Sorry this took me so long to publish. I’ve been busy with work and finishing off playthrough number 2 of Dark Souls. Playthrough number three will be on my Twitch channel!
The most poisonous, least smooth place in Lordran.
I went into Blighttown with some trepidation. I had heard from friends just what a nightmare I was in for. Just the abrupt change in lighting after leaving the Depths was enough to make me mutter “Oh fuck” under my breath. I made my way down the tunnel trepidatiously, spotting two figures in the distance. They turn and run towards me. Two hulking beasts with clubs. One swings. I mistime my dodge. I get one-shotted, dropping all of the souls I gained from beating the Gaping Dragon.
So it’s gonna be like that, is it Blighttown?
I spent quite a while trying to navigate the twisted mass of stone and wood that makes up the majority of Blighttown. I learned to have a shield up at all time, to avoid becoming toxic (after this many deaths I was already toxic enough). I learned that at this point in the game, the spooky moss lady in the sewer was highly important and needed to be protected at all costs. And I learned that actually… Blighttown is nowhere near as bad as people say. It’s a bitch to navigate, sure, but once you realise that the only way is down, it becomes clear where you need to go. After some tricky toing and froing, Player’s feet reached semi-solid ground. Now it was time to face the swamp. I decided to run a gauntlet around the entire outside of the swamp to collect the various items available, making a mental note to return to that weird tree-like thing later. I ended up completely forgetting about it on my first playthrough, and never went on my second playthrough. It wasn’t until I watched a friend’s playthrough that I ever saw The Great Hollow and Ash Lake, and have currently never been to it myself. I will visit it in playthrough 3.
Back to the bonfire, and it was time to face the next boss. I was leaving the safety of the tunnel when a message popped up on-screen: “Dark Spirit Maneater Mildred has invaded!”. When this message appeared, I realised that it was an NPC that was invading me, not another player. When Kirk invaded in the Depths I assumed it was a real person, because I thought that no character in this game could have a name as mundane as Kirk, right? When the female equivalent of Captain Caveman came storming towards me, it hit me. Just as you could summon NPCs, NPCs could also invade. Despite her best efforts and big ol’ club, she was shortly dispatched. A short trip across the swamp (and avoiding Ogre Squad) later, it was time to face Quelaag.
My reaction to Quelaag’s introduction went something like this:
“Oh no. Oh ew. Oh god that’s gro- oh. Oh, hello.”
I actually beat the rule 34-bait rather easily. Of course I had Mildred backing me up during this fight, but I feel that even solo it wouldn’t be particularly challenging. A lot of her attacks are slow and telegraphed, and the arena is so large that you have a lot of space to dodge/run/heal. With the Chaos Witch defeated, it was time for us to close out another chapter of the game. The second bell of awakening was rung, and the large gate near the Parish was opened. After taking one look at the Demon Ruins and assuming that I was not supposed to be there yet, it was time to take the long trip back to the surface. Finally seeing daylight again was relieving and the strings as I entered the Shrine were comforting in a way that they weren’t before. Time for a nice rest at the bo- uh, bonfire? Bonfire? “Fire keeper is absent”? I took the stairs down to investigate, only to discover the fire keeper’s grate empty, reduced to a single-word description. “Dead.” Dead? What? How? Then I remembered who was sat outside her cell ever since I’d kindly freed him from his prison. I trusted Lautrec. He betrayed me. I was seething. I was also quite frankly horrified at Firelink’s new arrival. Ringing the bells had triggered a huge serpent with ridiculous teeth to appear. Once I convinced myself that he wasn’t an enemy, he gave me my next task: make my way through Sen’s Fortress and find something called a Lordvessel. With the large ember in hand, I stopped in the Parish for a while to grind some souls, level up and upgrade the trusty halberd to +10. At this point I had definitely become used to the way of the Souls. I was riding high on my victory in Blighttown, but even that feeling couldn’t prepare me for the hellish gauntlet that was Sen’s Funhouse.
If the snakes don’t get you, the pendulums will get you. If the pendulums don’t get you, the prowling demons will get you. If the prowling demons don’t get you, the boulders will get you. If the boulders don’t get you, the fireballs will get you. If the fireballs don’t get you, then the Iron Golem will get you. I loved the Iron Golem fight. I say fight, it was more me just summoning Black Iron Tarkus and watching him and the Golem slug it out. I honestly love Tarkus. It’s a shame that by this time I was set on playing the rest of the game practically naked. And it made discovering his fate in Anor Londo even sadder.
Speaking of Anor Londo, I was grabbed by the demons and whisked away to my next destination, the city of the gods. And what an introduction. Anor Londo was unlike anything seen before it. It was clean, and spacious, and somewhat beautiful. Exploring the starting area was a chance for me to practice dodging on the Sentinels and introduce myself to a new enemy- the Mimic. The first time I opened a chest only for it to to slam down on my head and chew me up I felt a mixture of horror and confusion. I wasn’t really surprised- of course a game like Dark Souls would have chests that try to kill you. I played the rest of the game hitting every single chest I came across before opening it. It wasn’t until my second playthrough that I learned that the chain curls in a different way if it’s a mimic, and that if you look very closely, you can see the mimic breathing. It’s very subtle and clever and I like that little touch a lot. Travelling through Anor Londo went fairly smoothly. The large open areas and slow enemies felt challenging but fair. The only place that gave me real difficulty was the rafters over the painting room. Any sequence in a game that involves walking on very thin surfaces over very high drops always gives me anxiety. And having to navigate the beams while dealing with the painting guardians too meant that I ended up going the way of Tarkus more times than I would have liked. Continuing on our quest to find the Lordvessel led us past a pair of particularly pesky archers and into a rather lovely-looking castle.
Solaire and a bonfire are two sights for sore eyes. Reuniting with Sunbro himself was a sign that I was on the right path.The inviting glow of the bonfire made delaying my quest all too tempting. But the Lordvessel wasn’t going to find itself. I understand now that the Silver Knights are supposed to be easy… if you can parry. Which I couldn’t. I didn’t even use a shield during this playthrough. At this point I was running around naked with a Black Knight Halberd and I had no plans to change my strategy. I had a grand old time exploring the castle(?), finally starting to think about what the place might have been like before the Undead curse. There are bedrooms, and paintings and kitchens. When almost everyone in the world wants to kill you, you sometimes forget that it was once populated. Civilised. Alive. After a brief chat with Siegmeyer, whose comic relief in such a bleak world was a welcome break, it was time for some revenge. Finally learning the art of invading, I activated the Black Eye Orb and steeled myself for a fight.
Lautrec and his cronies definitely took a few tries. I’m not a PVP guy at all, and at this point I had very little experience fighting fast, human enemies. And magic users. This meant that I found my shit getting wrecked several times. It wasn’t until I managed to separate them and pick them apart one by one. And man, did getting that soul back feel good. Riding high from enacting vengeance, my attention turned to the boss door and what lay beyond. The next few hours are possibly my most memorable and favourite in the game.
The first thing I saw when I crossed the threshold was a large humanoid, larger than any I’d seen previously. Hammer in hand, just staring. He looked intimidating, but nothing I couldn’t handle. It was only when the second figure appeared on the balcony that I realised who these two were, and what was about to happen. I had heard their names before, and now I was finally about to experience it for myself. Ornstein & Smough are the culmination of everything you’ve previously overcome before. It’s a stroke of genius on the part of From. You have a slow, lumbering, powerful executioner. You have a devastatingly fast, lightning-wielding knight. And you’re going to fight them both. At the same time. DLC aside, it’s by far the hardest part of the game. And it’s perfect. I adore everything about this boss fight. The grand, sweeping music. The fast, frantic action as you try and keep your eyes on both bosses. The way the pillars break during the battle so, when it’s over and the last defenders of Anor Londo are defeated, you can see just how much destruction you’ve caused. It’s hard to think of another boss arena that has destructible elements such as the pillars, and it makes the calm after the fight rather poignant, and is a lasting sign of how far you’ve come.
After composing myself post-battle, it was time to get my prize. No, not the Lordvessel, the chance to gaze upon those godly bosoms. I should have foreseen that a game developed by a Japanese studio would feature waifus. After doing more research around the internet, I realised that it almost all of the female characters in this game have their “fans”… yes, even Mildred. Me? I have a soft spot for Sieglinde. She’s so cute. After actually listening to what she had to say, Gwynevere bequeathed me the Lordvessel (making travel MUCH easier) and sent me back to Firelink to set the rest of the game in motion. Now just as a note, I had no idea about Kaathe and the dark ending. During my first playthrough I thought that there was only one way to finish the game, and that was linking the flame. And so I returned to Firelink to revive Anastacia, return the Lordvessel to it’s rightful place and learn my task for the final stretch of the game.