Author’s Note: This review was part of a playtesting assignment. Therefore, the writing style is slightly different and the word count noticeably more then what I normally post on here. Despite these discrepancies, I hope you enjoy this piece!
I played the remake of Demon’s Souls for the PlayStation 5. This my first time playing a Dark Souls type game.
The opening cinematic was very well done and got me pumped to start engaging with the world. The story it laid out was intriguing, but not too complex that I felt lost. I liked how they listed some of the legendary heroes who had attempted the quest before me. It made me wonder if I would interact with them in the game.
Once the cinematic was over I began to create my character. I was very impressed with the degree of cosmetic customization (multiple hairstyles, color slider, races, eyes, body part sliders, voices, etc.), as most of the time the character’s face is covered by a helmet. While I had fun creating my character, I also kind of felt like I was wasting time with customizing (I spent about 10 minutes creating my character). Some of my excitement to explore the game dampened slightly while I was focusing on the minute details of my character. Though it seems like a step back, I think there should have been a little less character cosmetic customization.
While the cosmetic part of character creation felt overdone, I thought the classes where well executed. There was a variety of magic, melee, and rogue type builds. The starting gear each class was equipped with seemed unique and beautiful. I honestly had a hard time choosing one, as all of them seemed like they would be fun to play. I could imagine myself replaying using different classes. This made me feel satisfied with purchasing the game, since by replaying I would get good mileage out of it.
I ended up choosing Temple Knight as my class, since it seemed like the tried and true sword-and-shield type, but with a paladin twist. Once in the game world I ran into a problem with the class I had chosen. The starting gear for a Temple Knight is a halberd, shield, and heavy armor. The halberd was one of the things that drew me to the Temple Knight, as it looked cool and I thought it would be fun to attack enemies with. However, in the tight corridors of the introductory level, the halberd was clumsy and hard to aim. I frequently found myself swinging towards enemies only to have my weapon get caught on the ceiling or wall. Another issue I ran into was with the shield. When I first entered the game, my shield was equipped along with the halberd. However, when I entered a new area the shield disappeared. I tried multiple things to try and fix this, but the shield would not appear. Since I’d only been playing for 15 minutes (about 10 of which was trying to figure out the shield situation), I decided to start a new game as a different class (this time only spending 5 minutes on character creation). I went with a regular Knight this time, and my gear was pretty much the same except that instead of a halberd I had a sword. Unfortunately, this did not prevent the shield from disappearing when I entered a new area. Thankfully I was able to figure out how to reequip the shield (you must put it in a specific one of the two arm slots). I do not know if this shield issue is a bug or a poor design choice, but either way it made the game less immersive and enjoyable to play.
The fight mechanics for both the Knight and Temple Knight were smooth and well executed. I particularly enjoyed being able to hit multiple enemies at once with my weapon, as this made me feel more powerful and in control.
The way the tutorial was executed I thought was well done. Using notes with short messages written on them was effective and helped me visualize what areas the information would be useful in (messages were placed near related areas/enemies). Another reason I think this is a good system is it allows more seasoned players to skip messages with information they already know. It also does not break immersion or take the player away from the game world. One downside to these messages is there is no distinction between different types of information (e.g. fighting instructions, how to move, trap alerts). This could be fixed by having different types of messages be different colors.
When I tried to fight the tutorial boss I died and was sent to the Nexus. While a gorgeous environment and a unique approach to player death (compared to reloading the last save), I found the place to be kind of confusing at first. It took me several minutes to figure out how to get out of it and return to the game. This sojourn to the serene cathedral-like Nexus interrupted the pumped up, adrenaline-filled mood created by fighting the boss. I don’t understand why the game does this mood shift. Personally, when I’ve just finished trying to defeat a boss I don’t want to take a break, I want to try again immediately.
Another less than perfect aspect had to do with saving. It was not obvious when the game saves. Given the difficulty and how often I was dying, being unsure when saving occurred was kind of frustrating. I’m not sure if a saving icon appears, but if it does then I did not see it. Adding a visible saving icon would help, that way players know when the game is saving. There could also be something in the tutorial that mentions how saving works. Eventually I figured out one of the times the game saves is when the player goes through a mist shrouded door or moves to a new location via bonfire. I feel like it saves at other points, because I recall loading a game and not being near a bonfire or shrouded door. However, I might not have noticed a shrouded door was there in the first place.
The environment and level design are very well executed. They invoke a mood of an area that is in decline and decaying. While there are some areas where visibility is limited due to a darkened environment, they are not used so much that it becomes an annoyance. Having areas of the world be well lit does not take away from the depressing tone. I felt like the portions of the level with more light were more effective of setting the mood than the darker areas, since you can see and appreciate the detail put into the world.
Demon’s Souls is not an easy game. In the hour I was playing I did not make it past the introductory level. However, I still had a fun time playing. Overall, Demon’s Souls is brutal yet enjoyable.
Demon’s Souls. Austin, TX: Bluepoint Games, 2020.
The Crestfallen Warrior screenshot – “The Nexus.” Demon’s Souls Wiki, https://demonssouls.wiki.fextralife.com/The+Nexus.