Dark Souls Screenshot

So after a wait that felt like forever, I finally got my hands on a copy of Dark Souls. I was waffling for a long time between the 360/PS3 versions, but after hearing framerate complaints from a few reviewers with 360 pre-release copies, I went PS3.

I'm about six hours into the game or so, and progress is relatively slow although it's been a very rich experience so far. Interestingly (and granted, I'm still quite early) it doesn't seem so much like a true sequel to Demon's Souls, so much as it feels like a modified and expanded reboot.

Although there have been several changes to the formula, players already familiar with Demon's will recognize several areas and situations that are extremely familiar. That's not to say it's a bad thing at all, since Demon's Souls is one of my favorite games of all time, but I am a little surprised at how much seems lifted straight from the first game.

In any event, here's a quick list of things that are different for those of you who haven't jumped into Dark Souls yet:

The game's sections have been redesigned to be one huge, interconnected world. Although there is a "starting point", there is no more hub and each level must be traveled to—there are no warp-enabled Archstones from which to select.

Players can carry infinite items, level up and repair weapons at the campfires scattered throughout the world—since there's no Nexus to return to, all of those functions have been redesigned to be utilized on the go.

Players come equipped with an "Estus Flask" that's used to restore life as needed, and it's refilled every time the player returns to a campfire.

Dark Souls Screenshot

One semi-spoilery difference that was quite a surprise to me was that boss-level monsters often drop special weapons and/or armor depending on whether or not the player hits them in a certain area. I won't say any more than that, but be aware that it's a thing to consider when taking on the bigger bad guys.

I won't say any more for the moment, but from most accounts, the game is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-70 hours… I'm sure I'll be mentioning it again here before long.

A quick shout-out for PSN's Rochard. I've written the review and I'm planning to try and get an interview with the development team, but in the meantime, do yourself a favor and just buy it… it's a 2D platformer using physics and gravity effects, and it's really, really well-done.

In fact, some of the puzzles are just perfect—they definitely make you think, but none are so hard that you'll go running to GameFAQs, which for me, is just the way they should be. It's certainly one of the best download games I've spent time with this year and Sony is doing an awful job of PR with it. I'll post links to my coverage when it goes up, but trust me when I say that it is well worth the $10 asking price.

If you're a Walking Dead fan (and really, who's not?) pop on over to AMC's website and watch the brand new six-episode web-only series.

This quickie tells the backstory of the crawling torso-only zombie that Rick goes out of his way to lay to rest way back in episode one. It's a neat callback and it's free, so when you've got twenty minutes or so, it's a good fix until the season starts.

I've been meaning to post more about comics, but it's been one thing after another and I've been putting it off for far too long. So, as a way of re-kick-starting my comics coverage, I've got guest blogger @Nightdreamer (a GameCritics regular for many years) covering three of the recent DC reboot titles.

@Nightdreamer sez…

Swamp Thing #1 Cover

Swamp Thing #1

Here's one that I just could not get into.

Scott Snyder's 10-issue run in Detective Comics 871-881—which I recommend—reveals his writing chops for evoking terrifying imagery. Having read Swamp Thing's legendary Alan Moore run, I was led to think that a good Swamp Thing story has to be creepy, surrealist, and full of symbolism. So, the logical conclusion is that horror-writer Snyder should fit Swamp Thing perfectly. He might, and maybe I'm just not seeing things clearly, but I could not read Swamp Thing 1 without feeling befuddled.

So let me see if I'm getting this right: Swamp Thing (originally) was a metamorphosis of the scientist Alec Holland, but Alan Moore rewrote him as a botanical creature imbued with a dead Alec Holland's memory. Then during (the excruciatingly awful) Brightest Day event, Alec Holland was revived and became one and the same with Swamp Thing. Now with the 52 relaunch, Scott Snyder has Alec Holland as independent from Swamp Thing, but they share memories?!

Sorry, but as competently done as Swamp Thing 1 is for an introduction, I don't think I have the mental capacity or the willingness to digest Swamp Thing's super-convoluted lore.

Batgirl #1 Cover

Batgirl #1

When word came out that DC Comics was reverting Barbara Gordon from Oracle to Batgirl, comic fans on the Internet went wild. So DC managed to placate the Internet—no small feat, that—by tying the Internet's favorite author, Gail Simone, to Batgirl's solo title.

This was DC's big misstep. DC has a pattern of creating diverse characters, and then removing them and/or losing whatever made them progressive. Cases in point: Ryan Choi (Asian, dead), Cassandra Cain (Asian, replaced by white Stephanie Brown), and Amanda Waller, a tough-as-nails character who lost her distinction as the rare overweight female in comics.

Babs Gordon is among the latest victims. As Oracle, the hacker and information broker vital to many other superheroes from DC, she was a prominent disabled character in comics. Having returned as Batgirl, she became another chatty female crimefighter following the same character archetype as the previous Batgirl, Stephanie Brown. While DC's reasoning for Babs regaining her role is due to her version of Batgirl being the most recognizable, why did they put her in an ugly, changed version of her iconic costume? And if DC was really trying to draw in new readers, why isn't Batgirl 1 an origin story like Batgirl: Year One?

All controversies aside, Batgirl 1 is remarkably awful.

The first error is DC's attempt to reconcile Babs' history as Oracle to the new continuity. In Alan Moore's "The Killing Joke", the Joker shot Babs and paralyzed her from the waist down. According to Batgirl 1, all that still happened, but Babs did not become Oracle due to her determination to make a difference despite her paraplegia.

What we have now is Babs restoring the use of her legs because three months after the hit, because MIRACLES! Comics are rife with them! MIRACLES are so common, in fact, that they don't even warrant a ridiculous explanation anymore! We don't see otherworldly forces interfering with history, or Bruce Wayne bargaining with the devil to get Babs to walk again. She just regains the use of her legs through positive thinking and we're expected to go along with it, because that is the power of MIRACLES!

Beyond this, Batgirl 1 is just a generic story about a new foe in Gotham. Excessively chatty Batgirl excessively chats to the readers about her self-confidence, until she freezes up when the new foe aims his gun where Joker previously shot her. While she's shocked, the new foe tosses a different person out of the window. A policeman standing besides Babs (aiming a gun at the foe a moment ago) now aims at Babs and blames her for the murder of the newly defenestrated! Instead of, you know, shooting the bad guy!

Make sense of that if you can!

Batwing #1 Cover

Batwing #1

Batwing first emerged from the pages of Batman Inc. #5, a comic series where Bruce Wayne expands his Bat franchise.

Among the members of the (terribly written, incidentally) Batman Inc. is an African Batman, named Batwing. DC decided to star Batwing in his own solo title, probably because he's a perfect clean slate character—there really is no slate to clean! Batwing exists to protect a real-world country that's more corrupt than a fictitious Gotham City, and Gotham City's corruption is confined only by imagination. (Meaning: Africa's corruption exceeds your imagination!)

The disappointment with Batwing is its predictability. Think of stories or movies purposefully set in Africa to portray its poverty, and you'd have a good chance of predicting what you'll see in Batwing. That predictability extends to Batwing's alter ego, David Zamvimbi—the lone person of integrity in a landscape of corruption.

Also to be expected is the uncompromising depiction of violence, and Batwing shows severed limbs and heads. Despite that, though, I liked Batwing's concept because it draws parallels between Gotham City and Africa. As a lone, incorrigible figure of authority, Batwing is a combination of Batman and Commissioner Gordon, which is interesting.

While nothing I read in Batwing blew me away (and I'm not really anxious for #2) at least it's one of DC's new 52 that shows enough promise to get me to stick to it until it starts to suck!

That's it for tonight. Mega-thanks to @Nightdreamer for contributing!

Brad Gallaway
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