Dark Souls is a game that has polarized the gaming public – the very nature of the game saw to it. The oppressive atmosphere, harsh-yet-beautiful environments, and unforgiving difficulty combine to create an unforgettable and, even to its biggest fans, exhausting experience. It is a massive, complicated game in every aspect. The world of Lordran is a twisting, labyrinthine amalgamation of dark caverns, diseased villages, castle keeps, and all manner of other dark fantasy staples. And although it confuses and disorients you at the outset, as you plumb the depths and scale the heights of this world, you experience a gradual understanding of all its corners.
You begin as an accursed Undead with nothing more than a broken sword hilt and the rags on your withered shoulders, but your power can eventually grow to encompass a number of martial weapons, bows and crossbows, sorcery, miracles, and pyromancy.
You have untold numbers of options when it comes to customizing your armaments, and with good reason: the enemies you face are merciless, multifarious, and oftentimes massive. And this isn't a game where those foes politely stand by while you wind up for your next big attack on their friends. You have to use all the tools at your disposal – and use them well – in order to survive. Your finger clings to the shield button as desperately as your character does to the shield itself, because that one piece of metal is often the only thing insulating you from an ignominious death. You carefully measure the strength and timing of your attacks and defenses, ensuring every last bit of your valuable stamina is best utilized. The scant few moments you spend with your shield lowered to recover your energy are as tense as those found in some of the greatest survival horror games.
But there's a balance for all of that. For every death and every moment of frustration, there are equal parts relief and satisfaction. Each hard-fought victory is sweeter than the last, and every bit of ground you gain feels well-deserved. This is not a game about trophies, speed runs, or making your character look cool. This is a game where the very act of survival is an ever-present and self-perpetuating goal. You huddle in the dark, hoarding what few supplies you have, knowing that the specter of death waits in the road ahead and lurks in your shadow. The act of playing Dark Souls is an exhausting task, but like the best things in life, its hard-won triumphs are the finest.
Some players play to relax and unwind, or to be told a good story and meet memorable characters. Those players may not love or even like Dark Souls. But for those that seek a challenge – an unforgettably unnerving and at times enervating experience – Dark Souls is topped by few other games, and it is for this reason that we have chosen it as RPGFan's first Game of the Month.