Dark Souls: The Ruiner

I see the BAFTAs for video games are out.

I’m surprised to see so few nominations for Dark Souls. This game is so good that I haven’t bothered playing anything else since it came out. Demon’s Souls kinda ruined other games for me but I was able to look past that and try to enjoy them. Dark Souls improved on Demon’s Souls so much that I find myself just not wanting to play other games.

If you don’t know, Dark Souls is a video game where you create a character who is thrown into a hostile, lonely world and must fight to survive… and eventually save the world, or doom it. It is set in a kind of medieval era of swords, arrows, and spells. It is known for its difficulty, as well. It is like the cruelest, merciless, pitiless game of Dungeons and Dragons ever. In some ways, the entire world wants to kill you. There are raised walkways with no railings, bridges with crumbled edges you can topple from, and even a few places where the ground kills you with poison or fire. And, you can’t avoid it, you have to endure it.

Artistically, it’s an amazing game. The look and feel is incredible. One day I was standing in a quiet area waiting to get summoned and I heard something. I spun the camera around but there was nothing. Then I heard it again. It was a quiet breath. I turned it up and, sure enough, it was the sound of my character breathing. Now that I’ve heard it, I hear it more frequently. And, different armors sound different. Weapons swing differently, and it matters in combat. Nothing like needing to kill some little guy and having a halberd in your hand only to watch it clang off of the cave walls.

There is such an attention to detail that you just know the developers and designers loved making this game. And, the story is much deeper than people think. It just isn’t spoon fed to you in cut scenes. You have to think about it and piece it together from hints and scraps. There are something like twenty or thirty different suits of armor/clothing, and you can mix and match. Different sets have different attributes: one set is light but has low resistance to physical damage, while another is heavy, very protective, yet it makes it hard to move. There are a dizzying number of weapons. You can wield daggers, short swords, long swords, great swords, curved swords, clubs, maces, halberds, spears, long bows, short bows, and crossbows. Nearly every weapon has strengths and weaknesses.

Every character has several attributes like strength, vitality, intelligence, faith, endurance, and so on. You begin with a certain amount of points in each attribute that determine your class. But, as you progress through the game, you acquire souls from enemies you defeat. These souls can be amassed and then “spent” to add points to your attributes. Increase your strength to use heavier weapons, or intelligence to use magic. Oh, yes, you can use magic, and miracles (faith-based magic from the Gods).

The game is complex and deep. It is not for everyone. But, I adore this game.

I love that almost any of the enemies can kill me, if I get sloppy. Sometimes I feel like a boss in the game, laying waste to my enemies and knowing that they whisper my name in fear at night (lol) and the game seems to sense my confidence and puts me back in my place. I forget about that one guy in the corner. He hits me in the middle of my swing, interrupting it. Now, my shield is down. The other guy hits me too. Then, the first swings, flailing wildly. My shield is up, but too late. Half of my health is gone. I need to get out. I back up and misjudge the distance, walking off the platform and plunging toward the depths. You died. Dark Souls.

In most other games I don’t care if I die or not. In Dark Souls it matters. I might lose all my souls or my humanity! Plus, I’ll have to fight back through the skeleton wheels. Should I go on? Should I try to summon a phantom to help? I’m also glad that Dark Souls was at least nominated for multiplayer. The multiplayer in this game is very underrated, if you ask me. I love getting summoned to help. I love the feeling of leading some poor guy through a tough area and showing him the nooks and crannies where treasure is hid and making sure he doesn’t get beat to a pulp by those silver knights. Lately, I have been trying my hand at invading other players. It’s like I’m a randomized mini-boss coming in to mess with them. It’s not malicious, exactly, it’s just part of the game. I have also taken to playing the game in human form more often so I can be invaded, too. Winning a player versus player duel is amazingly satisfying.

You begin the game with very basic armor, a broken sword hilt, and little knowledge of your place in the world. Exploration shows you glowing glyphs on the ground which you can read and get hints. The first ones you encounter are left by the game designers as a tutorial. Later in the game, they are generated by other players on the network. You can leave your own as well. So, you make your way through this ruined building, up stairs, through darkened hallways lit by sputtering torches, passing wretched undead who mostly ignore you… until they don’t and they try to kill you. You get a shield and a weapon and then you have to fight your first boss.

The bosses in this game are almost all enormous, terrifying, and seem impossible to beat. But, with patience and strategy, they are all beatable. Or, most of them can be pummeled with the help of a summoned phantom. But, not this first boss. You are on your own. And, when you do, finally, destroy the first boss, the feeling is amazing. You honestly feel that you have accomplished something.

Dark Souls does not coddle you, but it is not unfair. Everything that seems impossible is more like a puzzle. You must unlock the secret of each. Enemies have a pattern. Learn it and you can exploit it to make them so much easier to kill. The game rewards patience and cunning more than brute force and aggression. There are many games that I have played where this is at least one level that seems completely out of place and unfair. In God of War it was the level underwater and the level in Hades with the spinning bone platforms. Ridiculous! But, that’s what passes for difficult in other games. In Dark Souls it is difficult because the enemies are well-designed, the levels are fiendishly planned, and the choices so varied.

I have played this game exclusively since October when it came out. I have spent so many hours in the world. And, I will spend more, I am sure. I still haven’t played a magic using character, or faith based character. So, there’s that still ahead for me.

But, don’t play it if you like easy games or, for that matter, other games. Dark Souls makes it difficult to enjoy other games because they just seem so easy afterwards. After Dark Souls you are hardened, tried by fire and steel. You have stared into the abyss and walked through the darkness. You conquered fear. But, moreso, you died and lived to tell the tale.

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