From elation to despair in a very short time span. That’s the nature of Dark Souls, man. I dusted off my disappointment as best I could and made my way back to the Undead Parish bonfire. I couldn’t help but notice that the common enemies were a breeze now, and I lit the Undead Parish bonfire with a sense of smugness.I was getting the hang of this game, I thought to myself. I knew, however, that the next area was no joke. It’s called Sen’s Fortress, and it’s filled with traps, swinging blades, and snakemen. Hissing, biting, sometimes lightning-throwing snakemen who were ugly as sin and not much fun to fight. Plus, if you fell off the narrow bridges that had huge axe blades swinging over them, you plunged into the land of Titanite Demons, a mini-boss from earlier who were now just casual enemies. That’s if you survived the fall, which you might not, depending on your vitality.
I found Sen’s Fortress frustrating because in addition to all that, it’s a maze in which I got lost more times than I cared to count. This was what made Blighttown extra-difficult for me as well. I have NO sense of direction, so once I get turned around, I’m nearly helpless. I explored almost all of Sen’s Fortress not because I wanted to but because I couldn’t figure out the correct way to go. I fought two of the Titanite Demons in the pit to get their loot, and I killed one of the Iron Giants on top of the roof, though I felt bad doing it because he didn’t attack me, and he would sit down and cry*. In addition, the first bonfire in Sen’s Fortress took me FOREVER to find, which meant I had to start from the bonfire in Undead Parish every fucking time. I grew to loath the first part of Sen’s Fortress, but at the same time, I started breezing through it rather quickly. My pyromancy helped with the first lightning-throwing snakedude, and it made me meanly glad to watch him shrivel up in flames as I hurled my fireballs/fire orbs at him.
I’ve talked about the bonfire system before. I still think it’s a genius way to have checkpoints, but I think there should be one more in each area. I understand wanting each death to be costly, but the price is sometimes too steep, especially as the game goes on. Then again, the sheer relief when you see a new bonfire and light it is incomparable. Resting at the bonfire allows you to take a deep breath and prepare yourself for the next ordeal. I don’t know if I would appreciate each one as much if they were more plentiful. One other thing I should mention about the bonfires is that there’s always one right before the boss fight, for which I’m extremely thankful. So, the run from the bonfire to the boss is usually quite short with few enemies, but it’s still a pain in the ass when all you want to do is fight the damn boss again.
Here’s the thing about the boss fights. Yes, they are as hard as balls and can be enraging/infuriating. I have screamed at my monitor more times than I care to admit while battling the bosses of Dark Souls. At the same time, the boss fights are highly addictive in that I kept wanted to do them over and over again. If I fucked up from the start, I wanted to do it again so I could do it better. If I almost beat the boss, I wanted to do it again because I was SO close. On the third hand, every time I fought a boss, I would be so exhausted at the end, the last thing I wanted to do was fight the boss again. In addition, if I did it too many times, my play would start to deteriorate and never really recovered.
With that said, I found the boss of Sen’s Fortress, the Iron Golem, to be relatively easy. He was super-slow and susceptible to fire, so I just stood away from him and lobbed fire his way. He also telegraphed his moves way ahead of time, so I was able to handle him by myself. After I killed him and he burst into light as the bosses do in Souls, I saw a ring of light on the ground, so I went over to examine it. Suddenly, these demon bat-like creatures grabbed me and a cutscene ensued. They flew me over the kingdom before dropping me in this light-filled area that was in complete contrast to the rest of the game. it looked almost Roman in its architecture, and I took a few minutes to savor the view. I was in Anor Londo and nearly halfway through the game.
There was another demon bat-like creature sitting in front of me, and when I went to talk to him, I was flown back to Sen’s Fortress by his minions. It was good to know that I wasn’t stuck in Anor Londo as one thing I enjoyed about the game was the ability to roam in several different places at once. Well, not at once, but you know what I mean. I went back to Anor Londo and just explored a bit. I found the first bonfire which I lit with alacrity, and there was a Flame Keeper standing nearby. I chatted with her, and she buffed my estus flask (by using a Flame Keeper’s soul), and I really dug her. Because she was there, the bonfire was automatically kindled, which meant I had ten estus flasks instead of five. After I did all that, I ventured out again. One thing I noticed was that there were these huge guards everywhere. They didn’t attack, but if you approached them, they would start walking menacingly towards you. I also noticed that the ground in front of them was made of white and black tile like a chessboard. I didn’t know if it was deliberate, but it made me smile. Two of these sentinels were guarding chests, so after I killed them, I went to open the chests. Big mistake. One was a mimic, and it immediately grabbed me and ate my head. I knew there were mimics in the game because I’d run into one in Sen’s Fortress, but I had forgotten by the time I made it to Anor Londo. Having my head eaten was enough to ensure that I attacked every chest from that moment forward.
I couldn’t get over how different Anor Londo was. It’s lush and bright and just sumptuous. I enjoyed being in this world, unlike much of the rest of the game’s areas. As I skipped my way past one of the sentinels and up a path, I ran into a door that was sealed by the lord’s power or some such. I shrugged and went a different way–and immediately ran into a Bell Gargoyle, just like the ones who gave me so much trouble in the Undead Parish. This one breathed lightning instead of fire and there was one** instead of two, but he was exactly the same otherwise. And he was fairly easy to kill. Yes, that’s right. Bosses from earlier in the game become mini-bosses for later areas, lounging around like it’s nothing. This was concrete evidence of how much I’d improved at the game (and buffed my stats, weapons, and armor) that I didn’t even blink twice at facing another Bell Gargoyle.
It’s also a signal from the game that shit was getting real. Oh, you thought they were hard when they were bosses? Now, they’ve been demoted, so what do you think about that? I bet you can’t wait to see what else we have in store for you! It’s just a reminder that the game only gets harder and that it will not give any quarter. Still, I was feeling OK about my skills at this point. I had no illusions that I was good at the game, but I was persistent and hadn’t given up, and here I was about to face the legendary Ornstein & Smough. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so I’ll save that asshole duo for later.
There’s an optional area you can reach in Anor Londo if you had previously re-visited the Undead Asylum and picked up the Peculiar Doll. Which I had and which I did. It’s called the Painted World of Ariamis, and you access it through, yes, a painting. It’s a beautiful, snowy world, and I lit the bonfire with some trepidation. I had never heard of this area let alone seen any of it. The common enemies (the hollows) were buffed, but they weren’t that difficult to kill. Their buddies with engorged heads who throw fire and spew poison when they died were harder, however. Still, they weren’t anything me and my trusty Battle Axe couldn’t handle, and I slowly made my way through the Painted World. I ran into some trouble with the harpies (Crow Demons) who would eat me when they caught me, but once I learned their patterns, they weren’t too bad.
Side Note: There are a lot of items to find in this game. It’s hard because I have OCD tendencies, so my compulsion is to find them all. I have this difficulty with most games and collectibles, which is why I deliberately choose not to 100% most of the time. However, there are many useful rings in this game, so I have tried to get several of them, even though I can only wear two at a time. Most of the time, I wear the Wolf Ring which helps with poise, but I recently picked up the Ring of Favor and Protection that boosts health and stamina, but it disappears once you take it off. I also just bought the Bellowing Dragoncrest Ring, which increases the power of my pyromancy (would have been nice against O&S, but again, more on them later), so I imagine I’m going to keep that one on much of the time. My gripe about too many weapons and now rings carries over to too many armor sets. However, that’s easily solved because I choose my armor based on weight, mostly. I like to be light so I can move quickly.
There was a mini-boss blocking a bridge in the Painted World–a big, purple dragon. No, not Barney–this dragon wasn’t nearly as affable. Still, he didn’t give me too much trouble, and I made my way downwards to the center of the town. Staring at me was a phalanx of skeleton Roman soldiers, and they were doing the turtle formation. I killed most of them once, but true to my nature, I simply ran by them after that. I also fought the NPC Black Phantom Xanthous King Jeremiah*** and beat him rather easily despite his own strong pyromancy. I picked up his armor set and am now wearing his waistcloth. It’s bright yellow, so I’m styling!
Honestly, up until the boss, the thing that gave me the biggest problem were the skeletons on spiked wheels. They wrecked my shit more times than I care to admit, and I despaired of ever defeating them. Of course they regen every time I died, which meant dealing with them ad nauseam. I managed to kill most of them and scoop the item(s?) they were guarding, and I considered skipping over their area, but then realized I could open the corridor to the boss area by turning a wheel in THEIR area. There was a glitch that allowed you to skip that part, but that didn’t feel right to me. So, I went into their sewer area one more time, managed to crank the wheel before I died, and got the hell out of there. I’ll admit the spiked-wheeled skeletons got the best of me, and I retreated with my tail tucked between my legs. It was time to take on the boss.
Now, remember, I didn’t know this world even existed, so I did read a bit about it in the wikis. The boss of the area was Crossbreed Priscilla (half-dragon, half-something else), and everything I read emphasized that she wasn’t easy. You could leave the area without fighting her, but if you attacked her, then you had to kill her in order to leave. If you weren’t able to do that, you’d be stuck in the world forever. One guide said if you’re not ready, it’s better to come back later to fight her. I killed all the riff-raff leading up to her chambers, and then I stepped inside. She greeted me and told me how I could leave without killing her. I eyed her up and down for a second, thought about her offer, and then I attacked. I felt like I was ready. What could possibly go wrong?
*I also killed one of his brothers right before confronting the boss because HE was throwing firebombs at me and was, in general, being a dick. He also would sit down and cry, however, which made me feel slightly bad about killing him.
**For now. I had to kill another one a little later.
***Black Phantoms are people who invade your world. The fact that he’s an NPC means he’s a programmed invader and not a real person.