Last time on Aether Dies a Lot in Dark Souls, we… actually didn’t die all that much. Turns out I’m pretty badassed! Who knew! We absolutely conquered the Undead Parish, cheated against most of the minibosses they threw at us, tried interacting with our fellow players to absolutely no end result, and rang one of the two magic bells that we need to ring for reasons that are certain to be almost valid! That was a pretty productive entry! Although wow, has it really been a month since I posted the last one? I need to kick these out faster.
After ringing the bell, we head back down the belltower. There’s this guy, here. And yes, he stands like that the whole time I’m talking to him. Dude apparently heard the bell ringing then decided to move in to the base of the tower and ask for a hug. He offers to forgive me of my sins, for a price. Obviously, I am the Best Chosen One and don’t have any sins, so I don’t have much use for that, but he also sells a few things. I don’t have the money or use for most of them, but I do buy some purging stones, which cure curses, because the internet tells me that curses in this game are about the worst things ever. As you probably know, I hate things that are bad, so I stock up now.
Heading back downstairs, I come to a quick realization. Some eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I got a new helmet when I killed the Gargoyles last update. Have I finally obtained a piece of solid armor that doesn’t make me look like a ninny?
Success! Oh my… I didn’t think it was actually possible! I had stopped believing, I had lost hope, but finally! Finally I can show pictures of my character without shame! I don’t have to worry about other players laughing at me when I show up as a ghost in their games! The helmet even makes the chainmail shirt look decent! Oh, happy day!
Anyways, bell is rung, I’m pretty much done with the parish, so I head back to Firelink Shrine, which is fast becoming the closest thing I have to a home base, much to my chagrin.
There’s this guy. Yes, I realize we both showed up to the party wearing the same shirt. No, I’m not proud of that fact. Anyways, he officially recognizes me as the Best Chosen One for having rung the bell at the Parish. Then he tells me I have to go ring the bell in HorriblePainville or something like that.
So let’s break a bit from the play by play to talk a bit about story-telling. Specifically, let’s talk about drive. Drive in stories is a basic concept that you’ll see come up when talking about the surface nature of how a story progresses. Basically, drive is a measure of what, in a story, pushes events forwards on a meta level and keeps the reader involved. There’s a lot of different types of drive, but the two you’ll find popping up most often are the two broadest types of drive, character and plot. Essentially, character-driven stories are small in scope and are pushed along primarily by how characters grow, change, adapt, and handle the situations they’re placed in. Plot-driven stories are wide in scope and are pushed along by a series of events. Both you keep following along to see what happens next, but in the former the main draw is how interesting the characters themselves are, while in the latter it’s all about the ebbs and flows of events and happenings in the story.
I bring this up now to point out that as video games become more accepted and more analyzed as an artistic medium, these ways of looking at drive are going to have to be reconsidered for this format. Academia has primarily looked at drive in how it relates to fixed stories, with no interaction on the part of the viewer. Video games and other forms of interactive media are totally going to turn that on its head, and the place I’m at in Dark Souls is a perfect example as to why. At this point in the game, I’m very engaged, and it’s not just with the gameplay. I’m very interested in seeing more of what Dark Souls has to offer in both the setting and narrative. Yet, as far as drive goes, “some asshole told me to go ring some bells” is not a very strong on. Instead, it’s because I’m really interested in the setting, I want to explore more of this really opaque plot, and because there are a bunch of asses out there that aren’t going to kick themselves. Case in point, I could do what the plot’s pointing me towards and head down to Sucky Springs but HAHAHAHA no. I’ve got the forest by Andre’s tower, a new section of the Undead Burg, and the possibility of revisiting the Northern Asylum to explore. Any of these choices are going to move my personal story through this game forward, yet they don’t fit into any sort of drive previously established in the likes of books and movies. The wannabe writer in me finds that really intriguing.
But you didn’t come here to listen to me wax intellectual about writing, you came here to watch me humiliate myself by dying repeatedly in a world that hates me! So let’s get on with it by… exploring what else is new in the shrine?
Hey! It’s this guy! He’s the guy that I rescued from that cell in the Parish who promised me a reward I didn’t really need. Anyways, he’s got a present for me, so he’s considerably less of a liar than those other players lead me to believe. He gives me a Sunlight Medallion. You get these for helping out member of the Warriors of Sunlight covenant, and you use them to rise in rank within that same covenant. Some of you may recognize that I am not a Warrior of Sunlight. Some of you may also recognize that this makes the Sunlight Medallion absolutely worthless to me. It’s… the thought that count’s, right?
At least there’s someone hanging out at Firelink Shrine who’s not a total dick. I wonder if he’s eventually going to get kicked out because he doesn’t fit in.
Anyways, back to the action. Before we move on to the next area, I’ve still got two people on my list, two adversaries with the gall to stand against me yet are still drawing breath. First on that list is the blasted knight that killed me in one hit back in the first part of the Undead Burg. He’s still probably a bit too much for me to handle, so I’ll let him be for now. The second is the Bridge Wyvern. Yes, I know he bought me off by giving me his tail as a sword, but he still attacks me every time I head across the bridge, so I’m considering that truce broken. Besides, I really want to see what’s behind him.
I mean, just look at him! The disrespect, to break are carefully composed truce so easily! I’m going to kill him with his own tail!
There’s a small flaw with my strategy, though. Well, a couple small flaws. Number one, the dragon can fly, and I’ve really got not idea how to even hit him. Number two, the fire. Fire everywhere. Number three, he’s really freaking tough. My arrows barely even scratch him. Now, you might think these are not small flaws at all. You might think these are big flaws, and totally obvious to boot. Obviously, you do not appreciate the true tactical depth of the situation. Anyways, after burning to death several times without even hurting the thing, and only a little bit of desperate sobbing, I decide that this might be a challenge better faced on another day. Maybe when I’ve got a bigger sword.
On a corpse in the Parish, I had found a key to the lower section of the Undead Burg. I head there now. The Wyvern hits me with one final blast of fire as I head into that door. What a jerk!
The Lower Undead Burg may be just another section of the familiar Undead Burg, but it marks itself as something different pretty quickly. Whereas the Upper Undead Burg merely looked abandoned, this place looks actively ruined. The hollows have been hitting this place hard, but with as run down as everything looks, I imagine it was a hole even before the undead started taking over.
Also, there are new enemies here. Undead Attack Dogs, for one, who introduce me to a whole new type of pain. They inflict the bleed status, which takes off an extra chunk of health if I get hit enough to succumb, but that’s not the real problem. My main issue with them is that they’re both small and fast. Their size combined with the way I swing my sword means my blade goes sailing over them a lot of the time, slicing through air in what would be a fatal strike on most any other enemy I’ve faced so far. In fact, unless they’re directly in front of me, I can’t score a blow against them. Which is a problem, because they’re really good at the hit and run tactics. They’ll strike a blow, then dodge to the side as soon as they land. I can take them out in one hit a piece, but scoring that hit requires fast reflexes and good predictions. I quickly learn that if they catch me on the stairs, I can’t swing low enough to hit them at all.
Luckily there’s not too many of them here. What there are plenty of, however, are the Undead Assassins. They attack in groups, and always have ambushes set up, but these are spoiled every single time by a message from another player, so I don’t know why they even bother. They’re swift, aggressive, and strong enough to often survive one of my strikes, so they end up being pretty significant dangers.
The layout of the Lower Undead Burg is pretty simple, so I just pick a direction and follow it. The direction leads me to yet another Assassin ambush, this time backed up by one of those dogs. The group brings me close to death before I’m able to lay them all out. I really need to play more defensively with these guys. By focusing primarily on blocking and counterblows, I’m able to successfully clear them out.
I find this on one of the corpses in a mostly empty house. Gee, I wonder what his job was? The stuff’s actually worse than the wanderer gear I started the game with on pretty much every metric, so this is just going to end up taking up space in my inventory for a while.
And there’s this thing! Means there’s a boss ahead. Which is kind of odd placement, because we’re only like halfway through the level. I simply mark down its location, and move on.
I head even lower into the Lower Undead Burg, slaying a few more assassins on my way. After climbing a small way up a ruined tower, I find myself in the aqueduct that leads back to Firelink Shrine. Yay for shortcuts?
There’s also this merchant. She sells, among other things, mosses, which is your given cure for various status ailments. I stock up a bit here, then head back into the Lower Undead Burg. I make my way back to the beginning of the area, and take the path I neglected before.
Someone’s calling to me from behind a door. Apparently this guy got locked inside a house, which is apparently how doors work. He doesn’t have a key, so he can’t get out. I don’t have a key either. Well, I do, but my skeleton key’s useless on this door. He’ll have to sit tight until I figure something out.
Further on, there’s also a bunch of these really weak zombies wielding torches. They barely do any damage, and are only really dangerous if you let them mob you. I break through them easily, and pick up some humanity items from a corpse back there.
And with that, we’ve explored all of the Lower Undead Burg! So all we have left now is that boss.
I enter his room, on the lookout for ways to fulfill my proud legacy of cheating my way through any real challenge. The boss, a tall demon wielding two massive machetes and flanked by two attack dogs, is apparently onto my strategy, because he charges me as soon as I enter. I take down one of the dogs in retaliation, but it’s not enough. I don’t even make it out of the entryway before the life fades from me.
Ok! Trying again! This time, I break away as soon as I enter the boss room. I head towards a small staircase along the wall, but one of the dogs is there waiting for me. He holds me up enough that the Capra Demon catches up and punishes me.
Third time’s the charm, right? This time, I follow the same strategy, and break past the dog instead of stopping to kill it. I head up the stairs, brake partway up, and in a single stroke kill the two dogs that have lined up behind me. That just leaves the Demon. I reach the top of the staircase, prepare to plummet down on top of him… but I can’t see him. I can’t see much of anything, in fact. There’s a blasted tree filling my camera. I drop down to, you know, actually see something, and he takes advantage of my disorientation to corner me. I die soon after.
And so on, just like this. I lost to the Capra Demon so many times I started to get used to the game over screen. I forget exactly how long I spent on this guy, but I’m sure it’s some shameful number.
And he really shouldn’t be that hard! There are a couple of complicating factors, though. The first are those blazing dogs. They’re able to hold me up or knock me out of dodge rolls, and I gain a couple cheap deaths to them knocking me back long enough for the Capra Demon to catch up.
Another problem is the area itself. It’s really small for this type of battle. If you even come close to a corner, you’re dead, but there’s little you can do when the walls are so close. I just didn’t have the room to keep dodging. The small area, as well as the trees, played havoc on the camera, too. There seemed to be no way to keep the Demon on screen throughout all my maneuvering, and I was constantly swinging it around. Sure, I realize now that I could have used the lock-on function, but I hadn’t used that since I started the game and I had totally forgotten it existed.
I fought against the boss so many times, always using the same strategy. Run past him, get to the stairs, kill the dogs when they were lined up, drop down to fight the demon, dodge his swings as best I could, die. Next time, run past him, get to the stairs, don’t kill the dogs fast enough, demon catches me, die. Run, stairs, dog, drop, dodge around, up the stairs again to heal, get into the fray with the boss again, die. Over and over again. I think I failed against this one boss more than I had any other in the game, with the possible exception of that first Black Knight. And I’m not ashamed to say I was getting frustrated more and more each time, and that frustration got the better of me. I started making mistakes, and that got me more frustrated, which made me make more mistakes, and so on.
Finally, I stopped, and let myself have some introspection. I realized that I hadn’t been making changes to the strategy that kept getting me killed, when there was totally room to do so. The mainstay of my combat against this guy was dodging. However, I was wearing fairly heavy gear, which slowed me down, and I hadn’t been using my shield at all. I found myself faced with an obvious choice. Either start blocking rather than dodging, or trade my chainmail armor out for my wanderer gear to speed me up. I decided to try the blocking strategy first. With the demon’s power, I had assumed that he’d break past my shield in a hurry, but I hadn’t actually tried it out. So instead of rushing by as soon as I enter the room, I simply walk forward and raise my guard.
As always, he blitzes me. His blade swings. It connects with my shield. I hold my guard.
Well, looks like we’ve got a new strategy.
And it’s one that works out much better for me. By mixing in more blocking with my dodging, I’m much better able to defend myself while also taking advantage of his openings. I slaughter the dogs on the stairs with ease once more, and turn my attentions on the demon himself. I do have to be careful, and there’s a couple close calls, but still, on the first time I tried this out, the Capra Demon falls.
Next: We’ve got a new toy!