Reminding me of a game from an older generation ‘Severance Blades of Darkness’ this is a game I was sadly unaware of, yes it may have been doing the rounds outside of our territory for some time now, but sometimes ignorance can be bliss especially once the hype train has come and gone. With a learning curve steeper than the North face of The Eiger, does Demon’s Souls deliver a fresh and invigorating take on the Action RPG or has it gone a touch too far?
I’m going to cut to the chase, if you like RPG games, especially if you like Action RPG games then this title is for you. I have had a PS3 for about a year now and this is pretty much the first time that purchase has felt vindicated during my extended wait for The Last Guardian. Furthermore I won’t sugar coat it, the game is Hellishly hard, it will not hold your hand and tell you everything will be better next time, it will make you cautious and considerate of your actions and it will be a fulfilling experience.
There is a scene setting backstory, but thankfully the game is not overwhelmed by clunky narrative and cutscenes, an annoying and recurrent trend these days. The fantasy setting is covered off by some average hokum and the world is given a stereotypical name, it’s not the story that is the star attraction here it is the gameplay so I won’t bore us both with a regurgitation of the surrounding canon. Here’s the basics of it: You create your character from a nicely extended range of options, this hero will spend time alive and dead as you strive to ‘cleanse the world’ of the game’s titular Demons. Alive you have more health available to you, when you are a spirit you have less health and make less noise, your aim is to kill Demons, collect souls and get back into your physical body.
Which nicely brings us to The Nexus, a hub if you like where spirits hang out before heading in to the worlds for some slicing and dicing. The Nexus is a towering space where you can stash loot, trade weapons and upgrades, level your character and find leaderboards hidden away as statues of the worlds best players. Managed if you like by a mysterious lady in black, she seems to be your spiritual guide on your first steps into the levels on offer, levels spread across four distinct environments that are split into distinct sections. Each level may seem enormous at the outset, because they are pretty big and as you progress through the first section finding secrets and defeating the level Boss Demon then the next area in this world will open up. Worlds can be revisited as often as you like to allow grinding for character levels and often there will be an area that you may not have beaten, until you have gained more experience.
It is worth mentioning that the currency of the game is based on kills, dispatching the possessed denizens of the world will give you souls and stacking these souls is your key to levelling, repairing, shopping, pretty much everything. As far as I can see there is no option to sell loot for souls, so the best reason to stash your loot would be to use it in future upgrades. This understanding is critical to your first few hours with the game, after the short enough tutorial that teaches you the basic mechanics of swordplay and survival in the world you briefly meet your first Boss Demon. Soon after that you will find yourself in The Nexus wondering what is going on, then plunge headlong into the first world. This can be the make or break point for a new player because:
- There is no save point mid level.
- Pause will not stop the game, find somewhere quiet before running to the toilet.
- When you die you will lose your accumulated Souls and return to the start.
- If you can fight back through reset enemies to the point where you died you can get those souls back.
- At the end of the level will be a Boss Demon, thankfully the first one does not present too much of a challenge, because of all of the above.
Persevere and you will find yourself back at The Nexus, able to swap your spirit form for a more hardy physical form, level up and get ready to plunge into the next level. I may not be the best game player in the world, but I don’t consider myself a slouch and I am not ashamed to say that it took me two characters and four hours before I had beaten the first level and reclaimed my body at The Nexus. As I have said the game is challenging, but without feeling one sided and I have been waiting for something like this for a long time.
What about online play?
This is where Demon’s Souls is really interesting, co-op is available in a manner of speaking once you have levelled up you can call on other players or offer yourself to assist them. There is some PVP action too if the dungeon crawling gets boring. Online is handled nicely in-game, there are no lobbies and there is no communication or friends invites, just adventurers getting on with the task in hand.
Then there is the really interesting stuff that makes the game a community. As you progress through the levels you will see glowing red marks on the floor, these are messages left by other players in their own parallel worlds, any message left in your world can be read and most will offer a hint or advice. If you find the message useful then take the time to rate it and the player that left it will gain some health as a benefit, it is really handy to be advised of a trap or ambush before wandering into that dark and scary room. Likewise leaving your own messages for some random adventurer that may follow in your footsteps is strangely satisfying, especially when it gets rated too. The messages are selected from a predefined menu and offer enough variety to cover all situations.
The other online aspects you will see are blood splatters and ghosts, the ghosts are glimpses of other players that are running through the same area and while you cannot interact with them it can be interesting to evaluate how they are approaching a situation differently to you, and the blood splatters are very useful, touch one and you will see the replayed final moments of another hero’s death. This has saved me on many occasions, deciding not to jump down that hole or walk across that very hot floor being a couple in mind.
I could carry on rambling, but I have adventuring to do as I am seven hours in and have only scratched the surface.
This game stands out for me as one of the most refreshing titles in a long time because it does what it says on the tin, my only gripe would be the occasional camera angle and if I could zoom out to an isometric view I would be happy. There is depth and longevity on offer here, any Action RPG fan worth their salt will always be aspiring to the next level and there are plenty of toys to get you there.
The graphics are fabulous, the sound carries the atmosphere well and the much discussed difficulty makes your investment of time valuable.
Get it, persevere and enjoy one of the best 3rd person games I have had the pleasure of.