I've played through about an hour and a half of Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. And it's been... good. I have died a lot, though many were just a matter of getting the hang of the controls. But I've finished the game's first hurdle, and I'd like to talk about that for a moment. It was spoiled for me by a series of "action report"-esque accounts of the game--this series in fact, by Matt Sakey. As such, I don't feel a lot of scruples in potentially spoiling you readers in the same way.
A few minutes after you've sat through the game's prologue and played a bit, you encounter its first boss, the Asylum Demon. It's a big, monstrous thing, with a big, monstrous hammer, and, if you play anything like I do, you'll probably die almost immediately after beholding it for the first time. After a few attempts to do it in, met repeatedly by more death, I notice a door off to the side away from the monster, and I rush to it so quickly I leave a digital cloud of dust behind me, ala Road Runner. And it's at that point that things start to become a little more fair. My broken sword pommel that I had been previously wielding is traded in for an actual dagger. I get a shield. I even get a fancy potion-thingy that lets me restore about 3/4 of my health five times before replenishing. And I go up against a few more shambling undead things before I get a chance to face the demon again, this time using a cheap downward slash move that happens to take half its health. And I still die miserably. And then I do it again. The third time, I actually win. The Asylum entrance is now unguarded, and I can venture into the open world. Ah, sweet success.
The reason I'm describing all this in detail is that I really want to promote the design structure here. The game presented me with a seemingly impossible task, then gave me the tools to accomplish it--and equally important, it gave me the practice I needed in using those tools. It still wasn't easy, by any means, but it was doable. I understand that, if my skill had been sufficient, I actually could have beaten the Demon with my meagre broken sword bit. And that would have been fine. But that mini-epic quest that I went through, that micro-training session, was what made those skills matter. Most games offer some sort of tutorial level, but by demonstrating so vividly why you need those skills it was about to impart, Demon Souls does so much better in convincing the players that the tutorial is necessary and useful, the stepping stone to that glorious moment of revenge.
Now if only I could attack my three day headache in a similar manner...