I started playing Dark Souls recently. I know, I know, don’t worry, my family and friends have already been notified of this self-destructive behavior, and I’m sure the interventions are being planned as we speak. In the meantime, however, I figured I’d do something productive and chronicle my experiences with this famously difficult game. This will last until this game breaks me down and leaves me in a weeping wreck, or I just get bored with the project and stop doing it. Let’s see how long that lasts, shall we? In the meantime, here’s a short-form stream of consciousness play-by-play of the game. It’s almost like you’re right there with me, right?
So I’m playing the game on PC. Steam mentioned something along the lines of a controller being strongly but really, it’s a 3rd person action game, I usually prefer WASD-mouse controls for those.
Time to create a character! Yeah! I love having homemade PCs! Except the facial generator sucks! Boo! Even so, I make the most of it, and create a character with as close to my beauty as the engine is able to muster. I know, it’s going to be a good long while before computer hardware gets advanced enough to be able to truly replicate my good lucks, but I’ll keep trying in the meantime. There’s a couple different classes to choose from, who each have their own loadout of equipment and stats. I pick the Wanderer, not for any tactical reason, that just fits best with the characterization I have in my head for this guy and YES I AM THAT TYPE OF PLAYER SHUT UP!!!
And now I get treated to the intro cinematic. These things usually set the stage for the game, and… Dark Souls does not really do a good job of that. It’s mostly stuff I can’t really make sense of at first. But let’s summarize. In the beginning, the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the earth, and there was nothing except rocks, trees, and dragons. And probably lots of metal music, with a setup like that. Then something happens, and all of a sudden there’s fire, and a bunch of dudes who are probably going to be important later come to take it. There’s the Dead Dude That’s Made of Dead Dudes, Hot Witch, Geezer Zeus, and the Pygmy that nobody cares about and even the narrator says so. Then Dead Dude, Hot Witch, and Geezer Zeus kick some dragon ass with the help of a traitor Fairy Dragon and everyone’s all happy and it’s a new age of fire, except that the age of fire has passed and everything’s starting to die. Also, people are getting the Darksign which turns everything undead. Then the game starts.
So, I had spent a good amount of time constructing my character’s face into something that’s actually nice to look at. Well, the jokes on me, because the game spawns my character without any skin. There’s nothing I can do to prevent him from looking hideous. You win this one, Dark Souls.
So I seem to be stuck in prison, when all of a sudden, a knight dumps a corpse into my cell with a key on it. If you wanted me to have the key, did you have to bother with the whole corpse thing? Seems like it’d be just as easy just slipping it through the bars or something.
I did read a bit of supplemental material before starting the game. I’m stuck in the Undead Asylum, where the humans stick the undead to await the end of the world, which does not actually seem too far off. They do this because the undead, those afflicted with the Darksign, are effectively immortal, however, spending too much time dead makes them go psychotic. I kind of like that treatment. It gives justification to respawning after you die, and builds a lot of layers on the traditional undead treatment. I’ll probably be disappointed later when there’s no way to go psychotic, but at least they’re going somewhere with this.
And… what is this?! Oh my! The… the PC controls are absolutely horrible! Every twitch of the mouse jerks my camera around like crazy! The buttons are arranged in rather uncomfortable configurations! They don’t even give the tutorial messages in PC controls! I guess they were serious about needing the controller. This is just pathetic.
After plugging my controller in, I make my way down the hall. The tutorial messages tell me how to attack, and there’s a bunch of undead there to test my newfound button pressing skills on, but they’re not doing anything to me, so I don’t bother them. Live and let live. Or… whatever the undead version of that is. There’s some nice background events, if you look in the right places. One undead eating a corpse in their cell. Another undead going crazy in his. A big ugly bulbous demon tromping around a room after apparently punting someone through a steel bar. A bet I’m going to kill that demon eventually. Just call it a hunch.
A campfire! Those apparently serve as my checkpoints, allowing me to recover HP.
I go into the room beyond, and it’s full of pots, ready for the smashing! And it’s about time, too! I didn’t kill anything on the way here, and my dicing finger is getting itchy. I promptly destroy a few of those pots, when all of a sudden, I hear a large thump and see a life bar appear at the bottom of my screen. You remember that demon I predicted I’d have to kill? Yeah, he’s here, and he’s got a hammer several times my size. I promptly become a stain.
Regenerating at the fireplace, I enter that room once more. He appears again, but this time, I’m ready for him. I steel my resolve, fix him with my deadliest glare, and… flee like a little girl, scurrying off to the door on the other side of the room. Hey, all I’ve got is a stupid broken hilt of a sword! I’ve got no chance against the Asylum Demon! Don’t judge me 😦
There’s no rest in the next staircase, though, I learn as an arrow nearly hits me. A nearby prompt tells me to grab a shield off a corpse, which I do, then use it to block some arrows as I advance towards the archer, ready to bury my hilt in his stupid rotten zombie face. He apparently likes his face, because he runs away. Instead, I find a badass scimitar. It’s more intimidating than my broken sword hilt by at least an order of magnitude. And much easier to insert into faces.
A small bit of exploration and zombie murder later, I find my way to the knight who dumped the corpse in my cell. Poor dude’s and undead just like me, and convinced that he’s going to turn Hollow, the psycho form of the undead, soon. He asks me to listen to his family’s fairy tale about the undead who escapes from the Asylum being the Chosen One, then hands me a key and a healing item, then tells me to go. As I leave, I hear the sound of metal, gain some souls (experience points/currency), and I turn around and find the knight’s body has disappeared. That was kind of a powerful moment, specifically because of how subtle it was. Bravo, From Software.
Also, I’ll give you one guess as to who the “Chosen One” is going to be.
The next area teaches me well that it’s really hard to hit the screenshot key while playing on a controller. I consider re-binding the screenshot function to the ‘back’ button, but Dark Souls doesn’t let me screw with the key bindings. Jerks. In that case, don’t expect all too many of these action screenshots. They’re hard to safely pull off.
After dispatching some more of these hollows, I go through a fog doorway, and find myself on a ledge above the Asylum Demon that crushed me so easily before. I’m curious as to how much he’ll like my new scimitar. I decide to find out, and leap down to introduce my blade into the demon’s face. Turns out he doesn’t like my new sword very much. too bad.
After my initial assault, the demon is slightly irritated, and attempts to exert his will by way of hammer. Luckily, I know his weakness. He is very, very fat. I stay behind him, covered by the bulk of his extraordinarily large derrier and repeatedly stabbing him in the ass until he dies. For that, I score the key out of this asylum, but more importantly than that, you see all the pots in that room? They’re all mine!
Anyways, with my passion for the destruction of hardened clay temporarily sated, I make my way outside and pass through a graveyard on the cliff. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, I am indeed the Chosen One. Even the narrator agrees. You know, I think I’ll make a good Chosen One. I’ll be the best Chosen One, even! A giant bird comes up for no reason, and takes me to my next destination, the Firelink Shrine.
The Firelink Shrine is an almost empty ruin. There’s one guy there, who’s a total dick. There’s a girl there, who refuses to talk to me and is therefore a total dick as well. And there’s a bonfire, where I’ve unlocked the ability to level up and turn human. Leveling up is a little interesting in this game. You can pay a certain number of souls to increase a stat, then your level goes up and the next stat increase will cost more souls. The number of souls you pay is consistent, no matter which stat you’re level up. So leveling your strength up from 99 to 100 will cost the same as leveling your faith up from 9 to 10. It feels like this system promotes character specializations, but leaves the jack-of-all-trades less feasible than a system where the cost of leveling up is based on the level of that stat. I would have liked to have my character dabble in magic, but if adding magical abilities will take away from adding to his physical capabilities, it’s probably not worth it. Total Dick #1 tells me there’s lots of Chosen Ones, although I’m sure he’d agree I’m definitely the best one. He also tells me the Chosen One needs to ring some bells, one of which is up from the shrine, the other of which is down. Guess I’ve got a quest
I explore the shrine a little. I find that giant bird again, although he’s not doing anything this time. I find a couple more people higher up in the shrine, although they don’t want to talk to me either, so dicks. This world is just filled with dicks. Then, after dropping through some holes in the shrine, I find what I’ve really been looking for. Treasure! Glorious, glorious treasure! Unfortunately, it’s not anything I really expect to use, but I’m sure I’ll be able to unload it for some cash eventually. There’s also a pretty cemetery in the distance. I drop down the cliff to go check it out, and am immediately beset with skeletons. Okay, I can handle this. I’m the almighty Chosen One, after all! I slash at the skeleton, and do almost no damage. So, once again, I turn to run. Right into the path of another skeleton.
Okay! After I come back to life at the bonfire, I decide to go in a different direction. I go up another path, and find a bunch of hollow soldiers similar to those I faced at the Asylum. I can deal with these! Well, kind of. There’s quite a lot of them. And one of them keeps dropping bombs on my head. Quite rude, that. Still, I’m the Chosen One, so I dispatch them with ease. Then I climb the aqueduct, and take some dead guy’s soul. Then I turned around and… since when do zombies sneak up on you? Seriously! I put up a fight, but this guy has the element of surprise. Back to the bonfire for me. Little do I know, however, that there’s something waiting for me there. Something evil. My nemesis. Of course, I make sure to take care of it handily.
Die pots, die!!!
With the world saved from the evils of those pots, I return once again to the aqueduct. Through some experimentation, I learn that I have one huge advantage over these hollows: I’m much faster than they are. I can start my attack a split second after they start theirs, and still hit them first and knock them out of their swing. I press this for all I can. It feels like it’s cheating a bit, but it certainly makes my life a lot easier. Besides, I’m not sure if this is because of my high dexterity score or something that’s just innate to the weapon I’m using, but I’m certain that I’m not going to have this advantage for long, and I want to make use of it while I can.
After climbing and passing through the aqueduct, I make it to the Undead Burg. Basically a large medieval city behind castle walls, except that everyone’s either dead or trying to kill me and therefore soon to be dead. The Burg is beautifully put together, very atmospheric, and captures the feeling of solitude and dilapidation quite well. Also, you know, killing zombies. That never gets old.
I start experimenting with parrying and riposting. A parry is a specialized block where, with the right timing, you knock your enemies weapon away and leave them stunned, and a riposte is where you follow that up by plunging your sword into their gut and doing about three times the normal damage. It’s completely unnecessary against these enemies, but I’m wanting to learn it now so I’ll be able to use it against the harder foes later. The timing is really squirrelly and inconsistent, though. Like, a sword thrust you’ll need to parry before it even comes close to you, but a horizontal slash you’ll time just barely before it hits you, and a heavy vertical slash you may need to parry after it passes through your character’s graphic but before it hits your hitbox. I get that this is supposed to be an advanced technique requiring practice with each enemy type, but it just doesn’t seem fair.
The hollows are actually pretty good about laying in ambush. In one section, I rush towards a firebomb chucking soldier directly in front of me, hoping to close the effective distance of his bombs, only to find a hollow warrior leaping out at me from behind a doorway. The two of them together manage to bring me down, but that was actually kind of exciting! Of course, that kind of trick will only work once.
There are two types of hollows along the main stretch of this burg. There are the lightly armored warriors, and the heavily armored soldiers. The warriors are very aggressive, and easily dispatched by striking them when they move to attack. The soldiers are a lot more defensive, and require you to wait for them to break their guard before you can counterstrike. Moreover, the soldiers have a bit of variety in weapons, using swords, spears, and crossbows, rather than the warriors’ basic sword and occasionally firebomb. It makes for a nice switch of strategy when they come up.
Dark Souls is very much a single-player game, but other players can still leave their mark on your world in a couple ways. If you return to your human form, you can have other players as co-op partners, but you run the risk of getting invaded by another player our for your blood as well. I do enjoy some good PvP with friends, but I’ve learned to hate playing with random people on the internet, and the idea of forced PvP is not an attractive one to me, so we’re not going to deal with that. You can also see other players in the form of ghosts that briefly appear in your world, as well as watching replays of their deaths when you find the spots where they’ve died. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry. None of the other players look anywhere near as cool as I do, proving once again that while I may not be the only Chosen One, I am certainly the best. Players can also leave messages on the ground for you to find, warning you of ambushes, suggesting strategies, stuff like that. I actually found that part fairly helpful. I was a little leery about the online interactivity of this game, but the messages are actually pretty nifty, when used in the right place.
I come across one of the pot’s partners in crime, the wrathful barrel. Of course, I will not stand for its treachery, and strike it down in one blow. The world has been made just a little bit safer.
I come across a merchant! Hooray! But he doesn’t have any weapons better than the one I’ve already got! Boo! I do buy some supplies, including a chainmail hood and hauberk This has the effect of boosting my defense without slowing me down, with the side effect of making me look like a total dweeb. If you’re wondering why screenshots are scarce after this point, that’s why. Souls serving as both experience points and as currency is a pretty interesting concept, so far. It really promotes weighing the benefits of your choices. Would buying this armor serve me better than leveling up this stat? We’ll have to see if it can stay balanced as the game goes on, but for now, I really like it.
Traveling onwards, I come across a warning left by another player: “Tough enemy ahead”. I look down, and see one of Geezer Zeus’s knights from the opening cinematic. I consider passing him by, but there’s treasure behind the knight, and I do love my treasure. Also, I am the Best Chosen One, so this knight probably won’t be a match for me, right? I sneak up behind him and swing my blade. It barely does anything. All told, I do pretty well against him. I last a solid twenty seconds before dying. Urgh.
Okay, let’s try that again. This time, another player’s left a message: “Weak to parrying”. I give it a try, and after eating the greatsword a few times, I manage to hit the knight with a riposte. This does a good eight or nine times the damage of a single strike, and takes off a solid quarter of my health. Then the knight punishes me for it. Great.
This knight presents both the best and worst type of challenge to me. At this point, I’ve decided I want him dead. Playing with the riposte has shown me that it’s within my reach. However, only being able to hit him once with it suggests that I’m really going to need to bump up my skills to be able to do this. In other words, it’s something I want to do, something that I can do, but something that’s going to take a lot of time before I’m really able to pull it off. I decide to keep going for it. I didn’t start this game to siss out the first time something puts up a real challenge, after all. This decision will serve to cost me the next two hours of my life.
I’m not sure how I feel about the penalties for death in this game. I understand the drive behind wanting to give death meaning, but I’m not sure the way the game approaches it works so well. When you die, you keep all your items, but lose all your souls and humanity. Souls, of course, serve as both your unspent experience points and money, while humanity is what you need to turn human, boost bonfires to refill more than the default amount of your healing item, and dramatically boosts your item drop rate. You can get everything back if you reach where you died and loot your own corpse, but if you die before getting there, everything’s gone. That’s not so much an issue with souls, those are easy to come by and the loss is easily mitigated by periodically returning to the bonfire and leveling up. Humanity, though, is pretty rare, and there’s no way to store it once you’ve absorbed it. The dark knight is a good five to ten minutes away from the last bonfire, and those five to ten minutes are filled with groups of enemies that can easily kill me if I get careless or unlucky. Suffice to say, I lose my corpse a fair bit. At one point, I lost a full five humanity! It does promote you continually getting better, learning the area well so you don’t die on the way to the challenge, and with enemies respawning each time, you can actually gain a lot of souls with repeated deaths as long as you can reach your corpse each time. However, the cost of time and resources does seem unnecessarily high.
I start to develop a strategy for dealing with this knight. Step one is to lure him out of the alley he starts in. It seems like fighting him in the tunnel would be to my advantage, as his weapon is a lot larger than mine and the walls should prevent him from swinging. However, while the walls will keep blows from reaching their targets, they’ll only do that to the player character’s weapons. NPC enemies can clip their swords through walls as much as they damn well please. So I lure him up the staircase and into a more open area, skirmish with him a bit there then go up another staircase into an even more open area. This has the advantages of moving the site of my likely death closer to the checkpoint, and giving me more room to breath and drink my healing Estus when I need to. As long as I’m not directly in front of him, the knight will sometimes just circle harmlessly and let me do whatever I need to prepare myself. Step two is to start using my agility. The knight’s pretty limited in his moves, all he’s got is a running thrust and a four hit combo. I can take three hits before dying, but the second hit of his combo seems pretty easy to parry. So if I can dodge in after the first hit of his combo, he’s essentially at the mercy. Using this strategy, I become consistently able to drop him below half health before he turns my insides into outsides. Progress!
Part of my problem here is just the controls. Battles are obviously supposed to be slow-paced, and some of that comes from deliberate design, but some of that comes from just poor controls. The dodge roll is the biggest culprit. It shares a button with the run function, which means that both dodging and running is delayed a bit while the game figures out what you’re really trying to do. That delay is more than enough time for you to eat a hit. Moreover, if you tap the button, you’re going to dodge, no matter what the circumstances. I had a big problem where I’d get over-excited and tap the button twice in a row, resulting in the character doing a dodge roll, then another dodge roll over a second and a half after I pressed a button. The worst, though, was when I’d press the button to dodge, get hit in the delay when the game was trying to decide whether I wanted to run or roll, then my character would go ahead and dodge right after the hit, often right into another swing. Attacks have their own problems, too. The backstab move seems to be really, really picky about when it’s going to execute. The knight starts facing away from me and I usually get in a clean attack before he’s able to start turning, yet I’ve never pulled the backstab off on him. Sometimes, instead of following up with a second attack, my character will just do a backflip instead, It’d be really nice to know why that happens.
One advantage of my repeated failures to kill the dark knight is that I’m building up a lot of souls. I’m able to level up to the point where I can one shot most of the enemies on the map. I find their treatment of some of the stats really interesting. In opposition to most rpg conventions, dexterity feeds into your attack power just as much as strength does. My character’s got fairly average strength, but huge amounts of dexterity, and it’s because of that that he’s able to pack so much damage into a single swing. Strength lets you use heavy weapons and dexterity lets you use “advanced” weapons, so they will make for different characters, but lacking in strength doesn’t mean you’re lacking in damage. I thought that pretty nifty.
After an hour and a half, I start getting close. As I said earlier, the dark knight’s only got two real attacks, a running stab, and a four hit combo. I start learning the parry timing for the stab and the first hit of the combo. I’m not consistent with it, but it’s enough to be able to hit him with three ripostes, bringing him to less than 25% health, before I go down. I’m getting somewhere.
After two hours, my resolve has been strained to its limits. We are the rock and the hard place, he and I. The everpiercing spear and the unbreakable shield. The hammer and the anvil. One of us will have to break soon, and I’m starting to think it will be me. I can consistently hit him with three ripostes, but I can’t land that fatal fourth. And yet! In one final attempt, a flash of insight strikes. If the fates will deny me my fourth stab, I will not use it at all. Instead, I hit him with our traditional three ripostes, then start dancing around his attacks, raining my ineffectual blows upon him. Or should I say, almost ineffectual blows. Each strike deals a mere 15 damage, compared to the over 100 I was getting from a riposte. Yet, so many scratches on his armor, they do add up. I kill him not with a glorious thrust, but with a dozen pinpricks. But I kill him all the same. Finally, the dark knight falls! YES! YES! I AM THE BEST CHOSEN ONE! I leave a message behind for the other players, letting them know my glory and that they will never be as good at being the Chosen One as I am.
As a reward, I get a titanite shard, of which I already have several and have no clue what they do, a ring that boosts my defense when my health is low, and the dark knight’s sword. And it is a glorious blade. The scimitar I’ve been using all game, the one I’ve been one-shotting hollows with? That has an attack rating of 80. This one has an attack of 220. Almost three times as much as my current sword. However, the requirements for using it, both strength and dexterity, are quite high. I meet the dexterity requirement easily, but it needs twice as much strength to use it than I currently have. My most glorious prize, from my most glorious conquest, and right now it is naught more than a trophy. I equip it anyway, and try a few practice swings. My character flails around like a wiener. I really hope I wasn’t showing up as a ghost in somebody else’s game right now.
I start putting some more points in strength immediately. This may not be the most optimal setup for my character, but I worked hard for this sword and I’m damn sure going to use it.
Finally, I can let myself move on from the dark knight and advance in the game. I pass into a tower, and have my choice of going up or down. The door down is locked, although I have a master key and open it easily, so I’m obviously supposed to go up. So I go down. I get another warning from a player; “Tough enemy ahead”. Yeah, they said the same thing about the Dark Knight. Let’s see what this guy’s got. It’s a night, heavily armored. He starts climbing towards me as soon as he sees me. I raise my shield. He hits me with something that looks like a boulder in a sack. I block it. It kills me in one hit anyway. Nope, we’re not doing that.
After making sure to put that night on my list, I instead go upwards, leaving the tower for a bridge. Then I get hit with an arrow. Okay, I climb all the way to the top of the tower, kill the hollows there, then I go across a bridge. There’s a message. “Be wary of fatty” You know, that’s not very nice, fat people… OH GEEZER ZEUS! FATTY IS A GIANT MINOTAUR DEMON! I lure him to the tower, climb to the top, then jump down and stab him in the face just like I did the Asylum Demon. Then I run into problems. The Taurus Demon does about as much damage as the dark knight did, but his hammer is a lot harder to dodge. I go down pretty easily.
Okay, if that’s the way you want to play it… I get back to the Taurus Demon, lure him back to the tower, and get out my bow. If this sucker’s not going to play fair, I’m not… wait, where’d he go? AAAAAAAAH! WHY CAN FATTY JUMP TO THE TOP OF THE TOWER?!!
Okay, okay, all is not lost. Instead, I jump off the tower, wait for him to join me, then climb up again, and leap down and plant my sword in his face. Then I climb up again, leap down, and plant more sword in his face. Then I climb up again, and… you know what, you probably get the picture. Anyways, I cheese the boss to death, because I am the Best Chosen One and very good looking and that means I don’t have to play by the rules of fair combat although I totally could if I want to.
This is the view from the tower I kept leaping from. It’s got nothing to do with anything, just thought it was a pretty picture.
Across the bridge, on the other side, I find a bunch of barrels and crates. I smash them, as is my calling. One of the crates actually has something in it, for the first time this game. A dead body. Small, like a child. It’s quite sad. I take the child’s soul. That makes me feel a bit better.
Going down, I come across another bridge. This one’s larger, and has got plenty of hollow soldiers on it. Still, they’re a distance away, and haven’t gone aggressive towards me yet. I ready my bow, prepare to use arrows to draw them out one by one, pull, aim, and…. FIRE FIRE EVERYWHERE I AM ON FIRE THEY ARE ON FIRE WHY IS THERE SO MUCH FIRE?
The dragon doesn’t seem to interested in me, after I recover from being set on FREAKING FIRE so I slowly approach it. It seems to be guarding where I need to go next, but how the hell am I supposed to take out something of that size? I find a staircase down, take it, and then promptly get killed by a hollow soldier in just the wrong place. Jeez, the last checkpoint’s quite a ways back. In my attempt to go and recover my stuff, I die a stupid death to a weak hollow, and all the souls I got from killing Fatty are all gone. And that seems like a good time to close out my game session to me!
So there’s the adventures of the Best Chosen One in the land of Lordran. I killed a bunch of people, got killed a lot myself, and that makes everyone happier, right? We’ll see you next time! Unless I get bored with this or something.