Honestly, I’d intended to start this months ago.
Dark Souls is wonderful in the way that it has managed to pull together to rag-tag community of like-minded masochists willing to pore over every little gameplay and lore detail and to actively help newcomers to the game get the best out of it. While not directly a multiplayer game, aside from the invasion and summoning mechanics, the sense of community around the game and strengths of the links between people in that community is fantastic. Even mentioning that I was doing x or y in the game on Twitter has led to replies of encouragement, the best of folk just telling me persevere and I will be all the better for it.
I didn’t listen to these voices for quite some time: I had quite the strop on my first playthrough on the PS3, not being able to even get to the Taurus Demon boss fight and promptly selling the game on to hide my shame from even myself. Perhaps I should have learned my lesson from Demon’s Souls (again, didn’t even manage to reach the first boss in spite of putting around thirty hours into the fucking thing) and not even picked up the game in the first place, but in spite of myself there was something that called out to me about the game’s approach: brutal and a little unfair, but not too punishing of failure in the long run.
Picking it up on Steam in a sale was revelatory: that was the deep-dive into the game, the point at which there was no turning back. I had the game, and it was tied to my Steam account and there was nothing I could do about it. With no way to remove the game from my sight and thereby put it out of my mind until some bastard on Twitter would decide to bring up how great they feel after overcoming their latest impasse, I would surely play on and self-surpass and be compelled to overcome. Well, no: I got as far as the Taurus Demon, defeated him and then had another strop. Four hours in, with a character up to Soul Level 17, I dropped it again.
This is where these “diaries” come in: I noticed something when streaming a little bit of gameplay for the sake of seeing whether my PC could handle it. Playing Dark Souls in public is somewhat akin to, on the one hand, artistic performance and, on the other, stripping oneself bare and having a hall fall of people point and laugh at your genitals: failures are amplified by virtue of the audience even being there and on top of that, it is skill-based with any errant gameplay usually falling squarely at the feet of the player rather than players falling victim to a pseudo-random number generator in a world that all too often seems completely non-deterministic. Those simultaneous feelings of being in control and being at the whim of what the player’s own skill determines to be possible: that is the essence of Dark Souls. That is why I know that I must make my way through it; and it’s why I feel the need to make my progress public.
This playthrough has been somewhat more successful than the previous two: progress to the Taurus Demon was smooth, with him being made light work of due to the choice of a class that has the use of magic from the get-go. The mistake of feeling that grinding for souls is necessary at this early stage of the game has not been made: the legacy of a childhood spent playing PlayStation JRPGs is a tough one to shake. Inspirational tales of the “Onebros” have taught me not to treat Dark Souls as a number game as many other RPGs are – physical rolls are far more important here than any dice rolls may be in other games.
The next major challenge was the boar in Undead Parish: again, my ability to use ranged magic and other ranged weapons helped me out here – I now proudly wear that metallic bastard’s head as a trophy and (I’d like to think) as a warning to the hollow hordes. Without getting too Ed Gein about this entire thing, I’ve always thought that wearing the skins, or armaments if you’re of a more squeamish disposition, of one’s enemies is the best way to go about intimidating others: “here, I need a couple of patches to complete my skin-suit, you happen to be of the same pattern.” Now I’m babbling like a psychopath.
There’s another thing about Dark Souls: in the same way that Far Cry 2 is, it is a game that wears down its players. The narrative device of the Hollow slowly going mad from their repeated deaths bears great parallels to how I hope other players react: it is mind-numbing to have to deal with the same enemies in the same locations multiple times to get back to the boss that killed you last, utterly soul-crushing. To feel that you have made no difference when all of these enemies respawn upon your death for you to deal with again before you get to the big bastard who is actually causing you hassle?
It’s horrible. Probably worse than dealing with a malaria infection and you rationalising the murder of hundreds in the quest for an arms dealer.
Testing your Far Cry 2 knowledge there.
That was, unfortunately, the headspace I was in: the Bell Gargoyles (plural, and that comes as a fucking shock the first time it happens) presented me with quite the challenge to get past. While healing in boss battles doesn’t seem to ever be easy (judging on the experiences I’ve had with the Taurus Demon), these pair are ridiculously quick at times and their attacks have quite the range to them, owing the the length of the halberds and the fact they have axes attached to their tails. Fortunately, they are weak to fire, but the fireball attack animation is a lengthy one and can’t be cancelled. Physical attacks do little damage with the weapons I currently had (I managed to accidentally obtain the Gargoyle Tail Axe, the attack animation for which is wonderful), and I only had the one Gold Pine Resin remaining. If I had used it and didnt finish the fight, I’m not sure I would have been able to push on and defeat them.
These sort of long, drawn out battles with mythical creatures far bigger than oneself are another thing that makes the game fantastic: even if you have the floor wiped with you, you’ve learned something from the experience. As an example, the Bell Gargoyles’ physical attacks constitute of an attack with the tail axe, horizontal halberd slashes and a vertical slice down that are all fairly devastating: each of these different attacks require dodging at particular times, with the vertical slash being the most difficult of all of them as the Gargoyle isn’t thick and will attempt to adapt to your moving away from its attack, even preempting movement in some cases. In my case, it took a fair few deaths before I’d worked this all out, but because I knew that I was picking up on bits of strategy on how to survive longer, I felt compelled to carry one with my attempts, until one eventually proved fruitful.
And that, above? That is the video games screenshot to end all video game screenshots. It is simply the greatest sense of relief and reward combined that any interactive media has managed to convey. I fail to see how anyone who played this would be anything other than elated once they’ve defeated one of the bosses and all of the toil required to get this far has been rewarded with a big lump sum of souls to pile into your character or their equipment. I’d question someone’s soundness of mind if they weren’t, for example, to scream “fucking yes!” at the top of their lungs at thirty-two minutes past six in the morning, risking waking up the rest of their block of flats: they simply wouldn’t be human. Inhuman; soulless; Hollow.
Having rung the first bell, I headed back down to Firelink Shrine to head down to New Londo Ruins, where I’ve found a new archnemesis in the ghosts which require you to be cursed to attack. I fear that they will become another stumbling block without even having an overly large health bar. I look forward to overcoming this stumble, even if it takes hours of effort.