Distractions of Dark Souls

Last time, on Adventures in Oolacile, we had a cliffhanger.  The first in this entire series, I think.  What the hell, Aether?  Weren’t you just complaining about those?  You hack.  Fix it.  Fix it now.

Well, if you insist.

If you’ll recall, we ended things last time with me tromping through a forest then passing through a fog gate.  On the other side of that gate we find a cutscene.  You know what that means.  That means it’s boss time.

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And here’s our opponent.  Look at him.  All bobbly and spindly and totally smaller than me.  And here I thought the DLC was supposed to be hard!  I could totally take this guy.  I could totally take like, 20 of this guy.  I could…

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My reflections on how awesome I am in comparison are interrupted as someone else jumps in and totally takes that guy.

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Dude lifts his sword a bit, then stabs the guy again for good measure.

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Then he seems to notice me.  Dark energies begin gathering around him.

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I’m… not entirely sure I can totally take this guy.

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Dude roars at me, strikes this pose, then hurls the impaled corpse of that guy right at me.

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The corpse doesn’t quite clear the distance, it skids to my feet, but the meaning is clear.  And aww, man, Artorias?!  We were supposed to be buds!  I’d impress you with my awesome swordwork, we’d bro out and save the princess, and then be generally cool guys together until I had to return to my time!

Is this ‘cause I killed your dog?  That hasn’t even happened yet!

In any case, I fear that this is going to be a lackluster post.  Not because the fight with Artorias isn’t intense.  It is.  In fact, it’s one of the most intense fights I’ve had thus far.  And that’s the problem.  Artorias is really, really good at keeping up the pressure.  He attacks, ducks back for just a moment, then is right on me again.  He has a faster-paced offense than any boss I’ve fought so far.  And that makes it really, really hard to get good screencaps.

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He tends to lead off with a forward flip that ends with his blade slamming downwards, a dark liquid spouting up from beneath.  It’s not too hard to dodge, but he can repeat it three times, easily catching me if I try to counter too soon and leaving me too exhausted to press the advantage much at the end of it.  It does leave him open for a moment at the end, though, allowing me to hit him as much as my remaining stamina allows.  Also, something I find a bit notable, Artorias and I both have decent amounts of poise, to the point we’re not able to interrupt each other with a single attack.  We can totally trade blows.  It doesn’t work out in my favor, given his power and health bar, but I do score a few hits that way.

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Eventually, he breaks off and stops some distance away.  I’m glad for the respite, and take the opportunity to heal as he gathers a shroud of that dark energy around himself.  A burst surrounds him, and newly cloaked in black flame, Artorias charges for me once more.

I skirmish with him for a brief while, and get off two hits while I’m at it.  I leave myself open at the wrong time on the second one, however, and eat his blade twice in response.

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Turns out, calling the dark energy?  Significantly increases his damage output.  I’m not sure whether to be proud that I managed to take a third of his health off on my first try, or dismayed that that’s as far as I got.

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When I wake up back at the bonfire, I burn through a few humanity to get myself in human form again and kindle the bonfire, giving me extra estus.  Something tells me I’m going to need them.  In any case, take a look at that.  I have skin, once more!  For just a brief, fleeting moment in my immortal life, I’m gorgeous again!  I take advantage of it, too.  Not that there’s anyone around to check me out, other than the mushroom lady, but I do strip down and streak around for a bit, enjoying the feel of the sun on my skin.

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After I’ve had enough of that, I go back down to take the fight to Artorias once more.

In the second round, I start to get more of a feel for his moves.  He seems to have three ranges at which he’ll operate.  At long range, he has two techniques, one where he jumps up and dives sword first down at me, much like he did to the cobhead in the cutscene, and one where he takes a running lunge towards me.  Both are telegraphed greatly, but he’ll adjust them on the fly, so they require really precise timing to dodge.  At mid-range, he pretty much just has the triple flip thing, easy to avoid but the sequential rolls leaving me too drained to adequately follow up.  Close range seems to be where he’s most comfortable, busting out the sword combos, the blade spins, the low launching slashes, and some more of the flippy stuff.  That’s definitely where he finds his rhythm, launching attack after attack giving only just enough room for a careful counter.  His whole fighting style seems centered around the close-range fighting, too.  Even his long-range attacks bring him into melee range.  He’s got a few moves when I slip behind him, too, preventing me from pressing what little advantage I find too much.  He can conjure up some gray ooze out of nowhere and hurl it in an arc in less time than it takes me to swing my blade.  If I’m already attacking, there’s nothing I can do to avoid it, but luckily, it barely does any damage, and he always scoots away rather than keeping the pressure on after it.  He also has a quick blade flip he does when I’m behind him that, if he has a tell for it, I haven’t been able to tell what it is.  It does considerably more damage than the mud move, but luckily, he doesn’t pull it out too often.

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Much like last time, I do about a quarter of his health in damage before he breaks off to power himself up again.  I’m not about to just sit back and let him do that, so I charge forward to interrupt.

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Turns out, that was a bad move.  I hit him once, then the power erupts around him and knocks me off my feet.  Artorias is on me before I can get up, and that spells death for me.

There’s really no tricks I can suss out, here.  The room is circular and empty, without any protrusions or obstructions to take advantage of.  Artorias’s fighting style is very solid, giving little opportunity to abuse flaws in his technique.  And I didn’t notice any available summon signs in my brief sojourn as a human.  This is purely strength vs. strength and skill vs. skill.  I’m not going to be able to beat Artorias by being smarter than him, slyer than him, or more underhanded than him, as I have so many other foes.  If I am to overcome this, I am going to need to get better than him.

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And I am not at that level yet.

Over and over again, I challenge him and fall.  I figure out pretty quickly that his darkness-based powerup only lasts for about a minute, but even without it, Artorias is formidable.  It’s not a matter of physicality; I feel I’ve done well enough already to make clear that my strength, endurance, etc. are all up to par.  It’s purely a matter of skill.  Fighting Artorias requires precision at all levels.  His attacks are very tricky to dodge, I have to be very careful in blocking to manage stamina, and finding a safe moment to attack is almost maddening.

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Over and over again, I eat his steel simply because I was a few milliseconds off.  Dodge too early and he adjust his attack to catch me.  Swing too early, and he’ll match my strike with one of his own while I am too committed to react.  Too late on anything, and I end up with his sword lodged in my lung.  The timing required is very strict, and I am not consistent enough to match it, yet.

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His presence is… off to me.  He is not fighting like a man.  And that’s not just the elements of Sif’s fighting style I recognize in his.  He hounds me relentlessly, roars constantly, and moves like something between man and beast.  I think back to when he first introduced himself, impaling the cobhead then looking at me as if I were no different than than the creature he killed.  I’m not sure if he actually recognizes me for what I am.  I don’t believe he’s been afflicted with the darksign, as I’m pretty sure it’s not plaguing the world as much now as it is in my time.  I wonder if it is part of that dark power that both shrouds and trails after him, that is left in veins on the floor.  Mayhaps this is the Abyss Artorias was so famed for both traversing and conquering, seeping into his mind?

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Moreover, it’s obvious he’s been damaged before I ever stepped foot in here.  His left arm hangs mostly limp to his side, moving only to flail while flinging the grey ooze.  It seems broken.  Given how aggressively he entered this space, he’s been fighting for a while.  With the Abyss touching his mind, I wonder if he’s able to stop.  In any case, at some point, he ran into something that was at least at his level, that wounded him.  And then he came to me.

Even with only one working arm, I still have a hell of a time.  To the point that I start to question why I’m still running my head up against this particular wall.  But Dusk is in trouble, and I said I’d save her.  If this mad dog lies between us, I’ve no choice but to put him down.  And you know what?  I’ve seen his grave, in this very forest.  I know he dies here.

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Of course, against an opponent this skilled, it’s easier said than done.

I wish I could give some great tale of heroics here, like “I finally figured out his weak point” or “The power of friendship shined through” but no.  What happened next actually relied on one of the baser parts of me.

I got into an argument.

No, I didn’t try to fight Artorias by shouting him down, I ended up in an argument in good old meatspace.  The inability to pause means I typically don’t play Dark Souls until I’m the only one roaming around the house and everyone’s business with me is settled, but this time around, someone forgot how much smarter I am than they are in the middle in the night and decided to call me up to discuss it right after I had entered the fog gate.  Wasn’t a heated argument, mind you, but defending my point did take most of my consciousness away from the game.  It wasn’t a big deal, I figured, I’d just play on auto-pilot until I died, then I’d get back to the game afterwards.  I stopped paying attention long enough to thoroughly dominate the other person intellectually.

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This is the scene I came back to when I ended the call and started focusing on the game again.

I really don’t know how it happened.  I guess I’d just been overthinking it?  By diverting my attention away from the game, I started operating purely by reflex and instinct, and that’s just what I needed for this fight?

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Supporting that theory was the fact that I had a lot harder time after I started paying attention.  I hadn’t been dominating Artorias as thoroughly as I was my opponent in the argument, but I was definitely ahead of him in terms of available life.  That advantage slowly eroded as we tangled.  I was playing defensively, but he still scored several hits for the few I landed on him.  The final bit of his life bar was absolutely the hardest for him.  When he was one hit away from death, I just stopped being able to touch him.  He absolutely had his way with me then, forcing me to down my last swig of estus, then cutting away more than half my remaining life, all while I wasn’t able to touch him.

We skirmished for several minutes after that, neither of us successfully catching a hit on each other.  If I lost the fight now, I didn’t know if I’d be able to get so far again.  I was playing it as safe as I could dodging or blocking everything he swung at me, all while waiting for a solid opening.  That opening never came.  Artorias fights with so much pressure it is really, really hard to find a clean moment.  Though he was but one hit away, I was only two, and either of us could carve up the other’s life bar in an instant.

That last thought stuck with me.  And I remembered something I noted in the first fight of this battle.  Something that could prove to be key.  And suddenly, I knew how to beat him.  It was a stupid idea that’d waste the closest thing to victory I had if I was wrong, but that thought didn’t even enter my mind.  I knew how to beat him.  And as Artorias rushed forward and began swinging his sword, I knew it was my moment.

I saw the blade coming for me.  If I wanted to dodge it, it’d be a simple matter to do so.  I didn’t.  Nor did I block it.  Instead, I swung.  My blade would never be faster than his, particularly when I started my attack after he did.  That didn’t matter.  I was two hits away from dying.  He was one.  And do you remember when I mentioned that neither of us were able to interrupt the other’s attack with a single strike?  His blade hit me first.  I absorbed the cut, then continued mine.

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I won by the slimmest margin possible.  I won by all the margin that mattered.

After he falls, and fades away, I pick up his soul, and take a look at its description.  Artorias was indeed corrupted by the Abyss, as I thought.  It turns out that the legends about him, his great victory in driving back the Abyss, were incomplete, however.  His honor was preserved by some ‘unsung hero’, who defeated him, then went on to conquer the Abyss themselves.

Man, I hate time travel.

Next Time: Pressing on…

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5 responses to “Distractions of Dark Souls

  1. Ah, demonstrating the importance of action through inaction in Dark Souls, I see.

    The bosses in this game sure know how to make an entrance, don’t they? Weirdly, the lack of a pause button never really tripped me up now that I think about it. I do remember one time when I realized too late that I had the wrong items equipped, forcing me to hastily navigate the menus while avoiding enemies. Amazingly, I survived. That’s one of the many things I like about Dark Souls; it seems like everyone has their own interesting stories to tell about their playthrough.

    • That’s happened to me a few times, forgetting to change my equipment for a fight. I’ve never chanced a live action change, but I have had to make a few improvised maneuvers. Finding out I forgot to leave myself a bow ready, then trying to take out a long distance enemy by arcing fireballs, is a particularly memorable occasion.

  2. “Lackluster post” my foot. Screengrabs or no, the way you analyzed and described the fight had me as glued to the screen as I likely would have been if I’d been watching the actual gameplay footage, and this is coming from someone who’s already fought Artorias dozens of times across seven hundred hours of playtime. If ever there were a post to counteract the Ornstein and Smough one which I earlier criticized – not that such a thing was needed, since as I said in that comment, it doesn’t keep this overall series of posts from being among the best Dark Souls recaps out there – this would be it.

    (Betcha almost miss them now, huh? Keeping track of both of them is substantially harder than keeping an eye on Artorias, sure, but even with both of them on top of you at once, it’s still so much easier to find openings to attack or heal up than it is even with Artorias all on his lonesome. Imagine what he must have been like when he still had a working arm for his greatshield and tag-teamed with Sif…)

    • Glad to hear the post was much better than I feared, thanks! Blazes, Artorias and Sif together? I think that’d send me on a downward spiral that could only end when I offered my controller up in surrender. You’re right, Artorias alone is more aggressive than Ornstein and Smough together, and that constant pressure is the most lethal part of the fight. I still maintain that the camera is what caused me the most trouble with Ornstein and Smough, and I don’t think I’m any better at managing or working around that, but I’m thinking now that with the growth I’ve had between then and now would lend me far better to that fight. Just the reflexes I’ve had to develop in dealing with Artorias would likely make that much easier.

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