- Format: PS3
Unleashed: 6th October (North America)
Developer: From Software
Players: 1 (offline) 1 – 4 (online)
We’ve already banged on about the difficulty in our preview, but suffice to say only the best, most dedicated gamers need apply here. The question is: would they want to?
Demon’s Souls is an RPG, and as such, you’re presented with a character creation screen before you can start playing. Which one of the several classes you choose is more important than usual – it will dictate your play style whether you like it or not, to begin with at least. Think carefully about how much emphasis you want to put on melee combat, magic use, ranged attacks, etc – because if you don’t, you’ll regret it later.
Once you’ve done that, you’re thrown into a tutorial stage that does a good job of showing you the ropes before braving the game proper. It’s possible – likely, in fact – that you will die fighting the boss at the end of the tutorial (yes, you read that right), and this will result in you losing your physical body and becoming a ‘Phantom’. You regain your physical body by killing a demon (i.e. boss), or using a very rare ‘Stone Of Ephemeral Eyes’. The only practical differences between body and Phantom forms are a reduced maximum HP as a Phantom, and some multiplayer functionality (more on which later). Whether you die or not the next area is the Nexus, essentially the level hub.
The Nexus is the only area in the game not full of things trying (and usually succeeding) to kill you. To begin with, there is one NPC who will look after items you don’t want leeching your weight allowance, and another who will sell, repair, and upgrade weapons. After defeating the first boss there is another who can upgrade your stats (health, magic, resistance to certain attacks etc) and two more who can ‘teach’ you magic. Most want payment for their services, and you pay with souls.
Souls are found on the bodies of fallen adventurers or, more often, taken from the people/things you kill – and killing even the weakest of enemies is nothing to be taken lightly. Attacking from a distance is always preferable, but the depletion of your magic bar and arrow/bolt stock will mean close quarters combat takes up most of your time. You’ll be observing and exploiting attack patterns, and making careful use of blocks and dodges. This is no button basher. Just a few mistakes, and you’re dead. And if you die in a level, you respawn back where you started – and all the enemies you killed (apart from bosses) respawn too. 99% of the time you’ll gleefully jump straight back into the action; but that one percent of the time you’ll be disheartened, and give up playing for the day.
You get to keep any items you picked up before death, but used items stay used; and if you die again before you get to the spot where you were killed, you lose every last soul you had at that point.
You reclaim your souls by touching your bloodstain, but it’s other people’s bloodstains you’ll usually be interested in. Each such mark represents a player who recently died in that area (presuming you’re signed in to PSN). ‘Touch’ it, and you’ll see a ghost play out their last moments before death. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a clue to an upcoming trap or ambush; if not, you’ll probably just see how some idiot fell off a high platform. Players can also leave messages for each other, giving warnings and advice. These are often useful – but there’s always some malicious oaf who tries to trick players into a needless death.
This idea of online and offline blending together as smoothly as Angel Delight is carried over to the multiplayer. You can’t actually play with others until you’ve defeated the first boss (which for almost everybody, means not until after a bare minimum of two hours play, and probably longer). Once you have however, you are given the ‘blue eye’ stone. When a Phantom, you use this to leave a sign on the ground indicating to other players that you are willing to help them in their game. When in your physical body, you can use such signs to ‘summon’ other players to help you. Blue Phantoms help players – but you can also choose to be a Black Phantom, whereby you invade another player’s game. Enemies in their game won’t attack you and if you kill the host player, you get any and all souls they were carrying at the time (if you die, your stats decrease slightly). This can happen to you as well of course, but you are warned when this happens. You can’t become a Black Phantom until….you’ve killed a Black Phantom. So it’s kind of a viral ability; but there are AI Black Phantoms to be found late in the game. Playing as one pushes ‘World Tendency’ toward black, which makes the game even more difficult.
Demon’s Souls has a wonderfully crafted bleak atmosphere, which this online/offline integration supports brilliantly. The other side to this double edged sword of an artistic decision however, is that there is no invite system. Who you play with is almost completely random, and playing with friends is very difficult, but not impossible (though bear in mind that the North American servers are cut off from the Asian ones). We also would’ve liked to see more levers that open up shortcuts, as you only get one level entry/exit point at the very beginning of each (huge) area, and one when you kill a boss.
It’s a game that punishes mistakes ruthlessly, but also rewards skill and tactics tremendously. The sky high difficulty level also means that when you finally kill the latest boss, you get a sense of achievement that its peers struggle to match.
This just scrapes the following score because ultimately, it’s as addictive as it is difficult. Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to introduce Critical Gamer’s first Critical Hit.