ONE GAME A WEEK 2015 : WEEK 23 – Dark Souls

Written by G. Russell

One Game A Week is a bunch of words from my brain to yours about whatever game has been occupying my time the most over the last 7 days. Once a week, EVERY week for the duration of 2015. God help us


Despite thinking of myself as something of a mega-fan, there’s always been a couple of things that have felt unfinished when it comes to me and  the original Dark Souls.

I didn’t play it through to completion until the summer of 2013 , when hype for the impending release of Dark Souls 2 was really starting to gather speed. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts the previous year to get into this game that everyone was talking about, it finally clicked with me and I saw it through to the end. Gwyn was defeated and I was converted.

It was, as anyone else who has finished it could tell you, an experience like no other. I was left exhausted. I played the entire thing through riddled with The Fear. Inched along every area with my shield drawn up. Baby steps the entire time; never gaining confidence. By the time it was done and I went back to other videogames, I was forever changed. But that was me done, I thought. Once is enough. I knew that I hadn’t really explored the Valley of the Drakes and hadn’t even touched The Great Hollow or Ash Lake or The Painted World but, as much as I’d loved playing Dark Souls, I needed out. And, discounting a brief wander into NG+ and a fiddle about with a new Dex build, I walked away, with the thought of tackling the highly praised Artorias DLC feeling like just too much punishment.

I went on to buy Dark Souls 2 when it was released and, in stark contrast to my ‘get in and get out’ approach to Dark Souls, I rinsed it. I played that game through with 2 different builds consecutively, switching between the two depending on my mood. I went everywhere. I obtained everything. I killed everyone. The same goes for Bloodborne. Regular readers will know how that game has dominated my life since release. I’ve completed it 4 times across two different builds and am partway through it with yet another (strength build, exclusively using the Stake Driver), just for the fun of it. I’ve cleared the chalice dungeons and defeated Queen Yharnam. I’ve got that Platinum trophy.

So I feel like those two games are mastered. I go to sleep happy.

But the original Dark Souls? It just wouldn’t stop eating at me. I couldn’t help but feel that, although I’d competed Dark Souls, I hadn’t conquered it. It had beaten me far more than I had beaten it. So, despite The Witcher 3 tugging at my attention, it was time to go back. After all, how much could I know about myself if I’d never faced Artorias?

My aims were pretty simple. Firstly, this time I would see everything. All the areas I missed and all of the DLC content. Secondly, I would not have The Fear. I needed to walk away this time feeling like I was on top. So, scuffed, pre-owned copy of Dark Souls for the PS3 safely purchased (my original Xbox 360 copy rendered inaccesable due to Unplugged Console Purgatory) and with the DLC downloaded, I began. Again.

I half expected, despite my yearnings to head back to Lordran, to get as far as somewhere around Undead Parish and sort of lose interest. My cravings perhaps sated. But what has happened took me by surprise. I was hooked in. Seemingly even deeper than before. I started playing this on Wednesday and haven’t touched anything else since. I can’t even think about anything else. Dark Souls fever has taken me. My optimistic goal of seeing everything the game has to offer no longer feels like a potential chore; I’m devouring it.

Which brings me on to the The Fear. Or, rather, the lack of it. I’m striding through the game. The years since my initial adventure have seemingly sharpened me and my approach to a Souls game. The first time around, ringing both bells took me a week. This time, I’d rang both within one hour of each other. I rampaged into Blightown, far earlier than I perhaps should, through the backdoor via Valley of the Drakes, walked right on in to Queelag’s Domain and took her down, first try. Queelag took me two evenings last time. Now, I’m not saying I’m some sort of Souls master or that the game has somehow been rendered easier due to experience, as there are plenty of times where I’ve barely scraped by (Queelag got me down to zero Estus swigs and Seath the Scaleless took me more attempts this time than before) but something is different. I’m not afraid. So I’m taking bigger risks and they’re paying off. This morning I took out The Four Kings. First go. That, for me, is a big flippin’ deal.

At that point I took a break from the main story and headed for the DLC. The obscure sequence of events required to be able to access it were a joy to complete (kill the Hydra, find the Golem, rescue Dusk of Oolacile, grab the pendant from The Duke’s Archives) and, so far, it’s every bit as fantastic as I’d always heard. Just before I switched it off I’d put Artorias to rest and lamented his passing with Hawkeye Gough (who stuck an arrow in Kalameet’s wing for me, as thanks) and Lord’s Blade Ciaran, who I found mourning his passing beside a makeshift altar where he fell. Breathtaking stuff. If only I wasn’t afraid to see it the first time around.

Next? Well, with only Nito and The Bed of Chaos left to defeat before I can initiate the end, I’m mopping up. So I’ll finish the DLC and then finally head to The Great Hollow and onto Ash Lake. Then I’ll traverse The Painted World, at long last, before calling in to see Gwyn, a man who once caused me hours of trouble. I wonder how he’ll find me this time.

 

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