Wrestling with GFWL in Dark Souls

Last time on Aether Flails Wildly About in Dark Souls, we rescued Griggs of Vinheim and did a whole bunch of dicking around, before being frozen by indecision as to where to go next. Well, thanks to the very talented author Harliqueen, we now have a decision on where we’re headed next! It’s back to the Northern Undead Asylum for us, revisiting where we started the game and maybe catching a few more screenshots since I barely had any that first post.

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Well… in a little bit…just got to figure out…

Yeah, Games for Windows Live was acting up a bit. It’s a nice little preview for what’s going to happen if the service truly does shut down next year. I had to disconnect my computer from the internet just to access my save games because Microsoft truly cares about the consumer and can totally provide a better DRM alternative than Steam! In any case, that means no fun with other players, no messages, nothing of the sort. On the plus side, that means that no other players get to see me sucking and dying repeatedly.  At least, not until I post this.

Ok, back up now. Most places in the game, you can just walk to. It’s one of the bonuses about having an open world. The Northern Undead Asylum’s a little different, though. If you’ll recall, we had to get carried away by a giant crow last time. Walking there’s a little out of the question.

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Instead, what we do is we go back to the elevator that takes us up to the Undead Parish…

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Leap off as it’s traveling upward to land on this platform…

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Take a leap from this cliff to that tower…

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Get this key from the corpse on the roof of the building next to the tower and try not to imagine that the crow just dropped him onto there…

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Say hi to Snuggly as we pass by…

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Then find Snuggly’s nest at the top of the tower and pretend to be an egg. Eventually, she’ll come up to carry us off, back to the Asylum.

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And there we go! It’s like magic!

The Asylum is pretty much as we remember, although enemy placement has moved around a little. It’s not much to worry about, though. The enemies are pretty much just those unarmored zombies that we mowed through last time. Like pretty much everything else in Dark Souls, they can be deadly if you underestimate them and let them mob you, but as long as you use your brain, they’re nothing to worry about.

Ahh, it’s just like being home again! Well, what do you say we start by visiting our old cell?

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For whatever reason, these screenshots are a bit darker than the game actually was, so you probably can’t tell what’s in there. This is just off of the hallway of cells leading back to our old bedroom. Past the bars is a demon. Seemingly the same Asylum Demon we killed breaking out of this place. Either the guy’s just as immortal as we undead are, or they’ve been keeping another one in reserve.

Apparently, my cell’s a pretty nice place, because it’s got a new resident. A new resident dressed in suspiciously dark armor and carrying a very familiar sword. Oh no, not another one!

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Well, I’m stronger now than I was last time, and I’ve upgraded my sword a bit, so it should be even better than his! Ok, let’s match our steel, see who truly comes out on top!

Can you guess who wins that engagement? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not me.

I actually struggle with this guy more than I did the last black knight I faced. It’s partially because I have to deal with this guy in enclosed space, with no room to dodge around him. To get to this hallway, you have to cross a room that’s knee deep in water, which slows me down considerably. You have to climb a ladder to get to the nearest open space, and there’s no way I can get up the ladder fast enough to avoid this guy turning me into haggis.

Also, I’m not going to lie, by the time I played this it had been about a month since I last turned on the game. I was a little rusty. I got punished for it, several times over.

But just like a good pad of steel wool, this black knight was painful and abrasive, but he got the rust off. The several times I ran head-long into him were a steady sequence of me increasingly getting better. I developed a solid hit and run strategy, scoring a solid blow then backing off when he made his counter strike. We played or deadly game of cat and also cat for a while, until with some trickery in the doorway to the next room, I managed to get behind him. One well-placed backstab later and…

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I got myself some titanite for my troubles.

I’m not sure where the Northern Undead Asylum sits, geographically. The outside is all snowy, meaning it’s probably on a mountain somewhere, or else far away from our normal staging area in Lordran. This was where all the undead were sentenced to, their combination of immortality and eventual insanity making them too dangerous to keep around any sort of civilized society. They were held here to await the end of the world, at least until the number of people with the darksign grew and the country of Lordran ended up being overrun with them. All the cells, which held other undead of varying levels of sanity as I was escaping, are now empty. I hope they made it down to Lordran, joining the quest to save the undead and become the best chosen one. I find it more likely that I’ve been cutting them down as I make my way through this asylum, however.

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There is a new corpse in my cell. He’s holding this weird doll. I’m not sure what it does yet, but it went into my ‘key items’ list, meaning it’s the type of item that’s absolutely important but at the same time almost zero fun.

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For a bit more exploration, we head down the path we took when we were first escaping the place. As we reach the hallway where we got our first shield and sword, I find a figure in the distance. Is that… that kind of looks like…

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OH SWEET GEEZER ZEUS IT’S ANOTHER OF THOSE BLACK KNIGHTS!!

Again, I have quite a bit of trouble with this one. The hallway really isn’t working for me here, and for whatever reason the hit and run strategy doesn’t work as well as it did last time. This halls at an incline, and he starts on the higher ground. For whatever reason, that throws my own plan out of rhythm.

If you know anything about me, you know that I am about as good looking as it is possible for a person to be. But you also probably know that I am supremely intelligent. And very humble. I put my big brain smrtiness to work on getting up a new plan. This one, I don’t have to fight in such close quarters. No, I’ve got the asylum’s master hall within easy reach. I lure him back there, and press the attack once more. He swings, and misses, I move in, and connect. I roll backwards, out of reach of his counterstrike… and the ground collapses from underneath me.

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I fall, landing before a pile of bones. The sudden stop kills me once more, but not before I catch glimpse of another foe. The Stray Demon, the fat beast I saw through the bars in the hallway. So they did truly have another one in reserve.

You know, if GFWL was working, another player probably would have left a message warning me about the collapsing floor. See there, Microsoft? Your incompetence costs lives.

The collapsing floor makes the master hall a little too dangerous for this fight. I have to face the knight down in the hallway, where my ability to dodge is really limited. I tangle with him some more, to limited success, and start weighing my options. The walls limit my dodging, hit and run isn’t working, I think the only real strategy I have left is the one I used to take down the first knight, parrying and riposting. Problem is, I haven’t used my parry much ever since the first level. It requires very specific timing, and I haven’t used it since the upper undead burg.

Well, no time like the present to regain old skills.

The knight rushes me.

I hold my ground.

No fear.

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Turns out I had the power in me all along, because I knock his blow away and carve him up like its thanksgiving. And it is glorious. The hit doesn’t kill him outright, but it does enough damage that I can easily outlast him in straight combat. Just a little longer, and he falls like all the rest.

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I head down the path, past where the black knight was guarding. Hey, would you look at that! It’s the knight that freed me from my cell I the start of the game! You know, the one who gave me my estus flask and told me to become the best chosen one as he was dying because he was afraid he was going to go hollow soon? Let’s go give him a hug!

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Umm… that’s a pretty aggressive hug posture there…

Poor guy has gone hollow. The knight moves much more like another player than most of the other NPCs do. His steps are a little sporadic, he switches between one- and two-handed grips in the middle of the fight, and even his death animation is the same as a normal players. Oh yeah, I kill him easily enough. What, did you really expect him to get the better of me?

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In honor of all this nameless knight has done for me, and thus, the world, I take his shield to remember him by. It doesn’t offer quite as much protection as my current shield, at least against physical hits, but its ability to defend against magic is far higher than anything I currently have and I could definitely see getting some use out of it.

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Pushing on a bit farther, I come upon a locked door I couldn’t open the last time I was here. I’ve got the key now, though, picked up off the corpse on that roof at Firelink Shrine. Beyond the door is a broken staircase leading back down with another corpse on it. The corpse holds a frankly creepy ring that eliminates speed penalties when moving through water. You know, I really could have used this earlier.

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Poking around back at the entrance to this place, I find yet another one of Snuggly’s nests. How many kids does that crow have, anyway? This one seems to be a bit incomplete, as she offers to trade me for warm, soft, and shiny things. By dropping things, such as my sunlight medallion or clumps of moss, in her nest, she’ll leave behind items the next time the area’s loaded. Mostly various types of titanite. I take advantage of this, building up supplies to upgrade my equipment even further.

Looks like the only thing I have left to do is taking down that stray demon. Unfortunately, the only way I can get down there is through the floor in the master hall collapsing, so….

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Immediately after I land and heal up from the fall damage the demon fires a massive shockwave at me. I raise my shield, to no avail, and it lifts me up off my feet. Rising once more, I charge, but another shockwave is enough to take me down.

I try again. This time, the demon opts to strike with its massive axe rather than its shockwave, giving me the opening I need to close in. However, it starts with the shockwaves again once I get close. In addition to its axe attacks, it has two types of shockwaves, a long range one with an incredibly wide arc, and a short range one that hits everything around it. My shield is useless against both of them. I can dodge the short range one by simply moving away, but the long range one is impossible to evade as long as I’m in front of the demon.

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Next try, I switch my shield out for the crest shield I got off the nameless knight. If those shockwaves are magic attacks rather than physical, this shield could work better against them. That does seem to be the case, and I am able to block the shockwaves with these shield, but they’re powerful enough to break my guard and leave me open for a follow up attack. Could be useful in a pinch, but these shield isn’t viable as a constant defense mechanism.

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The Stray Demon telegraphs his attacks like whoa. After a couple of tries, I get his patterns down well enough that I almost never get his. After I land, I just ignore the fall damage and immediately rush to the demon’s side so he can’t hit me with those shockwaves. Taking advantage of his bulk and staying behind him means I don’t have to worry about his axe attacks. Should he fly into the air or raise his axe, move away so I don’t get hit by the resulting AOE attacks. His attack power is high, so missteps can be fatal, but his routine is a very easy one to get down.

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After I learn his moves, he doesn’t last much longer. I get humanity, a bone that sends me back to the last bonfire visited, and some titanite for my troubles.

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That pretty much takes care of the Northern Undead Asylum. On my way out, I test out that spell I got from Griggs. I was expecting to fire incredible bolts of huge arcane might. Instead, I just get this dinky little bolt that barely tickles my enemies. Yeah, I’m not exactly specced for magic right now.

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Heading back to the cliff beyond the asylum, we leave just the same way we came. Snuggly returns to kindly cart me back to civilization, and I leave the asylum that was my home for untold amounts of time, prepared for my next adventure in Lordran.

Next time: Getting back to nature.

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