls.

At its core, Dark Souls is a third-person, action-adventure-RPG. You'll upgrade stats, collect weapons, loot, armor, and yes...souls. Souls act as your currency throughout the game. Anything you want to purchase will require souls, which are obtained by defeating enemies. Oh and if you die...you lose all the souls you've collected. You'll have one shot to return and reclaim the lost souls, but if you perish before you reach them, they're lost forever.

The system is indeed unforgiving, but it's also addictive and oh-so-rewarding. One major difference from Demon's is in the level design and layout. Dark Souls is one massive, inter-connecting world, of which you find yourself throw right in the middle. For a while, you'll feel like you're wandering aimlessly until suddenly you'll emerge in a memorable location. This happens time and time again as you play the game and it never gets old. By the end of the game, you'll have a complete picture of the world in your head, and how everything connects together.

I said Dark Souls is unlike anything you've ever played and part of my reasoning stems from its combat, which all happens in real-time. Standard enemies are more akin to bosses in most other games. If you try and tackle even the most basic enemies without proper movement and preparation, you'll be destroyed rather quickly.

What's incredible about Dark Souls is the freedom it offers you in how to fight your enemies. This is largely tied to your character build and the stats you choose to boost. A ranged sorcerer or pyromancer? A strong, shield-carrying warrior or knight? Or maybe a lithe, quick-striking hunter? The amazing result is you can succeed with almost any choice. It's all about perfecting your style of play, exploiting enemy weaknesses, and playing to your strengths with every enemy encounter...including bosses.

You'll fail time and time again as you make your way between bonfires (the only safe havens in Dark Souls), and when you actually do have success, you'll be rewarded with a boss encounter. Dark Souls has a collection of the most challenging, intricate bosses I've ever experienced in gaming. They're varied in a wide-range of aspects such as size, attack pattern, quickness, weapons, and defenses. There will be times when you truly think they're unbeatable and it's easy to throw in the towel, but my personality is the opposite. When presented with an insurmountable challenge, my pursuit only intensifies. In fact, this is one of the core reasons I connect so strongly with the game. The ultimate sense of accomplishment is totally worth the rigorous journey to get there.

One reason the repeated failures are easy to accept is because of Dark Souls' fairness. I'm not sure I ever had a situation where I didn't come to fully understand exactly what I did wrong to result in my death. That's not saying there won't be times of confusion. But once you learn the system and the enemies, you'll understand the why. Every death is a learning experience. Once you're able to grasp that, then Dark Souls becomes a far more enjoyable experience.

For years, I ignored the pleas and cries of so many passionate fans who said: Play. This. Game. If you've ignored Dark Souls for this long and consider yourself a hard-core gamer who loves a challenge, it's time to cut the excuses. Forget the rest of your backlog. Heck, forget Watch_Dogs, Mario Kart, and even Destiny if you' haven't played Dark Souls yet. "Prepare to die" goes without saying...but I think it more apt to say: "Prepare for one the best games of all-time."

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