earns the unique distinction of being an RPG where story doesn't just take a back seat, it is dragging from the back fender by a leash. There are a few attempts to build the backstory via a lengthy intro cinematic, though all your really need to know is you're undead. In the world of Dark Souls
, Lordran, you're either human or hollow. The latter of the two are branded with a sign and sent to live out their days in a far away asylum. You begin the game in your cell only to be let out by a mysterious savior.
Once free, you're saddled with the task of traveling Lordran and re-igniting the mystical flame keeping the darkness at bay. Your quest involves traveling through labyrinthine levels and fighting numerous enemies intent on killing you. It should go without saying that your quest is not an easy one. Dark Souls is a merciless challenge. There's very little handholding; it's just you, your gear and your wits. Levels are huge and built around exploration. Part of the challenging is finding the "right" way through an area, forcing you to experiment and discover things for yourself.
I'm a big fan of this sort of exploration-style gameplay, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed Dark Souls. You're never forced down an arbitrary path. Instead, you're shown 2 - 3 paths that eventually grow into a web of crisscrossing paths. Seeing the numerous paths is one of the game's best aspects, particularly when your exploration leads to an enemy ambush or another undiscovered treasure.
At the same time, the scale of levels eventually leads to a lot of exasperating backtracking. Bonfires, a little slice of safe haven, are scattered throughout each area. These are the only places you can level up your character and serve as checkpoints. Bonfire placement isn't the best. It is possible to travel long distances and never see a Bonfire, meaning you'll have a long trek ahead if you fall to an enemy. On the plus side, thorough exploration can yield a few shortcuts, cutting down on travel time, but you'll still need to fight your way through throngs of enemies.
The constant play-replay through areas is one of my main issues with Dark Souls. As much as I enjoy the challenge, part of me wishes there was some sort of indicator I was actually making progress, such as a reduction of enemies in a "cleared" area. It doesn't need to be a huge shift, but just something to create the feeling that some progress is being made. At the very least, a few more Bonfires would mean a lot.
Similar to Demon's Souls, Dark Souls includes a minor bit of multiplayer. Though you can't co-op through areas with a friend, you can call phantoms into battle to help you take down bosses. Other players can also enter your world as shadowy assassins and cause additional problems in their world. But, others can enter your world as well.
You'll also come across glowing messages etched into parts of the world, offering advice on how to tackle certain enemies - usually bosses - or warning you of ambushes. Once you purchase an item, you can leave your own messages. You'll also notice phantoms of other players in areas, adding an additional bit of warning of upcoming dangers.