In 2018 it's hard to imagine a world without Dark Souls.
Dark Souls, the RPG by Japanese developer From Software, has attained a cult-like following since its initial release in 2011. Back then it was an acclaimed video game loved by many. In 2018 it feels monolithic. It's difficult to imagine a universe where you can't play Dark Souls, lazily compare every other video games to Dark Souls.or
Dark Souls is probably the most important game of the last 20 years.
Other games have been more widely played or sold more copies. Other games have received more critical acclaim. But few have had a bigger impact on video games as a cultural art form in this millennium.
It's been seven years since its 2011 release, and Dark Souls has built a unique legacy.
In 2018 Dark Souls is a feeling, it's a sound, it's an atmosphere. It's a combat system, a level of difficulty, a style of storytelling. In 2018 we describe things as "Souls-like" and there's a reason for that -- few words in the English language accurately reflect what Dark Souls is, therefore it can only be described in its own terms. Dark Souls has its own unique way of existing. It's a genre, a descriptor, a verb, an adjective.
Which sounds like hyperbole, but it's accurate. The influence of Dark Souls is real and far reaching. There are games that flat out imitate or recreate Dark Souls -- games like Nioh or Lords of the Fallen. There are games that attempt to replicate its style and atmosphere from a different perspective -- games like Titan Souls or Salt and Sanctuary. Then there are games that take inspiration from Dark Souls in a looser sense -- games like Destiny or The Witcher 3.
They all owe a debt of gratitude.
Dark Souls is omnipresent. When games are challenging, we reference Dark Souls. When games exhibit mechanical or systemic depth, we mention Dark Souls. If a game chooses to use its environment as a storytelling device, we compare it to Dark Souls.
God of War, an early front-runner for 2018's game of the year, would be a completely different game without its overarching influence. The architecture, the combat system, the dead, decaying soldiers strewn across the landscape -- it's all Dark Souls. The sluggish, stomping enemies, braced with heavy sets of armour -- Dark Souls. The noise, the weight, the feeling of battling against them -- Dark Souls. So much of it is Dark Souls.
Dark Souls wasn't created in a vacuum. It has roots in games like Super Metroid and Zelda. Its atmosphere and art is informed by manga such as Beserk. The game's revered creator Hidetaka Miyazaki calls Umberto Eco an influence. He describes himself as an omnivore when it comes to sources of inspiration.
The result is a video game that feels like it was made by aliens, like it arrived fully formed in a time capsule from space. Dark Souls doesn't look like other video games. It certainly doesn't feel like other video games. It has a sense of mystery at odds with the period in which it was made.
In a medium with colossal exposition issues, Dark Souls makes its lore impenetrable. In an era when video games are pitched to the lowest common denominator, it refuses to explain itself or make itself accessible in the usual ways.
The player must adapt or die. And in Dark Souls you will die, over and over again.
And the end result of this anomaly, this imperfect game with its strange world and unique sense of drama and oppressive weight, is something truly original. Dark Souls is a feeling other games aspire to elicit, but few come close. So in 2018, I'll be replaying this seven-year-old game.
Because in the years since its release, there's never been another video game quite like Dark Souls.
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