I have a problem with buying games and never playing or completing them. Yeah, I know, it's not exactly a major vice, but it frustrates me to see a ton of games resting on my shelf, or tucked away in boxes, that I've never gotten around to playing yet, even when I've heard such good things about them. "So," I thought to myself "how can I encourage myself to play through these games so I don't feel like I'm wasting all this money that I don't have?"
Blog about them, of course. Duh. And thus the journey through all of the random games I've bought in the last few years began.
Of all the games, why Dark Souls?
I loved Demon's Souls. So I'm not really sure why I never got around to Dark Souls. Something about it always intimidated me, the lack of hub-based gameplay, the fixed-use magic system, the length that I knew it would take to complete it. I always kept putting it off. For a long time, too; Amazon lists my order of this game from October 3rd, . What the fuck was I waiting this long for?
Vinny getting back into Dark Souls gave me the inspiration I needed, so one afternoon I just said "Fuck it", cracked open the case, and started playing. I fell pretty deep into it, too. After playing a ton of it, I started reading various wikis, having Let's Plays on in the background, all kinds of nonsense. When I just wanted to play a little bit of it, I'd fall into hours and hours. I never seemed to put the controller down once I started.
There's no real getting around it, either; the game is long. If I was going into it completely blind, and not looking up a proper order to do the areas in, I probably would've spent another ten hours on this game than the fifty I already did to complete it.
What impressed me most? The level design is kind of incredible.
It's such an oddly specific thing to come away from a game like this and feel most impressed by, but despite all my concerns about the lack of a central hub of the game before I started playing it, I rarely felt like I was being asked to waste time trekking over huge amounts of space.
Everything about this game's world is designed in such a way as to weave back in on itself at almost all times. There are shortcuts, just-out-of-view ladders, optional locked doors, all of which allow you to save time after you've completed an area proper. In fact, depending on items you pick up along the way, buy, or start out the game with, you could just skip huge portions of the game and never notice. That's really fucking awesome.
The game is, in a way, both linear and incredibly flexible, depending on your knowledge of the environment and the items you have. If you have a high level in a certain covenant, you can almost entirely skip the Demon Ruins. Start off with the Master Key, and you can cut out the most annoying part of Blighttown completely and just run straight for the boss area, or start the back-end of Darkroot Basin instead of entering from the Undead Parish.
The game rewards you for exploration, but doesn't necessarily punish you if you don't. My first time through the Catacombs I just straight up missed a large section of the level and a hidden bonfire, but nothing about that prevented me from just moving on to the next area and doing my business there. It's just this nice, awesome thing that you can find if you like, but if you don't, hey, whatever.
Related to this are the combat encunters, which all feel fine-tuned enough to present just enough challenge to every fight. Not all of them are fair, mind you, (we'll get to that in a second), but throughout the game I always felt like enemies were put where they were for a very specific reason. That archer you just passed is going to harass you in a fight just around the corner if you don't get rid of him; you just don't know that yet. There's a necromancer just behind the wall that's going to revive these skeletons, and there's only so many of them in one room so it doesn't get too crazy, but can still kick your ass.
By far, what I marveled at in every new area, was just the obvious painstaking detail and work that was put into every fight, and every shortcut, and every blind turn. Everything works together like a finely tuned machine. In my opinion it is, if nothing else, the best level design of the generation.
This game isn't always the "Hard but fair" some make it out to be.
Playing strictly as a one-handed weapon, Miracle-using Cleric can be sort of a nightmare sometimes. Dark Souls is more flexible in terms of what kind of play-styles are viable for most encounters than in Demon's Souls, but it could still be a lot better.
I could be going through an area with very little problem taking out enemies with my preferred weapon (a fully upgraded Divine Falchion, if you were curious. Good, flexible damage, scales with faith, very low stamina usage) and then a boss battle will just have absolutely none of it. Playing without a lot of armor meant me being stunlocked by even the weakest of enemies, and The Duke's Archives? It's full of magic-resistant enemies which meant that place was a slog, in spots, despite a fully upgraded weapon and being about 25-soul levels beyond where I probably should've been.
"But Marokai!" You're probably thinking, "Why don't you just throw on some armor and use a more conventional weapon?"
Fuck that. I understand some enemies being resistant to some damage types, that's totally cool, but the final boss was nearly unbeatable for me before I decided I was sick of getting the floor wiped with my robed body, and threw on Havel's armor. I then beat the final boss on my second heavy-armor attempt. It's not like me playing with very light armor and using a one-handed weapon is some sort of specifically gimped playstyle. I was playing as my role. I shouldn't have to become a tank for certain encounters to suddenly become pushovers.
And one hit kill moves? Double fuck that. None of that is fair. Trying to cross the red drake bridge is infuriating when the fire will suddenly go from doing one-third of your healthbar to instantly killing you at full health. I only got past that part because I got lucky and the drake somehow killed itself, or something. I don't know. All I know is that it disappeared sort of out of nowhere. Getting Havel's ring was similarly rage-quit worthy, because 90% of his attacks you can block and survive, but if he hits you with a two-handed attack, it doesn't matter how much stamina you have, it's just over. I don't call that "hard but fair." That's just "be perfect or you die."
Thankfully, these moments were few and far between. The vast majority of fights are totally hard but fair, and can be won with most conventional playstyles. But if the answer to a certain spot is "well just dodge everything and never get touched" then something has gone wrong, there.
I love this game a whole lot. But I think I can set it aside for now.
I was all amped up to play a few hours of the game with new characters. I thought it would be cool to play six hours or so as a Sorcerer, and see how that was like. Even considered trying to speed through the game as a Pyromancer, because it seems like that class is stupidly good. But that fever lasted about an hour and ahalf into a new Pyromancer character, when I was grinding against Havel (ew) for his ring, and kept dying over and over again because I just got unlucky and dodged at the wrong half-second.
This game is really great. I loved a lot of my time with it. Part of it just feel like old-school game design that just don't exist anymore, and I think that's really awesome. Specific parts of how this game is built are just outright incredible. But I don't want to do that fifty hours again. I just can't, guys. Maybe that makes me a pussy; but whatever. I love the idea of playing through this game with different styles, but some parts I just don't have patience for again. I don't want to fight Smough and Ornstein another time. I think my nerves just need time to rest.
But despite that, playing this game was a great experience as a first-time run. It's an "important" game, I think, whatever that means these days, and I'm happy to look at it resting amongst the rest of my games and know that I completed it. Still, I think I'll move on to something a little more colorful and cheerful for the next game in my backlog.