Monthly Archives: June 2015

Dark Souls, Part Three: Bringing Me to the Brink

Part two of this series is here.

I need a cheeseburger or ten
Desperate measures in Sen’s Fortress

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.
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Dark Souls: Why I Keep Playing This Game, Part Three

Looking pretty human these days
All’s quiet in the Painted World of Ariamis

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.
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Dark Souls, Part Two: I Can’t Quit This Game

You are NOT my friend
Bell Gargoyle on the loose!

I wrote about my experiences with the game, Dark Souls, up to the point where I played through it a second time up to the point when I ragequit the first. You can catch up on my adventures so far here. Because the post was getting long, I decided to end it and start a new one as I stepped foot into new territory–Blighttown. After beating the enemy that had bested me the first time I played the game (Gaping Dragon), I took some time to buy a crystal shield that I’m still using (though it deteriorates over time and you can’t repair it), to level up, and to make my weapons better than ever. By this point, I had an impressive array of weapons, but I still stuck mostly to my +10 Battle Axe. This is one gripe I have about Dark Souls–the game gives you a lot of weapons, but because each is so different, it’s easier just to become comfortable with one or two types and forego the rest. Another gripe is that I think there are some things that are unfair about the game versus being hard, but I’ll get to that later.

Blighttown. I’d heard stories about this area and how terrible it was. I don’t know of anyone, pro (YouTuber) or not who actually liked this area. Oh, I should note that I went back to the Undead Asylum and picked up the Rusted Ring, which would be very helpful in Blighttown because it allows you to walk on ‘poor footing’ (i.e., water) as easily as you do on solid ground. I’d never been in Blighttown before, and all of a sudden, I was as nervous as hell again. One thing FromSoft (the devs) does well is cultivate a sense of dread. Because most of the big bosses are so hard and saving (at the bonfires, really, read the first part) is so sparse, you have to do most areas over and over and over again. So, while the bosses may remain hard, you get pretty good at running the paths up to the big boss. When you beat a big boss, you move on to a new area, possibly with new common enemies, and you have to relearn what you once thought you knew.

Side Note: It’s really frustrating to see people talk about how easy a certain boss is if you’re having trouble with him/her. “Oh, you just have to do this, this, and that, and it’s no problem.” First of all, that’s dependent upon build. Second, these are usually people who have played the game for many, many hours and have beaten it several times. They have forgotten how hard the game was the first time they played it, or they’re just preternaturally good at the game. Even if the boss is easy to them, it’s not helpful to the person struggling to hear how easy said boss is. Also, you can get all the tips in the world on how to beat a boss, but you still have to fucking do it. That’s often much easier said than done.
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Dark Souls: Why I Keep Playing This Game, Part Two

Straight outta Undead Parish
Bell Gargoyle is coming at me, bro!

In my last post, I wrote about my feelings the first time I tried to play Dark Souls. I encourage you to read it before reading this post, which will be about my experience the second time around. I’m currently nearly halfway done with the game, so I expect I will write more posts on it as well. This game has gotten under my skin like no other. It’s brutal and unforgiving, and I often hate it as I’m playing it, and yet, I can’t stop playing. It’s my current obsession, and I play nearly every day. Let me try to explain why that is.

The second time I started Dark Souls, I stuck with what I knew. I created the same character I had in the first game, a fat, old Asian woman of the pyromancer class, which meant starting with a Hand Axe yet again. This time, I breezed through the tutorial in the Undead Asylum and tromped my way through Undead Burg and the Undead Parish. I died a few times, but nothing like I did the first time around. In fact, it took me a third of the time to reach my nemeses, the Bell Gargoyles, in the second playthrough than it had in my first. Granted, I didn’t accidentally attack Andre this time around, so that shaved off a few hours, but still. Also, I’m currently playing on a speedy new rig that my brother built for me, so that also accounts for some of the time difference as well.

However, the biggest difference is that I’m better at the game–at the least at the early game. I don’t have much problem with the common enemies in the first areas, and it’s rather refreshing not to be afraid as I defeat a boss and approach a ‘new’ area. I wouldn’t say I was good yet–indeed, I don’t think I’ll *ever* be good at Souls–but I was at least making it through the first few areas with little fuss or muss. I also made sure to upgrade my Battle Axe (my main weapon) and my Pyromancy Flame with regularity, something I didn’t do the first time around. That’s part of the problem with Dark Souls–it’s so overwhelming, you just do the basics because you can’t even think of anything else. At least that’s how it was with me. I missed a lot of the lore and the items you can pick up because I was just so focused on getting from Point A to Point B. This time? I’m more able to explore the areas and find a LOT of stuff that I missed before.

Still, I approached the Bell Gargoyles with trepidation because I remembered how they wrecked my ass in my previous playthrough. This time, however, all I could think of as I watched the first one stand up and walk towards me was how fucking slow he was. I didn’t kill them on the first try, but I wasn’t intimidated. I knew it was just a matter of time before I got them, and I marveled at how helpless I felt the first time I fought them. I did summon the Phantom Solaire after dying to the Bell Gargoyles a few times, and we made short work of them. Once again, it was Solaire doing most of the work with me hanging back and stabbing them in the asses. I didn’t feel elation, but a sense of vindication once they were vanquished–my first big nemeses of Dark Souls were dead forever.
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Dark Souls, Part One: It Has a Hold on Me

Editor’s Note: I have been obsessed with Dark Souls for the past month or so and am trying to figure out why. To that end, I’ve started two series on it–one that is about my experiences playing the game and one that is about how I feel about the game in general. There’s overlap, of course, but I felt that there’s also enough separation for two series. This is part one of the series about the gameplay. Part one of the other series is here

fly me away, Snuggly!
Say hello to my friend, Snuggly

The first time I started playing Dark Souls, I was prepared to die. Or so I thought. I knew it was a brutal game that didn’t give a shit whether you lived or died–in fact, it preferred it if you did the latter, thank you very much–and I thought I could handle it. I’d seen people play it, and I’d watched them die multiple times. I can do this, I told myself. I was so fucking wrong.

I started by creating my character. Dark Souls doesn’t really tell you anything about, well, anything, so I chose the pyromancy class solely because I like fire. I made my character female and old and fat like me. I chose Far East traveler as her race, and I made her look as much like me as possible. It wouldn’t matter because she wouldn’t be human for most of the game, but it made me happy to see her Asian face, so that’s all that really matters. I named her Mulan because that’s what I name most of my characters, and I was ready to play.

The game drops you into the Undead Asylum with nothing but a Broken Sword Hilt to defend yourself. If you go into the game not knowing anything about it, this area will kick your ass, even though it’s the tutorial. One thing you have to understand from the start is that FromSoftware (the developers, from now on referred to as FromSoft) doesn’t give a shit about you. They don’t bother telling you how to fight before they start throwing enemies at you, and if you don’t know that the glowing things are items you can pick up (from corpses, no less), you will miss out on your first shield and weapon right away. The different classes start with different weapons. Mine was a Hand Axe, and even to this day, I’m the most comfortable with axes.

One thing I have to mention–you cannot save in the traditional sense of the word in this game. Instead, you light bonfires in the different areas, and when you die (and you will die, I guarantee it), you return to the last bonfire you reached. You get souls every time you kill an enemy, and souls are what you use to level up and to buy things. If you die with souls on you, they are lost to you forever unless you return to the spot you died and retrieve them. It’s one of the most infuriating things about the game because you feel as if you lose so much progress every time you lose your souls, but it’s also one of the most brilliant things about the game as well because each death means something.
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Dark Souls: Why I Keep Playing This Game, Part One

Flying on a giant crow. as you do.
Snuggly is my only friend

Editor’s Note: I have been obsessed with Dark Souls for the past month or so and am trying to figure out why. To that end, I’ve started two series on it–one that is about my experiences playing the game and one that is about how I feel about the game in general. There’s overlap, of course, but I felt that there’s also enough separation for two series. This is part one of the series about how I feel about the game. Part one of the other series is here

Dark Souls is known as a hard game, though its aficionados would scorn that and say it’s no biggie once you know what you’re doing. While that’s true to a certain extent, it’s really irritating to hear, especially when you’re struggling with what you think is the hardest enemy in the world. So, pro tip: If someone is having a hard time with something, don’t say it’s easy, even if it is for you. It’s rude and enraging and makes you look like a dick. Don’t be that person. PSA over. Now to the main post.

I heard about Dark Souls from my good friend and gaming buddy, Ian, and it intrigued me. I like trying hard things, but perversely, I give up rather easily because I’m used to being instantly good at things I try. Still, there was something about the game that drew me in, and I decided to give it a try, although I was terrified of it. I knew I was going to suck at it, and I was prepared to die* many, many times. I knew I wasn’t going to have an aptitude for the game for many reasons. I’m old and my reflexes aren’t as good as they used to be. I’m fairly new at games, and I would be using a controller for the first time. My laptop is junk, and I’d have to deal with lag time and crashing. Those are just a few reasons off the top of my head.

Still, I started a character, making her look like me and choosing the pyromancer class solely because I like fire. FromSoftware (also known as FromSoft and From, the developers) doesn’t tell you shit about anything, so unless you want to read the wikis, you pretty much have to just fly by the seat of your pants. It’s not my preferred way of doing things as I like to plan things way in advance,** but you have to take Dark Souls on its terms or you might as well turn around and go home. FromSoft (Hidetaka Miyazaki, the main developer in specific) had an uncompromising vision for Dark Souls, and I admire them for it. Dark Souls doesn’t hold your hand as you play–indeed, it positively revels in your death–and if you want to play the game to completion, you’re probably going to have to use the wikis AND play through it several times.

My first experience with Dark Souls was harrowing. I started with a Hand Axe, and swinging it took effort, stamina, and more importantly, time. In many combat-focused games, using your weapons is effortless–there’s a reason they’re called hack-n-slashes. You can wield a hefty sword effortlessly, and you can swing it again and again and again. I’m not dissing those games. Indeed, I’ve had a lot of fun with games in which I merrily cut swathes through countless waves of enemies. Granted, I’ve mostly used guns, but I have used blade weapons as well. There are no consequences for using your weapons, which is the exact opposite of the combat in Dark Souls. When you swing your weapon in this game, it takes stamina. Also, if you don’t have the stats you need to wield said weapon, you will not be able to use it properly. Your weapon (and armor) degrades over time, which means you’ll have to repair it–if it’s reparable.
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