Proving Ourselves in Dark Souls

Last time, on this thing people keep reading for whatever reason, I gained the power to control fire and used it to kill some things that are already dead. It was certainly fun, but now it’s time to do something that actually matters. That’s right, it’s back into the sewers for us.

At the end of the sewer level, past the double doors previously blocked to us, I find the entrance to the infamous Blighttown. I don’t know much about this place, other than that it’s spoken of with much ire around the internet. Is it because the area’s especially difficult? Annoying? Boring? We’ll find out together! Remember, here at Lost to the Aether, I play this game so you don’t have to!

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The entrance to Blighttown is this massive blasted pit. We’ve made it to the lowest depths of the sewer level, and now we’re going to have to dig even deeper. I sure hope that’s not metaphorical.

I briefly consider plunging to my death, avoiding what is to come, but instead, I find a ladder and descend that way. Apparently, one of the other players thinks I should be regretting that decision.

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It’s not long before we run into our first adversaries in this area, these infested barbarians. There’s a bunch of these guys in a row, but I decide to play things safe and lure them out one by one. As you might expect, they’re quite strong, able to push me around even as I block them. Their clubs are also poisonous, somehow. And they’re surprisingly mobile, at least within the confines of this wooden latticework. I have to play this defensively, rolling back at the slightest sign of an attack and picking my moments to attack. With careful timing, though, I’m able to wear these guys down enough for a killing stroke.

They have a habit of leaving behind dung pies. I’m not sure why I keep picking them up.

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Moving forward along the walkways into the bowels of Lordran, we encounter our second enemy class of this area, the infested ghoul. These guys, as well as the barbarians, seem quite a bit different than the standard hollows we’ve been putting down. Something’s happened to this place, beyond the normal curse of the undead, that’s twisted those who’ve been hanging out here.

In any case, the ghouls here rush towards me as soon as they catch a glimpse. They’re armed with swords, spears, or bone clubs, but telegraph their attacks well enough that they’re easy to block. They do have a nasty little grab attack, though, putting their filthy teeth to bear. The bite takes a good deal off my health, but they snarl before they do so, giving me enough time to prepare my defense. Two hits is more than enough to take them out, so they don’t pose any real threat individually.

Heading on just a bit farther, I’m struck by something. Something small. It doesn’t do any damage, but it causes my toxin gauge to skyrocket. It came from my right. Luckily, there’s a wall nearby that I’m able to duck behind.

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Here’s our perpetrator. An sniper with a blowgun. The darts don’t hurt me, at least not right away, but they’re coated with a powerful poison, and two hits are enough to overcome my resistance. Also, the way bows work in this game, they’re really not well suited to sniper battles. You can’t move and ready an arrow at the same time, meaning you’re a sitting duck for an enemy who’s already drawn on you. My best bet is to try and hit these guys from areas they can’t return fire to, but with as observant as these snipers are, good luck with that.

Also, for whatever reason, structures in Dark Souls actually extend a bit beyond what they’ve got visuals for. Those arrows you see floating in the air in the picture above? They’re embedded in the wood that doesn’t really exist. This has been a small frustration of mine all game, but it’s really infuriating now, that I have to face off with these enemies I can’t reach with my sword.

Luckily, these snipers don’t seem to be undead, meaning they don’t respawn. Kill ’em once, they’re out of your hair forever. I catch a bounty of purple moss from this one, which serves as an antidote to poison. Something tells me I’m going to need that.

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After I slay the sniper and start moving on, I find a message that there’s a sniper around. Thanks, guy! There’s also a tempting bit of treasure that appears out of my reach. I’d have to jump for it, but it looks like a tricky leap. If I miss, the fall will either kill me or land me in unknown territory. I decide to leave it be for now.

I move out from the initial walkway, into where Blighttown opens up and… oh my. I don’t know whether it’s the size of the area, the poor PC optimization, the lack of developer tricks to hide areas so they don’t have to be loaded, or what, but this place is doing absolute murder to my frame rate. My computer’s been handing the game at a solid 30 fps, but this area tops out at half that, and frequently dips into the single digits. This is painful.

There are two ways a game can handle a chugging frame rate. One is to start dropping frames, having the CPU rendering the action at the same speed and just showing you less of it. The other is to slowdown, rendering every single frame but slowing down the action proportionally with the framerate. Dark Souls follows the latter philosophy, meaning I’m going through this area at less than half my normal speed. Dark Souls had always had a slow, deliberate combat system, but now it’s taking several seconds between when I press a button and when Exodus there sees it through. That’s going to be the cause of several deaths I’m going to pretend didn’t happen here.

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Blighttown is structured as a multi-tiered maze. It’s dark, it’s confusing, and it’s really easy to get lost in. Additionally, the ghouls here have a really long line of sight, much more than our surface-adjusted character. It’s not uncommon to hear someone smashing through obstacles from pretty far off trying to get to me, having caught my presence from many yards away. The ghouls are also really, really dumb. So many times, I’ve sensed a ghoul trying to make his or her way towards me, only for the sound to cease and my soul counter to go up as the ghoul walked right off the wooden latticework.

In any case, I forgo descending at the point shown in the picture, and instead slide down a cliff to a corpse with some loot left on it. I get a full set of Shadow gear for my troubles. Ninja equipment, it looks like. I think I might have some cosplaying to do later…

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Oops, looks like I sequence broke a bit by sliding down the cliff rather than climbing up the ladder, and I was actually supposed to fight for that gear. I’m an honest man, I can admit when I made a mistake, and I always work to rectify them. I do so here.

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The design of Blighttown is pretty interesting. So far, it’s mostly been made up by a bunch ramshackle wooden bridges and scaffolding, erected and barely held together around what seems to be the foundation and structural support for the undead burg above. We’re at the edge of the cliff we had been spending most of the game around, and although dark, you can see brief peeks of daylight above. I wonder what purpose this area served before the undead curse struck Lordran. There’s a few bits of what could pass for shelter here. They’re empty and barren, but so too were the homes I found up in the burg. Was this a communal dwelling for the burg’s homeless, before catastrophe caused them to either flee or become my current opponents? The corpses hold no answer. In addition to the ninja gear earlier, I collect the ‘Soul of a Proud Knight’ off of a body. Whether these corpses are from warriors who ventured down here seeking to conquer the area, or veterans of some prior conflict who could not find a home in this land in peacetime, I don’t know.

In any case, I soon find a bonfire, arranged on the connection between two of the foundation’s massive pillars. I breathe a little easier as I light it. At least if I die now, I won’t have to backtrack nearly so much. The last bonfire I rested at was so long ago.

Pressing onward, I find a ladder downwards into a small room with two ghouls in it. They see me, and start climbing in my direction.

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I decide that ladders are for chumps. I descend a bit more directly. Sword first. The fall does a bit of damage, but not nearly as much as the ghouls take.

Through that room, I find a couple corpses with some small goodies on them, a rickety bridge that sways beneath my weight, and a whole lot of dead ends.

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On the plus side, I can finally see the ground! It’s actually kind of refreshing after spending so much time worried about the fall off this latticework. I imagine that’s where I’m going to be heading.

Looking around a bit more, I notice something. The treasure that was out of easy reach, that I’d have to make a dangerous leap for? It’s right above the room I just cleared out. Now might make a good time to jump for it.

And so, I fight my way back upwards. It’s not exactly easy. Going through this area in the opposite of the intended direction seems to run me through the path of all of my enemies at once. Then, once I make it to the top, I have to clear out the area I’m going to be making my leap from. And finally, I have to actually make the leap. It wouldn’t be an easy jump in the best of times. With my timing hampered by the abysmal framerate, it’s even more difficult. So often, I miss the platform I’m aiming for and either plummet to oblivion or take a bunch of damage from a hard landing. Once, I misjudge the barbarians’ area of awareness and end up fighting too much to handle. There’s a lot of death, at this part. Still, it’s not like death matters to the undead, right? I can pick up my souls everytime I die easily enough, so the only real thing I’m risking is my sanity. And hey, nobody really needs that, right?

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After all that work I’ve put into getting this loot, it must be pretty sweet, right? Eh. I get an Iaito. A katana. It’s slightly stronger than my old scimitar, and also causes bleeding. Nothing compared to the glorious weapon I’m currently wielding, though. Might make a good backup weapon, in the event my Black Knight Sword and Drake Sword are unavailable, for whatever reason.

As I attempt to leave the platform, I fall just short of the bridge below and plummet to my death. I have to make the jump again just to get my souls back. Well, I guess things can’t be too easy in Dark Souls.

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Now that we’ve got that errand taken care of, time to press onward! This is a horrible screencapture, but it’s the only one I took of these fire dogs. These little buggers are pretty much the same as the attack dogs we fought in the Lower Undead Burg, except they’re smaller, faster, and breathe fire. It’s actually their decreased size that causes the most problems to me, rather than, you know, the fire thing. I swing my sword close to the ground already, but it still sails right over these guys if they’re too close. Luckily, there’s only a couple of these in the level.

Onwards a bit more, I run into yet another sniper, and aren’t able to get behind cover before his darts are able to overcome my resistance. Turns out they’re more dangerous than I thought, their darts cause toxin, not poison. It causes more damage, and requires a rarer type of moss to cure. I’m glad I stocked up before coming here. As is, the toxin still deals significant damage in the short time it takes me to get my moss out and chow down.

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There’s one of the big dangers of this area. Ghouls can sense you from so far away, it’s really easy to find yourself in a pincer attack like this. I break free from the grab attack, and swiftly slay them both. Good thing, too, as it’s only a few moments after this that yet another ghoul shows up from probably halfway across the map.

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I know it’s hard to see, because the area’s so dark, but there’s a giant lumpy leech thing with a few tentacles hanging off the wall there. This is something new, and grotesque. It’s definitely guarding some sort of treasure, and looks like it might be blocking a pathway. Probably a fairly tough customer. Probably pretty dangerous to get near.

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So I don’t.

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After a bit of unremarkable pathfinding and ghoul-slaying, I make my way down to where the wall hugger was stationed. I get some new pyromancy! Here’s a spell that boosts my physical attributes, at the cost of taking some of my health. Depending on how much of a degree it boosts me, I could see that as being a very useful, if circumstancial, asset.

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Just for the hell of it, I back off a bit and find a spot where I can climb some of the foundation and get out from underneath the cliff’s edge. I find a shield here that still doesn’t fit me as much as my current one, but more importantly, I get a chance to see the sky for a while. Not a great view, but I find myself oddly appreciating it, after so much darkness.

With my eyes on the prize once again, I advance past the passageway the parasitic wall hugger was blocking. It leads into the inside of what seems to be a circular tower. Using the passages and ladders built into it, I descend, picking up a whip after a clever drop. I find myself in some sort of drainage chute, and from there, venture to another fog gate, a definite sign I’m making progress.

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After the fog gate, Blighttown gets a lot more linear and my path downwards a lot faster. This close to the surface, I’m encountering a lot of new enemies, too. The first of which is this cragspider, a misshapen insectoid monstrosity with six legs and some disturbingly human-like appendages. This is another being in the area that can breathe fire, although it does so with much less force than the fire dogs earlier. It can also hover and charge with its tiny little wings. Luckily, it is both slow and fragile, and these guys barely provide an obstacle for me as I continue towards the ground.

I do run into another sniper, though, who proves to be much more of a sticking point. The way he’s positioned, I can’t get a clear shot on him without letting him get two on me, first. I try for a while, but I can’t safely take him out. Instead, I just withstand his blows long enough to get a single arrow off, which is enough to slay him while I lick my wounds.

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Further in, I find a corpse with a full set of wanderer gear. Rest well, my brother. Guess I’ve got a spare set of my starting equipment, now.  You know, in case it’s laundry day.

Another enemy I never managed to get a good screenshot of, there are some mosquitos the size of my head when you get down this deep. They don’t do much damage, but they’re poisonous and there’s about eight or so of them spawning two by two in any given location. They also hover high as they attack, meaning my sword often sails right underneath them. They’re easy to take down with arrows, as long as you’ve got some distance, but there’s so many in this area that I start to run out of ammo. I switch my sword to a two handed stance, which allows me to swing vertically, and that works fine for taking out one at a time, but they’re still a lot of trouble if they managed to swarm me.

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Finally, after smearing about a metric ton of bug guts all over the place, I make it to the surface. Of course, my trials don’t end there. Most of the area is knee deep in poisonous water, which starts infecting me on contact. Progress through this area is slow because of it, but luckily the area around the foundation pillars is raised above the muck, allowing me brief areas to rest and shake off the effects of the water. I’m just glad I have that ring from the Asylum that prevents water from slowing me down. This place would be almost impossible without it.

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This area is also festooned with cragspiders and mosquitos. Tangling with them in the water is not an attractive proposition, so I make heavy use of my bow again.

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Exploring around the area, I find another barbarian. This one uses a completely different fighting style from the ones up top, though. Rather than using a poisonous club, this one will rip boulders right out of the earth and use them to bowl me over. His wider swings and distance attacks make him a much more dangerous opponent. However, he does occasionally over-commit to a move, allowing me to easily slip in behind him and punish him for it. In this way, I manage to carefully whittle him down, until he falls.

Behind him, I find a corpse with a great club on it, assumedly the same weapon the barbarians upstairs make use of.

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There’s also this strange landmark here, a large mound with a bunch of… what are those, teeth? It does not look inviting, in any case, particularly as it’s guarded by three of those boulder barbarians. I have a sneaking suspicion that’s my next destination, but… let’s leave that for later, ok? I still need to find a bonfire in the area, so I don’t have to walk all the way back here every time I fail.

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In another corner of the area, I find this odd water-wheel/lift continually running. I might be able to ride this up back to the light again. I do so miss the light. It feels like I’ve spent weeks here in freakin’ Blighttown. I take it all the way back up. Then, as I attempt to walk off, I fall between a gap between the lift and the destination platform and plummet to my death. Okay, that’s just bad design. I accept no fault for that one.

Egh, this is going to be a long walk back.

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Upon returning, I make my way around the edge of this area rather than hopping from pillar to pillar, seeking to explore more of the ground floor. I find a tunnel I had completely missed earlier, with tons of messages claiming there’s a bonfire ahead. Well, this would have been useful half an hour ago.

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The tunnel the bonfire’s in leads to a circular basin completely barred in except for where it looks like something or someone forced their way through. In the far end of the basin, there’s a single treasure chest. There’s also this message warning me there’s a dragon ahead. I must be prepared.

I circle the room, wary for any place a dragon might Kool-Aid Man burst from. Nothing. I carefully inspect the grating in the far side. There’s only the void on the other side. Whatever enemy there might be in this giant, arena-like room, it’s not going to show itself with me on the rim. So, ready for anything, I drop into the basin, prepared to face the fiercest this game can throw at me.

Still, nothing happens. I wait for a long moment, then slowly approach the chest. Nothing happens. I keep my eye open for any sign of a trap as I open it. Slowly, warily, I reach for what’s inside, every nerve I have on edge.

Right. So, that dragon the message said was ahead? That’s a dragon scale. I could use it to upgrade the Drake Sword, were I so inclined. This obvious boss arena is completely safe. The developers totally trolled me. I leave a message as I head back out, ‘Safe zone ahead’ hopefully saving some other players a bit of grief.

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Oh hey, I did get a decent screenshot of those mosquitos. Well, if you were deathly curious as to what they looked like, here you go.

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At this point, all I have left to explore is that big mound. I fight my way through until I’m within easy reach. There’s no way I want to take on three of these barbarians at once. Instead, I try luring them out one by one. Turns out shooting them in the face is a good way to get a response. Oddly enough, the other barbarians do seem to notice my actions, but they only move to cover the gap as the first one breaks off to fight with me. They’re obviously guarding the place, but they’re not very smart about it.

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Through this manner, I’m able to pick them off one by one. I do take some minimal damage, but so long as I’m careful and willing to pick my moments, I’m easily able to outlast them.

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Once I get close, I get a better look at that mound, and am… not exactly happy with what I see. That’s a lot of spider webbing. And those tendrils, are those bones? Roots? In either case, being closer is far from reassuring. Nevertheless, I steel myself, and venture into the opening.

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Seem’s I’ve entered a new area here. Quelaag’s Domain, the game calls it. The inside of this tunnel through the web is pretty simple. Just two of these figures, and a fog gate beyond then. The figures seem to be begging. For what? Well, I can only assume.

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Hoping I’ve got his wish right, I grant it. Five maggots burst from his body as my sword penetrates the hive using it as his host. These things are extremely hard to hit, as low to the ground they are. More often than now, my sword sails right over them.

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My fireballs fare better.

I grant both the figures what I hope is a kindness, and deal with the maggots that come out in turn. Then, I make my way through the fog gate.

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My next adversary approaches. Seems to be a giant spider, far from surprising given the setting.

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It’s grotesque, but after that Gaping Dragon? Not phasing me too much.

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Hmmm….

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In fact, I think I might enjoy this.

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I play this one aggressively, and the fight is short. Quelaag stops to spew some lave, and I take advantage of this break to dodge and slip in beside her. I take a hit as I do so, dealing about half my life, but I’m able to take half of hers in return before I run out of stamina.

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Unfortunately, it’s not short in my favor. I move to put some distance between us so I can safely recover, and find myself blocked by her spider legs behind me. Her legs hold me there as she launches an area-effect spell, and that’s all for me.

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Round 2 is pathetic on my part. Rather than engaging Quelaag when she appears, I instead move towards my remains to recover my souls and humanity. Surprisingly fast, she cuts me off, then conjures up a flaming sword, and frankly, just beats the daylights out of me with it. She keeps the pressure on and I’m unable to put up an effective defense. I die without laying a finger on her, and mere feet away from recollecting my power.

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You may think that if playing aggressively got me killed, a smart strategy would be to back off and fight defensively. You’d be wrong. Well, you may actually be right, but that’s not the strategy I used so nobody cares. Instead, I put the pressure on even more. Her offense was primarily fire-based, making my shield suboptimal. I set it away, and switched to a double-handed grip on my sword, giving me half again the attack power. Then, I stayed in her face and never left. You remember all that trouble I’ve been having with all those smaller enemies, being unable to hit them because my sword sails right over them? Never let anyone tell you I don’t learn. Quelaag is much taller than me. Meaning she has the exact same problem with her blade of flames. If I’m close enough, I can roll right under her swings. From there, I move to her side to keep the pressure on whenever I’m able, and stick as close as possible given her great speed. I take hits, of course. Plenty of them. But I can heal. At the same time, I can take off huge chunks of her health in mere moments, and she’s not really well equipped for handling my extremely close fighting. After a few minutes, she falls. I take her soul as a trophy.

In the back of her room, there’s a ruined building. It holds a staircase heading down. I take it. It leads to a room overlooking a lava-filled cavern. There’s a lever on the other side of the room. I pull it.

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It causes something to ring.

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The second Bell of Awakening. That which the Chosen Undead is supposed to ring. All of the undead in Lordran have been seeking it.

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The bell resonates with the first Bell of Awakening, in the Undead Parish.

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True to it’s name, the Bells wake up a sleeping giant. The giant pulls a chain…

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lifting the gate that old onion-head was moping in front of half this series ago.

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The sounds of the twin bells ring across the land, announcing to all that the Chosen One has risen. And that he is the Best. Everybody’s so super jealous. They wish they could be as cool as the Best Chosen One. Too bad they aren’t.

Next time: They totally aren’t.

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6 responses to “Proving Ourselves in Dark Souls

    • I’ll do anything to make the world a better place for bacon!

      Yeah, it was exhausting to play, as well. I think this was the first part of the game I found myself not enjoying. Hopefully, that doesn’t carry on through the rest of it.

  1. Far from it. Judging by the list of areas and other materials I’ve been able to find online, I’d say we’re maybe a third of the way through. Ringing the bells was just the first major quest.

  2. I salute you. This chain was amazing for me while I waited for stuff to load. :D. On a side note Curse you slow internet!!!

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