Dark Souls is an action-role playing game with brutally difficult combat, vast and obscure lore to discover, and in-depth elements of exploration from its intricate level design. It is the spiritual successor to Demon's Souls.
Pro Brutally challenging real-time combat that rewards patience
Dark Souls is a hard game at its core because of the combat. It's "difficult but fair", as in, the enemies are relentless and hit like a truck, but they're not overpowered or cheap to defeat. If you take your time to trade blows, dodge, and parry as needed, you can get through.
Making your way slowly through new levels and taking on enemies one at a time, whenever possible, is the best approach. Unless you're a seasoned veteran, if you're try to bum rush your foes, you may find yourself getting quickly destroyed. It seems impossible at first, but if you keep at it and learn from your mistakes, you'll surprise yourself with how far you can get in this game.
Pro Gives you a great sense of discovery from exploring
There's an unrivaled sense of exploration you get just from traversing normally through the game's medieval fantasy world. Simply going from one area to the next is astounding, because you get to see exactly how far you've come. After travelling a distance and defeating challenging enemies, you can find a shortcut that takes you down to a previously-visited location, for example, showing you that all of the levels are interconnected in a labyrinthine-like way. Thanks to this well-implemented level design, the world feels like a grand place that's full of mystery and adventure.
Pro Epic and meaningful boss battles
Bosses in Dark Souls are huge, terrifying, and intriguing in ways that don't feel forced at all. They have stories to tell without words, showing their lore and history through awe-inspiring designs and setpieces. Seeing a tower off in the distance, getting there many hours later, and finding a gigantic boss there also builds up the sense of anticipation once you arrive to the fight. Ranging from dragons, hulking armored knights, mythological beasts, and tons more, the variety of boss types are creative, with their own unique movesets for you to learn. Alongside the combat, the bosses make the game what it is.
Pro Incredible soundtrack and atmosphere
The music in this game is astounding because of how well it fits any given situation. Moments where the music stands out most is during boss battles, with sweeping, booming choruses where it works, and quieter pieces where you may not expect them. The warm but sorrowful wind instruments you hear at the main home base area is your cue that you're in a safe location after all of your grueling battles, letting you take a moment to reflect and unwind.
Most playable areas have no music, letting you focus on the atmosphere from all of the little sound effects from enemies' footsteps and your own clanking armor as you go along. So whenever a song does start playing, it stands out more than it would have otherwise. Overall, the music definitely helps to give you long-lasting emotional memories of everything you experience.
Pro Extensive lore that's presented in unconventional ways
There's tons of lore everywhere for you to discover, but it isn't necessarily told through a conventional story.
Weapons, armor, spells, and items you acquire have descriptions on them that tell you where in the game world they came from, any prominent characters they're associated with, and a bunch of other relevant and interesting information. So when you find examples of the lore scattered around the game, like bosses wearing a style of armor you read about, or an obscure NPC mentioned in a sword's description, you know the history behind the design and their purpose without that boss or character needing to explain anything to you.
Even though the actual story in Dark Souls is very thin, there's a lot to find under the surface if you're willing to look for it.
Pro You can bring a friend along for online co-op
It's possible to play through most of the game with a friend. If you need help with a boss or if you just want to run things with another person, there's an online setup for the other player to join your world. They will return to their world once you defeat a boss or if you die, but it's possible to invite them back afterward.
Con Unforgiving and discouraging learning curve
Even though Dark Souls is technically fair, it's still really hard to get into. From the start, there's a minimal tutorial where you read messages scattered around the area for tips on the controls, and then you're forced into an immediate challenge that you have to figure your way out of. The game is clever in the way it pushes you into seemingly impossible situations and makes you think on your feet, but gamers who are new to the genre will more than likely find a serious culture shock here. Because the learning curve is so incredibly steep, you may struggle for a while before things finally click.
Con Certain mechanics leave new players open to unfair PvP invasions
There are a few ways you might find yourself invaded by another player even when you don't want to be. The method for inviting co-op players into your world also leaves you open to PvP invasions, which you can't turn off. The other one involves how you can only carry five healing items with you at the start; there's a way to increase this to ten, but by doing this, it becomes possible for PvP-minded players to enter your world to challenge you to battle whether you like it or not. There's also an area a couple of hours into the game that's notorious for high-level players seeking out oblivious newbies to tear them apart, so beware.
Con Significant performance issues
You may experience some frame dips here and there as you play, but it's pretty bad in one particular level called Blighttown. The frame drops are really awful there to the point where things are practically unplayable. There's a mod on PC that can take care of this issue, but players on consoles sadly have to deal with the mess.