Slow and steady wins the race, my friends, and I have slowly and steadily been failing to make much progress in From Software’s bleakly brilliant Dark Souls, as my report here will attest. But it’s about the journey, not the destination, and thus do I share with you more of the journey. I promise, you’ll get sick of reading these long before I’m through writing them. To adventure!
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 200-286 (October 24)
Quit while you’re ahead. Simple as that.
I fired up Dark Souls last night shortly after my latest diary… by far the best run yet. I found a new campfire with outstanding strategic possibilities – across an aerial bridge from a sort of church-looking building. On faith I Kindled the fire, which is an expensive proposition, but I figured if this was to be my new base of operations I might as well do it justice. Kindling adds five delicious healing doses to your Estus Flask, so now every time I sleep at this fire I’ll wake up with ten doses rather than five.
Then, investigating the annoying CLANK-CLANK-CLANK sound downstairs, what to my wondering eyes should appear? A blacksmith! Not only that, a friendly blacksmith. Most people in Lordran are cockweasels. Andrei is downright likable. He looks a little like Santa Claus, if Santa Claus were Thor; the clanking was him banging away at a sword on his anvil. Not only did he take my Titanite shards and use them to bump my Longsword +1 to a Longsword +5, he also boosted my Knight Shield to +2 and then said – I shit you not – “Take care out there, friend.”
Customer service of this nature is simply not done in Dark Souls. The last merchant I talked to accused me of being insane.
Better still, while exploring the area around my new campfire, I found a clever shortcut that takes me right back to Firelink Shrine in about one minute. I’ve come full circle, and discovered a new approach to the Undead City in the process. Excellent!
Even better than that, I discovered that I’m much, much closer to the Bell of Awakening than I thought. Going upstairs from Andrei’s, I fought my way through a church infested with Cloak Skeletons and rode an elevator to the roof, where I was promptly attacked and butchered by the Bell Gargoyle, the demon that guards the Bell! I did some damage (not much), and messages left by other players suggested a strategy. Still, slow and steady wins the race.
Deciding I wasn’t yet ready for the Bell Gargoyle, I resolved to kill those two Masters I left behind earlier in the Undead City. This was an error. I should have called it a night right there, and left with positive memories.
Retracing your steps is common in a Souls game, so the territory and monsters with which I’d already dealt didn’t bother me. I started with Havel the Rock, who lives in the basement of the tower connected to the bridge where Taurus Demon lived. I’ve already mentioned this guy. He’s trouble. He takes very little damage, even from my strongest attacks. And he carries a giant metal… object that he swings very fast despite its obvious weight. One hit – two at the most – will kill you. But the weapon is unwieldy, and even with his strength it takes a second for him to recover from a swing. So the tactic is basically dodge, poke, dodge, poke, dodge, poke.
Frustratingly he takes so little damage with each poke that I inevitably wind up trying to speed things up and do more damage, so I switch to firebombs or something and get myself killed. Normally this wouldn’t be a Big Thing (Souls games are about repetition, and finding satisfaction in doing the same thing right many times), but on my umpteenth attempt, I decided to try a shortcut to his lair and wound up falling off a bridge. 6,000 souls gone.
And then I committed the cardinal sin: I started playing angry. Never, never, NEVER play a Souls game angry. You’ll just get angrier. So the next two hours were basically a complete loss. I did manage to kill Titan Demon, the one-legged, no-headed monster who lives in Andrei’s basement and is remarkably tough despite missing a leg and a head; beyond that I got nothin’.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 287-298 (October 30)
The Bell Gargoyle has a friend! And its name is… Bell Gargoyle. THERE ARE TWO OF THEM OH GOD
It’s similar to the Maneater battle from Demon’s Souls; you might be doing okay against Bell Gargoyle until Bell Gargoyle #2 shows up, maybe a minute into the fight. Watching that second one bound across the roof on all fours, claws throwing slate roofing tiles in every direction, may go down as one of my most “oh lord help me” moments in gaming.
You have to defeat them both to gain entry to the Tower of Awakening. The fight takes place on a vast, sloped cathedral roof – quite a change from Taurus Demon’s tiny bridge, but treacherous in its own way. You’ve got a lot of area to move around, but a careless misstep means a plunge to certain death on the cobblestones below. The Gargoyles themselves, with their two-ness, their speed, and their myriad attacks, still take up a lot of space on the roof. You need to be both nimble and tough to deal with these guys.
Oh, they also breathe fire. You know, just in case the axes on their tails, their giant halberds, their huge raking claw attacks, their aerial slams, and their bites aren’t enough.
I’ve had at them a good six times without success, and they still stand in the way of my bell-ringing. I’m far from stuck, though, as I’ve got a clear strategy for defeating them and I’ve already managed to chop off one of their tails, so I only have to worry about that one’s front. I also discovered that when you’re alive (which is rare) you can summon an NPC named Solaire to help with the fight. Thus next time I face them I want to be alive. The key drawback to this is coming back to life means burning a point of Humanity. Getting humanity is hard; keeping it is harder still. I only ever carry it in “raw” form when I’m awarded the stuff – like souls you drop it when you die and it’s just too valuable to risk losing. But also like souls, you can find Humanity in little vessels, and those you can carry safely and retain when you die. So I hang on to those and crack them when I absolutely, positively need Humanity, which is almost never. If you’re carrying it in raw form enemies are a little easier, they tend to drop more loot, and you’re more likely to see important events in other players’ games, but I usually forgo those benefits to conserve what little I have.
A second interesting aspect of Humanity relates to the multiplayer game. In Lordran everyone is slowly becoming less and less human – becoming “Hollow,” in the game’s terminology – so honest to god humans are rare indeed. If you die while carrying a lot of free humanity, not only do you lose it all, but each point you lost spawns a Vagrant, a small demon that randomly invades another player’s world as a Black Phantom. Players have no control over Vagrants, and no say in where they go. If you kill a Vagrant in your world, you’ll likely find some Humanity, plus maybe an object that the player from the other world was carrying.
All of this is part of Dark Souls’ incredibly innovative multiplayer, and it’s just a huge portion of the game. With Dark Souls they took some steps to make the game friendlier to those who play offline – NPCs are summonable, the game itself leaves key messages – but still I can’t imagine not seeing ghosts of other players, not reading their words of warning.
Anyway, I have three Humanity points in little vessels, and I have to break one every time I want to come back to life at a campfire. Then there’s the matter of staying alive until I get to the Bell Gargoyles’ portal, which is pretty trivial but you never know. Plus, if I don’t kill them with Solaire in tow I lose that life and have to burn another humanity to come back again, which would suck, so maybe I’m still not quite ready.
With that in mind I decided to do some exploring, and damned if I didn’t find a whole new neighborhood I’d never visited before.
Down in the Undead Slums I encountered demon dogs, which are a lot like demon rats except they’re dogs; I encountered zombie bandits with throwing knives that cause terrible bleeding; and I encountered (finally!) a merchant who stocks Purple Moss Clumps, which aren’t cheap at 500 Souls but which immediately cure poison. Moreover, while down there I freed a fellow whose name I can’t recall from a broom closet, and he went back to Firelink Shrine. He’ll teach me new sorceries for outrageous sums of money. And he knows Big Hat Logan, a sorcerer who’s gone missing and may need rescue. The Slum area also allowed me to open new shortcuts between Firelink, the Undead Parish, and the Undead Burg. There’s also a boss through the white light down there, and since I wound up losing my souls in an accident I might check him out to see what his story is.
I am in desperate need of more Endurance. My stamina is a problem. I can’t carry all the equipment I want to, and my sword swings wear me out too quickly. At this point I’d do well to bite the bullet, grind about 10,000 souls, and buy two points of Endurance. This is problematic since I’m trying to avoid falling into my Demon’s Souls trap, where I became so comfortable running one region over and over again that I feared any other region. But in this instance, I think some grinding has to be done.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 299-305 (November 1)
All right, well, the best laid plans and so forth.
I first met the Knight Solaire shortly after defeating Taurus Demon. He’s a friendly fellow, seems a little out there, but he gave me the Soapstones I needed to read, write, and recommend player messages as well as make myself available for other players to summon me for help.
Solaire is an NPC, which means even those who play offline will have access to him, and he makes himself available for summoning to fight certain bosses, the Bell Gargoyles included. You need to be alive to conduct a summons, which as I said earlier burns off a point of humanity, and that shit is not easy to come by. Nonetheless, with Solaire in tow I’ve managed to get a lot closer to killing the Gargoyles than I have without him. I have not, however, managed to actually defeat them. After cracking and losing three points of humanity, I decided to leave the Bell Gargoyles alone for a while. Solaire’s been doing a bang-up job as a sidekick, but the cost to bring him into the fray as a White Phantom is so high.
I found this on YouTube, and of the many Bell Gargoyle videos out there, this fellow’s experiences sum up the battle most succinctly.
As usual with bosses once you’re in there, you’re in there, with no means of escape, so to save my last point of humanity I raced in, waved at the first Bell Gargoyle, grabbed my souls, and used a Homeward Bone to warp back to my most recent campfire. Not chivalrous, perhaps, but you take what you can get.
The Gargoyles will have to wait. I’ve come close to killing them, but not close enough to feel like I’m on the cusp. I am simply not doing enough damage, and my puny Sorcerer body is becoming tired too quickly (though that does give me an idea… I should use my sorcerous skills on them! So far I’ve stuck with the sword) to stand up to one, let alone both. One I could eventually kill. Both… I need to be stronger.
The better news is that I did discover a nice, almost complete suit of leather armor. I’d been exploring in Darkroot Garden, a new region you can reach by going downstairs from Blacksmith Andrei’s forge and through the room that Titan Demon used to live in. It’s… pretty creepy, and there are some pretty horrible horrors down there, not to mention a series of chasms where a slip will send you to the bottom. I felt a little out of my depth in Darkroot Garden, and moreso in Darkroot Basin below it, but I did manage to snag the armor and a unique artifact: a Grass Crest Shield, which significantly improves my Stamina regen.
Blacksmith Andrei is gonna put his kids through college on what he’s made off me, but it’s worth it.
So basically my scheme is to complete various odds and ends as a way to get stronger before facing the Bell Gargoyles again. Havel the Rock is kind of off the table since he’s so damned hard to kill; that leaves me with two options: down in the Undead Slums there’s still a lot to explore, and the Moss Merchant told me I’d also find a boss named Capra Demon, though what a Capra Demon is I don’t know. So I’m thinking maybe I’ll head back there and see if I can’t deal with it and find some loot. That’s Option One.
Option Two is the Hellkite Dragon. According to the Dark Souls Wiki, the Hellkite Dragon looks scarier than he is. I’d dispute this, because he is plenty scary. He’s perched on a bridge that would make a very convenient throughway for me. As it is I have to go through the underbridge, with all the undead rats. The only good thing about undead rats is they inexplicably drop humanity from time to time, and I’m gonna need some if I’m ever to defeat the Bell Gargoyles.
Either way, the sad fact is I need a weapon that does more damage than my longsword +5 but doesn’t weigh any more and is no harder to swing. Maybe some sort of poking device… I have a halberd and a Winged Spear, but both are terrible in tight quarters. I also need more ranks in Endurance and Vitality.
I’ve been trying to avoid grinding in this game, for two reasons: one, you get far fewer souls for your efforts than you did in Demon’s Souls, so it’s slower. Two, it’s easy to fall into the grinding trap. The Souls games are about the innate rewards you get for doing the same thing right every time, and it becomes hypnotic to run the same area over and over again. Hypnotic enough that you actually can’t bring yourself to go anywhere else. This I do not want.
I’d hoped – and I know you all hoped – that this latest entry would trumpet the defeat of the Bell Gargoyles. The Bell of Awakening is within my grasp, but still just out of reach.
I only have ten more days before Skyrim comes out, which means I’ve got to finish both Rage and Dark Souls very soon. According to the timer I’ve put 35 hours into Dark Souls so far. That’s respectable. They say most players can finish in about 300. So.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 306-331 (November 4)
Capra Demon, it transpires, is a minotaur-looking creature that wields two enormous cleavers.
He’s not quite as big as Taurus Demon, which is probably a good thing since he’s crammed himself into a comparatively small alleyway deep in the Undead Slum. Adding insult to injury, he has two Undead Helldogs in there with him, so as soon as you pass through his fog gate not only is eighteen tons of Capra Demon barreling toward you, so are two skinless, sore-covered hounds. I did not succeed in killing him, but he’s on the agenda.
Last night was productive, though it ended with a whimper. After deciding Capra Demon was too scary I took myself off to the Parish, armed with a Longbow +2 and 284 arrows, intent on turning the Hellkite Dragon into a pincushion. This is more easily done than it sounds, because you can basically hide on the lower bridge and pepper him while he roars at you.
The bad news? 284 arrows were insufficient to defeat the Hellkite Dragon. The good news? His tail fell off. Hellkite Dragon’s tail is a very rare weapon, the Drake Sword, so I left him to lick his tail stump and went off to collect the 10,000 or so souls necessary to boost my puny Sorcerer strength to the point where I could actually wield the Drake Sword one-handed. That took a couple hours but was totally worth it.
Then I had a chat with the Moss Merchant down in the aqueduct. She sells more than moss – she also sells an array of poisoned weapons. Poison may be unsporting, but beggars can’t be choosers. Armed with 25 poisoned throwing knives, I headed back to Taurus Demon’s tower to kill Havel the Rock, one of the Masters who’d been tormenting me (I already killed the other one – or, rather, he fell off his tower while chasing me). Havel lives in the basement of a tower rather than the roof, so there’s nothing for him to fall off of.
I will spare you the details of that glorious battle, and of the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Suffice to say that while poisoned throwing knives make it possible to defeat Havel the Rock, they do not necessarily make it easy. But defeat him I did. Final cost: over 3,500 souls’ worth of poisoned throwing knives. A net loss, since Havel only left 1,500 souls behind and though I didn’t know it yet I was about to lose those.
He did drop a magic ring though, that doubled my max equipment load. This was huge because it allowed me to change out of my leather armor and into the much safer Elite Knight Armor I’d been hauling around since I took it off an Elite Knight. My puny Sorcerer frame was too weak to wear it and be able to sprint, but with Havel’s ring on I felt light as a feather.
Havel was guarding a door down there in his basement, and against my better judgment I went through it and found myself in Darkroot Basin, a place I’d decided never to return to on account of the horrors that live there.
But the siren song of the unknown pulled me forward (stupid siren song, NEVER LISTEN TO THE SIREN SONG), so I set out to explore. I was up to around 7,800 souls and had found two new campfires when I finally died. It was bedtime so after resurrecting I set out to collect the dropped souls – which weren’t far – thinking I’d get them, head back to the campfire, and call it a night.
Then a tree came to life and sucked my brain out. I shit you not. There I was, just standing there minding my own business, and a tree wrapped its branches around me and slurped on my head until I died. Brain right through the helmet. All souls lost. Oh well, you have to be philosophical about these things. It’s just a pity because it takes a while to get that many souls and it was enough for another point of Vitality, to increase my puny Sorcerer hit point pool.
Moral of the story: don’t stand near trees in Darkroot Basin.
You may be wondering why I’m all up in the heavy armor and big swords when I’m playing a puny Sorcerer. It’s because, well, a lot of reasons. One, pretty much everyone’s going to wind up some degree of armored melee warrior in Dark Souls, no matter what starting class they choose. Two, while I don’t use a lot of magic, it seems better to have it in case I need it than to play as a brainless fighter. Three, while playing a Sorcerer means that my puny Sorcerer frame is low on Strength, Endurance, Stamina, and Vitality, my colossal Sorcerer brain is comparatively high on Intelligence, Resistance, and Faith… meaning I can pretty much ignore those stats for now. Four, some article I read told me to play a Sorcerer so I did.
The adventure is just beginning!
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