Saturday, 17 November 2012

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (PC)

Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition title screen PC
Dark Souls scares me. All the hype I've been hearing about the extreme difficulty has set it up in my imagination to be something as challenging as Super Ghouls'N Ghosts, except with loading times, and honestly that combination doesn't much appeal to me. But I was asked to play it, so I'll just have to man up and give it a fair shot. Or at least play long enough to give myself something to whine about.

I'm using DSfix to push the internal resolution (slightly) past the default 1024x720, so hopefully the screenshots won't look like ass if you click the pics for a better view.

Dark Souls create character adjust face screen
Okay, I'm already surprised. I wasn't expecting to see a fairly powerful character creation menu show up in a Japanese action-adventure RPG hack 'em up game. Though there's no beards and a pretty limited choice of haircuts. This style gives me an idea though...

Dark Souls create character screen
Damn, I'm playing a game released in 2012 and I still can't fit a full name into the text box.

Okay I've gone with the most boring possible choices for sex, class, physique etc. and I've equipped a ring that apparently recovers HP over time. There's actually a 'tiny head mode' option in there, which also surprised me. Mostly because he looks like this before you turn it on.

Dark Souls intro cutscene Nito the first of the dead
Expensive looking CGI intro time, complete with narration. A lot of narration.
In the Age of Ancients, the world was unformed, shrouded by fog.
A land of grey crags, archtrees, and everlasting dragons.
But then there was Fire. And with Fire, came Disparity.
Heat and cold, life and death, and of course... Light and Dark.

Then, from the Dark, They came, and found the Souls of Lords within the flame.
Nito, the first of the dead, the Witch of Izalith, and her Daughters of Chaos, Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight, and his faithful knights, and the furtive pygmy, so easily forgotten.

With the Strength of Lords, they challenged the dragons.
Gwyn's mighty bolts peeled apart their stone scales.
The witches weaved great firestorms.
Nito unleashed a miasma of death and disease.
And Seath the Scaleless betrayed his own, and the dragons were no more.
They sure like to Capitalise random Words. Hang on, there's more.

Thus began the Age of Fire.
But soon, the flames will fade, and only Dark will remain.
Even now, there are only embers, and man sees not light, but only endless nights.
And amongst the living are seen, carriers of the accursed Darksign.
Well, that sucks. First the poor everlasting dragons were killed off, and now it seems that the sun's about to go out. Which could ruin anyone's day really. Still, depending on how much of a crapsack grimdark world this is, if I travel the land a bit and stab the right people I may be able to do something about that.

Oh great, my character's a zombie locked away inside an old asylum. I'm sure glad I spent all that time in the face editor now.

Fortunately a kind passer-by has dropped some keys down for me, so I can make my daring escape.

The game may be harsh, but at least it hasn't dropped me into the world without instructions. There are tutorial messages about the controls and game concepts written on the floor as I walk around the asylum.

I gotta mention that I'm loving the atmosphere and art design. There's no music, just the sound of his rattling armour as my dude stomps around. And he really does control like a guy covered in metal, rather than some video game ninja. There's some actual weight to his movements.

Okay, lets see what's behind door #1.

Oh shit, it's a fucking boss fight? Seriously? I'm armed with like... two inches of broken sword here! Fuck this, I'm making a run for it.

Why does an asylum have a demon anyway? Is he a demon that works for the asylum, or does he belong to a species of demons named for their tendency to nest in asylums?

Dark Souls equipment menu
Fortunately I was able to make a swift exit through a side door, and I've just managed to tear a shield out of someone's cold dead fingers. Hopefully the thing works better for me than it did for its previous owner. When I've figured out how to equip it I mean.

Hey, I've found someone who doesn't want to kill me! I wonder if this is the guy who broke me out of my cell five minutes ago. Unfortunately he's dying, and wants me to carry out his mission for him. I've got the option to refuse, but I don't really see the point in turning down side-quests right now. It's not like I've got anything better to do. Or any choice in where I'm going it seems.

I checked my journal to see what my current objective actually is, but I couldn't find one. A journal or an objective. Guess I'll go ringeth the Bell of Awakening then.

I took a staircase up to the roof and found some crazed zombies waiting for me. You'd think we'd be on the same side but nope, apparently I'm not crazy enough for their club. I suppose I'm just going to have to kill 'em all first.

I've got a block button, a parry button, regular and strong attack buttons, and I can roll. The trick seems to be to have my shield up when they're swinging, and wait for my chance to counter attack. It's all about learning the delay for each attack and getting the timing right.

Actually it seems to be a good idea to keep the shield raised all the time, as it seems to deflect most/all the damage heading my way, as long as I'm facing my attacker. Of course while I'm swinging a weapon, I'm not blocking, so I need to be careful.


AROUND THE CORNER AND THROUGH A DOORWAY.


Oh no, not the Asylum Demon again! I guess the idea is that this time I'm ready to take him on with my new equipment and all the skills I've learned so I far. But it's only been five minutes, I'm still getting my ass kicked by stray zombies! I'm basically up to the 'don't trip over your own shoelaces' stage of combat mastery.

Dark Souls PC You Died
I suppose I should have been prepared for this.

The guy likes waving a massive hammer around, and getting out of the damage radius isn't that easy, especially when I need to be in close to hit the guy. Plus even when I've gotten some distance, I have to stop for a few seconds to drink a health potion, giving him a chance to jump over and smack me while I'm defenceless.

Still, I nearly had him, on my first try as well. Next time, he's had it.


A COUPLE MORE TRIES LATER.


Well I finally beat the Asylum Demon, and my reward was being birdnapped by a giant crow. Oh, plus 2000 souls. Yep, that monster was carrying around enough souls to fill four Boeing 747 jets, and now they're in my custody. I guess he must have been a collector.

Dark Souls PC level up screen
The crow was kind enough to drop me off next to that city in the intro video, and I soon found my third bonfire. Bonfires reset the enemies, restore HP, and give me a respawn point if I get my zombie knight slain. And it seems they also let me level up now, though there's no experience. Instead I have to spend an progressively higher amount of souls for every point I add to one of my attributes. It's pretty good though at showing me how my stats will change and what each attribute does.

Whoa, it seems that I've actually found a living human this time, hanging around the bonfire. He tells me that there are actually two bells I need to ring. One in the city above, and one far, far below in the ruins of Blighttown. And then he laughs at me, and all my stupid hopes and dreams.

Well it's nice to have options, but there's no bloody way my first choice is going to be a place called Blighttown, so I'm heading off towards the city instead.


A FEW STAIRS LATER.


These crafty enemies have started holding shields and throwing grenades now. If I run in close I get surrounded by enemies, if I hang back and try to lure one out at a time I get blown up. Still, at least that bonfire refilled my Estus Flask health potions, so I can afford to take a bit of damage.

Hey, I thought all the everlasting dragons were wiped out. Unless that's Seath the Scaleless, the dragon traitor. Anyway he's way over there so I'm sure I won't have to ever worry about him again.

The game looks a little dated, but the visuals definitely have some charm to them. It's a surprisingly down to earth and Western looking game for a Japanese developer I reckon, and it's a good fit for the less than superhuman protagonist.


SOON.


YES! The fourth bonfire is lit and I now can relax a bit. Though I should probably spend some of those souls I've collected on a level up, before I lose them all by getting my dumb ass killed.

Hey, the bonfire didn't refill my flasks! I guess I only get a refill if I drop below five, which is kind of annoying because I need them to live.

Damn, I really should be able to handle these standard zombies by now, but it's 50/50 if I can get through a group without losing a serious chunk of my health. And whenever I'm too wounded to continue I have to run back to the bonfire, heal up, and then find I've reset all the enemies and have to fight them all over again.

I'm trying to using the shield, but once they've knocked me off balance I'm just a big open target for them while I'm recovering. Every time I make a move or absorb a hit, it costs stamina, and once it's out I'm unable to fight back until it recharges. I suppose the stamina bar's there to stop players running into enemies and just hammering the attack button, but whenever I'm facing off against a room full of bad guys I'm usually too preoccupied trying to survive to check what I have left.

A FEW MORE TRIPS TO THE BONFIRE LATER.


Oh come on! Now you're just taking the piss. I finally make it all the way to the end of the street, and my reward is being flattened by a flaming barrel out of nowhere.

I'm just glad I had the health left to survive it, though I'm running dangerously low on 'giving a shit'.

I don't like this. A big open stretch of ground with no enemies (and no bonfire) is obviously going to be a boss fight. Still, it's a nice view. I can look down over the edge and see all those streets I was just running through.

Oh wait, it was just a false alarm. I realised I was being sniped at by these asshole archers in the tower behind me, so the place wasn't as abandoned as it appeared.

I sorted the two snipers out without much effort, then climbed back down and strolled off back along the city wall.


BUT THEN.


Well fuck. Turns out there was a boss as well. Of course there was.

I'm trying my best here, but it's kind of hard to see what I'm doing with this guy's ass filling the screen. I know, I'll run back to the ladder! I managed to defeat that Asylum Demon earlier by diving down on it from a ledge. Maybe I can do the same thing here.

Oh for fuck's sake, he's followed me up! And the bastard game didn't even give me a bonfire. Well so long 2869 souls, it was nice having you.

The game lets you retrieve your lost souls from your previous corpse, provided you can reach it without dying again. But there's no way I'm going to make it back here without a few "YOU DIED"s along the way.


SIX "YOU DIED"S LATER.


Fuck it, I'm going back the other way just so I can be somewhere else for a bit. Suddenly going to the depths of Blighttown doesn't sound so bad.

Hang on, I don't remember these stairs. Did I just smash open a secret path?

Dark Souls shop screen
There's a sarcastic shopkeeper down here! There's no money in the game though, so I have to trade in souls. Luckily it seems that whatever apocalyptic event hit this city, it left behind a lot of souls to grab. Even the wimpiest zombie has like 80 of them on him, and they reappear every time I use a bonfire.

It's just a shame my gear is apparently better than anything he's selling or else this might have been any help to me. I guess it's so that all those rubbish other classes can upgrade to become half as awesome as my knight. I'll grab a bottomless box though, as being able to store items sounds cool.

I wonder what this guy wants all these souls for anyway. Is he levelling himself up as well? Man will I feel dumb if it turns out he's the last boss and I've been making him stronger throughout the game. He did sound a bit 'supervillain' when he laughed in my face.


THIRTY MINUTES LATER.


Dark Souls Solaire of Astoria says engage in jolly co-operation
I did it, I beat that bloody Taurus Demon! And now I can finally rest at a bonfire. Except no, I can't, because I found this cheerful knight here instead.

He wants me to... actually I wasn't paying any attention. All I care about is reaching the next bonfire checkpoint before I inevitably screw up. And yeah, he laughed at me as well. Everyone laughs at me. I feel like all these characters are scheming together behind my back and I'm the punchline to their private joke.

Another long ominous path. There's three enemies, I've got four Estus Flasks left, I think my odds are good. So obviously this is a trap.

Oh fuck! I wasn't expecting the place to explode in flame! Bloody dragons, thinking it's funny to do a drive by flame attack on a poor wandering zombie knight. That took off half my health in one hit!

Dark Souls staring down the Hellkite dragon
I'm not turning back though. I'm going to get to the next bloody bonfire, and nothing's going to stop me. In fact, I'm not even going to run. I'm walking.

If this dragon thinks I'm scared of him, he obviously doesn't understand this situation at all. You see, I'm the one with the uninstall button, and if he pisses me off then in two clicks he'll cease to exist. Sure I won't be able to play anymore, but I think somehow I'll get over it.

YES! I found a staircase leading down to a bonfire! I'm finally safe.

Oh wait, hang on... I recognise this place. The place I keep respawning at, the fourth bonfire I lit, way back when I first entered the Undead Burg. I've gone around in a huge bloody circle!

Still, maybe it works better this way. I've opened up a new shortcut so I've lost no progress, and this place has convenient access to that shop.


SOON.


Finally, I pull off a bloody kick for once. All I have to do is press up on the L stick while hitting the right bumper, so it's not exactly a challenge, but it rarely ever wants to work for me. Which is a bit of a shame as it's the move I need to use to knock shielded enemies off balance to give me an opening to fight back.

Speaking of moves and fighting back, I shamefully admit that it's taken me this long to notice that my heavy attack uses up way more stamina than my light attack, and lowering my shield lets me recharge it faster. So that's why I've been getting destroyed in fights; I keep using up all my stamina too fast with heavy attacks.


SOON.


Actually it turns out the real reason I was getting destroyed in fights, is because I'm crap. Every time I make just a little bit of progress I'm punished for it, and there's never a bloody bonfire around when I need one.

I decided the noble thing to do in this confrontation would be to make a run for it, while I still had a shred of health left. Unfortunately I went and ran straight off a ledge...

Ouch, landed right on a tusk. That giant armoured pig bastard must have been waiting down there for me.


LATER, AFTER FINALLY MAKING IT BACK THAT FAR AGAIN.


Fuck it, this time I'm just going to keep running until I reach a bonfire. There's got to be one around here somewhere. I mean it takes me fifteen minutes to make it to this point each time, and there's no way they could expect a player to continually replay much more than that each time they fuck up.

This is the 21st century, dammit. We've moved past that!

Whoa, that's a big mace. Well I'm all retried out for today. There's only so many times you can bash your head against a brick wall before you start getting dizzy.


They should have called this Dark Souls: Prepare to Replay the Last Quarter of an Hour Edition. I think that's what really frustrates me about this game more than anything: the distance between the bonfires. I'm not usually a huge fan of difficult games, but I can put up with them as long as I feel like I'm slowly getting somewhere. Being set so far back after each failure though is just... soul crushing.

Also the targeting loves to spin me around to face the opposite direction sometimes, when it thinks it'll be a laugh. I'll be creeping along a ledge, hundreds of meters above the ground, trying to target a rat I've just noticed through a doorway, when before I know it I'm facing the wrong wall and falling backwards. There goes five minutes of gameplay and a few hundred souls.

It's a shame though, because if there was an optional easy mode with quick saves or whatever I'd probably be liking this more, because the gameplay is actually very solid, the levels are well designed and the story... well, I haven't made it far enough to reach a story yet, but I'm sure it's a very nice one. But my idea of a fix would probably only end up breaking it, as this game was never intended to appeal to me in the first place; the developers don't give a fuck about me and rightly so. Anyone buying this with ideas about getting to see all the content they've paid for without a massive struggle has been sadly misinformed about the product.

Plus if they'd compromised on the difficulty, they would have had to drop its unique selling point of it being a bastard hard oppressive nightmare of a game and without infamy I imagine it wouldn't have been nearly as popular. They stuck to their guns and made a game with deliberately niche appeal, and I think it was the right choice to make.

Though I still haven't given up on ringing that first bell. The second one I couldn't care less about, but the first is so close now. With some more levels, better equipment and some practice, I bet I could make it far enough to get completely stomped by the next boss in a day or two.

If you have any thoughts about Dark Souls, all those mean things I said about it, the state of game difficulty in modern games, the site in general etc. feel free to leave a comment!

2 comments:

  1. IM SL 81 And i find the challenge the best part about the game( by the way i didnt die all the way to the first bell) the first time i died was in the forest.

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  2. great. need a medal ?

    ReplyDelete

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