If there even is a proper word for the confusing mixture of emotions I felt in the first 30 minutes of booting up the long-awaited add-on to last year's utterly exhilarating Dark Souls, it's not in my repertoire. What I do know, is I was immediately struck with a very profound childlike excitement that had me giddy, all due to the fact I was simply doing something new. Having spent well over 200 hours exploring the dense, beautiful and wholly unique world FromSoftware had granted me last year, I pretty much knew everything you could about Dark Souls proper. Every pressure-plate triggered trap, every well-hidden enemy, every nonsense attack a boss could throw at me. Every single obstacle the game could lay on me I had painfully experienced, triumphantly overcome, and gloriously mastered.
But not today. Today, I was walking down a new corridor. It looked familiar, sure. Still a part of Lordran, the over-world the game exists in that I had come to love. But never before had I been down a tunnel that looked just like this, that snaked in this exact fashion, that finally come out into this specific sunlit plateau. And just as all of these pleasant feelings crescendoed in what was beginning to seem like such a sweet song, I met the Sanctuary Guardian.
For a surprisingly large (and questionably masochistic) fan-base as dedicated to collecting souls as I am, the eagerly awaited Artorias of the Abyss content is a breath of fresh air. The newly added story-arch and accompanying sub-world didn't even need to be amazing, it just needed to be more Dark Souls. Thankfully, however, it's pretty special.
In typical Souls fashion, the minor story throughout the new content is vague (and really only told through optional dialogue with it's morbid, defeated charaters) but as effective as ever and covered in a surprise sci-fi sheen.
After being seized by a giant, ugly hand belonging to what could only belong to some hulking monster, you arrive in the abyss plagued land of Oolacile, home to a few foil characters from the main game. You quickly discover you've not only travelled in terms of distance, but also back in time (around the events that provided as reason for the former Oolacile residents to have abandoned their land in the first place) to aid in the fight against the abyss swallowing everything it can.
Even though there are a couple new NPC's (one being especially badass) to interact with and some decent story beats, Souls fan know what it is they want from AOTA. The DLC-only boss fights are just as remarkable as the originals (the highlight being Knight Artorias) and the new loot adds, at the very least, some new tools to take charge with.
The only issue I ever had with the new content is that it didn't quite feel like something we've been waiting a year for. It's so incredibly streamlined into the main game that if someone was to start the original already having purchased the new content, they probably wouldn't realize at what point they had crossed over. I have no doubt that FromSoftware considers this a triumph. To have expected post-Gwyn content would have been foolish. The original game made sense. You had learned early on what your goal was, and by the end you had completed it.That was your story. But having spent a year roaming the same areas over and over again for the past 12 months made me want something a little more dramatic. The creators had painted themselves into a corner.
Many frustrating deaths after my initial introduction to the Sanctuary Guardian, I finally beat him. I had memorized his lengthy set of attacks, discovered which of mine were most effective, and decided exactly what must be done. And as I stood above his rapidly deteriorating corpse with a broken weapon, without potions, heart racing at 200bpm and poisoned, i collapsed alongside him. It was such a perfect moment, sitting by myself in my dark apartment, the previous 30 minutes of anger overwhelmed by a new sense of accomplishment that I laughed out loud to myself, respawned, and ran ahead in search of my next death.