Time to stop stalling, people. There’s a giant snake-dog thing that wants me in Anor Londo, there’s treasure in Anor Londo, there’s plenty of reasons to go to Anor Londo. No more detours. No more diversions.
Let’s do this thing.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 697-711 (January 13)
There are things in the world that you want to lick. For me, Dark Souls is one of them.
So also is this brilliant (did you hear me? Brilliant) musical tribute to Anor Londo, the sunlit city of the gods:
Now honestly, I didn’t find Anor Londo that hard. It was a bit of a challenge – for being a sunlit city of the gods, the place has an unnecessary number of non-OSHA-approved bridges, balconies, buttresses, and other things beginning with that letter. And those giant knights referenced in the song? Yeah, they’re pretty big, and the ones that are aggressive hit hard.
I’ve played enough Dark Souls to know that all those locked doors will eventually open, providing sweet, sweet shortcuts to places that’d otherwise take many a death to reach. The first approach, though, is always a challenge. In Anor Londo, it’s especially rough because you’ve got nothing to guide you. I honestly don’t know why I’m there. And I feel out of place being in a location that’s not completely hideous and gross and horrifying and awful.
Kingseeker Frampt, the giant snake-dog thing down in Firelink Shrine, was certainly adamant when it came to the place. “Go to Anor Londo,” he said. “There’s this Lordvessel thing you need,” he said. “Seriously jackass why are you still here and not in Anor Londo,” he said.
He didn’t actually say that but he really wanted me to go to Anor Londo.
But for some reason, “get the Lordvessel” lacks the oomph of “ring the Bells of Awakening and Remembrance.” No never mind that Kingseeker Frampt is about ten thousand times more pleasant than that blue asshole who told me to go ring the bells; there’s just something nebulous about this task. It doesn’t agree with me, which is why I – in the previous Diary – made such an effort to first reach, and then complete, the Painted World of Ariamis. With that done, though, I basically have two choices: press on, or do what I did in Demon’s Souls: become so obsessed by and muscle-memoried to a single location that I’m unable to proceed. Well you know what? I missed out on a lot of Demon’s Souls because I fell victim to that. Not this time. This time I’m going forward.
When you’re pushing level 70, armed with a Black Knight Sword +5 and a whole rainbow of protective equipment, you’re not in bad shape. And, indeed, the things I encountered in Anor Londo – the things that made the above singer want to return to Blighttown (no thank you) – were, while challenging, surmountable. In fact the hard part was getting into the palace. The main gate is closed and locked, necessitating series of precarious balancing acts to essentially clamber up the side of the building and creep in through an open window. Some dickweeds in silver armor had decided to protect that approach with bows that behave more like howitzers than Medieval weapons. These items – I later learned they’re called Dragonslayer Longbows, and are used to slay dragons, which is something they’re actually quite good for – fire arrows about the length and girth of an adult human male’s arm, with the punch of a rocket-propelled grenade. Excluding the (many) times I just fell off, I was blasted off by those damned archers at least ten times. But eventually I got up to them and had my revenge.
Oh! Also! I found a new bow. It’s called a Dragonslayer Longbow. Found it near the broken corpse of this big guy in silver armor… I wonder what happened to him. Anyway, new bow. It’s actually more of a ballista, really. You have to plant it in the ground and everything. I’m looking forward to trying it out on a dragon. I could try it out on a puny sorcerer, but that would make me a dickweed. I don’t even know what that is but I don’t want to be one.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 712-722 (January 18)
My precipitious climb led me to one of the palace’s upper balconies. From there, passing through an open arch, I found myself in a rather innocuous hall with closed doors on either side. At random I selected the left-hand one, first noting the gorgeous spiral staircase looming further down the corridor.
I may have picked left, but I picked right, baby. Inside a cleared-out living room was a campfire. Much more convenient than the one back at the Anor Londo Firekeeper’s chamber… no more buttress-climbing! And sitting at the campfire, in the flesh, damned if it isn’t Solaire of Astora, one of my oldest allies. Solaire helped me kill the Bell Gargoyles. I’d seen him once at Firelink since then, but mostly he’d been off the radar.
In a game as lonely and degrading as Dark Souls, seeing a friend – even a computer-controlled one – unleashes a rush of emotion. Solaire seemed as happy to see me as I was to see him. “People will think we have feelings for each other,” he laughed. Aside from some banter, though, he didn’t have much to say. What was he doing in Anor Londo? Did he want the Lordvessel? Was he on some other quest? No answers were forthcoming. The old boy seemed tired out, so I left him at the fire and went to explore the rest of the palace.
Those silver knights come in a few different flavors, it turns out. The ones firing Dragonslayer Longbows outside gave way to halberd- and greatsword-wielding ones inside; tough foes, but since they were scattered pretty widely I tended to only face one at a time. And during my inspection of the castle I happened to find a cellar with a set of the same silver armor they wear. Off came the Elite Knight Armor +7 – it’d served me well, but I happen to know a giant snake-dog thing that would love to put my Elite Knight Armor into its tummy – and on went a beautiful suit of shiny Silver Knight Plate. I am dressed to kill, people.
I am dressed to kill Lautrec of Carim.
But there’s some other killing I need to do first.
I’ve really only touched on the multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls, but here I must pause for a moment and really give it its due. The wisplike ghosts of other players around every corner. The well-meaning messages left by some other brave soul, alerting me perhaps to the presence of a trap or an illusory wall or a frightening enemy. The bloodstains of the fallen, granting me a glimpse into the last seconds of a doomed hero. The heart-stopping alert that your world has been invaded. The thrill and relief when you see a white summon sign on the ground; the act of summoning a White Phantom to aid you. The bowed head, and the silence.
Players can invade and murder, yes, but they can also come to help. Leave behind a special sign and other players can summon you to their world, to assist them briefly. If you’re successful over there you earn some Humanity. Fail and you return to your own world, never to know the outcome of your summoner’s quest.
Because you can’t communicate with other players in Dark Souls, not directly. You can leave messages from a list of words and phrases. And when you’re first summoned, almost everyone adheres to the unspoken courtesy of bowing to greet the other player. It brings out a kind of chivalry and greatness rarely seen in multiplayer games.
When you’re summoned to another player’s world, what are you there for? I suppose you could wax philosophic, and lengthy, about that question. But you needn’t.
You are there, quite simply, to die for them.
You are there to plant yourself bodily between them and whatever horror is barreling down on you. You are there to shove them into an empty room and slam the door, then square yourself and do battle with the Black Phantom that’s just invaded. You are there to fling yourself in front of the fiery breath or the whipping blades or the dribbling fangs of whatever boss they happen to be facing. You are there to whittle away at said boss’s health and then back off so they can deliver the coup de grace. You are there for them. You are there to die in their service. The end.
I can’t imagine Dark Souls without the multiplayer. I can’t imagine not having the thrill of YOU ARE BEING SUMMONED flashing on my screen, or the palpable relief as a White Phantom materializes before me. All through Dark Souls, failure is paramount. You bleed, and claw, and struggle, and you do it alone, but for a few sunlit moments when you have someone there with you. Someone you can barely see, someone with whom you can’t speak, but someone. Someone there who doesn’t know you but has committed themselves utterly to dying, so you don’t have to die. Just this once.
Perhaps the happiest moments in all my time with Dark Souls were those I spent in the Anor Londo palace, summoning other players and being summoned. I was at a point where I had enough Humanity that it’d be okay to play a little fast and loose with some; I felt good about where I was. I let my hair down.
And together with two strangers who’d so graciously made themselves available to die for me, I defeated yet another masterpiece of boss design from From Software: the blisteringly deadly, shamelessly murderous, unambiguously gay duet that is Ornstein & Smough.
Whip-thin Ornstein, a dragonslayer in life, before he lost his soul; so fast, so nimble, so merciless with a razor-sharp spear.
Shudderingly obese Smough, the city’s executioner before he fell to the Dark; a horrible smiling mask belying joy in murder; his hammer so massive it’d be comical in hands that didn’t wield it with such brutal skill.
They come at you together, Smough faster than a jackrabbit despite his girth; Ornstein’s blows as heavy as if they were delivered by a bull elephant despite his willow-slender build. God help you if you lose your cool, but if you don’t, one inevitably will fall.
Prompting a cutscene in which the other, just for a second, tenderly (or brutally, depending) acknowledges the corpse of his fallen companion…
…then absorbs his counterpart’s powers and regenerates all his health, coming back at you with the fury of both in one body. Ornstein & Smough before, Ornstein & Smough after. Inseparable.
I’m pretty good by this point. Thinking back to the number of times I flung myself pointlessly against Taurus Demon, that I defeated Ornstein & Smough in just a couple of tries (admittedly, with summoned help) does say that I’m improving. I brought them down and took their souls, and sadly watched my temporary companions fade into ether, never to be seen again.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 723-734 (January 19)
Sure enough, with Ornstein & Smough defeated and a pair of unusually immense sentinels down, the huge gate to the Palace’s great hall was mine to open. It’s a straight run now.
Though focused as I had been on Ornstein & Smough, one other bit hadn’t gone unnoticed. When you’re deep in conversation and your cellphone buzzes with a text, you just remember to check it later on.
When you’re about to Unlucky-Pierre Anor Londo’s twin hellmasters and the Black Eye Stone you’ve been carrying for what seems like eternity begins to vibrate, you remember. You remember Anastacia of Astora, her empty cell. You remember the cold cinders of the Firelink flame, you remember that someone you thought was a friend – or at least not an enemy – murdered her and filched her soul.
I’ve found you, you fucker.
INVADE THE WORLD OF THE FIRE KEEPER’S MURDERER? YES/NO
Oh hell yes.
I sure would like to say that I swept in like a wind of vengeance and tore down Sir Lautrec of Carim and smashed his broken corpse against the polished marble floor, but that would be untruthful. It took eleven tries to kill Lautrec. He had friends with him. And invading another world, even the world of an NPC, is not to be taken lightly. With no access to Estus for healing, you’re stuck with what you have and where you are; your target has no such restrictions. And if he happens to have a couple of White Phantoms watching his back, it’s all the harder.
But it did happen. And sure enough, among his possessions a Fire Keeper’s Soul, one of the rarest and most precious items in the game. With a Fire Keeper’s Soul, you can reinforce your Estus Flask so each swallow is more potent. If you’re gauche you can also smash them for tens of thousands of regular souls. This particular one had belonged to a young lady I knew, one who’d suffered a lot in life. One I admit I’d never really thought about until a man I rescued gutted her and left with her soul. This one’s for you, Anastacia of Astora. Rest in peace.
And finally, up even more stairs (people who lived in Anor Londo must’ve been in really good shape), then an elevator (thank god, my poor feet), into a sun-dappled chamber. There reclined a giantess. Lady Gwynevere, the Illusory Goddess, the Princess Cherished by All, the last daughter of Gwyn Lord of Cinder, the keeper of Anor Londo, whose blessing I required.
All the titles are impressive but they maybe overdid Gwynevere a little. Her boobs alone were bigger than my entire self. Trying not to stare, I did what anyone would do when they see a halo-festooned immensity: I hit my fucking knees and bowed my head.
And I got the Lordvessel.
Send an email to the author of this post at Steerpike@tap-repeatedly.com.