I’ve got this trudging, bloviating, pedagogical article about the Souls games cooking, one that includes references to Kierkegaard and “Non-Campbellian Heroism,” but I figured I’d start with a series you guys might actually find fun to read.
I have a bit of a thing for Demon’s Souls, and for Dark Souls, and I’ve been keeping my (utterly disinterested) friends in the loop with the latest via a series of emails that do not include any mechanism for them to unsubscribe. This here, after the short preamble, is an edited and improved version of that.
It’s only Part One, though, there’s more to come! I wanted to get far enough ahead that I could actually have some backlog to work with. I’m at death 700-something, so my adventures scarcely begin here!
October 4, 2011 – 5:00pm
“Dark Souls!” I bark at the GameStop register sushi. I don’t like GameStop. I feel bad for the employees, but my objective is to get in and get out.
“Did you pre-order it?” The clerk is a Zach Galifinakis-looking gamer stereotype of indeterminate age.
“Nope.” I never pre-order things. I know GameStop employees are rated based on the number of pre-orders they sell, that they can even lose their jobs if they fail their quota, but I DON’T CARE. He heaves a morose sigh and rummages disconsolately through the cabinet.
“Have you picked up the strategy guide?” He adds, sliding my game across the counter. There’s a pile of them next to the register. “This is, like, hella hard.”
“Nope.” I never buy strategy guides. I have the internet. I’m now a double-fail to this guy; I didn’t pre-order and I won’t buy the guide. His last hope is a Game Informer subscription.
He inflates, preparing to make the pitch, but something in my body language tells him that I won’t subscribe. He deflates. “Well, enjoy, man. Anything you’re interested in pre-ordering? Modern Warfare 3, maybe? Comes out in a month.”
I nod and hand him my credit card. “So I hear. Listen, maybe next time I’m in, okay?” Really, the fact that I’m buying Dark Souls should tell him whether I’m the sort who would pre-order Modern Warfare 3.
He looks so sad as I exit that for a moment I consider running back in and pre-ordering something, but I don’t want Modern Warfare 3 and I almost never shop at GameStop. So I leave. Besides, while his day may have been bad, it’s got nothing on where mine is about to go. He just failed to sell a strategy guide. Me?
I’m willingly entering Hell.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1-8
Like Demon’s Souls before it, Dark Souls brings a uniqueness of design and mechanic to the table. Differences and similarities both abound, but Dark Souls goes out of its way to be faithful to many key aspects of its predecessor.
Is it hard? Of course it’s hard. It’s Dark Souls. You may recall the tutorial from Demon’s Souls – after maybe fifteen minutes, you’re confronted with one of the game’s monstrous boss demons, The Vanguard. In that instance, though it’s theoretically possible to kill it, you’re actually supposed to die. It’s with your death that the game begins.
Dark Souls, meanwhile, gives you five minutes and a sword handle (no blade attached) before putting you in front of Asylum Demon, a creature easily as big as The Vanguard, wielding a club the size of a sequoia. The difference? You’re expected to beat this one. Not only that, you cannot proceed into the game proper until you do.
But Dark Souls is clever, like its predecessor. Obviously you can’t kill Asylum Demon with a sword handle, though I did try (leading to my first two deaths). I took this opportunity to start the game anew because I’d mismanaged the controls and squandered my character’s special starting gift. The second time around I decided to play as a Swamp Pyromancer, an axe-expert who flings fires. After a few minutes of running from Asylum Demon’s monster club, I realized that there was a door leading out of its chamber, so I trotted right through. That’s where I found the rest of the tutorial, and an axe, and the Attunement I needed to actually start using my fireball spell. I did die six times during this period, mostly because I was figuring out the differences in controls. The Souls games have never had great interfaces and unfortunately From Software didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to smooth out the inventory and equipping system. That’s a pity, but I’ll get used to it. The biggest problem I have is hitting the right button to roll out of the way – in Gears it’s A, the bottom face button. In Dark Souls it’s O, the right face button. Live and learn. Or, rather, die and learn.
Asylum Demon defeated, I headed through the Pilgrim’s Gate into the kingdom of Lordran. My first encounter there was with the newly-hatched offspring of Sparkly the Crow, a character from Demon’s Souls. Baby Sparkly – whose name is Snuggly – asked for something warm and soft (I had neither, but I did give her my sword handle), then Sparkly herself arrived. She’s grown a bit since we saw her last… like, Lord of the Rings Giant Eagle size. She picked me up and carried me to Firelink Shrine, the first waystation in the hub-free open world of Dark Souls. Tomorrow – The Undead City!
And maybe a better helmet.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 9-26
I somehow injured my foot so badly that I can’t even put weight on it, so after work I yesterday spent most of the night with my swollen foot in an empty cat litter box full of icewater, playing Dark Souls.
I went ahead and restarted for a third time, not because I’m wishy-washy but because I’d made a few mistakes in my character build, and had made so little progress that restarting really didn’t hurt much. I was through the Asylum in about twenty minutes, Asylum Demon broken at my (broken) feet, then went ahead and ran the Asylum a couple more times to gather some souls. Also spending a little more time exploring the area with Snuggly’s nest, I found some new treasures – still nothing warm and soft, though, which is what Snuggly wants – then headed off to Lordran and my first base of operations, Firelink Shrine.
This time around I went with a Sorcerer as my class. The Swamp Pyromancer was pretty great, but I was intrigued by the Sorcerer’s larger catalogue of magic, and his ability to cast more of the same spell before needing to rest at a campfire. I need armor, I need a weapon more devastating than a dagger, but all in all this build seems pretty good. I can attune a lot of magic right out of the gate, and my Soul Spear spell is great for long range, at least until I get a bow. I need a bow.
This completely assholic guy at Firelink told me there were some big church bells that could use a ring. He didn’t explain why, or why he wasn’t doing it himself, or what it might accomplish, but he was clear that there were some bells and they needed rung. Step one is to ring the Bell of Awakening, an action most reviewers are saying takes about 40 hours of play. The Bell of Remembrance is Step Two. Once I’ve rung both do I win? I’m not sure.
There aren’t a ton of people playing Dark Souls yet, though it’s selling very well (it outsold Rage at some outlets on Oct 4), so the unique multiplayer elements are only “kind of” there right now. I see ghosts, I see bloodstains. I haven’t gotten the ability to leave or recommend messages yet, so presumably I have to do something before I can. So far I haven’t seen some of the new online features like Vagrant invasions or Kindling at bonfires.
Anyway, after investing souls in some Strength, Endurance, and Vitality, I headed up the hill. There’s a hill and I headed up it, rather; this is a totally open world. I could have headed down the hill or down some stairs or over to the thing there in the distance or whatever. I headed up the hill.
The Undead City loomed before me, protected by comparatively easy demons who go down with just three or four hits, but often attack in groups. This place is a maze, though, and just the first of many areas I’ll have to get through before I get to the Church of Awakening. As with Demon’s Souls, it’s often amazing to turn around and realize how little physical progress you’ve made, despite the sensation of having battled through endless adversity. So far I’ve not encountered anything too awful in terms of killer demons, though they’re sure to come.
Tonight: ice packs and the Undead City! The Bell of Awakening beckons! I’m gonna Awaken the crap out of that bell!
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 27-132
As with its predecessor, when you engage with a boss demon in Dark Souls, chances are you’re in it for the long haul. There’s no escape, no retreat; so if it kills you, you have little choice but to return again and again unless you want to abandon all the souls you dropped. Moreover, you keep adding to that soul pile every time you re-engage the boss – whatever you collected on your umpteenth journey toward its lair. So 700 souls becomes 1,400, becomes 2,100, becomes 2,800, and on and on… provided, of course, you have the approach down to a science and don’t get yourself killed on the way. To die on the way would be a reprieve of sorts, because you’d have to accept the loss of all the souls and you’d be able to go to bed. But if you don’t, if you just shut the game off, there’s a good chance you’ll have lost your approach mojo by the next day, so one wrong move and your beautiful collection of souls are gone for good.
Taurus Demon lives on a bridge in the Undead City. As boss demons go he’s not offensively large; about the size of five or six bull elephants stacked on top of each other. He’s no Dragon God. Dragon God’s ear was bigger than Taurus Demon. Heck, there are regular demons almost his size. I know exactly how to kill him. But knowing the solution and executing it are two different things.
It takes maybe… eight minutes to reach his bridge from my current campfire, and it’s not a hard run provided you’re careful. Once I arrive at his bridge, the pattern to kill him is easy – as with almost every moment in Dark Souls, what seems like an impossible battle is actually straightforward once you take a look around. Climb to the top of the bridge tower, up the ladder to the bridge tower’s tower, kill the two Skeleton Snipers, back down the ladder, lure out Taurus Demon, race back up to the bridge tower’s tower, perform a plunging attack as Taurus Demon arrives at the foot, repeat. I’ve only got to hit him four times, but so far I’ve managed two at most.
Taurus Demon is challenging because even though he’s not particularly large, the bridge he lives on isn’t either. He takes up the whole damn thing. So I have difficulty rolling around him. The plunging attack gets his attention, but then I get tangled in his hooves trying to re-orient myself to get back to the ladder. I can take a hit or two before I have to resort to the Estus Flask (which is like a bottle of vodka, except that it heals you), but that healing move consumes precious seconds during which Taurus Demon is stomping me, or clubbing me with his stupid big club, or roaring at me, which may not sound so bad but his roar does damage. And I can’t stop playing until I kill him, because if I do, I’ll probably have lost my muscle memory by tomorrow and I won’t make it to his bridge on my first try and all those beautiful, beautiful souls left behind in the paste of innards that used to be me will be gone.
I hate you, Taurus Demon.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 132-133
Taurus Demon lies broken! And because I am FUCKING METAL, I didn’t lose a single soul. With the ones Taurus Demon was carrying, I brought my grand total to 8,334 souls – enough for a point each in Vitality, Endurance, and Strength.
I met a nice man named Solaire who gave me a White Soapstone Talisman, which allows me, at long last, to enter other players’ worlds as a White Phantom and offer my aid.
The adventure continues! I wonder what’s over that bridgOHDEARFUCKINGCHRISTIT’SADRAGON
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