Dark Souls[b] is an action role-playing game developed by FromSoftware and published by Namco Bandai Games. A spiritual successor to FromSoftware's Demon's Souls, the game is the second installment in the Souls series. It was released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Japan by FromSoftware in September 2011 and worldwide by Namco Bandai Games in the following month. Dark Souls takes place in the fictional kingdom of Lordran, where players assume the role of a cursed undead character who begins a pilgrimage to discover the fate of their kind.
Cover art used in Western regions
|Publisher(s)||Namco Bandai Games|
|Platform(s)||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch|
Dark Souls received critical acclaim upon its release and is considered to be one of the greatest video games ever made, with critics praising the depth of its combat, intricate level design, and world lore. However, the game's difficulty received mixed reviews. While some praised the challenge it provides, others criticized it for being unnecessarily unforgiving. The original Windows version of the game was less well received, with criticism directed at numerous technical issues.
In August 2012, a version of Dark Souls for Microsoft Windows, Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition, was released. It featured additional content not seen in the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions. In October 2012, the new content was made downloadable for consoles under the subtitle Artorias of the Abyss. By April 2013, the game had sold over two million copies worldwide. A sequel to the game, Dark Souls II, was released in 2014. A second sequel, Dark Souls III, was released in 2016. A remastered version of the game, Dark Souls: Remastered, was released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Nintendo Switch in 2018.
Dark Souls is a third-person action role-playing game. A core mechanic of the game is exploration. Players are encouraged by the game to proceed with caution, learn from past mistakes, or find alternative areas to explore. Dark Souls takes place in a large and continuous open world environment, connected through a central hub area (Firelink Shrine). The player character can travel between areas and explore various paths at will, although prerequisites have to be met to unlock certain areas.
A central element to the gameplay of Dark Souls is the bonfire. Bonfires are scattered throughout the world and serve as checkpoints for each level. By resting at a bonfire, the player character is healed to full and regains all of the healing charges of their "Estus Flask." They can also level up and perform other functions, such as attuning magic, and repairing and upgrading equipment. However, resting at a bonfire respawns as all of the world's enemies, except for bosses and friendly non-playable characters.
The player character's interaction with the world of Dark Souls includes a great deal of combat. Combat includes melee attacks, various forms of defensive maneuvering, and magical abilities. For melee attacks, player characters have access to a wide array of high fantasy, medieval-style weaponry—including swords, spears, maces, and more—as well as imaginary, fantastical weaponry—including magical swords, humongous greatswords, and immense clubs. For defense, player characters have access to shields, armor, dodge rolling, and parrying. For magic, which includes a wide variety of offensive and defensive abilities known as sorceries, miracles, and pyromancies, player characters do not use any form of mana as in most other fantasy RPGs - instead, they gain a discrete number of uses for each attuned spell when resting at a bonfire. These various forms of combat all have tradeoffs, variations, and in-game costs associated with them; and they can all be buffed or altered in some fashion through leveling, smithing, consumable items, magical rings, and new equipment.
Another aspect of Dark Souls is the "humanity" system. There are two forms the player character can be in during the game, human form or hollow form. Whenever the player character dies in human form, they are returned to hollow form and can only have their humanity restored by consuming an item. The player character must be in human form to summon other players. While in human form, however, the player may be subjected to invasions by other players and non-player characters (NPC) who seek to kill the player to restore their humanity, harvest souls, or achieve some other goal. Humanity can be acquired in many ways, and if no humanity is available, players are still able to progress in hollow form.
Death (whether in human or hollow form) results in the loss of all carried souls and humanity, but players revive as hollows at their most recent bonfire with one chance at returning to where they died to recover all lost souls and humanity. If the player dies before reaching their "bloodstain," the souls and humanity they previously accrued are permanently lost.
Communication and interaction between players are deliberately restricted. Outside of five stock phrases (which can only be used after acquiring Gough's carvings in the game's DLC) and character gestures, the only other communication players have with one another comes by way of orange soapstones, which allow players to write limited messages that can be read by others in the same area. Also, players can enter cooperative or player versus player combat with each other.
Throughout the game, there are multiple NPCs that the player may encounter on their journey. These characters add to the plot of the game but are not essential. If the player does choose to engage with them, some of the characters can assist the player by being able to be summoned for certain boss fights when the player character is in human form.
Dark Souls employs minimalist storytelling to convey its plot and lore. Historical events in its world and their significance are often implicit or left to player interpretation rather than being fully shown or explained. Most of the story is given to the player through dialogue from non-player characters within the game, flavor text from items, and world design.
The opening cutscene establishes the premise of the game. Dragons once ruled the world. In this period, a man known as Gwyn happens upon an object known as the "First Flame" and finds the "Lord Souls." He and his allies use their power to defeat the dragons, which starts the Age of Fire. Over time, the flames begin to fade with the rise of humans, and Gwyn sacrifices himself to prolong the Age of Fire. With the flame artificially rekindled, the undead curse begins to plague humanity, causing some humans to resurrect upon death constantly.
The player character is a cursed undead, locked away in an undead asylum. After escaping the asylum, the player travels to Lordran to ring the Bells of Awakening. The bells awaken Kingseeker Frampt, who tells the player to ascend to Anor Londo. In Anor Londo, Gwynevere instructs the player to succeed Lord Gwyn and fulfill the prophecy. To accomplish this, the Lord Souls must be acquired from Gwyn's primordial allies and returned to the flame. Optionally, the player may encounter Darkstalker Kaathe who encourages the player not to link the fire but to let it die out and usher in the Age of Dark instead. Once the player acquires the Lord Souls, they travel to the Kiln of the First Flame to battle Gwyn. Once Gwyn has been defeated, the player has the choice of linking the flame to preserve the Age of Fire, or letting it die out to instigate the Age of Dark.
Development and release
Dark Souls was developed by FromSoftware, with series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki directing and producing. Dark Souls is a spiritual successor to FromSoftware's cult classic previous game, Demon's Souls (which was, in turn, a spiritual successor to From's earlier King's Field series). However, Demon's Souls was published by Sony and Dark Souls by Bandai Namco; this transfer meant that intellectual property rights prevented FromSoftware from making a sequel. After two years of development, Dark Souls was released with its numerous similarities (such as the gameplay, online multiplayer, and plot presentation) and differences (such as a connected world and new characters in a distinct universe and storyline) from its predecessor.
The design and development process itself involved a guided freeform approach, with Miyazaki steering designers while allowing them latitude for creativity:
The design ordering process for "Dark Souls" can be divided into two main categories. The first involves providing the designers with simple keywords we brainstormed during the early stages of project development and allowing them to design freely. We take the images they produce and provide feedback, make adjustments as necessary, or incorporate their ideas into our plans. [...] The second process comes into play once we've settled on the basic details of the game world. At that point we are able to make more detailed design requests. These requests usually include information like how the design will be used, where in the game the design will be used, and the specific purpose of the design in terms of what it will represent in the game. [...] Either way, I am the one who hands out the orders and I work directly with each designer instead of having a middleman between us.
The characters and world of Dark Souls contain many philosophical and folkloric parallels among Greek mythology, Japanese mythology, French existentialism, and the work of proto-existentialist philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche.
Dark Souls' description of natural cycles that the world experiences, and the designs of some individual characters, parallel Japanese and Greek myths. The game's presentation of a universe defined by the inevitable burning out of a flame, and the tragic stories of the individuals in that meaningless world, parallel ideas in schools of philosophy concerning existentialism, absurdity, meaninglessness, and the end of the universe.
Game director Hidetaka Miyazaki has stated that the game draws direct inspiration from earlier works of fantasy and dark fantasy, especially the manga series Berserk. He has described the driving aesthetic principal of the game as being “a certain kind of refinement, elegance, and dignity.” He also described the themes which guided the design of the game in the following way: "I put three major guidelines in place: Gods and knights centered around Anor Londo, demonic chaos and flames centered around Lost Izalith, and the theme of death centered around Gravelord Nito. To these themes we added the special concept of ancient dragons that predate all life, and this formed the basis for 'Dark Souls'".
Following the game's successful release for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, many gamers expressed their hope for a PC version. International publisher Namco Bandai Games administrator Tony Shoupinou responded on their page that a PC version was possible. In early 2012, fans started a petition to bring Dark Souls to PC, with over 93,000 people signing it. A PC version of the game was confirmed in April 2012 via German magazine PC Action. It had been reported during the development process that FromSoftware had been having difficulty with the port due to inexperience with PC as a platform and were focusing on new content rather than optimization. Re-branded as the Prepare To Die Edition, it came out in August 2012 and featured new content, including bosses, enemies, equipment, and NPCs. The new content, titled "Artorias of the Abyss," was released for consoles in October 2012 in the form of DLC. Soon after, it was announced that Dark Souls for PC would use Games for Windows – Live for online play and DRM, spurring fan backlash.
The PC version was released on August 23, 2012. A user-created mod to circumvent the resolution cap, named DSFix, appeared shortly after release. DSFix was later extended to become an unofficial fan-made patch which additionally allowed graphical improvements, raising the framerate cap to 60, and allowing the installation of custom texture mods. On December 15, 2014, Games for Windows – Live was removed from the Steam version and replaced by Steamworks. The ability to transfer both achievements and save data was provided. In April 2016, Dark Souls became available on Xbox One via backward compatibility.
Dark Souls received positive reviews from critics upon its release. One of the reviewers for Dark Souls described it as "a very hardcore dark-fantasy [role-playing game]" that is "role-playing right down to the roots,, and stated that the "massive field map and powerful enemies serve to rev up both your sense of adventure and your sense of dread." Another reviewer said that "the sheer happiness you get after the trial-and-error pays off and you overcome the challenge is absolutely impossible to replicate."
GameSpot scored Dark Souls a 9.5/10. The online system received, as well as the sense of jubilation felt when conquering boss fights after numerous failed attempts. They also suggested that casual gamers may struggle to progress, whereas role-playing game enthusiasts will thrive on the difficulty. IGN gave Dark Souls a 9.0/10, praising the well-thought-out level design, variety, strong emphasis on online features, excessively dark tone and atmosphere, and deep gameplay. While praising the extreme difficulty, they stated that "there's a difference between punishing, and downright unfair."
Eurogamer gave Dark Souls 9/10, praising the level design and atmosphere while noting that the game's difficulty might not appeal to casual gamers. Japanese publication Famitsu gave it a score of 37 out of 40.
Jason Killingsworth wrote a response to Thomsen's review for Edge, arguing that the game's "vertigo-inducing breadth makes it the gaming equivalent of a marathon." Killingsworth praised the game's length and addictive nature. Edge later retroactively awarded the game 10 out of 10 in their October 2013 20th anniversary issue, stating that over time the breadth and quality of the game's design had overruled complaints about its difficulty.
In a review of the game, Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw praised Dark Souls in his Zero Punctuation video for its deep gameplay and immersive atmosphere, but was "disappointed" with the late-game bosses and criticized the difficulty of getting into the game, saying that it would be a critical factor in turning new players off.
Namco Bandai's yearly financial report stated that the game sold 1.19 million units in the United States and Europe by March 2012. FromSoftware announced in April 2013 that the game had sold 2.37 million units worldwide.
In GameSpy's review, the port was referred to as "shabby," citing the game's limit of 30 frames per second, poor mouse and keyboard controls, and nonadjustable resolution, but the expanded content was praised, giving the game an overall favorable review. Eurogamer also commented on the quality of the port, stating: "Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition does not come with the technical options you would expect from a well-engineered PC game, because it's a port of a console game, and that's all FromSoftware ever promised to deliver. Anyone who passes up Dark Souls for this reason is cutting off their nose to spite their neckbeard of a face." One of the producers of Dark Souls II, Takeshi Miyazoe, responded to the criticism of the PC version by saying:
This is going to sound bad but our main priority was to get the game onto the PC as fast as possible, because people wanted it on the PC. The PC market in Japan is so minimal that originally there were no plans to make it on the PC, but with the strong petition from the North American and European fans, even with the lack of experience of working on a PC platform we still did our best to try to get it out as fast as possible. [The problems] were expected to a certain extent.
We did know there were PC-specific features like key-mapping and use of the mouse and keyboard, high resolution and higher frame rate, stuff like that, but... It's not that we ignored it, but it would have taken too much time for us to implement it, test it and get it up to the level people expected. It was more of a publisher (Namco Bandai) decision to say, ‘Guys, don’t worry about this – let’s just get it out and see how this works on PC.'
Game Revolution gave Dark Souls the Community Choice Game of the Year award. IncGamers also gave it the "Game of the Year" award. Q-Games' Dylan Cuthbert and Double Fine Productions' Brad Muir chose Dark Souls as Game of the Year. Electronic Gaming Monthly's Eric L. Patterson chose it as Game of the Year. GameTrailers gave it the "Best Role-Playing Game" award, while also nominating it for the "Best Multiplayer Game," "Best Trailer" and "Game of the Year" awards. GameZone gave the game the "Best Action/Adventure" award and chose it as the runner-up for the "Best RPG" award.
The Daily Telegraph gave the game the "Best Integration of Online Features" award, and nominated it for the awards of "Best Director" (Hidetaka Miyazaki), "Best Level Design", "Best Sound Design", "Best Original Score" (Motoi Sakuraba), "Best Developer" (FromSoftware), and "Game of the Year". TeamXbox gave it an honorable mention as the runner-up for the "Best RPG" award. 1UP.com gave it the "Most Rewarding Game" award. Game Informer gave it the award for "Best Boss Fight" (Sif). It also received the "Best Boss Fights" awards from GameSpot, including both the Editors' Choice and Readers' Choice awards. Famitsu gave it an Award of Excellence in its 2012 awards ceremony.
In 2013, Digital Spy named Dark Souls the best game of the seventh console generation. In 2014, Edge magazine named Dark Souls the best game of the seventh generation of game consoles, noting that while some may initially tire of it, "We've yet to meet a single player for whom persistence has not been enough to transform apathy into all-consuming love."  In September 2015, Dark Souls topped the magazine's special issue The 100 Greatest Videogames.
In 2015, the game placed first on GamesRadar's "The 100 best games ever" list. The game was also put first on USgamer's The 15 Best Games Since 2000 list. The game was titled the "Best RPG on PC" by Rock, Paper, Shotgun. In 2016, Dark Souls placed fifth on PC Gamer's "Best RPGs of all time" list.
Dark Souls is often considered to be among the best games ever made. Due to its design and philosophy, it is often cited as an essential instance of video games as an art form. It is also considered one of the most influential video games of its generation; in 2019, GameSpot named it one of the most influential games of the 21st century. Games cited to have been influenced by Dark Souls include Destiny, Alienation, Lords of the Fallen, Salt and Sanctuary, Shovel Knight, Titan Souls, Enter the Gungeon, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Nioh, God of War, Journey, and ZombiU. Dark Souls was also cited as an inspiration for the television show Stranger Things.
A sequel, Dark Souls II, was announced at the Spike Video Game Awards on December 7, 2012, for release on the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows. Amid rumors of a possible decrease in the difficulty of the series due to comments made by the new director to Edge, Brian Hong, global brand manager of Namco Bandai Games America, stated that Dark Souls II would be "viciously hard." Dark Souls II was released in early 2014. An updated version of it, subtitled "Scholar of the First Sin," was released in 2015 for the same platforms as well as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
The third installment of the series, Dark Souls III, was released in early 2016. Two downloadable content packs were released for this game: Ashes of Ariandel, on October 25, 2016, followed by The Ringed City on March 28, 2017.
Dark Souls: Remastered
A remastered version of the game, titled Dark Souls: Remastered, was released worldwide for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows in May 2018, and for the Nintendo Switch on October 19, 2018. The remaster was ported by the Polish studio QLOC, whereas the Switch version was ported by the Singaporean studio Virtuos. The game runs at a native 60 frames per second on all platforms except the Nintendo Switch and supports a 4K resolution on the PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox One X, and Windows. Several changes were made to the online multiplayer, including the addition of dedicated servers, the maximum number of players online increased from four to six, and the addition of password matchmaking, first introduced in Dark Souls III.
Dark Souls: Remastered received "generally favorable" reviews from critics, according to review aggregator Metacritic. Critics praised the improved visuals and performance, while criticism was directed towards the lack of an effective anti-cheat system and the PC version's price despite few significant changes. It sold 71,739 copies in Japan during the week of its release, making it the best-selling game in the country at the time.
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