"In the age of ancients, the world was unformed, shrouded by fog..." With these words you're immediately thrown into a stunning cinematic sequence which introduces you to the medieval fantasy realm of Dark Souls on PlayStation 3.
The impressive intro, featuring dragons, gods and world-shaking magic is a mere glimpse of the superbly constructed world which awaits you in this challenging role-playing game. Gorgeous gothic ruins, dark forests and massive, intimidating boss creatures are among the variety of elements you'll encounter.
The level of visual detail in Dark Souls draws you into its convincing world, filling you with fear and wonder in equal measure. Haunting use of lighting, darkness and shadow creates the perfect atmosphere for adventure. Dust catches beams of sunlight and the glint of a skeleton's sword in the gloom of a dark corner offers a valuable hint of a deadly ambush.
Sound also plays a vital part in your quest for survival. Every noise is designed to make you aware of the brutal dangers that lurk. The deliberately sparse soundtrack crafts an intoxicating sense of dread. Sound isn't just a trimming - it's an essential part of the gameplay.
To enter the gloomy world of Dark Souls is to experience a tale of despair. This brooding adventure mixes the depth of a role-playing game with the slick combat of the action genre to create one of the most challenging titles on PlayStation 3. However, do not abandon all hope yet - once you crack its tough exterior, Dark Souls is one of the most rewarding games you'll ever play.
Your first task is an easy one - create a character to guide through this perilous journey. Select the gender and looks of your adventurer, as well as a class, ranging from the brutish Bandit to a magic wielding Pyromancer. Starting with only the clothes on your back in a dim dungeon, you'll find a welcome tutorial easing you into item collection, combat and exploration.
With no pause button, it's worth taking your time to learn the importance of fighting in Dark Souls. Like its prequel Demon's Souls, you will be doomed if you try to button bash against evil gargoyles, black knights or other formidable monsters. Methodical and strategic attacks are critical, and blocking with a shield equally essential.
Should you lose your life, you will also drop the power-enhancing souls you've collected on the way - and the only way to regain them is to travel back to where you died. Perish again before you reach that spot and you will lose those souls forever. So every tense battle comes with high stakes, and there is genuine relief when you encounter an energy restoring bonfire.
Nothing can be taken for granted in Dark Souls, and that is where its brilliance lies. Only a cautious, steady approach can succeed in this deep and engaging quest. Don't be put off by its fearsome reputation - Dark Souls is not about overwhelming you with enemies or constantly testing your reflexes. It's about perseverance and patience. Do not rush into its puzzles and battles, learn from each death and most importantly of all, be brave, dark soul. Be brave...
Soul brothers and sisters
You may feel alone in the staggering and intimidating quest of Dark Souls, but have hope, fearless stranger. By connecting the game online to PlayStation Network you will open up your adventure to other players who can help your progress.
When you start your journey you are classed as undead, which means you only have limited access to other adventurers. You can watch the ghosts of other players, who may be in the same area as you or have previously fallen foul to an enemy. You can also read messages on the ground left by others, which can aid you with clues to hidden passages or traps... or trick you with misinformation.
These elements add an atmospheric tension to your game as you never know what - or who - you'll encounter. And it only becomes more intense once you restore your character's humanity. Once you become human, you have the ability to summon other players for assistance, as well as fight against them for the prize of extra souls. It's an uneasy yet exciting feeling to know that you may come up against a hostile foe at any time.
There are other multiplayer elements you'll stumble across while playing Dark Souls, although discovering them for yourself is part of the fun. Just make sure you're always on your guard...