Available for: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360

Reviewed on: PlayStation 3

Publisher: Namco Bandai

Developer: From Software

Genre: Role-Playing Game

Age: 16 (PEGI)

Prepare to die – the slogan for Dark Souls that should strike fear into the heart of every man, woman and hardcore gamer the world over. Anybody vaguely familiar with 2009s Demon’s Souls will instantly understand what this means. Play this game and you will die – lots.

That’s what Dark Souls is all about, following a pattern of playing and struggling, dying and learning. There are no mistakes in death, only lessons to be learnt.

To begin is the small matter of choosing character class, altering your characters looks, and choosing an item to endow them with. This process is incredibly straightforward and will have you diving into the torturous open-world with your fully customised fighting-machine in no time.

Scattered throughout the breathtakingly structured worlds are bonfires serving as a place for players to restart from. They also double up as a sanctuary to rest and replenish energy, but once that has happened, all enemies are back and ready for the ruck again. The road between bonfires is long, full of murderous and vile creatures hell-bent on blood and exceptionally good at getting it. The blighters hunt in packs and often use a combination of weapons, to prevent a uniformed strategy of defending or attacking. You must always think on your feet and learn to adapt quickly, just one break in concentration and it’s curtains.

When death does occur, which as we’ve already established will be often, a green aura is left at the spot where our hero fell. If you make it back there, you can collect all the hard-earned souls harvested in the previous life. If however you don’t make it back there, the opportunity to regain those important level-boosting souls will disappear forever, leaving a less substantial green aura for the taking instead.

There’s a constant fear throughout when it comes to the hulking beasts that serve as bosses. It’s not because they’re hideously ugly or even because they keep resetting your progress – it’s simply because you’ve spent the past six hours playing through the same segment, and you still don’t have a clue how to get the better of them. You know they’ve got weaknesses to be exploited, but you’ve got no idea how to do it.

After the air-punching and ecstatic jubilation felt from destroying a boss, humanity is rewarded, and with it an opportunity to ease suffering and get some much needed help. When in human form, other players can be drafted in to lend a hand with the desperate struggle. But be warned, they could just be an assassin out to worm their way into your game and rob you of your life. This doesn’t happen often though, as there’s a general sense of camaraderie felt on the battlefield – and there certainly needs to be when things are this difficult.

When playing online, players are privy to information that may not be available otherwise. As Dark Souls weighs heavy on the premise of learning by experience and exploration, players can leave notes scrawled on the floor or walls to work as a pointer to others. These notes can come in the form of warnings, hints and sometimes even a cheeky little red herring.

Some may see Dark Souls unparalleled difficulty as the chink in its shiny and enchanting armour, when in fact it’s actually its main strength. With no functionality to switch the game to an easier difficulty, every accomplishment is earned with blood, sweat, tears and oodles of patience – nobody gets spoon fed here.

Brutal, unforgiving yet intoxicatingly addictive, Dark Souls is the comparative benchmark test of a gamers true ability and an education in gaming like no other.

SCORE: 9 / 10

Pros: A true challenge, great graphics, clever community involvement.

Cons: One lapse of concentration canbe costly, there are few tutorials.

Interesting Fact: The developers originally wanted the game to be called Dark Ring, but after the connotations were pointed out, the name became Dark Souls.