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Posts Tagged ‘Dark Souls’

Dark Souls dominance

Posted by joeabbott on April 2, 2017

I’ve been infatuated by a game called Dark Souls for a while now; in late 2014 I mentioned in this blog that I had “dipped my toes” into it. Well, it’s been two and a half years and a full-on immersion but it’s now completed, by achievement standards. This morning I picked up my last achievement in the last Dark Souls game than I had yet to complete … my quest is over. Sort of.

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I say “sort of” because I completed Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin this morning but I hadn’t completed the play-through … and so I’m left without beating the final boss and in this weird situation of not having complete closure. Additionally, in the last couple of days I’ve found a co-op partner who is a pretty cool guy and doesn’t have the same quirks as some of the other players I’ve met online … and it’d be fun to play more Souls with him.

So, I think I’ll be playing more but my obsession to “complete” the series is over, and I can start to dip into my game library for other distractions.

I was late to the Dark Souls party by playing the original game some three years after it came out. I made a longish write-up about the game here (Dec 2015) just a month after I picked it up; it grabbed me almost instantly. Within a couple months I had beaten it (not “completed” … I didn’t complete the game [get all achievements] until August of 2016) and finished my second run-through in early 2016 (Feb 2016).

By that time I had tried Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin but it just didn’t sit well with me; the game was harder and just felt unfair … where fairness was a hallmark of the original game. The original was hard, yes; but with patience it was a challenge you could overcome. But, Dark Souls 3 had also just released and so I jumped onto that train (April 2016), a full-on fan-boy of the series by this time.

But, again, the challenges were a bit too challenging and so I turned back to the original Dark Souls game and tried my hand at a Soul Level 1 run: completing the game while never leveling up; which makes all of the challenges, well … challenging (to say the least). I finished that in May 2016, so I made quick work of it and then turned my attention to completing the original Dark Souls … but after that was done, it was back to Dark Souls 3. With help from online friends, I completed that game in early 2017 (January 2017) and then jumped full-force into Dark Souls 2.

Dark Souls 2 had an original release on the Xbox 360 but it was a polarizing release: the level design and enemy placement wasn’t as exquisite as the original Dark Souls and some felt the tweaks made to the game made it harder and removed some of the fun. After releasing several DLC add-ons, the game was rereleased on the Xbox One with all extended content as Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. Additionally, the game designers tweaked some of the enemy placement, making what purist thought was a much better game but they also making it harder by just adding a lot more enemies to each area.

With Dark Souls 2 (on Xbox 360) perceived as easier, I tried that version. Well, time hasn’t held up well for Xbox 360 games: the visuals were muddy, the gameplay stilted, and overall it was a chore to complete. But, after going through that, getting back onto the Scholar of the First Sin edition on the Xbox One felt amazing. The textures in the game felt better (in most places), the character moved well, and the increased frame rate helped everything feel crisp. And, with understanding the general map layout, I was quickly able to feel at home in this version and complete the game.

And that’s it. I feel the pull to complete my current play-through of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, I feel compelled to try the original one more time, and I want to enjoy some co-op with new friends who are also fans of the series. Fortunately, I can probably do all of these things but mostly I can be happy to have completed a good challenge in a fun game.

Thanks for stopping by and listening to me blather about gaming. Hope your diversions keep you as engaged!

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Love me some gaming!

Posted by joeabbott on March 5, 2017

imageWhile I enjoy gaming, the image to the right from a site I follow (that tracks my gaming activity) tells the tale: I spent the entire month of February playing just two games. And for someone with a game library of literally hundreds of games, this is something.

More telling is the two games I played: on the Xbox 360 it was a game called Dark Souls II; on the Xbox One it was Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. Which is to say, I played the same game (slightly different versions) on two different consoles.

I clearly am enjoying Dark Souls 2!!

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And, yes, yes I am.

I’ve played all of the Dark Souls games and I have 100% completion (meaning, I’ve acquired all the achievements) in both Dark Souls (the original game) and Dark Souls 3 (the final installment). I glossed over Dark Souls 2, finding the game wanting: on the Xbox 360 the gameplay seemed stilted and the changes to the game were off-putting; on the Xbox One I found the changes they made to the game layout difficult and annoying. But, after completing Dark Souls 3 and absolutely loving it, I revisited Dark Souls 2 on the Xbox 360, found that I could enjoy it … and enjoyed it enough to complete it on that platform.

So now you may ask, why would I play the same game … a game I had to complete almost three times on the Xbox 360 … on the Xbox One? Couple reason …

First, the 60fps (frames per second) make the game buttery smooth; and after playing it on the Xbox 360, it’s a joy. You character moves and reacts better, the visuals are more interesting, and it feels like a whole new game. Next, they’ve built the add-on content into the game; something I haven’t played on the Xbox 360, so there is new content. And finally, on my “achievement wall” I have 100% completions in all of the Dark Souls games except this version … and I think it’d be a nice bragging right to have completion in all Dark Souls games. So I’ll continue on.

There are still aspects I dislike but it’s a great challenge in a great world.

And that’s what I’m doing with my gaming time these days. I’m interspersing a few other titles I have. As I mentioned, I have a lot of games and it’s a little sad to have a game but not enjoy it. So, I’m going to put playing a new game first each time I sit down to do any gaming but, in the bits and pieces of time I find here and there, I’ll get in a little more Dark Souls … until I beat Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.

Stay tuned … I’m bound to crow about it here when I’m done!

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Dark Souls: A Soul Level 1 (SL1) run

Posted by joeabbott on May 29, 2016

I started this write-up a long while ago. I first wanted to document all the things about the Dark Souls video game that bothered me: the bosses or areas that did seem fair, mechanics that didn’t work well (I’m looking at you “lock on”), or the wonky camera tracking or unfair invasion aspects. But then I turned my mind to a Soul Level 1 play-thru and all that took a back seat.

After enjoying the challenge of not upgrading the lowest level character in the game, I got stuck on a boss and started another post about my progress to date: the weapons I picked up, the attributes I was honing, and my approach to the game. But then I got unstuck and finished the play-thru, and here I am, wondering how to proceed: write up a guide on playing through a SL1 character? providing a description of my journey? Or just sum things up?

Given the time and attention I should be spending elsewhere, you get a “quick” summary but let me say this: the SL1 bid was glorious. Frustrating lows and all the problems I note in the first paragraph, but glorious highs at beating a challenging game with the equivalent of one arm tied behind my back. There are other, harder challenges … but this was mine and one that I loved.

Soul Level 1

In order to play the game through at SL1, you need to play as a pyromancer character; he’s the only “pre-rolled” character who starts at Level 1 … and that’s a good thing. It’s good because, at Level 1, the pyromancer starts with decent (not great) strength, a reasonably good starting weapon, and two attunement slots (and the ability to cast pyromancies) from the start. While the starting weapon and two attunement slots are nice, neither are critical but the balance of strength, dexterity, and endurance make this starting character a good base to work from.

imageThe SL1 Secret

I’ll get this out of the way right now: the main thing you have to do to make getting through the game on SL1 (without super-human mechanical skills) is to upgrade the snot out of whatever it is you’re using. You have the option of a couple weapons that are viable at SL1 and an assortment of gear (for protection) and it’s critical that those pieces are upgraded as much as possible.

That’s it.

You’ll still need to work a long time on hard bosses, you’ll still die a bunch, but, in the end, with gear that’s maxed out, even a casual (albeit dedicated) player should be able to make it through the game.

For my play-thru I focused on the reinforced club as my main weapon. I had several of these: each upgraded to the max in its area. I had chaos flame, fire, and lightning varieties, each for the various baddies I’d bump into and would use, depending on their strengths and resistances.

For armor, I chose the following: the Crown of Dusk, black leather armor, sorcerer gloves, and brigand trousers. Some people choose items that look good; I chose the Crown because it amped my pyromancy flame, the armor and trousers because they gave me the best defense for the weight, and the gloves because they were light and provided just that bit more of protection. All of these items were chosen to keep my weight to a minimum so my character could still manage a fast roll.

While it’s nice to have strong armor in case you get hit, with a SL1 character, your best defense is to avoid being hit altogether. And when you will be hit, you need a good shield: the Balder shield. At four pounds it’s heavier than other mid-weight, 100% blocking shields, but this should be your choice for one reason: stability. Stability is the ability to take a hit and not be rocked backwards and this shield delivers the best stats in this category for the weight.

The last items I wear are rings: I chose the Ring of Favor and Protection, as it gave extra boost to my health, equip load, and stamina, and then switched out the other ring. Sometimes I’d travel in water, so the Rusted Ring was best; sometimes I’d need to use a lot of stamina so a Cloranthy Ring was the ticket; farming for items? I’d pop on the Covetous Gold Serpent Ring; and the final ring of choice was the Dark Wood Grain Ring … that glorious accoutrement that gave me extra mobility and invincibility frames. There were others (Charred Orange ring in lava zones, the Abyss Walker ring for the Four Kings fight), but my usual ring was the Dark Wood Grain Ring unless I had need of another.

You’re a Pyromancer … so use it

While a SL1 character has a lot of disadvantages, the main weapon you’ll learn to use is your pyronmancies. A character starting as a pyromancer has no special skills or advantages with these powers but because these spells (unlike miracles or wizardry spells) do not level with any particular attribute, so just having an improved pyromancy glove will make you super-powerful for these spells.

By mid-game, without the need to spend souls on leveling, you’ll have plenty of extra souls … so many that using them to level up your pyromancy glove will be a no-brainer. Do it and continue leveling to the max; yes, it’ll cost 100s of thousands of souls … and be worth it. In late game, few monsters (aside from bosses) could stand up to two Great Combustion blasts from my fully upgraded glove.

My general approach

It really boils down to three things: keep moving, avoid being hit, and take advantage of the enemy moves to deal your own damage.

Keeping moving and avoiding hits are probably the same thing, which is good because I just really need to remember two things: move and hit. It is essential that you find your timing and know when to get out and when to take advantage of a lull. In one fight against a new enemy I was trying to learn his moves and when I should dodge; I continually was punished and was left looking at my controller thinking, “didn’t I hit the roll button just then?” Keep at it, learn, and remember what you learned. In this fight I’d see what I was doing wrong but then enter the fray and commit the same mistake. Ugh.

The same goes for dealing damage. All enemies in Dark Souls have multiple attacks., of which at least one is a heavy attack that takes your foe an extra second or two to recover. Those are the ones you can best take advantage of. I stay just inside the attack zone and “bait” the heavy attack, get out of the way when I see it coming, and then rush in to lay in a hit of my own when he’s recovering.

In addition, parries and backstabs are great tactics to have comfortably under your belt.

One last thing: use help when you need it. I never called in a non-NPC summon for help (just didn’t have the chance), but I did call in plenty of others. Man-Eater Mildred did most of the heavy lifting against Quelaag, Solaire was indispensible several times (including the final fight with Gwyn), and Iron Tarkus pretty much solo-ed the Iron Golem. Purists can claim I took the easy way out, but just like dealing with invasions and that tight corridor you first fight the Capra Demon in are part of the game, so are summons for help. And my strategy was to use them.

The easy and hard

It’s difficult to say what’s easy based on my current approach and tease it away from the fact that I’d beat the game three times before my SL1 run.

As an example, the Taurus Demon went down in a handful of hits. No new strategy but I was used to the fight and didn’t panic like most new players do when presented with an aggressive foe who is 2-3 times bigger than my character. But, I’ll chalk that up to familiarity and not an extra special skills.

On the other hand, both Sif and the Darkroot Basin hydra were overmatched by my highly-leveled gear. I don’t believe I took any damage from Sif and once I got a couple hydra heads knocked off (and wasn’t bowled over each time it struck), it was just a matter of pruning the other heads.

On the other hand, I entered Oolacile and was bested by Artorias so many times, I had to give up and go to bed without figuring him out. He’s exceptionally aggressive, hits like a Mack truck, and has very few openings. I like the fight (not so much the long run back to his arena) but he was actually the first boss who took me days to figure out. He died in the end, but it took three sessions to best him.

Another enemy that gave me trouble was the Four Kings. Even wearing Havel’s armor and extra defense afforded by the pyromancy spell Iron Flesh, it took me probably 8 attempts. But, I always seemed to be on the cusp of success … the Kings just had a bit more luck than I did. Well, there was the time when I entered the arena, the Kings shot me with a staggering magic bolt, and then chopped me immediately thereafter without me having a chance to do anything. That felt less like luck and just plain old unfair.

Did you really beat the game on SL1?

Well, below is the evidence. The image shows my character with “Level = 1” on the right side and the Soul of Gwyn, Lord of Cinder on the left. Click the image to go to YouTube for a clip of Gywn getting it taken to him by me character and Solaire.

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What’s next?

Well, if I were sensible I’d just go back to my other games but Dark Souls really has me. My SL1 character just felt too insignificant to take on the DLC later bosses (Kalameet and Manus) but I’d like to give them a try … so, I’m beefing up a strength-based character and will take him into the Abyss to fight these bosses on their turf. But even I’m getting a bit tired of the game (<gasp!>) so I may lose steam on this one … I’ll give it a try.

I’m certainly enjoying the journey

Thanks for dropping in and talking games, talking Dark Souls. Don’t go hollow!

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Dark Souls

Posted by joeabbott on December 16, 2015

Sunday was another “do nothing” day and I spent most of it playing a game called Dark Souls and, in my opinion, it was far from a “do nothing” day.

Dark Souls is an action/adventure game released in 2011 and became a darling in the gaming community for being hard but also being fair. It has many other positive qualities but you will die a lot playing it but the controls are tight (if not a bit quirky) and gameplay consistent enough that you can use what you learn from your last death to avoid dying again … and, in some cases, as tools against the enemies.

With the phrase Prepare to die presented each time you boot up the game, Dark Souls unapologetically challenges you each time you play.

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I didn’t pick it Dark Souls in 2011, up until at that time, enjoying games that allowed me to explore the worlds with a modest challenge here and there; games like Fallout and Skyrim. But I love me a good RPG and the dungeon-crawling trope is writ deep into my pleasure centers. So it was that, a couple years ago, I started playing harder games and finding them enjoyable at the same time someone showed me a few minutes of play-time from Dark Souls. My friend was at an early level and ran around the castle parapets a bit, died to a few “hollows” (the entry level enemy of the game), and generally walked me through some of the game basics.

I was hooked.

imageDark Souls

The art for the game is detailed, looking like an exquisite ink and paper drawing; the variety of the enemies is rich and varied … the aforementioned hollows, which look a bit like skeletons, up to giant dragons … and the level design is intricate; clearly a masterwork. While many people feel lost when playing the game (there’s no map feature, no “go here next” or guide NPC to help you), if you study the game you’ll find the paucity of explicit information about the world is intentional: the backstory and world are all richly designed and developed.

To understand the story, backstory, and objectives you need to read the descriptions on items you find, talk and listen to the NPC characters, and read the information presented during the load screens. Why are the black knights black? Lord Gwynn took his honor guard to the initial kindling! Why was old Londo flooded? To seal in some bad guys. What does it mean to “go hollow”? To give up.

There are deeper questions that can be asked and answered, but I’m hoping to avoid (too many) spoilers: Dark Souls has been out “forever” (in gaming time) but it’s still a wonder to piece together the intricate story, to see the new locations, and immerse yourself in this world.

Prepare to die

While I personally haven’t completely lived by this advice … to go in and discover things myself … the best parts of the game are those I did discover on my own. I’ve watched speed-runs of the game (folks who can play and beat the game in an hour or so), I have a guide book on it, and read the art and design book cover-to-cover. But I still like best those parts that I see for myself for the first time: walking through the ghost ruins of old Londo, finding a seldom found “soul” of a dead hero, and understanding the fighting style of the various enemies.

imageIn one level I continued to die to the Stone Guardians, giant statue-like guards who appear immobile at first but come to life in your presence … and then cut you down. When I found that I could bait them into taking two swipes at me, just staying out of their reach, and then capitalize on their recovery time by getting in a large smash, I was delighted. Same for the Sentinels: another huge guardian. I tried staying just far enough away from these guys to avoid their hits … and typically failed. Then I got in close, circled behind, and was rewarded by more wins against them! All high points.

Compare that to fighting a boss enemy called the Ceaseless Discharge … a massive demon boss who continues to emit lava while alive. For this fight, the CD is trapped in a lava pool and will lash at you with long, tentacle-like arms. You must slash at the arms until you chop away enough of his health to win … all the while avoiding being smashed. Or, you could take advantage of a well-advertised glitch where you run to a spot on the arena, hit him twice (with no chance of being hit yourself), and the fight is over with you winning. If you do that, however, your victory is pretty hollow and doesn’t feel like the rest of the game: you didn’t work at it, didn’t learn anything particular, and just sorta won. Yawn. It’s entirely forgettable which is so different than the rest of the game.

Going hollow

A central premise to the game is being undead. You start the game by being introduced as someone cursed by the “dark sign” and committed to the Undead Asylum. The dark sign keeps you from truly dying and, if you do nothing about your situation, you’ll ultimately “go hollow”, which is equivalent to going insane: you just stop trying or caring or doing anything. If you fight going hollow, you can revive each time you die and continue on.

This is a great metaphor for the game player his/herself: as long as you continue trying and don’t give up, there’s something more out there. You just need to keep trying.

It’s a lovely little hook and, each time I put down the game either for being too challenging, not having enough time, or some other game comes along, I find myself thinking back to Dark Souls and asking myself if I’ve “gone hollow”. And so I keep fighting.

Where am I and what have I seen?

I’m about halfway through the game and I’ve seen a lot.

In the game you start in the Undead Asylum, a tutorial of sorts. You fight a few hollows who will definitely chop you down, get some introductory gear, and face off against the first of many giant bosses: the Undead Asylum Demon. After you manage to beat the AD, you are taken to Firelink Shrine where you learn a bit of lore and are given the best guidance you will get in this part of the game: you need to ring a couple bells to open the gates to the next area.

imageThe first bell takes you through Undead Berg and past another intro boss: the giant Taurus Demon who teaches you to be aggressive fighting these massive creatures. And teaches you to get back after dying. A lot.

All of this is on the parapets of an old, broken down castle with lots of hollows and their various ways to challenge you: swords, bows, and axes. After figuring out how to avoid a dragon guarding a bridge, you come to the Undead Parish and ultimately to the top of a cathedral where you fight what many people consider the first real boss fight in the game: the gargoyles. I will say from experience that it’s exhilarating when you win this one.

From there you are told to find the next bell “below”. And so with a key to the lower area, you start descending.

Moldering dungeons, poison pools, and enemies that will cut you, cause toxin to continually deplete your health, and falls that will instantly kill are all part of this next section.

You fight giant barbarians, learn to avoid the dart-blowing enemies, and dodge fire-breathing dogs. And after a very long slog, you come to the boss Quelaag who is half spider, half human and you re-learn to be aggressive and get in close to these enormous enemies. Or, you die a lot.

But after this you can ring the second bell and Sen’s Fortress opens up and you now have a lot of options: going back to the places you’ve been to continue fighting the respawning enemies, heading into the forests between the various areas to see a green (and equally deadly) side of the Dark Souls world, or head into the trap-laden Sen’s Fortress to further the story.

It’s all up to you.

How is that fair?

imageThe hallmark to a game that’s a good challenge is that, if you play through a section a subsequent time, you should be able to avoid the same fate. Sure, it may take a bit of trying to learn some timing issue, and enemies should be more complex than having a single fighting style … so you may die to the same enemy a couple times as you learn his quirks … but ultimately if you “get good” (a somewhat unhelpful but fair bit of advice given to those asking for help with this game) you will progress further.

But getting good takes time and some areas have multiple ways of killing you. Sen’s Fortress challenged me for a long time. The swinging blades took timing to avoid, the snake-like creatures who would fight me while I ran through the blades were relentless, the pressure plate that fired arrows at me that I kept forgetting was there … well, oops. Add to this additional enemies in alcoves or on balconies, the narrow ledges and bridges you run along, and the massive rolling balls that would barrel over me in the hallways almost contributed to me going hollow.

If you come back, remember what you learned, slowly tease out the enemy so he walks on the pressure plate, so he steps in front of the swinging blade, or he is in the hallway when the boulder comes by … well, the game is the same for both of you. You can even just kick him off the ledge … what kills you will kill them. Mostly … they don’t seem to die to “friendly fire”, which is a bit of a shame.

While some have said the game is too hard and should have a way to make it easier … well, it does: just keep playing. The more you play, the more you’ll increase in skill and your characters will beef up by gaining levels. As you both improve (you and your character), you’ll make smarter choices and be harder to kill. I had avoided a level called The Catacombs for so long … it has a notorious reputation, that by the time I did head through the winding, subterranean crypts and tunnels, I breezed through. The skeletons couldn’t stand against me, the undead mages died with two strong hits, and the wheel skeletons … well, they were tougher but ultimately fell to my brawn.

Another option is to call in either your friends or, prior to most boss fights, you can summon an NPC helper … someone who can both deliver some hits for you as well as distract the boss so you’re not constantly the target. I’ll admit, most bosses I’m calling in the NPC helper. But, for those lacking just a bit more skill than the next person, it’s the way to make it easier, make it a bit more fair.

More to come

Dark Souls is one of a handful of games I’ve played where getting through isn’t my main goal and I think about how I’ll approach it the next time I play, too. This time I’m a hulking warrior wielding a two-handed sword; next time I’ll try magic. The game is challenging and I find it’s a big part of what I like; the other being the depth of the imagined world and the hidden but fascinating backstory behind it.

My advice to those who might want to give it a try: be aggressive, learn from you deaths, and don’t go hollow.

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