This is part three as to why the fuck I keep playing Dark Souls. You can read part two here. Let’s continue with my frustrations as I battled Priscilla, an optional boss, time and time and time again.
I went against my rule of not reading the wikis at this point. Priscilla had broken me, and I read everything I could about how to defeat her. The problem was, everything I read talked about how easy it was to beat her. You simply did this or that, made her visible, and then finished her off. In addition, most of them assumed you could kill her easily and talked more about how to cut off her tail for a special weapon. I was feeling really shitty about myself as I despaired of ever beating her. Then, I read one tip that mentioned if you had a certain spell (which I did), all you had to do was draw her out of the room to the bridge area, cast the spell on yourself, blah blah blah. I tried the tip, and it worked, but for some reason, I couldn’t cast the spell again later. I managed to get her down to about a fourth of her health before she disappeared again I died to her, but still, I was finally getting the hang of her. It was only after I died that I realized I’d used the wrong spell. I tried the right one in the next run, but it really didn’t work. I also realized that what HAD worked was drawing Priscilla out of the room and near the bridge because then I knew exactly where she was. Three quick hits of my axe, and she was visible.
Side Note: Even with all the advice available, I still had to fight the boss MY way. Priscilla is weak to lightning, so many of the guides suggested using the Lightning Spear against her. I tried it, but it just didn’t feel comfortable to me. Plus, you have to break her poise to make her visible (done by a certain amount of quick hits in succession to stagger an enemy), which I learned from the forums you can’t do with a spear.
Here’s the thing about Dark Souls. You have to play it the way that is comfortable for you. I mean, yes, the general tips are helpful, but if you don’t like a certain weapon or way of playing, all the tips in the world won’t help you. For example, I don’t like the rapiers. At all. I tried a special one against Priscilla a few times, but it didn’t work for me. Granted, it wasn’t leveled up because if you’re a bad player as I am, you don’t have any souls at this point, and everything is goddamn pricey to level up. Anyway, I put Velka’s Rapier away, and I haven’t touched it since. In addition, I mostly play ranged characters, and my Dark Souls character is a pyromancer (which is ranged), but given the limited amount of spells I have, I had to get good with my Battle Axe as well. I prefer to use my pyromancy, but sometimes, necessity is the mother of invention.
I ditched the Lightning Spear and decided I’d stick with my Battle Axe, which was like an extension of my hand at this point. When I finally managed to kill Priscilla (and she’s easy to kill once you can see her because she doesn’t have much health. If you keep hitting her, she can’t turn invisible again), I felt more relieved than anything. else. I felt I had made the biggest mistake of the game thus far, and I’d made plenty of mistakes throughout my playthrough. I had been so close to quitting the game or starting over, and now, I didn’t have to. The minute she started crumbling into dust, I raced to the bridge/ledge and jumped off. I was eager to get the hell out of the Painted World and to never return.
The Painted World taught me that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was at this game, and I didn’t think I was all that good in the first damn place. One of my biggest gripes about this game is how much harder the bosses are than the regular enemies in the surrounding areas. Nothing about the lead-up prepares you for the boss, and sometimes, you have to change your entire style to fight one boss. There are some general rules that work will all the bosses so far: patience, patience, patience. Circle around the boss if you can, and then attack the back two, three times max. Then, roll backwards and keep backing away as you regain your stamina. Rinse, lather, and repeat. However, you have to adapt this, sometimes dramatically, to fight whatever particular boss happens to be on the other side of the fog door. As I may have mentioned, I’m not good at thinking on the fly, and I’m really set in my ways.
Conversely, it also taught me that I get down on myself easily and consistently. When I couldn’t beat Priscilla in the amount of time I deemed appropriate, I castigated myself. This is how I operate in real life, too, by the way. “I can’t do this,” I said to myself over and over again, and, yet, I finally did. This is a pattern I’ve repeated several times throughout the game. It’s a valid feeling ,however, as this game has kicked me ass on several occasions. And yet, I’ve beaten each obstacle placed in my way. Or, I’ve left it for later because I couldn’t deal with it at the time. But, the game is hard enough that there might be a time when I can’t beat a certain boss, and that thought is always lurking in the back of my mind.
I was relieved to make it back to Anor Londo, but I shouldn’t have been. One thing about playing the game four years after its release is that you get to hear a lot about it before you even touch it, especially the early game. So, I knew what was awaiting me in the pristine, sun-filled land of Anor Londo, but that didn’t make it any easier to face. That’s another thing about Dark Souls in general. You can read all the tips you want about how to deal with a certain enemy (mostly, bosses), but you still have to execute the movements yourself. It’s not like some games in which all you need is know the trick to beat a boss and it’s a done deal. Nothing made that more obvious than the next boss(es)–the infamous Ornstein & Smough. I will get to them in a minute–I promise.
Most of the action in Anor Londa takes place in one castle and getting into said castle is what many people think is the hardest part of the game, thanks to a certain two assholes. As I ran down some walkways to get from one part of the castle to a different area (and to battle two more bat-like demons), I get THWACKED with something that took off a considerable chunk of my health and pushed me back a sizable amount as well. I looked around, but I couldn’t see anything. As I battled the two bat-like demons, I kept getting hit or nearly hit by these…arrows??? Heavy fucking arrows. What the fuck?! Once I dispensed of the bats, I looked in the direction from where the arrows were coming. I saw two dudes with bows shooting arrows at me. These assholes are known as the Anor Londo Archers, and they are legends for fucking up people’s shit. It’s incredible that in a section of the game many would consider negligible (getting into the main area of the section), there is this particular dilemma with which you have to deal.
Once again, I died a few times trying to figure out what to do against the Archers. This is another part that felt very unfair because I had to go up these walkways to a place that had a very narrow ledge upon which to walk, then I had to go around a corner and dodge asshole Archers (one on each side), then sprint to another walkway, praying I wouldn’t get hit. Then, I had to sprint up the walkway and run as quickly as I could to one of the Archers to take him out. Or make him fall. Whichever worked. I tried magic spells to fortify my shield. I tried hurling fireballs once i got close enough to the Archers. I tried to attack both Archers once I reached the balcony of the castle. I learned to dodge the arrows rather than let them hit me because even with the fortification, they could push me back and deal damage. I really thought I would never get past these assholes. I did finally realize I mostly had to run and dodge and get to ONE Archer as quickly as possible. He fell off the eaves (yay!), so I went over towards the other. He fell off as well. That’s how I beat the dreaded Archers–they both made themselves fall off the eaves. I’ll take it!
I was in the castle! I have to say that Anor Londo is huge. Maybe not in geography, but in what can be done in the area. I also have to say that for all the frustrations, anger, and rage I’ve experienced playing this game, I’ve also never felt as elated (while playing a video game) as when I’ve beaten a big boss in Dark Souls. Sometimes, even beating a mini-boss or a particularly hard enemy elicited the same response. Shaking, a stream of jubilant curses, sometimes disbelief, sometimes tears, and a whole bunch of, “YES!”es. It’s the reason I keep playing the game, no matter how often it brings me to my knees.
Side Note II: There are five stages to fighting a boss. One, fear and panic. How the hell am I going to beat this asshole? S/he’s got moves I’ve never seen before! The first time is spent running around, frantic to find a place to hide. Two, indignation. How the fuck are you able to do that? That is not fair at all! How can I evade THAT move?? I totally rolled out of the way! Oh, sure. Just fucking one-shot me. Asshole. Three, resignation. You win. I can’t beat you. You got me. Four, determination. I’m not going to let this asshole get the best of me! Goddamn it, I’ve not come this far just to give up now! Five, victory (hopefully). Stages one – four can repeat and in varying order, but they are always present during a boss fight. Maybe not every stage in every time I fight a boss, but during the length of the time it takes to beat a boss, yes.
All of these came into play when I battled the next boss(es), Dragon Slayer Ornstein & Executioner Smough. Here, the game was saying, “You thought one boss was bad? How about two? One who is skinny and small and very fast. Oh, and he can shoot lightning at you or stab you with his lightning spear-sword thing. The other is big and slow, but he can hit you very hard with his hammer. The two move independently of each other, but the smaller one will use the bigger one as a shield so he can sneak attack you. Does that sound good to you?” No, it doesn’t. It sounds HORRIBLE to me. Turns out, my instincts were right. It was as horrible as it sounded. I had heard about these two, of course, but words don’t adequately describe how imposing they are from the get-go. There is a cutscene with a sweeping orchestral score. Smough shows up first, a behemoth of a man with a HUGE hammer that he will swing with abandon. Just as you’re marveling over him, Ornstein drops down to a parapet above Smough’s head with a lightning spear-sword that he can hit you with seemingly from any distance. Both are decked out in gold armor, and they make an impressive pair.
The thing about them is that one of them would be a worthy boss on his own. Together? They feel like they are impossible. You expend a huge amount of energy just to kill one and when you finally manage to do that, you have to do with the super version of the other. If you kill Smough first, you get a giant-sized Ornstein who inherits Smough’s strength and his butt-stomp WHILE keeping his agility, quickness, and lightning attack. He also displays a totally new move, one that allows him to impale you on his giant spear and then lightning force field your health away. If you kill Ornstein first (my preferred method), Smough absorbs Ornstein’s quickness–check that, he becomes faster. He still lumbers, though–and his lightning abilities. I didn’t find Super-Biggie (Smough) to be that difficult per se, but I was usually so worn out(and almost out of estus) by that time, my brain just shut down. This fight really made me not want to play the game anymore.