October 6th, 2011. I picked up Dark Souls. Home from work, I popped the game in, created my character. After the AMAZING LOTR style intro, I was playing.
3 minutes into the game, I got wrecked by the first boss.
15 minutes later, I’d finally got past him, not killed him…I just ran away.
2 minutes later I was killed by a rolling boulder.
5 minutes after that, two zombies (or Hollow if you must. And you must) got the better of me.
‘This game is cheap!’ I cried, powering on through past the Asylum Demon, through the utterly depressing sites of Northern Undead Asylum, onto the almost peaceful surrounds of Firelink Shrine and bumping into the first real NPC, the always helpful Crestfallen Warrior…
‘Well, since you’re here… Let me help you out. There are actually two Bells of Awakening. One’s up above, in the Undead Church. The other is far, far below, in the ruins at the base of Blighttown. Ring them both, and something happens… Brilliant, right?’
‘Erm, ok? So…which way…is…that?’
Clueless, I went left, into a graveyard. ‘Ah ha! Skeletons! I’m the hero of an RPG, easy enemies at last!
Hmm. Try again.
‘What?! did I choose the wrong character class? Weapon?’
‘FUCK OFF!! FINE. I’ll go the opposite way’.
Long story short, 4 hours later of making almost no progress into the Undead Burg and dying at least 30 more times, the game was turned off and traded in a week later for Arkham City. ‘I’ve not got time for a game that long’, I would tell all who listened, knowing full well I was masking my frustrations of not being good enough at it.
Dark Souls had beaten me before I’d even figured out how to walk in its dank hallways. But I was still obsessed by it, the art design, the world, though scarcely any detail is given, seemed full of story. Story I was never to see.
Fast forward to this time last year and I discovered Matt Lee’s amazing ‘Pants Man’ videos
The idea of someone choosing to play through this game I found so challenging with a character wearing no armour seemed crazy, but it opened my stupid eyes.
I was playing it wrong.
Dark Souls is not a typical RPG, you are not a hero, you are not the saviour of the world. You are simply in the world and the world wants you dead. Careful, slow progress is needed, every enemy should be approached with caution as they can all kill you with ease. After a while, the grind goes and you’ll find yourself almost cruising through the game…and that’s when Dark Souls will beat you to the ground and remind you who’s the fucking boss, usually in the form of a giant dragon…
It’s not, as all the press would have you believe, the hardest game in the world like EVA, it just doesn’t hold your hand like most modern games do. It challenges you, forces you to do better and if you don’t, it will kill you over and over and over. Death isn’t a punishment, it’s the game telling you you’re doing it wrong and to try harder. With that comes some of the most rewarding gaming moments I’ve ever had (I’m not ashamed to say I leapt from my seat and punched the air when I finally got the killing blow in on ‘FUCKING’ Ornstein and Smough) and in that sense, it really reminds me of Ninja Gaiden Black, bastard hard, but always fair.
Pictured: Two UTTER COCKS. FUCK. YOU.
Narratively it’s sparse, but amazing, letting you fill in the gaps (Blightown being a strong point,you really get a sense that once people lived here, however miserably, and something went horribly wrong). It will never tell you where to go, so every new area feels like you found it…no clumsy ‘Oh, you killed the Big Giant Beast Thing! Now on to The Tower of Fucking Evil Shit to defeat the Evil Bastard Lord!’ dialogue.
So after watching Matt Lees fight his way through a few videos, I grabbed the game again and threw myself back in hard. 80 odd hours later, Lord Gwyn was dead at my feet and Lordran was…well…I’m still not really sure what happened in the ending…but I know one thing: Dark Souls has ruined games for me. Nothing has since felt as good or challenged me in the same way. I started playing Dragon’s Dogma almost instantly after completing this and it felt like playing ‘My first RPG’. Tutorials! Story laid out in front of you! Bog standard RPG enemies…I felt like the game was holding my hand and patronising me. I took down the Gaping Dragon (be careful when googling that…)! I don’t need your help killing some rats! Dragon’s Dogma even aped Dark Souls brilliant multiplayer element, but again, in a really un-engaging way.
AND THAT is why I’m excited like a coffee-fuelled child for Dark Souls 2. The, despair, the crushing, relentless atmosphere, weird characters, skyscraper sized bosses and desolate, death filled environments. I need the frustration, I need the reward. Dark Souls 2: I’m ready for you.
(Please be good).