Hardcore Gaming: The Souls Series
I'd like to take a minute today to discuss what I consider the greatest ARPG series to come out during the last generation. Games come and go, as our steam libraries can surely attest to, or they release annual full price expansions like Call of Duty. But, we all have those games that never get uninstalled, or we keep it on our PC shelf because you never know when the urge to play through it just one more damn time will arise. While for the most part my ADD leaves my games feeling like $10 whores from China Town, there're a select few games that always have me crawling back for more. Let me introduce you to the Souls series.
Posted by: Consecrated
The year is 2009. As I drive to my local Gamestop at 8:30pm, I'm on a mission: to find out just what the hype is all about Demon's Souls. I ask the girl at the desk for a PS3 off the shelf and I pick up 2 games: Uncharted 2 and Demon's Souls. As I hand the cashier my card and look at the case there's just something about it that screams BUCKLE UP. I get to my friend's house, hastily hook up the component cables, fumble the disc into the drive, and turn on my ps3. With no internet connection I can blitz through the initial start up and start playing. My initial thoughts are this: Will I finally be challenged? Let me explain; I love the thrill of overcoming a game's toughest challenge. There's a reason I keep my Sega Genesis handy and primarily game on the PC- modern games tend to be too easy.
I'm a gamer who enjoys both the story and the challenge. I tend to play on the hardest mode first because I want to remember my first experience. I was born a gamer in the 16 bit generation; bred on challenge, Nintendo hard, and greedy arcade games. I expect to get my ass kicked. If not, I walk away somewhat disappointed. Demon's Souls does not disappoint, at least initially. Universally lauded for it's excellent representation of European Middle-Ages fantasy and tight gameplay, From Software came out swinging HARD. The premise of Demon's Souls is simple: You are a hero, amongst hundreds of others, who is sent to Boletaria to combat the mysterious fog that has shrouded the kingdom. It's what From does with the atmosphere that lingers long after you shut off your Playstation.
So it's obvious I like this game, but why? This game will make you its bitch. You are killed within the first 10 minutes by a boss you'll never beat on your first try. After a brief cutscene you're introduced to the Nexus, a sort of hub world where you can access the different worlds in the game, as well as see "ghosts" of other heroes. You see every time you die you enter soul form which reduces your maximum health and allows you to assist the living while in online mode. Not only that but in order to progress your character through the game you'll need to collect souls. Souls are obtained from enemies after killing them and can also be obtained throughout the levels to increase your inventory. In a stroke of genius, souls are the only form of currency available. You either level yourself up with the souls, or use them to buy and repair your equipment. Now here's where the dickery begins. Every time you die you lose all your souls. Ok, that's fine, until you get up to take a piss and realize you CAN'T PAUSE THE GAME and walk back to yourself dead with all the enemies back. Yes, in a stroke of madness, these games harken back to the old screen reset of 2D games by resetting and re-spawning all enemies on the map every time you die. Which is a lot. To make matters worst, your level progress only saves when you finish a boss and reach an archstone. Archstones act as the starting point of each "level" which is a subset of each world. Oh, and did I mention that every time you die you start at the beginning of the level in soul form and have to get back to your corpse without dying or those souls are lost permanently? You will know the meaning of 20,000.
While it sounds broken as shit, the game actually works perfectly. You see, the controls are beautifully mapped and intuitively designed. You strike light or heavy using R1 and R2 while blocking using L1 and L2 respectively. And the best part about this game is the level of customization available- you create your "class" on the fly. Sure, you can pump points into different stats to get stronger with certain weapons and increase your health, but the beauty of allowing you to switch your gameplay on the fly is excellent. My first playthrough I played an Asian (obviously) Rogue-Thief-Magic-Knight character and you know what, I loved the variety of options available to me. Oh, and Soul Ray. Plus the game gives you tons of hints on how you can get past its many obstacles. See a large field of dead soldiers all smoldering with arrows and smoke pulling out? Yeah watch the fuck out something big lies ahead. And the visual clues lead to smart gameplay. As long as you're not running through the game on full blast with no rhyme or reason you'll rarely fight more than 2-3 enemies at a time, and if you've ever tanked in an MMO you'll be right at home with pulling enemies to smartly pick them off.
And let me take this time to say this: Demon's Souls is beautiful in a creepy nightmarish way. I swear some of these creatures used to live in my closet back in the 90s. From zombies to Cthulhu inspired prison guards to omgwtfisthat manpedes, this game reaches into the deepest and darkest places of our minds for inspiration. Not to mention the fantastic cast of bosses in the game, all towering, challenging, and overall awe-inspiring beasts and men. However, I found them to be a little on the easy side when compared to some enemy pulls (I hate you 3-3). But the fun part of the bosses is for the most part you have to think, and in days where bosses are bullet sponges that die with 3 rocket hits, it's nice to have to actually pay attention to boss patterns for once. And the environments perfectly reflect many of your parents pen n' paper creations, hitting that sweet spot of reality and fantasy. From lonely islands rising out of an endless sea to Dwarven mines filled with mindless mud men, the surprising variety in level design is refreshing. My personal favorite is the Tower of Latria. It's creepy, has terrifying traps, AND easily is in the top 5 level designs of all time. Plus, who doesn't like torture filled prisons with castles rising out of bloody body filled swamps? And last but definitely not least, Demon's Souls is dark. You're given a crystal that lights a few feet around your character, and you'll definitely be using it- Of the 20+ hours you'll spend here, I'd reckon about 75% of it is in near-total darkness. Now that's more like it!
But, here's the truth: This game isn't for everyone. The combat is methodical and based off reading your enemies. You will not button mash your way through (unless you start as a clericlulzeasymode), often having to use the hit-stun to your advantage to quickly dispatch groups of enemies. Pro-tip: daggers are super fast and can cause certain enemies to be stun locked indefinitely! But if the enemies don't kill you it's the numerous death traps, environmental hazards, or Black Phantoms. These assholes can be NPCs or other players, generally Asian, who are here to dick you with their Blessed Mirdan Hammers with their twinked low level duped characters. Fun. However, I only ran into 2-3 on Demon's Souls in my whole play through, and even then I only lost once. If you enjoy spontaneous PVP, though, you'll love this game. But it's these reasons and more that caused a lot of my friends to tap out and return their copies or rentals. However, even with limited sales and Sony themselves saying it shouldn't have been released, that didn't stop From Software from creating a sequel. Thank God.
Are you afraid of the dark?
This is it. Dark Souls. The one you mostly hear about from the guy with a beard longer than Sarwan Singh. The game has sold plenty of copies, caused multiple grown men to weep indefinitely, and is almost universally praised for its difficulty. You see, Demon's Souls was a sleeper hit with high reviews but little to no advertising as well as launching in early 2009 on the PS3, which left it as an exclusive during an unpopular time. Dark Souls changed that. It was a multi-platform release seeing Xbox 360, PS3, and eventually PC releases. And with all the hype initiated from multiple news websites, everyone's bodies were ready.
Dark Souls was actually my first souls game to complete. You see, I ended up returning my ps3, but not my copy of Demon's Souls. I needed to buy a new car at the time. So, with my 360 I was super anxious to play Dark Souls. I was addicted and couldn't satisfy my itch. Dear lord, the sequel has ruined games for me.
Dark Souls is even more challenging than the first game. Demon's souls had hit stun and magic that could be spammed infinitely to steamroll through the game, and as I mentioned you get overpowered to a point where bosses won't challenge you anymore. And while the sequel certainly doesn't entirely alleviate these issues, it's an overall more difficult romp.
The story is unrelated, only using the souls mechanic to tie the two games together. This time you're an Undead, a man or woman cursed with eternal death whom must complete a pilgrimage to the land of Lordran in order to end the curse or the Undead. However you'd never know what the hell is going on if it wasn't for the internet! You see, the story isn't explained, it's implied. Multiple characters have alternating dialogue trees that can only be unlocked after satisfying strict requirements. As a result, it truly lends its RPG nature clearly. You're guaranteed to experience the story differently playthrough to playthrough if you try. And the only way to make sense of it all is to read all item descriptions and play through the game multiple times (or search for lore videos on YouTube).
But enough about the story, what about the gameplay? Well, it's definitely souls. However, everything feels.....slower. If Demon's Souls were a sport it would be Fencing, light fast and deadly. Dark Souls is more akin to Wrestling. Slow, strong, methodical. I like the change though many of the originals fans have cried foul to what many consider the perfect RPG combat. So how is it slow? Well most weapons have a frame startup before swinging/casting, and 2H weapons have unbelievably slooooooooow attacks. However, they kick ass and almost everyone pre expansion used Black Knight Greataxes. So aside from that, Magic overall take longer to cast and you have a limited amount of uses based off how high your attunement skill is. But that's not all, once you run out of uses that's it. So for the most part playing magic characters is now harder. Which segueways to the next big change.
Lordran is an open world. Not in the sense of Skyrim or other popular free roaming areas, but in the sense of Metroid where you have a set path but multiple ways to get there. Scattered throughout are bonfires which are your checkpoints. Every time you rest at a bonfire your game progress saves.
Each bonfire is similar to the Nexus of the first game, you can upgrade your character, bring them back to life using Humanity (sprites found throughout the game on corpses and in treasure boxes), and repair your equipment later with tools. Oh and you eventually unlock the ability to upgrade your potion amounts and warp through the bonfires eliminating a lot of early game backtracking that EVERYONE HATES. Aside from this, health potions are no longer obtainable. Instead you are given a flask at the beginning that has limited charges. Wants it's empty that's it. You either use magic or specific items to heal yourself, and with limited uses and virtually no direction as where to go in this game you can imagine you're going to be running around with your health at 15% screaming WHERE THE HELL IS THE BONFIRE. And that's the fun part for me. The adrenaline the rush.
I spent a good 80 hours on this game on my first playthrough, leaving small but memorable fist imprints on my walls and making sure the whole neighborhood could hear that I was playing it that night. But no matter how many times I turned it off, it never leaves you. See, Dark Souls makes you feel like you're shit if you can't beat the game and it sits on your shelf mocking you, taunting you, and begging you to give it one more try. And that's where the game's beauty and rabid fan obsession lies- the "Just One More" syndrome.
Here's an example: I was knee deep in a hellishly dark swamp filled with toxic tribesmen sniping me from 90 miles away, infinitely respawning bloodsucking mosquitoes, fire breathing things, and to top it all off having to wade through a slow as molasses brown swamp that poisons you every second you're in it which doesn't disappear until you cleanse the poison. I had about 35,000 souls and was saving up to 50,000 so I could upgrade my characters weapons and levels a few notches. After going for what seems minutes into the darkness I come upon a set of small islands. Relishing the quick break I take a swig of my flask, round the corner, and get Boulder stomped from some unknown enemy in the dark. As I respawn at the last bonfire, I nervously equip my shield and step out from a nearby sewer. All of the sudden _diksuker2695_ has invaded. A red phantom appears, burns me in 1 hit, and like that all my souls, and sanity were gone. After internally imploding and surely causing my cat to lose one of his lives, I calmy and collectively continue. Why? Because the game is that good.
Don't get me wrong, Dark Souls has cheap deaths. It has its faults. But every game does, and its all about the challenge of surviving what the creators have made that makes the game so thrilling. Sure, you can moan about frontside backstabs while playing online. You can whine about the physics randomly pushing you off the really thin ledge to your doom. And you can most definitely blame your pals for pulling out Binocs during the Quelaag fight. And purists like myself will cry foul about the early pre-patch days when humanity was few and far and you couldn't get souls off the skeletons and spirits. But to me that's the fun. It's the rush, and any gamer who's even a little interested should give it a go. Dark Souls is worth the full price of admission. Hell I bought it on both Xbox 360 and PS3 and I'm waiting for the next sale to pick it up for Steam.
Dark Souls is, quite simply, game mechanics and non linear storytelling at its finest. You won't find a more promising boss list than this in the last 3 years. You won't find a more beautifully grim world perfectly crafted to every last detail with mystery and surprises. And you certainly won't find a more loyal fanbase than those in the covenants. Dark Brotherhood ftw
I could spend all day talking about this game, which is clearly visible here, but in all honesty the game speaks for itself. It's October, my birth month and home to halloween which also ironically is the same month the game released. It's the perfect season to start, and with Dark Souls 2 looming on the horizon, more reason than ever to play. And with that I say:
Written by Travis Rose LQD Consecrated2718 Origin: LQD_Music1017
An aspiring artist, you can find him uploading recent pictures
of food you didn't eat on his instagram account trosetv.
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