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Dark Souls progress: part 1

Monday 10th February 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Not being a PS3 owner, it’s no surprise that Demon’s Souls passed me by. But somehow, I managed to completely miss the fuss about Dark Souls until very recently. The 400-page-plus thread on the main videogame forum I visit was one my eyes always glanced past in the topic index. So it wasn’t until last year’s anniversary issue of Edge proclaimed it one of the games that Should Have Got A Ten (alongside my beloved GoldenEye) that I took any notice of it:

People fixate on the difficulty because it’s the easy talking point, but FromSoftware’s masterpiece is arguably less preoccupied with difficulty than your garden-variety firstperson shooter. We’ve grown accustomed to being asked to choose between words like casual, normal, legendary, survivor, insane, nightmare and the rest before we ever taste a second of gameplay. Dark Souls boasts the courage of its design convictions. The world of Lordran has an established temperament and everyone who travels there will face the same travails. The uniformity of experience is part of what makes flinty-eyed Dark Souls veterans feel such intense solidarity when they discuss the game. Nobody gets a free pass. Nobody is born with a silver dagger clenched in their teeth.

The game holds you in exceedingly high regard. It believes you are capable of accomplishing remarkable feats, ones that might well seem impossible when first encountered. If you bailed out before completing the game, it was only because you disagreed with its opinion of your capabilities.

That had me intrigued. Then in December it was offered for about £4 as a download on Xbox Live, so I snapped it up.

This post – and subsequent ones in this series – are basically the progress updates I posted in the Rllmukforum Dark Souls thread. I bought the game and began playing early in December, but didn’t really get stuck into it until after Xmas. This first progress update was originally posted there on 1 January 2014 (getting stuck on Dark Souls: a fun way to spend New Year’s Eve!)

As for the difficulty: I’ve played lots of challenging games, but the hardest ones I’ve completed before now are probably Perfect Dark (you might not remember it being such a hard game, especially compared to Jet Force Gemini, but levels like Attack Ship and Maian SOS are ridiculous on Perfect Agent, especially with the low framerates of the original N64 version!), Ninja Gaiden Black (default difficulty) and Ninja Gaiden 2 (but only on its default Path of the Acolyte “Normal” difficulty; I’ve reached the werewolf boss in my Path Of The Warrior “Hard” run, which I return to approximately annually…).

Right, let’s praise the Sun and get going!

ATTEMPT 1

I initially started playing this as a Wanderer (I think?) with the Master Key. Spent ages using the ridiculously detailed options to perfect my character’s face, because I wasn’t sure if it was going to be one of those games like Mass Effect, where if I didn’t get the face exactly right, it would look weird and annoy me every time it was shown in cutscenes in close-up. Upon beginning the game, it seems like all those tweakable appearance options don’t matter much at all. 😦

I found it a bit odd that my main attack is on RB. Why in the world doesn’t the game let you remap the controls so that 360 X/PS3 Square is your main attack, like it is in everything from Castlevania: SOTN (which I began playing recently and which uses a similar left hand/right hand equip system) to Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta and the Batman Arkham games? I mean, I got used to it, but it does still feel a bit odd.

I had no problems with the tutorial section, then I got to the Undead Burg. Died. Died. Died again for good measure.

Then I decided to experiment with what would happen if I attacked the merchant NPC. Big mistake! Upon looking at a wiki, it seems there IS a way to make him friendly again at some point after this level. But doing so would be HARD – even harder than the game is already – given that I didn’t have any magical attacks, and had lost my only means of replenishing my arrows, leaving me with no long-range attacks.

So, after about three hours’ play time, at level 13-ish, I decided to quit and start the game again.

ATTEMPT 2

I started again as a Pyromancer. I didn’t use the Master Key this time, because I watched one beginner’s guide video that said it might make it too easy for me to accidentally wander into areas that I don’t know I’m not supposed to go. Progressed a lot more quickly this time. Finally managed to survive that set of enemies in the Undead Burg… before meeting a knight at the end of a corridor. You’ll be surprised to hear that he killed me!

I’ve kindled the bonfire so it gives me 10 flasks, but it doesn’t help much: I’m still repeatedly playing the same section of level on my way to that knight. I try and run away and lure him back to the open area up the stairs where he might be easier to fight, but I haven’t had much luck: dodging seems too unpredictable to rely on. I can barely see the health bar above his head, so I don’t know how effective my long-range fire spells and firebomb throws are against him. Sometimes when I’ve gathered/recovered a couple of thousand souls, before I die I use a Homeward Bone to return to that campfire, and level up. IIRC I’m now at about level 13 or 14, and those basic undead enemies are each dying in two hits.

Also, at this point, enemies seem to be dropping crossbows and titanite shards with increased frequency (even though I’m not human, which I understand increases item drop probabilities).

In other words: I’m grinding. I get the feeling that when I do finally get past that knight, it’ll be because I levelled up, rather than because I learned the proper way of defeating him!

And that’s not a fun or satisfying way to progress!

I mean, I’ve read all those comments about why this is one game where trial and error is a GOOD thing, but to be honest I’m not finding it much fun at the moment. Sure, there’s a rhythm to the combat that’s a bit clunky but also somehow kind of appealing and addictive. (On flat areas, that is: on stairways, it’s only clunky.) But when I’m playing through the same set of basic enemies over and over again on my way to a difficulty spike, I need a combat system that’s as dynamic and varied as Ninja Gaiden or Bayonetta, or as automated but satisfyingly solid as Arkham Asylum, in order to keep my interest and make me feel like persevering is worthwhile. (It’d be nice if the dodge rolls felt as predictable as in those games, too.)

So, across my two characters, I’ve spent about six hours playing this so far, and I still haven’t met a proper boss in the Undead Burg.

Is that normal…?

Am I doing this right…?

Do you think this game is even for me…? 😦

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