There are basically two schools of thought on how to approach a Souls game: use the wiki, or don’t use the wiki. I use the wiki. I don’t rely on it, but I use it. My experience is that a few spoilers are nothing compared to what you’d miss without those resources. Characters. Goodies. Immense swathes of storyline. Arguably, the whole theme of the game (Eastern-tinged postamble interpretation of Hellenic ‘Olympians vs. Titans’ creation mythology refracted through Knight of Faith concept in contra-Campbellian nihil-existentialist environment). Two entire regions I would have missed without the wiki form this, our latest (and gloomiest) entry in the Diaries.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,044-1,044
I’d had enough of the Tomb of the Giants to last sixty-three lifetimes, so once Gravelord Nito fell I wasted no time scampering to the nearest campfire and warping back to Firelink Shrine with my second Lord’s Soul. I want to see the sun, god dammit! I want to see a friendly face!
But friendly faces are thin on the ground. It’s getting pretty lonely at Firelink. A change subtle and slow has transformed the place. The milling crowd that greeted me upon my return from Blighttown has evaporated. Rhea of Thorolund apparently never made it back. Her escort party has gone. Pyromancer Laurentius has gone. Big Hat Logan has gone. Most of the merchants have gone. The glum warrior who gave me my first quest has gone; finally lost his soul, I guess. Lautrec of Carim, of course, has gone, dead at my hand; Anastacia of Astora has gone, dead at his. The fire is out, and the Shrine is wreathed in mournful solitude, its violin theme, which I had once found warming, almost comforting, now doleful as it picks between abandoned ruins.
It’s strange, here near the end, you’d think it would be getting more hopeful. When the curse on Lordran is finally broken, Firelink Shrine is where the celebration ought to be; it’s the Ewok village. It’s where Gwyn, the Lord of Cinder, linked the campfires. It’s Zion. It’s Minas Tirith. Yet I always knew I was on a hopeless quest in Dark Souls. Oh, I’ll break the curse; I’ve come too far to fail in that. But all I’ve ever been doing is rearranging Titanic’s deck chairs. Curse or no curse, the light is leaving the world, the flames are fading. The Age of Fire is over.
People should be hanging streamers at Firelink Shrine, because the curse is half-broken already. Instead, almost no one remains on the forbidding moor where once the very first campfire glowed.
I am sad seeing Kingseeker Frampt. The giant snake-dog thing looks so lonely. And he loved to talk to the people at the Shrine. No wonder he sleeps so much now. He’s become melancholy of late, he sees the end coming. Not the end of a game but the end of illumination and comfort for all things. Sure, he tries to put on a brave face for me, but I’ve known him too long to fall for it. All he’s shooting for is an end ever so slightly less frozen and dark than the alternative.
There was a single newcomer, sitting uncertainly by the cold ashes. Sieglinde of Catarina must have made it safely out of the Duke’s Archive, and remains intent on finding her missing father, the knight Siegmeyer. I had no new information to give her. I last saw Siegmeyer near Quelaag’s Domain, and if he hasn’t come up, that means he’s gone down… down, to the Demon Ruins. I can’t think of any place he’s less qualified to be.
You don’t really make friends in a place like Lordran. Everyone is looking after their own sanity, or their own souls. Everyone is suspicious and mean, or so scarred by horrors that they want nothing to do with you. So I count myself lucky that I know Sieglinde and Siegmeyer, two genuinely sweet, good people. Solaire of Astora is the only other human I could legitimately call my friend in Lordran, and it occurs to me that I haven’t seen him in eons. He’s probably dead, or worse, Hollow; a soulless monstrosity wandering some doomed, far-off landscape. Those three and Kingseeker Frampt are all I’ve got.
What do I tell her? That I believe her father either died in Blighttown or foolishly descended further, into the lava-drenched, fiend-haunted Demon Ruins? Does she know how useless he is, despite his cheery nature? That he’s narcoleptic, unprepared, poorly equipped, and completely ignorant of the dangers he faces? How many times I’ve saved his life? That I can see no outcome that could lead potentially to a happy ending?
I didn’t share my nightmare scenario with Sieglinde. I just promised to keep an eye out for her Dad.
Dark Souls is very close to over for me now, but I’m not ready for it to end yet. So the two remaining Lord’s Souls are going on the back burner while I set off to explore. And I have a destination in mind.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,045-1,089
According to the laws of our universe, the Earth is held up by “gravity.” One of the four fundamental forces, alongside electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear interactions, gravity is the property of objects containing mass to attract one another. The hypothetical “graviton” particle is believed to evoke this force, in tandem with the also-hypothetical Higgs Boson, the particle believed to imbue objects with mass.
It sounds pretty bullshit when you think about it. Particles?
In Dark Souls, the world doesn’t float in space on account of particles, it’s held up by Archtrees, which make redwoods look like bonsais. These sylvan colossi literally hold up the world, and like everything else in Dark Souls, they are dead, or dying. Their trunks plunge down, down, below even the Demon Ruins, and sink their roots into Ash Lake, the cold dark water without end. Ash from the dead – ashes to ashes – sifts down from the world above and settles in the frigid black pool, forming narrow sandbars.
There’s only one way to Ash Lake. One of the dead Archtrees pokes up through the Blighttown swamp. Over the years this tree’s rotted from the inside, which led people to start calling it the Great Hollow. A bold adventurer can crawl in and pick his way down, miles and miles, to the lake below. But the tree is infested with all manner of horrid things, and the trip’s no picnic.
You may recall I’ve mentioned before that I spend an inordinate amount of time falling into holes in video games. Doesn’t matter what game it is, if it has a hole, I’m likely to fall into it.
The Great Hollow is basically a wood-paneled hole, the deepest in the universe, and getting to the base of the tree means five or six billion tentative drops from root to mushroom to branch to outcropping. If I’d visited the Great Hollow when most people did, around the time they were exploring Blighttown, I’d have been seriously challenged by the black basilisks and sentient fungi that have made a home inside the ruined trunk. Instead, for me, those guys were a pushover. No, I died by falling into holes, again and again and again. Knowing my weakness for hole-falling I’d long ago purchased a Fall Control spell; a bit of sorcery that allows the caster to drop a much farther distance than normal without taking any damage. It works a bit like those leg-braces Chell wears in Portal, except that it makes a cool bong-ing sound when you hit. But even Fall Control has its limits.
I admit, around my fortieth try I considered giving up on this project. There’s nothing in the Great Hollow (or Ash Lake, for that matter) that I actually need; I’m really just going as a tourist. I mean, how often does one get to stride amongst the black roots of primeval trees that hold up all of existence? To splash in the stygian lake that stretches beyond eternity?
The trip through the Great Hollow netted one nice trinket – the Cloranthy Ring, a magical bauble that dramatically increases stamina recovery. Even at my level stamina is always a factor. You lose it when you swing your weapon, lose it when you block hits, lose it when you dodge. It regenerates pretty fast, but nothing’s worse than getting winded during a major fight, and this little guy will really reduce that danger. Wear the Cloranthy Ring and you’d be a freakin’ machine in the sack, too!
Then finally, Ash Lake. An unutterably bleak and lonely place. The water drinks what little light filters through the scrim of ash sprinkling down from above, and the monstrous, creaking Archtrees loom off into the endless distance. Darkness was upon the face of the deep, but no spirit moved over the face of the waters.
In the waters moved a hydra. No idea how it got down here – probably tumbled down from the Blighttown swamp as a baby. It seems to subsist on Maneaters, which are giant clam-headed beasts I first encountered in the Crystal Cave. Maneaters must be surprisingly nutritious, because this hydra has grown to most epic proportions, and seemed to relish the idea of eating a man that wasn’t a Maneater.
It came at me with all heads blazing, and knew quite a few more tricks than its cousin from Darkroot Basin. But I know some tricks myself, including one favorite I like to call Cowering In A Hollow Log And Poking Out Every Now And Then To Shoot Arrows. Worked like a charm, baby.
The water of Ash Lake is so dark that the hydra’s blood just vanished into it. Unlike the still blue pool up in Darkroot Basin, which by the end of my battle there was so maroon with hydra blood it might never clear and the smell will be hideous, down at the rooty foundation of the earth this monster just sank beneath the still surface and was gone.
Suddenly I didn’t like Ash Lake. It’s a cold and frightening place, not terrifying like the Depths, just… endlessly endless. With thoroughness in mind I sprinted across the lonely sandbar – ashbar – and cut around a corner fast enough that I like to think I did one of those heel-first screeching stops that cartoon characters do when they come around a corner and encounter A DRAGON THE SIZE OF A GALAXY.
How do these things get down here?
Anyway, the Everlasting Dragon did not cook me and eat me like I expected it to. In fact it was rather aloof. Taciturn. In the Ancient Age, before the Age of Fire, there were only two things in the world – the Archtrees and the Everlasting Dragons, which turned out to be horribly misnamed, since this was the last of them.
I’ve met my share of dragons in Dark Souls: dragons like Hellkite, who-
God dammit, WILL YOU QUIT DOING THAT THIS IS MY DIARY NOT YOURS
Baby dragons, naked dragons, dragons with really vile intestinal problems, dragons whose back halves broke off, terrifying vagina-mouthed dragons, but never before an Everlasting Dragon. This one seemed content to let me worship it, and in return it gave me the power to turn my person head into a dragon’s head and spew flames at my foes should the need arise.
Why would you turn down such a power? I don’t know!
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,090-1,102
Enough tourism. It’s time to put this thing to bed. There’s two Lord’s Souls left, and then…
…and then the world will end no matter what. Sigh.
If you’re an explorative person, you’ll find your way to the Demon Ruins shortly after you defeat Chaos Witch Quelaag. Follow some of the Dark Souls history and you’ll learn that Quelaag and her sister Quelaan once dwelt with their mother in Izalith, the first city. They were among the earliest things to claw into this world, the earliest things to find souls of their own, and they, alongside Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, Seath the Scaleless, and Gravelord Nito, brought down the Everlasting Dragons and ended the Ancient Age, ushering in the Age of Fire. Back then they were Firewitches, and human from top to bottom.
But magic is a temptation, and their mother, the Witch of Izalith, couldn’t resist touching the Chaos. She was consumed by it; Quelaag and Quelaan were forever tainted, transformed into revolting spider ladies; and Izalith was lost. The girls moved to nearby Blighttown and carried on until I came along.
And so, my next objective is that first city, Lost Izalith. Corrupted now by the Chaos (what the hell’s the Chaos? It doesn’t sound friendly), the third Lord’s Soul is in there somewhere. Honestly I have no idea what to expect. I turned tail and ran last time I visited the Demon Ruins, and as with Gravelord Nito, I’m basically going on reductive reasoning here: I don’t know if Lost Izalith is past the Demon Ruins, but they’re one of the only places left to visit. Onward!
The Demon Ruins still suck, I won’t lie, but one of the most amazing and delightful things about this game is that it does throw you bones. It reminds you how far you’ve come. In the very first entry of this Diary I faced Taurus Demon, and reflected honestly that I might never beat him. Oh, the places you’ll go. Taurus Demons and Capra Demons are plain old enemies down here, and while I’m not exactly one-hitting them, I’m winning and they’re losing.
And it is there, deep in the Demon Ruins, that I bring this latest entry to a close with a sort of anticlimactic gurgle. It was late, I was tired, and satisfied with the progress I’ve made. Lost Izalith looms before me.
Wait, something else looms before that. HOLY SHIT! WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS KIND IS THAT THING?! MAIN MENU!! MAIN MENU!!! QUIT GAME!! MERCIFUL JESUS QUIT GAME, OH SWEET LILY OF PURITY QUIIIIT GAAAAAAMMMME
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loll Love the ending.
Don’t know what you’re worrying about Steerpike, this slice of your diary was brilliant. I so, so wish I could play Dark Souls. The Ash Lake sounds horrible.
Thank you, HM. Hopefully now that I’m past this one the remaining entries should be a little easier.
Soon you will be able to play! Dark Souls: Prepare to Die, an expanded edition with new stuff, is coming to PC in August.
The only bad thing about this news is that it’s going to ship with Games for Windows Live, and we’re told it’ll be a straight port of the 360 version, meaning no improvements to resolution and no optimization for keyboard/mouse. You’d do well to invest in a wired 360 controller.
I already have a 360 controller as its essential for some of the crotchety platformers and definitely the arena shooters.
I forgot to point out your terrible error that physicists have determined that the electromagnetic and weak forces have the same and are now referred to as the electroweak force. At some point they hope to prove all of the forces are the same thing, probably called The Force.
*gasp* I was not aware of this! Well, shit. Science! Who knew?
Still though, it’s cooler to be held up by trees than gravity. At least I got that right. : )
And now I feel bad for the Weak Force. I mean, it’s been a loser all its life already, and now this? This is as meanspirited as when the astronomers demoted Pluto.
I found this to be one of the most entertaining entries so far. I love the Dark Souls world and every time I read one of your posts, specifically when you cover the backstory to the world and characters, I get the itch to play again.
The first time you realize that the regular everyday enemies you will encounter in the Demon Ruins are Taurus and Capra demons you never want to step foot in the place again. Yet it does give you a great sense of satisfaction when you are able to take these bastards down with relative ease, compared to your first encounters with them. Great feeling of empowerment and progress.
I hate Lost Izalith. I hate Lost Izalith. I hate Lost Izalith. I hate Lost Izalith.
I know you never even got there in this entry, but just wanted to share. Those bi-pedal, giant, dinosaur sons-of-bitches were so damn annoying! And cruel. So very, very cruel.
I’m glad to hear you say that because I actually have a whole freakin’ novel of talk about the backstory that’s probably going to go into one of these Diaries, if I can decide where to put it.
As you’ve probably all gathered this is “Dark Souls as seen through Steerpike’s lens.” It’s equal parts my own imagination and what the game actually gives you.
My mother, being a saintly person who supports her boys, reads everything I write. She is… not a gamer, let’s put it that way. So whenever I’m writing something particularly dense (wait til you see my Mass Effect treatise) I feel a sense of filial guilt, because I’m, like, “dude, Mom is going to be so confused.”
In fact, my extreme wordiness may stem from a completely failed effort to provide enough context to my writing that my Mom can actually follow it.
The is my new favorite installment of Steerpike’s “Dying” column. I bet your mom is confused. This reads like an autobiography of a life lived in hell.
The PC port sounds unfun. The whole point is I DON’T want to use a controller. I can hammer nails into my poor old wrists for free.
Also I think all you Dark Souls types do protest too much. You’re just too embarrassed to tell the rest of us about the pink bunnies and the candy cane fairy wands.
Actually just the other day she said, “I’m so glad you’re not playing that game any more.” She thinks it’s depressing.
We’ll get you using a controller yet, Scout!
Has the new PC stuff been confirmed to be an update on the PS3 version? Pleeeeeeeeeeease?!?!?
Not to my knowledge, Tanis, but I’d be very surprised if it weren’t released as DLC for both the PS3 and 360 versions. It probably won’t be free, but it should be available.
I’ll pay whatever they want!!!!
Bring me more diaries! I patiently await you, my fine magician friend.
Confirmed! My network of spies (code name: Kotaku) reports that the new Dark Souls content WILL be coming to consoles as DLC, and that Dark Souls: Prepare to Die will be available on Steam. I take back what I said in the other thread about hating Steam. Don’t be mad at me, Steam.
Having read this diary a second time long after we’ve all finished the game, I realize you missed the most essential piece of Ash Lake – that being the discovery of Sieglinde and her father, which of course requires you go about visiting the onion-folk in a very specific order – Blighttown > Duke’s Archives > Firelink Shrine > Lost Izalith > Ash Lake – quite miraculous that I got it on my first playthrough, but also rather horrifying to see the corpse of the bumbling man I’d saved so many times before, in vain. Not even the Titanite slab thank-you eased the pain.
Siegmeyer turns up in the next chapter of the Diaries, for one last visit. And it IS amazing that you managed that the first time around! When you see him in Lost Izalith, does he tell you where he’s going? Or did you just find him by accident?
My first playthrough, when I ran into Siegmeyer in Lost Izalith, I did what I always do – jumped into the pit after him. However, he didn’t survive the fight for reasons unknown. I swear it wasn’t from my blows. It was a sad day. The ring he left behind was, true to form, crap.