Two guys, a conversation and Dark Souls

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Dylan has changed a lot. On Monday he launched into hyperbole about how much he loved Dark Souls. He has mocked me for not ringing the second bell  and has made comments about my manhood as a result.

But it wasn’t always that way.

In other news Posterous has disappeared from existence, to be sucked up twitter’s arsehole yesterday, so with it biting the big one I thought I would celebrate these two events by reposting a BadgerCommander article from October 2011 in which Dylan took a very different tone. Enjoy.

I am completely obsessed with Dark Souls at the moment, most of my waking time is spent thinking about it, I struggle to do things like get out of bed, work, go to New York, among other things. Dark Souls is a constant reminder that I really should just be playing it instead of writing on a blog about things. In a recent email thread between the main guys on Arcadian Rhythms. Dylan (for those of you who might not know Dylan then read his excellent Portal 2 write up or his disdain for Deus Ex: HR) and I started discussing our experiences with the game. The original content has been altered slightly for the sake of a better reading experience. I also added some images.

Dylan: I’m done with Dark Souls. Not in a frustrated ‘screw this game’ way, just in a ‘fun was had, but that’s enough of that’ way.

I would almost certainly have loved Dark Souls to pieces if there had been half as many bosses, or half as easy bosses, or checkpoints before the bosses, or anything to stop the game from coming to a complete standstill every 30 minutes. The game eventually gets into this rhythm: 30 minutes of fun fighting through an area – 4 hours of painfully uninteresting grinding repetition as you travel from the checkpoint to the boss, fighting the same enemies over and over again, bash your head against the boss, fail – repeat. If there was a couple of hours of fun inbetween each bout of misery, I could have handled it, but the misery outweighs the fun multiple times over. Every time I started enjoying it again, it says ‘Stop! Boss! Game will resume in a few days time if you can summon the desire to push through.’

And all of this ‘it’s so satisfying to finally beat them though!’ stuff can jog on. No it isn’t. I tried something 15 times until I eventually completed it. There’s nothing satisfying, special or new about that. Also, by that point, there’s so much boredom and resentment built up that nothing can redeem it. And it’s another one of those ‘OMFG epic boss fight versus massive dragon!’ that people seem to find exciting, despite how stupid it looks that you then have to fight something so big you just hack at it’s ankles till it drops, which looks and feels very silly and not at all ‘epic’.

Still, fun was certainly had with Dark Souls, I don’t regret picking it up at all. It’s just time for the two of us to part ways, our friendship always was a little shaky and if we push on with it any further we’ll end up hating each other.

AJ: Completely disagree with you on Dark Souls, it is easily the best game I have played this year.

The game, admittedly throws some nasty curve balls but really Dark Souls insists on you experimenting all the time. I went up against the gargoyles about 10 times before beating them but it mainly had to do with my loadout rather than my stats (most of the early bosses can be defeated with very little levelling up at all). The early Dragon boss doesn’t even have to be killed to progress.

My first stumbling block was the Taurus Demon, arguably the first boss you encounter, I tried a bunch of different approaches, but instead ended up firebombing him to death. The second was a Capra Demon and two dogs, but I ended up re-specing my character with heavier weapons and armour and then herding the two weaker creatures away from him, killing them first and then using a Spear to whittle down his health. A couple of the bosses I killed first time through using the layout of the level to coax them into death.

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So far only the Gargoyles I mentioned have been frustrating, I knew the tactics I needed to employ but had  not ‘levelled up’ on a personal scale to take them on.

I think that is what I am enjoying the most, my first attempt at a play through ended in abject failure with having played myself into a corner, 20 hours into a playthrough and it felt like I was utterly stuck. I restarted and, to my surprise,  I found myself within spitting distance of my previous progress after only playing the game for 6 hours. In fact, at the 8 hour mark where I am now, I have already surpassed my previous 20 hour play through simply by  merit of understanding the game’s mechanics and enemy attack patterns.

Dylan: I struggled a lot with the Capra Demon, more because of the camera than the demon. Once his dogs are dead he’s a non-entity really, it’s more that you need luck essentially to start the fight in a way where the demon isn’t standing in the way of the camera and the three of them don’t surround you and stagger their attacks so you can’t move (or see what you’re doing). It’s not hard per se, it just requires multiple attempts to get the luck right. This is my main complaint with it – not that it’s too hard, that it’s too boring. Fine, the Capra dude and his gimpy dogs can best me so I have to try again, that’s fine. It gets horrendously dull though that I have traipse through the enemies beforehand to get back there each time, more so because 40 minutes ago I was probably bored of traipsing back through enemies I’d already defeated numerous times to get to whatever the last boss was.

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I gave up after my second attempt at the Gaping Demon, not because I didn’t think I could beat him, I was doing well in both fights, just never quite finalising it – I was just so so very tired of doing this all again, and it’s clear that the game wasn’t ever going to change, and neither was I. It was like reading a book, but every third chapter had to be read fifteen times before you could move on to the next one. Couldnae be bothered. Shame though as I really enjoyed parts of it.

P.S. I also gave up my first playthough after about 10 hours after levelling myself into a corner. Was back in the same place with higher stats and better gear within about 40 minutes – a little bit of experience goes a LONG way in this game.

BC: As Scott Bakula once said ‘Oh boy’.

I’ve found that when I feel like I was lucky it is mainly because I didn’t understand what was required of me, either in terms of equipment setup or because of fight routine.

Traipsing through areas multiple times never bothered me, it usually gave me time to experiment with a different weapon layout or different tactics against certain enemies. I was levelling up my own skills rather than a number. The better I got at fighting the better I would be in later encounters.

Also, some of the abject terror I have felt when exploring new areas has been very special.

I guess in contrast to you, every time the game has confounded me it has made me want to go further into the game. The book comparison works really well for me, often I will go back and re-read sections of a book as I encounter new developments later on, looking for earlier clues and indications of the later outcome in character’s words and actions. I think that might have something to do with my English Literature background though.

Dylan: The only time I would say Dark Souls fights thus far have been down to luck was the Capra Demon, and that was purely because the room is so small, it’s quite possible (even likely) that the fight starts with you blinded, and then if you guess the wrong move you’re surrounded and don’t even know what direction to turn in, and then you’re pretty much dead. Beyond that, I agree that any luck-based arguments are more likely down to the arguee not understanding how to approach the fight.

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I’m not saying that the game is bad, just that I didn’t find it interesting enough to sustain my attention over the long-term, although it did a fantastic job of grabbing my attention in the short term. I suppose I didn’t enjoy any experimentation on those repetitive slogs because I didn’t want to be doing them in the first place, I wanted to reach the next interesting bit before the current bit slips further down the interesting chart from ‘fine, I’ll do it again’ to ‘I can never do this again purely because of how little I want to’.

I would say that there’s not much to experiment with in general though – it’s one of those games where there’s plenty of options and one good option (hence us both levelling up a character the way we wanted, then understanding the game enough to say ‘oh, actually, I’m boned’ and starting again). Get magic, get int-scaling weapon, get shield. Block light blows, dodge heavy blows; attack afterwards, or kick+attack if they shield, or jump+attack if you can’t get close to them. Never do anything unless the hit is confirmed before you start and never do anything if it leaves you open afterward. That’s pretty much it isn’t it, beyond the usual RPG stuff of using the right weapon for the right situation and what not.

It’s more about ‘keeping your head’, being consistent and never getting impatient or paniced, that’s where the real test of skill is – more about not doing badly than it is about doing well. It’s like tennis. Actually, it’s a lot like tennis, cos I used to get incredibly bored when games used to go from deuce to advantage and back again endlessly, I just wanted to start the next game so some bloody progress could occur.

BC: Okay, I was a bit boned because I fell down a hole, got cursed and then had permanently half health with no way to cure myself.

Get magic, get int-scaling weapon, get shield. Block light blows, dodge heavy blows; attack afterwards, or kick+attack if they shield, or jump+attack if you can’t get close to them. Never do anything unless the hit is confirmed before you start and never do anything if it leaves you open afterward. That’s pretty much it isn’t it, beyond the usual RPG stuff of using the right weapon for the right situation and what not.

This is not true either; I have no magic in my repertoire at all. My build is focused on a lot of heavy armour and shields for big bosses, that way I can actually block their heavy attacks, and if my poise is high I can then stumble them. I switch between a battle axe, long sword and a Spear depending on what area I am in and what I am fighting, when I am not in boss fights I tend to lean towards a lighter armour class for more mobility. Someone I know is rolling as a rogue style class and uses two blades, one that has a large window for parrying, they also tend to dodge all attacks and go for the execution move instead of direct attacks (unless he knows the routine of the enemy and then he will parry a lot), with the boss battles he switches to magic and ranged attacks with him having almost no health so he relies on hitting hard and then dodging. I also know a cleric who is using only a halberd and healing as his main routine. He has come across parts where he struggles to beat areas, and at that point he rebuilds his equipment to suit the combat at hand.

You can grind out your preferred fighting style, but that is missing the point of the other fighting styles (the rapier for example seems like a bit of a rubbish choice but its crazy parrying ability does a ton of damage when you learn how to use it) and learning how to use them in different areas.

There are some people that swear by one tactic and then there are others that say the exact opposite, that is the beauty of this game.

The conversation ended at that point but the rest, as you can see, is history.