It has taken me the better part of a month to write this and I’m not sure why. Writing about my 240-plus hour experience with Dark Souls may prove more difficult than playing the game. I didn’t have a bad time, I like Dark Souls. It does feel like I’m playing a different game all of my friends played years back. That part is cool. I kinda think this new age of patch updates and downloadable content means that someone who plays a game in 2009 is guaranteed to NOT have the same experience someone else has playing the game years later. This also means how we are challenged as players has to change with those times.
A lot of my time in Dark Souls was spent, essentially on Youtube. I don’t believe in spoilers so that’s not an issue for me, but I did want to make sure I located all the non-playable characters in the game. Much like my foray in Demon’s Souls -- Dark Souls sometimes-hokey voice acting talent via Frog Nation -- really is why I play these games. Second to the almost-too-precise controls. Ugh, how many times have I fallen off a narrow passage way from pressing too many attack buttons? Don’t answer that.
I also spent a fair amount of time photographing a very specific graphical bug that seems prevalent on the older model PS3s. So you may see those images throughout the writing of … whatever this is I’m writing.
The character I created was named Inzillah. Inzillah was a slim, fit 50+ woman with gray hair. I decided to pick this character for a lot of reasons, but mostly to say that I finally played as a middle-aged black woman in a popular videogame. It should go without saying, but I was super upset they gender slider was replaced by the binary “Male/Female” choice. If I have any complaints about Dark Souls it is the omission of the gender slider.
Why is the gender slider from Demon’s Souls a big deal? Well, for me, it looked like it was a multi-layered intentional design choice. Where it felt like we finally had developers who cared to dismiss gender binaries. When I noticed the slider’s absence when creating Inzillah, there was a piercing pain in my gut. A kinda pain that makes me wish I wouldn’t project my positives on a game that didn’t intend their actions the way I interpreted them.
When the gender slider disappeared in Dark Souls, it made me look at Demon’s Souls character creation as an happy accident, rather than a progressive step forward.
I can go all-day on what I didn’t like about Dark Souls. It’s easy to cheat [Forest Hunter Covenant*]. Locking on to enemies in confined spaces is puke-inducing. I really hate how they make your character’s fingers look, they looks like burnt fish sticks. Also, I think several youtube gamers [namely A German Spy and EpicNameBro] have gone on, at length, of how intentionally vague the story is. A story I like, but still annoying at times**.
What made this first-time playthrough so much more different than my Demon’s Souls experience was player population. With Demon’s Souls I did didn’t bother doing much PvP until the very end of the game. This made it much more difficult to play a variety of players because fewer players were playing online in addition to me being a pretty high level.
The Dark Souls PS3 servers are still, in 2015 still strangely active -- even with a sequel [Dark Souls II] and a new game out on a new console [Bloodbourne on the PS4]. Oh, and thanks to my backward compatible PS3 having a malfunctioning graphics card has made this experience that much more unique. You’ve probably already noticed the embedded phone pics I snapped while on my journey. This was a really fun time. It’s rare I say that with any game, much less games I like.
So, dying. I died a lot. But this was the first Souls game where I wasn’t stressed out about it. Demon’s Souls design basically trained me to stop fearing death in these types of games, but as a result to process death in all games in a more progressive sense. Naturally, my hood sensibilities kicked in and provided me with useful Souls strats such as:
Don’t carry many valuables you wouldn’t mind losing.
Spend what you need to get what you want before going further
If you take out one, will the others swarm you? Are you prepared for that kinda realness?
You know, basic stuff.
Things changed when I broke the game. I fought my way through half of the game, spent most of my souls on strength and faith. The PvP was cool, but I didn’t find any of it fun because it was always inconvenient and always, ALWAYS, when I was low on health. Doesn’t help that I’m playing a game five years after its release, therefore even the lower level players are experts at killing you.
I spent most of Dark Souls avoiding online play. My only online interactions were through player notes and hints. Also, the ghost saves that show online players dying and succeeding, are what make Souls games easier than what I once believed from detractors. In fact, in regards to Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, I don’t know many games that give the player this much information about their surroundings. Sure, some of them could be hints like “Jump!” which could result in you losing your life, so? You’re going to die anyway.
Ironically, I died most when I broke the game. Or, I guess I should say, when other players broke the game for me…
I’ll explain. So, youtube and wikipedia have been my best friends playing the Souls games in hindsight. It doesn’t interest me to play games upon release, especially not community-driven games like the Souls franchise. I’d rather mooch off the hard work of others. So when I found out that joining the Forest Hunter covenant [a.k.a. The Cat Covenant], meant that I could control when and where I could play online with others, I was sold.
Little did I know, this meant playing with others who, if killed, could produce literally, billions of souls. So, yeah, I basically went from level 113 to level 436 in about 30 minutes.
This changed my experience from a low-level grinder figuring out terrain and story. Then to a mid-to-high level player, testing out new weapons and armor I couldn’t acquire early on. Only for my experience to be turned on its head with just about all my stats maxed out to 99, I then began looking for ways to die.
“Is that a ledge over there? Hmm… I bet I could make that jump.” *death*
“I wonder if I could take out this enemy wearing only my under garments and a broken sword.” *super death*
“PvP isn’t so bad, I wonder what happens when I summon an enemy while facing an enemy with a bad internet connection.” *Megadeath*
It was so much fun. I haven’t had this much fun dying in a video game since, well, Demon’s Souls. I’d die in an area like the Painted World of Ariamis over and over just experimenting in the many ways I could clear out a horde of enemies. Trust me, poison arrows are your friend.
Admittedly, me and Inzillah got pretty bored at such a high level and dying a bunch. Unfortunate, my intention was to play until I could see all the storylines and all the optional and hidden areas.
Then I found myself at the fog gate of Lord Gwyn. It wasn’t until after I defeated him [on my first try, obviously], that I remembered I hadn’t finished Siegmeyer’s questline. I hadn’t visited Ash Lake or The Great Hollow. I never bested the golem that opened the gates of Sen’s Fortress. After 240+ hours of just being lost in a world of macabre paradise, I was a little sad that I missed something.
Then I realized that, as far as this one-time playthrough is concerned. Me and Inzillah did our best with what we had. I experienced something so unique to even other Dark Souls players, that I was happy not seeing it all. I decided my time playing Dark Souls was over and it ended how it needed.
*I didn’t join the Forest Hunter Covenant until much later in the game. I want to say I was well beyond 200 hundred hours of play before I did. Turns out, if you’re between the levels of 80-100 it’s easy to be matched up against long-time players who never cash in their souls. So if you kill one player online you could probably net yourself 8 billion souls.
** Was so disappointed to find out that the Pendant that you could pick as your first item of the game is the only item that is useless. I’m an angry videogame nerd on the internet and my opinion needs to be valued.
Below are the remaining images of my travels in Dark Souls. Yes, I know capture software exists. I took these with my phone because it seemed to convey something more ‘active hand’ and personal. Apologies for blurry shots and unsharpened images.