Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Pain.
Before Dark Souls, I was never a fan of challenging games. Yes, I’m the type of gamer who, when given a choice of what difficulty to play a game as, will choose easy. Sometimes medium if I’m feeling particularly ballsy. I can’t quite remember why I decided to start playing Dark Souls in the first place. Maybe I was dared. Maybe I felt that everyone else had played it, so I had to. Or maybe, just maybe, I felt like I had something to prove. Famed for it’s difficulty, finishing Dark Souls is seen by most gamers as a crowning achievement. The temptation was too great for me. I bought the Prepare To Die edition, downloaded DSFix (because I’m not a monster) and jumped in.
I went into the game fairly blind. I hadn’t seen any gameplay. I didn’t look for tips or tricks to make the game easier for myself. The only things I knew about the game going in were that Blighttown sucks, DSFix was essential and two particular names that I saw pop up more than any others. More on them later.
It’s safe to say that my first few attempts didn’t go well. It actually took several character attempts until I actually stuck with one. I didn’t realise that there’s no real right or wrong way to build your character. I tried a regular knight, then a thief, then a bandit. I’ve always been a sword and board type of guy, none of that magic stuff (in the words of a certain racist Skyrim NPC). The cycle would be the same; breeze past the Asylum, save for a few attempts at the Demon, get to the shrine, kill the Crestfallen Knight (because he’s a dick), head to the Undead Burg and then promptly hit a brick wall. That brick wall being regular hollowed soldiers.
My thought process went as follows: “These are regular enemies. How are they killing me so easily? Do I suck? No, the game sucks, fuck this.” And thus I would rage quit. And then jump back on, not letting myself be defeated so easily. Strangely enough, the character that I eventually ended up finishing the game with was created in a fit of rage. In fact, I was so angry when I created this tall, goofy, bowl-cut-adorned fellow that I actually forgot to name him. Yes, my legendary Chosen Undead who linked the fire of Lordran was named “Player”.
The Undead Burg was the first true test on my “proper” playthrough. Running a gauntlet of hollow soldiers, leading to the Taurus Demon (via a Black Knight) was where I really began to realise why the game had the reputation it did. I died on that short stretch of buildings more times than I’d like to admit. I think going into the game blind was the reason for this, but I feel that ultimately it made my experience that much more rewarding. My playstyle is very much to run in and deal with enemies as quickly and sloppily as possibly. My priority is offence, not defence. I never even learned to parry until my third playthrough, 110 hours of game time under my belt. At this point I was still using the regular longsword and shield because I am a creature of habit and cannot handle change, even in video game weapons. Eventually I broke through the lines and reached the Taurus Demon.
Fighting the beast was the first time I actually found myself enjoying the game and realised what it was; harsh but fair. Every enemy has patterns and it’s up to you, the player, to learn those patterns and act accordingly. The game won’t hold your hand or feed you mindless QTEs. It gives you a sword, a shield and Estus. After that you’re on your own. It was during the Taurus Demon fight that I realised that I am much more comfortable dodging attacks than blocking, and that I should change my playstyle accordingly. Then I really began to hit my stride. Once I realised that I could just plunge attack the Demon to give myself a huge advantage, I made light work of it.
“Alright! Another boss down! Just gotta cross this bridge an- OH GOD WHY IS THERE FIRE WHY AM I DEAD” were my thoughts shortly after defeating the Taurus. The Hellkite taught me to not trust any step I take in Lordran, especially when it came to areas with precarious footing. The enemy that killed me most was Artorias. The enemy that killed me second most was rolling off a cliff while locked onto an enemy. Because I’m very good at video games. After a detour to meet Solaire (and finally learn why people say “Praise The Sun”) I stepped foot onto the bridge again to meet hellfire. After several deaths I finally managed to sprint my way down under the bridge and unlock the heavenly shortcut back to the bonfire. Now I only found out on my second playthrough that you could just run past the Hellkite when it lands. Hell, I only found out on my second playthrough that the Hellkite could land. Which meant that during my first run I entered the Undead Parish the only way I knew how: through a tunnel with bad footing and poisonous rats. If only I knew that there was another bonfire directly above where I was constantly getting gangbanged by rats. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The Undead Parish almost drove me to quit the game… again. With the introduction of Balder Knights (and that fucking Channeler) I once again got stuck in a loop of deaths and wondering if I was even going the right way. Once I found the heavenly bonfire outside Sen’s Fortress (as well as meeting Onionbro and Blacksmithbro) I felt a huge weight of salt being lifted from me. Not only this, but the Undead Parish held a very important weapon; the Halberd. When I first used the Halberd, it just felt… right. It really fit my “get naked and dodge everywhere” style of playing, and it got me through most of the game, until I got my hands on the beefy Black Knight version. That took me right to the end. With a shiny new weapon, and renewed vigor, Player pressed onto the Gargoyles and the first Bell Of Awakening. And actually, didn’t have too much of a problem! Sure, there were a few deaths but they were usually down to me getting greedy or mistiming a dodge. But after a few attempts, the beasts were felled, and the first bell was rung. I even met a new character named Lautrec! He seems like a nice, trustworthy chap.
Back to the Burg, and onto the next boss. Now, all of the previous bosses give you a fair amount of space to fight you in. Which is why, when I stepped into someone’s back garden to fight the Capra Demon, it really sent me into panic mode. The Capra would be a pain on it’s own, given the tiny arena and powerful damage. Throw two fast dogs into the mix and you have a hell of a fight on your hands. An hour or two of slogging later, the Capra was reduced to Crapra and on we continued to the Depths. I actually got through the Depths without much incident. Apart from getting lost a lot it was actually a pretty enjoyable area to explore. Up until this point the enemies had been rather samey. You had hollows, hollow soldiers and Balder Knights, which if you think about it are just beefier hollow soldiers. The Depths introduces you to one of the game’s scariest enemies in the Basilisk. Not only do they leap around with their huge, bulging not-eyes, but have the ability to curse you, which honestly scared the shit out of me the first time it happened. My thought process went something along the lines of: “Oh god what happened? Why am I dead? What happened to my health bar?” This ended up in me having to turn to the internet for the first time (but not the last) as I couldn’t work out how to rid myself of the curse on my own. One purging stone later, and it’s time to face the Gap-
What’s that sign on the floor?
“Summon Phantom Knight Solaire”?
I can SUMMON NPCs?
Yep, I got all this way without realising you could engage in Jolly Cooperation.
To clarify, I knew you could coop with other players, as I picked this up from Solaire, but it didn’t occur to me that you could also summon NPCs. In my defence, I had spent most of the game hollowed so it hadn’t been an option during the Gargoyle fight. After a touching reunion with my grossly incandescent brother-in-arms, it was time to face another boss, and absolutely my favourite introduction to a boss, save only for Nito. I’ll admit, I was fooled at first. The little snout poking out of the hole was cute, before the reveal. Hoo boy, what a reveal. The gigantic, near-endless mass of teeth and claws definitely tops the list of my favourite boss designs. It’s just so… nightmarish. It really makes you wonder if FromSoft’s character designers are truly sound of mind. I had a lot of fun fighting the Dragon, as it’s sheer size and power truly made it feel like an epic battle, especially with Solaire joining the fray to make the fight more even. We slayed the beast without much trouble, and my confidence kept increasing.
Only my next destination was one of the only places I had heard about before I started the game. A dark place. A terrifying place, full of poison, death and bad framerates.
Next up was Blighttown.