Story has always been a hallmark of the fantasy-RPG epic. Some demon awakes after a thousand-year nap and decides that civilization looks appetising. A lowly hero stumbles upon a magical sword in a lake while fishing and blah, blah, ancient prophecy, blah, blah.
Dark Souls has precisely zero time for this kind of story. You're not even given the crutch of quest objectives or a map. What tugs you along is a simple thirst for exploration, stoked by a richly imagined world full of enemies waiting to flay you for sport. In other words, Dark Souls does something far better than impart a story - it perpetually creates stories.
Because of the game's sociopathic difficulty level - you refine your strategies for both levels, bosses and common enemies through repetition - even the smallest bit of progress feels momentous.
Sharing a tale with another Dark Souls player about the time you sprinted through ghost-infested ruins to retrieve a composite bow before their jagged blades found your throat will draw grave nods and murmurs of commiseration.
Dark Souls makes use of online interactions between players to help mitigate some of the more sadistic challenges. If you've used a humanity point to regain your human form after a recent death turned you 'hollow' (the game's term for undead), you'll be able to summon other players into your world to help with bosses and other thorny sections.
You can also leave pre-programmed messages on the ground for other players to alert them to traps and particularly nasty enemies ahead. Dark Souls offers a real masterclass in pride swallowing, paving the way for one of Xbox's most organically social games.
The biggest change thrown up from the original Demon's Souls is the game's magnificent, persistent open world, which shapes the Dark Souls experience in a myriad of subtle ways. As you progress you'll uncover shortcuts that cleverly link zones together, allowing you increasingly fluid movement around this astounding world.
Its stupefying breadth will surely capture your imagination like few other worlds you've explored in games - and because of that, Dark Souls is, simply, an RPG to die for.
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A stern but deeply rewarding experience, Dark Souls' most formidable challenge is keeping your mind from straying back to this world when you're not playing it
- A real challenge
- Overwhelmingly satisfying
- A top notch RPG
- Soul crushingly difficult
- A bit obtuse