Dark Souls is a third-person action role-playing game. The core mechanic of the game is exploration. Players are encouraged by the game to proceed with caution, learn from past mistakes, or find alternate areas to explore. Dark Souls takes place in a large and continuous open world environment, connected through a central hub area (Firelink Shrine). Players are able to travel to and from areas and explore various paths, although certain prerequisites have to be met in order to unlock certain areas. Scattered throughout the game world are bosses and creatures of varying types that must be defeated. From almost all enemies killed, the player will receive a relative amount of "souls" which act as both currency and experience points. Some enemies also yield rare items.
Central to Dark Souls are Bonfires. Bonfires - which are actually more similar in size to campfires - are scattered throughout the world, and, when rested at, heal the player and save their progression upon death. While resting, players can level up and repair their equipment, among other things. However, resting also causes all of the previously defeated enemies of an area to come back to life and return to their original map placements, except for bosses and mini-bosses.
Another aspect of Dark Souls is the humanity system. There are two states of being in the game. While in human form, the character will appear human with healthy skin. Being human opens the online portion of the game, allowing allies to be summoned; and invading/being invaded by other players, as well as boosting certain resistances. However, when a human player dies, they will enter hollow form with an undead appearance. To return to human status, a player must spend one humanity point at a Bonfire.
Humanity can be acquired in a large variety of ways, and if no humanity is available, players are still able to progress in hollow form. Death in either form results in the loss of all carried souls and humanity, but players revive as hollows at their most recent bonfire with one chance at returning to where they died to recover all lost souls and humanity. If the player dies before reaching their "bloodstain", the souls and humanity they previously accrued are permanently lost.