There are few games that illicit the reaction that Dark Souls does with video gamers. It is feared and played with an overwhelming sense of trepidation and abject fear that some people vote to simply not play. In fact half the fun of Dark Souls is the sheer overwhelming emotion that can build up in the player. For this reason we’ve decided to document our reactions and feelings as we play Dark Souls.
As we pick up the collectors edition they were nice enough to upgrade every preorder to we initially notice that it is in fact a giant metal case. I find it strange that a video game that spends so much time telling you that it’s going to kill you doesn’t attempt to design it’s collectors edition into something resembling a casket. Dark Souls design notwithstanding the packaging presents us with our first challenge. While I may be alone in this I immediately had to resort to sharp implements to gain access to the game itself. The first challenge was met with a blade and we proved victorious.
Once the PS3 has been fired up and the game has been updated we find ourselves ready to create our character. Having played Demon’s Souls so wrongly by starting with a Wanderer as my first character (was not ready for the pain that ensued) I know better than to pick this class again. As I look through the list of what is available I settle on something simple: the Knight. Through the limited customization options I quickly get into the action. Granted this is not something to be considered a negative in that soon I’m sure I’ll be forgetting that I even have a face.
As the game starts we find our character already dead and chained to a wall in a jail cell. The irony of this is as palpable as the smell of despair and sorrow in the prison that I am contained in. A game that tells you to prepare to die, even going so far as to claim that as the URL for the Dark Souls Website, starts you off already dead. Where Demon’s Souls starts you with weapons Dark Souls chooses to start you with nothing but the hilt of a sword. I am immediately paranoid as to what may wait for me as I leave my dank cell.
I am immediately comforted in knowing that the controls are virtually identical to those in Demon’s Souls. It’s like picking up an old RPG and being given a whole new story. I also see the familiar sites of messages strewn on the ground and as I read through one after the other it becomes abundantly clear that this is the tutorial stage. I’m learning how to swing my “weapon” at creatures who aren’t even attacking back. It’s okay though since the souls they give me on death are what I’m after here. After quickly dispatching three easy beings I’m met with a ladder and my first bonfire. Since we know that enemies respawn at bonfires we decide to explore the surrounding area a bit before resting. There is a large wooden door and a smaller metal door. The smaller door we are unable to open and nothing good can come of a large door so we sit and rest. Now comes time for a little grinding. Running from bonfire to starting cell and back we continually respawn enemies just to kill them. A sorrowful life they lead, to be sure, but their death serves a purpose. We don’t know what’s behind the large wooden door. We just know we want to be ready for it.
After twenty minutes of grinding we are ready to press on. As we open the door we’re struck with how well illustrated the weight of it is conveyed to the player. It is in this that Dark Souls does a phenomenal job of depicting the world around us. There is nothing simple and nothing easy. Even opening a door requires effort. Suddenly a large demon appears and slams the door behind us. In the distance we see another door open and messages written on the ground. “Run” they tell us so we do just that. After all we are armed with nothing but the handle of a sword. This is not known for its damage ability. We flee.
After fleeing the door behind us slams shut and we’re met with another bonfire so we rest for good measure. You never know what’s ahead so better safe than sorry. As we look around the room we see a small unassuming door with a message in front of it. Lessons learned in Demon’s Souls tell us to always be cautious of all new areas and don’t go running in.
We peer around the door while nestled safely next to it to find an archer taking aim at us. The message reads “get your shield”. On the ground a short run from us is a dead soldier with a light above him. This means he has something for us. It has to be the shield. We time our run between the arrow shots and as we get closer to the soldier we see a room next to him coming into view in the narrow corridor. Sanctuary. We dive into the room escaping a potentially harmful arrow. Sure enough the soldier has a shield for us. While not the greatest shield in the world, it’s still a shield. As we run back out to face the archer we charge him with our shield up and ready to take whatever he shoots. To our surprise he turns and runs. As we give chase he makes a sharp left and we give chase knowing that rushing headlong into anything is suicide.
To our surprise this time it wasn’t. It was an easy kill and we backtrack to do some exploring. Through our exploring we find a longsword that is going to come in handy. Once we find all we can we make our way back to where the archer died and find the opening in the wall that was behind him. As we peer down through the drop before us we see the courtyard that contained the first bonfire. We see a very small drop so we take it and come off unscathed. We look at our new surroundings not fully confident that something isn’t about to come out and stab us in a very brutal way. As we stand overlooking the courtyard to our left is a corridor that leads to nothing more than a dead end. While we do not trust this “dead end” to be truly an end we do not know how to open it. To my right is two sets of stairs, one up and one down. Since down surely leads to the previously locked door in the courtyard we look up and begin our slow ascent up the stairs. Lessons learned from Demon’s Souls teach us that no stair case is without potential for peril.
Suddenly a flurry of curse words comes out as we see a boulder bearing down on us. We do not evade it. We also do not die. This boulder is needed however since behind it it has opened up a wall that contained a dying knight. He gives me a handful of Estus Flasks and tells me a tale of a dead man chosen to come back and save the world. We think he means us. We make our way out of this newly opened hole and we are met with the same two staircases. This time we choose down since last time up seemed to hurt. As I rest at the bonfire my health replenishes and my Estus Flasks fill up as well. Thanks Dark Souls for making this easier on us. These Estus Flasks contain health in times of need and the bonfire replenishes them for us. This kindness is unexpected and appreciated. After another 20 minutes of grinding from bonfire to starting cell we decide it’s time to see what’s up the stairs.
As we climb the stairs we see an enemy waiting for us with a sword in hand. Time to see if we can still parry and riposte. By waiting for the right moment we are able to deflect his attack with L2 and respond with a normal attack with R1. The enemy falls dead. It’s nice to know we can still pull that move off. As we press forward we see a message overlooking a view. Sure to know that it says something to the effect of “nice view” we see it as a trap but still move toward it regardless. Sure enough behind us we can hear the stringing of a bow. We dodge as quickly as possible fearing an arrow in the back. Two enemies with swords come charging at me. As we engage them real life steps in. My dog Maddox has taken my wife’s shoe and is now hitting me with it asking me to give chase. Since I can’t pause Dark Souls I do a dance between melee on the screen and commanding the dog to leave it. Maddox is an asshole. He doesn’t listen. He just wags his tail and looks at me lovingly. He’s lucky I love him so much. As we finish off the two sword wielding enemies and the archer we run back quickly to a point on the level where we know we won’t be hurt. I can then take on Maddox.
We’ve lost a little health so we take hit from an Estus Flask and press on to where we killed the Archer. As we overlook his corpse we read a few of the messages. One tells us that we can have a big hit on someone if we hit attack while falling. We can also do a jumping strong attack. Interesting. To our left is a layer of white fog while before us is an open room. We peer into the room to see a lone knight in the corner. As he approaches we attempt the parry and riposte move again only meet with total failure. He deals a heavy blow, but one we can recover from. After a close battle we dispatch him. We know that our path back to the bonfire is open so we take it and replenish health. We can only guess we are not going to like what’s about to happen through the foggy door so we grind for another 20 minutes. All this grinding is being done yet we have no way to actually level up. This is becoming increasingly frustrating. The pressing need to level up is becoming apparent however the lack of ability to actually do so is rather irritating. Since we can’t level up we now grind to work on timing and combat maneuvers. It’s never too soon to start getting better.
Finally it’s time to go through the foggy door. As we push through below we see that large demon that we ran from earlier. Only this time all exits are sealed. We do our strong leaping attack off of the overlooking balcony on which we stand and it connects perfectly. Half of his health is now gone. The fight is going to be manageable. That is until he swings his club. It’s about this time that dodging and rolling becoming a necessary tactic. The moves on the screen are actually being translated to movements in my own physical body. My dogs are watching me. They seem to be judging me. I don’t care. I’ve come this far without dying and I don’t intend to start now.
After working our way behind the demon and dealing a few hits he spins and swings his club. Once more dodging and rolling must be done until we can work our way behind him once more and attack. This battle isn’t as hard as I felt it should be. Once he is dead we collect a key and return to the courtyard bonfire to heal.
Underneath the balcony where we launched our initial attack is another large door for us to move through. Once pressing through here we see a wide open world before us. We however are on a very narrow cliff. Messages tell us to keep moving. Atop the first hill and to the right is a baby bird asking us for “warm and soft”. Duly noted young feathered friend. With some exploring we’re able to find some souls and move toward the very top of the cliff on which we stand. Suddenly a giant raven appears and tells us we’ve been chosen. We’re taken away from this world and onto the next. With the prologue concluded I’m left to wonder just what the hell we were supposed to give that baby bird. I know we missed something but there’s no turning back. I’m fully engrossed in Dark Souls at this point.
We are dropped at a new Bonfire that finally allows us to level up. All the grinding has payed off for us. We’re now ready to kick ass and take names. But since the dogs need to play that shall have to wait until tomorrow.