I’m trying to keep these funny, in part because there’s nothing funny about Dark Souls – almost nothing, at least. And making it funny makes it a little less… bleak for the rest of you. But there are moments when the morose nature of the game will intervene, and some of my experiences in this installment may qualify.
Steerpike the Handsome Sorcerer continues his journey today, with some business advice to a trio of unexpected entrepreneurs, a visit to the sunlit city of the gods, and another to a frozen realm of pure loneliness. What can I say? You can cover a lot of ground in 45 deaths.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 651-666 (January 5)
So these three enterprising gargoyles have started a small business: a ferry or aerial tour type thing. Whenever some bold warrior (or puny sorcerer) attracts their attention from Sen’s Fortress, they fly down and grab him – one on each arm, a third sort of directing – and haul him up to Anor Londo, the fabled city of lords.
GOOD THINGS ABOUT THE GARGOYLE EXPRESS:
- Entrepreneurial spirit. These three gargoyles have really taken an ungargoyle-like idea and run with it. Most other gargoyles in Anor Londo are perfectly satisfied with the far less fulfilling career of attacking strange humans.
- Wings that work. Gargoyles have wings. But only these three demonstrate an ability to use them properly. The other gargoyles in Anor Londo are like chickens – they can flap vigorously, but they fall to their deaths if you knock ‘em off a ledge.
- The flair for the dramatic. The first time you see Anor Londo, it will take your breath away. The gargoyles clearly know this and make an effort to wow you by taking you over the wall at an especially beautiful location.
BAD THINGS ABOUT THE GARGOYLE EXPRESS:
- Poor customer service. Given the shortcomings observed in other gargoyle wings I’ll grant that the one-on-each-arm approach may be necessary, but it is both scary and painful looking. Why not have like a swing or something so a passenger could sit comfortably?
- A sign wouldn’t kill you. These gargoyles showed a lot of initiative starting up their little company; courage too, to launch a new small business in this economy. They should advertise. Put up a billboard that says “touch this ring of energy to summon the Gargoyle Express – fast safe flight to Anor Londo,” for crying out loud.
- Inadequate business plan. The gargoyles don’t charge. How can they hope to make a living if their service is free? Dark Souls has sold around three million units. Even assuming only 25% of players make it to Anor Londo that’s still 750,000 people. Charging just one soul for a round trip would make these three the richest gargoyles in the world.
Anyway. As I mentioned, Anor Londo is stunning.
We’ve established that Dark Souls is a grim, bleak game full of depressing events, revolting locations and horrifying foes. Anor Londo is incongruous, to say the least. The sunlit city of the gods is like the Magic Kingdom of Super Fairy Tale Dream Cotton Candy Land, all glossy marble and sweeping staircases, bold triumphant structures soaring above shining cupolas and pleasure gardens. Even the mass transit system is beautiful. That the city is nearly abandoned lends an almost Hollywood feel to it, as though you are exploring a gilded set piece just waiting to be populated by actors and props.
Anor Londo was home to Lord Gwyn and his children before that worthy lit the first campfires and then fell into darkness when Lordran was cursed. Kingseeker Frampt, the giant snake-dog thing back at Firelink Shrine, told me that I must visit Anor Londo and retrieve the Lordvessel, whatever that is. This action will prove that I am the Chosen Undead, the one destined to break the curse. So that’s on my list of things to do.
Also on my list is to find Sir Lautrec of Carim and explain to him that it’s wrong to murder Fire Keepers. This conversation will involve my inserting the largest weapon I can find directly into his rectum, then twisting it counterclockwise eighteen times. After that I will liberate his appendix and pancreas and invite him to eat them.
I was incredibly nervous during my brief first visit to Anor Londo – I’d not found a campfire, so if I died while there I’d resurrect all the way back in Sen’s Fortress and it’d be all the harder to collect the souls I dropped. So I just poked around a little bit before Homeward Boning it back. That sounds dirty. The Homeward Bone is just a magic item that teleports you to your most recent campfire. Anyway, once I was Boned Homeward, I leveled up, did some repairs, got a little work done on my armor, topped off my arrow supply, and then it was another trip on the Gargoyle Express, straight back to Anor Londo.
The sunlit city of the gods doesn’t actually have too many foes in it, so far as I can tell. There are these giant knights in gilded armor, but most don’t seem too aggressive unless I provoke them. Ironically I’d chickened out, Boning my Homeward no more than, say, fifty feet from a new campfire; this location seems a suitable base of operations for most of my activities here.
And wonder of wonders, it has a living Fire Keeper. She’s only a smidge more talkative than Anastacia of Astora had been, but as we chatted I couldn’t help thinking that maybe if Anastacia had been covered head to toe in plate armor and armed with a broadsword like this lady she might have stood a chance against Lautrec.
After the campfire there’s a small puzzle. The sweeping bridge you’re on… ends. In a dizzying plunge. You clearly can’t go that way. It took a while for me to figure out that I needed to walk along a narrow buttress and into the rafters of a huge marble church haunted by Painting Guardians, which are sort of ninja mimes. Juggling combat with those guys while maintaining balance on narrow beams over a precipitous drop is a challenge to say the least; more than once I splattered against the church’s hard flagstones below. But I can see my objective from here. Is it the Lordvessel? No. Is it Lautrec? Nope. It’s another objective, one I’ve been curious about for some time. It beckons.
Hey, this entry ends with death 666.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 667-684 (January 9)
Of the Peculiar Doll, the Dark Souls liner notes have this to say:
A strange doll in a strange dress.
There once was an abomination who had no place in this world. She clutched this doll tightly, and eventually was drawn into a cold and lonely painted world.
Dark Souls is pretty nonlinear, meaning in general you can do stuff in the order you choose, and it features a few optional areas. One such is The Painted World of Ariamis.
Why would anyone willingly go to another place that’s going to pound you into a whimpering mass, particularly when that place is not required to finish the game? To understand this you must understand Dark Souls.
Demon’s Souls was a fantastic work in its own right; I’d have been willing to call it a masterpiece, even, until I played Dark Souls. Compared to its sequel, Demon’s Souls is merely brilliant, like a pearl set alongside an emerald. The absolute confidence with which From Software designed these two games sets them apart, even if the art direction, the gameplay, the mood, the innovations in multiplayer, and so forth did not. Others may not agree and I respect that; but I can tell you one thing: Dark Souls calls to you. It is existentially punishing, even outright cruel, but it calls to you. It flits between horrifying and bleak the way most games flit between exciting and delightful, but it calls to you.
Even as I sit here and write this, I can hear Dark Souls calling to me. It wants me to come back. Many reviews have noted this phenomenon as well, so it’s not just me – when you’re not playing it you’re thinking about playing it. But more importantly, this belies the shortsighted view that Dark Souls, and Demon’s Souls before it, “hate” the players. I think they love us. It’s just that love is not always kind.
The master painter Ariamis created work that was precious, and rare, and sinister. One of his immense landscapes hangs in the Anor Londo church, protected by guardians who attack on sight. If you dare approach this canvas while holding the Peculiar Doll, you’ll learn just how good a painter Ariamis really was.
The Painted World of Ariamis is a desolate and frozen realm, one not easily entered and even more challenging to leave. Those who dwell there are the unwanted, the exiles, and there they carry on their cheerless existences amidst the crumbling castles and leafless trees and drifts of snow.
For some reason I had it in my head that since the Painted World of Ariamis was optional, it wouldn’t be hard. Why I thought this I don’t know. I guess I was thinking “bonus level,” which given that we’re dealing with Dark Souls here is a pretty stupid thing to think. The Painted World was among the most dangerous places I’d yet visited.
It may be cold and lonely, but it’s not empty – toxic zombies, vicious harpies, snow rats and worse lurk there, and the only way out is through. Once you’ve passed into the Painting, you can’t go back. And standing between you and the way out…
…is the Abomination.
Who, like so much else in Dark Souls, will not turn out exactly as you expect.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 685-696 (January 11)
The Painted World of Ariamis is generous in its use of toxin. Being toxic is generally like being poisoned, in that your health drains constantly until the effect goes away. Poison is rough but bearable; at my level I can take a lot of poison damage, the poison itself works through my system fairly quickly, and of course you can cure it with Purple Moss Clumps, and I have dozens of those. Toxin is far, far worse. Your health drains faster, the effect diminishes with agonizing slowness, and the moss needed to cure it is scarce to say the least.
I quickly learned my strategy: try to get deeper into the Painted World with each run, knowing I’d become toxic, and either allow enough time to sprint back to the region’s single campfire or accept that I’d die. This strategy was harder mentally than it was from a play perspective. It takes a while to get your brain into a place where you ignore your health, where iterative physical progress is more important than overall survival. Toxin aside there’s nothing easy about the enemies in the Painted World, but inch by inch I progressed. And, challenging as it was, man can you rack up some souls in that place. I probably gained fifteen levels during my stay there.
It’s a fairly small region made smaller still by accessing a critical shortcut. The key battle is with an undead dragon whose body has rotted to the point that by the time it sees you and approaches, its entire rear half breaks off. That monstrosity took some effort to defeat; eventually I just stood back and pelted it with arrows from a safe distance while it dragged itself, somewhat pathetically, toward me with its front legs. From there it was a long icy bridge across a windswept gully to the lair of Crossbreed Priscilla, the abomination who had no place in our world.
I’m a dumbass.
It should have been evident to me earlier, given that I knew this horrible supposed “abomination” was a little girl who played with dolls. I was so used to Gaping Dragons and Chaos Witches that I lost my sense of perspective. Crossbreed Priscilla wants nothing more than for you to leave her and her realm in peace. She begged me – literally – to walk away, to simply follow her directions out of the painting. At the same time, though…
“This world is peaceful, its inhabitants kind, but you do not belong,” she said.
Bitch, I don’t belong? First, no, its inhabitants are not kind. Second, I don’t belong? Aren’t you the abomination who had no place in this world?
Or… rather… that world?
This is your world. You do have a place here, I’m the one who doesn’t. Shit, I don’t belong here. I’m no better than an invader. I’ll leave you be.
And with that, my time in the Painted World of Ariamis was at an end.
* * *
More than a month later I would return, and kill Crossbreed Priscilla, and I still regret it. I don’t know why I did that or what I was thinking. With her dying breath she asked why I did it, why I couldn’t have just left her alone in her painted world. “What didst thou seek?” she whispered plaintively.
I don’t know! I sought… I don’t know. She wasn’t even accusatory, just… lost. A lost little girl who had nothing and I managed to take even that away. Maybe I have more in common with Lautrec of Carim than I’d like to believe.
Send an email to the author of this post at Steerpike@tap-repeatedly.com.