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SummaryThoughts on the symbolism in Dark Souls, and the gameplay as well
The GoodDark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is a much superior version to the original Dark Souls. I've played both versions. The Prepare to Die Edition can load the game save files of both versions and fixed a game-breaking bug in the original game for me. I'm very glad that this edition exists.
So to start the review, I'll talk about the symbolism first. There are deep philosophical concepts in Dark Souls that I won't soon forget. They are most notably represented in colors: black, white, grey.
Souls: These are white smoke-type things dropped by all creatures, with rare exceptions. (The flying enemies in Blighttown don't drop them.)
Humanity: One unit of humanity looks like a drop of water, with a black core and a white shell.
This design very quickly caught my attention and is obviously a comment on the human condition: all creatures are "white", good in nature; humans appear to be good on the surface, but are in fact greedy and evil, "black" in nature.
This is also verified by the fact that, when you kill friendly NPCs, they will utter the words "humans, humans".
Wearing the Ring of Sacrifice puts a Humanity icon on your HUD. This suggests that it is human nature to be afraid of dying.
Humanity, as a consumable item, has an important use: restore a large chunk of your HP. To me, this is the most important usage of Humanity in the game. It is much like sucking human lives to improve your own life -- another example of human being evil in nature.
The "white light" is another great, surreal game mechanic. It is a giant bright white door with hints of grey. I think it is a symbol of hope -- even in a dark and dangerous world, you can choose to believe that there is goodness, beauty behind that door, before you actually go in there.
It is a nod to the 1968 experimental rock album The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat.
General color theme: Tomb of the Giants and the Abyss are completely black, in a very surreal way. The Crystal Cave is white. Your bloodstain and the Ash Lake area share the same pale green color.
Next let me talk about the gameplay. I finished the game at level 126, a Dex build, with 45 Dexterity and 45 Vitality, fully upgraded pyromancy, and quite a few very powerful weapons. The weapons I use most often are: Lifehunt Scythe +5 for melee, Divine Heavy Crossbow +10 for mid-range murder, Eagle Shield +15. This is a very strong combination that pretty much owns the game. A large portion of the gameplay would be grinding for resources to get these high level weapons.
And it is rewarding in the end. I became a formidable walking tank. I very rarely die at this point and this should be the correct way to play Dark Souls.
Map and level design: my favorite part is that in the second half of the game, you fight four main bosses in four areas. Each of these four areas has a unique design unseen anywhere else.
Lost Izalith boss: This area gives you the choice of spending 30 Humanity units to open a shortcut that leads to the boss room. No other boss requires any Humanity to beat.
New Londo Ruins boss: This area has no bonfire. You have to wear a specific ring to fight the boss. It is also the only lord boss that you can fight before going to Anor Londo (the other three bosses are sealed by the Lord-vessel).
Crystal Cave boss: This is the only boss located up in the sky. The other three bosses are deep underground. It is also the only boss that you will have to be killed by during your first encounter.
Tomb of the Giant boss: The only boss you can join a covenant with. Also I personally consider Tomb of the Giants to be the most surreal and memorable area in the game.
Best sound effect: the sound of Eagle Shield +15 deflecting a strike.
The Bad90% of the items and gear you pick up are completely useless. You only need one sword, but you will pick up a dozen of them. Dark Souls encourages focusing on one playstyle and one very small subset of weaponry.
After beating all four bosses in the DLC area, there is still an elevator shortcut that I have no idea how to open. It bugs me.
Still can't find the hidden Lost Izalith bonfire.
The aiming/locking system. You have to turn on auto-locking. Otherwise your spells and crossbow bolts will almost never hit anything. Even if a fireball explodes right next to an enemy, it doesn't do any damage, because you didn't turn on auto-locking.
Boss fights are largely affected by luck -- you happen to dodge a few hits = win the fight. Whenever I win a boss fight, I don't feel like it's a result of my skill.
Very weak music.
Map design: Anor Londo and Painted World are isolated areas not connected to the main map. Not only that, many areas lack a sense of inter-connectivity, for example Tomb of the Giants is only accessed from the Catacombs. I would prefer some kind of tunnels that connect TotG and Demon Ruins/Ash Lake.
NPC design: the New Londo Ruins blacksmith is useless! I visited him six times but never got any weapon upgrading options. Can't even kill him for fun because he's behind that window.