This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the PlayStation 3-exclusive dungeon crawler Demon's Souls, which reviews describe as "stylistically different from anything you've ever played before." Demon's Souls currently earns a score of 90 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
Travis Dwyer at Gaming Age gives Demon's Souls a grade of A-. "Make no mistake, this can be a brutally unforgiving game and may not appeal to everyone," he warns, "but this is definitely the type of game that was needed to expand the PS3's library."
"Demon's Souls is best described as an action RPG," Dwyer explains. "It's a dungeon crawler that's kind of light on story yet not even close to a loot-filled Diablo clone. There is lots of stat building to define your character type, but success is really dictated by the skill of the user."
Dwyer finds that Demon's Souls adopts a unique approach to multiplayer gameplay. "Demon's Souls is a very unusual, but welcome, mix of single and multiplayer online," he says. "While you can't invite a friend to play through the game co-op, there is a constant mix of multiplayer in your single player game."
Dwyer continues: "First, there are the player notes. Anyone can leave a glowing message on the ground as a hint for other players. They'll give advice like 'ambush ahead' or 'enemy uses fire'. These appear in everyone's world and can be rated for helpfulness by the rest of the community. Second, players that are dead can place a glowing marker on the ground for living players to invite them into their world. This dichotomy of living and dead can work together to kill the stage boss serving each others' goals."
Demon's Souls is a game that requires patience, but ultimately offers a rich reward. "I found Demon's Souls to be very addicting, especially when you make full use of the multiplayer features," Dwyer concludes. "There's no way to sugar coat the difficulty though, and even I had to put the game down for a couple days just to take a deep breath before going back to it. But, the things that draw you back in are the superior level design, morose artwork, and engaging gameplay."
Play Magazine's Heather Campbell rates Demon's Souls at 9.5 out of 10. "No pause button. Constant, recurring death. Loss of XP. And brutal, challenging combat," she begins. "Welcome to the anti-casual game experience."
Campbell notes that Demon's Souls is an experience defined by its difficulty. "Demon's Souls is a game that takes itself seriously on a Dungeons and Dragons level," she writes. "A game where real-world physics meets a meticulously realized fantasy setting. The producer-developer of Demon's Souls is your DM, and he's a real stickler for the rules."
"As a result, Demon's Souls will be misread as a game that punishes the player," Campbell continues. "It does not. Instead, it asks you, sincerely: What would you actually do if you were thrust into a dark fantasy world? What is it really like to be a hero? Would you grab the three-foot sword because it looks awesome? Or would you equip yourself with a more conservative blade, and gingerly step towards your opponent with an eye on the exit?"
This emphasis on difficulty results in an altogether satisfying experience, says Campbell. "There is nothing insurmountable about Demon's Souls," she says. "Because each challenge can be overcome, you want to overcome it. You thirst for victory. The feeling of accomplishment when you down an enemy that has kept you at bay is so rich, so heavy, that it satisfies like nothing else."
RPGFan's John McCarroll scores Demon's Souls at 86 out of 100. "Demon's Souls is a game that escapes being numerically defined by a scale," he warns, "since it will mean so many different things to so many different people. Demon's Souls is tough, stylistically different from anything you've ever played before, and introduces gameplay elements that are at the same time both archaic and gloriously new."
McCarroll praises Demon's Souls for its unique online functionality. "If you do not have your PlayStation 3 connected to the internet, this game is drastically different," he writes. "When Demon's Souls is played online, the player is always connected to the server, and is constantly receiving updates."
"Players can leave messages for each other," McCarroll continues, "although there is no freeform messages, only those that are left as part of a 'choose-the-word' system, resulting in messages like 'Watch out for spear!' These messages are incredibly important to Demon's Souls, however, as the game's brutal difficulty is curbed somewhat by players being able to tell others what's ahead."
The control setup may take some adjustment, however. "The one thing I'm not so hot on in Demon's Souls' gameplay is the control scheme. Attacks and shield blocks are located on the triggers, which for an action-RPG seems odd," McCarroll says. "There's nothing wrong with the controls, it's just they take some time to get used to."
Despite its problems, McCarroll recommends Demon's Souls for its unique qualities. "It's up to you as the gamer to figure out if an incredibly difficult, incredibly unique game is the game for you," he notes in conclusion. "For me, the experience of just playing a game that has these features not seen anywhere else is worthwhile."