With this stats based levelling system, you can tailor your character to the exact specification desired. As long as you’re not put off by the game’s daunting difficulty at the outset and the frustration that can follow. I’ve heard of people who quit the game 10 minutes into it, they return it to the shop for something a little safer to play. It’s a shame, because if you can get over that curve, it will become one of the most addictive experiences you’ve played in a long time.
Each victory, even against the smallest foe feels like one that you have worked hard for, especially early game when you have minimal equipment and a slim chance of survival. Once you take down a Black Knight or even a boss, you get a sense of accomplishment that can only be mirrored by finished a full game on the hardest setting. Well, Dark Souls hasn’t got one of those; it begins as hard as nails and gets harder. To offset this, Dark Souls makes things slightly easier for you if you manage to remain human.
To do this, you need to avoid dying.
You can gain humanity, which can be traded at bonfires (safe areas), where you rest and heal. Where you level up and do all sorts of other things as you pick up the right tools later on in the game. You can use this humanity to revive your undead self and once human, you can kindle the bonfire. This will grant you 10 Estus Flasks over the measly 5 you get from normal bonfires. Estus is used to heal your body after you succumb to attacks, or various traps/falls in the game.
If you die though, all your souls, all your humanity are lost and left at the point you died. They appear as a glowing bloodstain and you’re going to have to battle back past the enemies to get at them. If you die again, all those lovely souls are lost along with all that humanity you may have had. You also revert to being undead, so be careful.
There are advantages to being undead; you can’t be invaded by other players for a start. Oh yeah, Dark Souls has some interesting online thrown in as you play. It’s always connected to the online world and you’ll see ghosts of other players as they roam about their own game, some involved in combat and some involved in dying horribly. You might see messages that they leave behind (you can also do this if you buy the right soapstone) – these messages can be helpful or downright misleading. There are players who delight in sending the unwary to their doom.
You can rate other player’s messages and interact with NPCs in the game. Most of them are merchants and the like, many of them can become spell trainers and friends. All of them can be attacked, but again, if you attack them and manage to kill them, yes you’ll get the reward and yes you’ll get their items – what you lose may well be greater. Dark Souls doesn’t believe in respawns at all. Not of NPCs or of bosses, or of Black Knights.
Rest at a bonfire and you’ll respawn the various bad guys in the level though, so you have to think tactically. You can always grind a particularly easy area for some souls though, so resting at bonfires has major advantages. If you are human in Dark Souls you gain more power, you get better equipment drops and more frequent drops from the bad guys...also...you can summon other players to help you, as long as they’re within a certain level of you.
You can also be invaded, because there is a faction of players and NPCs in the game that is dedicated to hunting down player worlds to invade and things to steal. The good news is there is also a faction dedicated to stopping them, join any of the factions and you’ll gain some new gameplay mechanics and some new friends/enemies. None of this is mandatory, so you’re once again, left to your own devices.
As an early hint we suggest that you take the Master Key as your first gift, unless you’re the Thief – you get that gift regardless. The Master Key can be used to open early doors and grant you access to some nice early life saving loot.