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December 27, 2019

I've been playing Dark Souls. It's been on my list to play since basically forever - I actually had it on the Xbox 360 and managed to get all the way to the Taurus Demon before quitting out and walking away from it. Yes, I know. He's right at the start. And he's easy too. I know. Or at least, I know that now. But... he wasn't for me. Not that time, anyway. I'd been playing it for a couple of hours by that point and had gotten to the point where I could reach him reasonably reliably - yet I found it impossible to get my shit together and just kill him. Time after time I'd drop from the top of the tower and miss, generally through just being in too much of a hurry - which in Dark Souls is pretty much guaranteed to cause you to die again and again and again. And again.

I'm not sure what dragged me back to it. Especially now, when I've so many other games on the go - although as I look back on my posts over the year, the idea of playing one game at a time has entirely fallen by the wayside for me by the look of it. As I said, it's been on my list for a while - my desertion of it felt like I was turning my back on something against my better judgment, even all the way back then. The game certainly hasn't changed - I'm playing the remastered version, admittedly, but from what I can gather apart from a graphical upscale and a smoothing of the framerate, the game remains intact from what it was when it launched. Something about it is different for me this time, though - and I suspect it's more my mindset than anything else.

 

It's been discussed to death all over the internet, but Dark Souls really just does not care about you. I've played a lot of games - I don't think I've ever played one that revels in just how poorly it treats the player. It takes great pleasure in doing so, and it does it at every possible opportunity. It doesn't care about how much time you have to play, or whether you feel as though you made any progress today. It doesn't care how many times you fight the same boss, or even the same group of mobs who you will storm through on one attempt and then be beaten mercilessly to death by on your next. It does its level best to frustrate you every single step of the way - and in doing so has given me a greater sense of accomplishment in beating one boss than I have in finishing entire games during the rest of this year. Seriously. It's unremittingly bleak and hostile - and I think part of the reason I'm enjoying it is because at this point it stands in stark contrast to so many other games. 

I can't help but compare it to Destiny 2 - probably because that's the other game I'm playing a lot, and because the contrast is so stark. What can I say? My son loves it, and he loves playing it with his Dad at his side - so we're still playing it. We do strikes, we play Crucible matches, and we laugh a lot along the way. It treats its players completely differently to Dark Souls. I didn't really notice it until I played something that treated me with such contempt, but Destiny 2 absolutely showers with you with positive reinforcement at every step of the way. The flow of reward is absolutely constant, with Iron Banner matches ending with weapons, armour, currency and reputation - not to mention encouragement from Lord Saladin at every turn. Even if you lose he's there, encouraging you to try again. The two games represent opposite ends of an extreme, I think - one that is inviting and rewarding and encouraging, and one that is punishing, tight-fisted and apparently couldn't care less whether you play it or not. Of the two approaches, I'm not sure which I'm preferring at the moment. The one experience has been balancing the other out for the last week or so. Or, to summarise...

 

I'd like to think that I'm going to persevere with Dark Souls. It certainly has its hooks into me this time around in a way that it never managed on my earlier attempts. On each of those attempts, I think it felt like something I thought I should play rather than like something I wanted to play - and that's probably what's changed. I've never persevered with a game like this before, and I've reached the point where, I guess, I want to. I've taken down the first boss in the Sanctuary, and killed the Taurus Demon that foiled me before. I did it on my first attempt. I beat the living shit out of the boar in Undead Parish, and then began a lengthy quest to reach the top of the church. I fought along the bottom of the bridge, linked it up with the bonfire in the Undead Burg and have battled my way inch through painstaking inch. I fought skeletons with spears who I can either murder with two sword swings, or who will trap me in an attack and beat me to within in an inch of my life. I've killed knights in armour who will parry a poorly timed attack and respond with a fatal riposte. I've slayed a ton of zombies, backing down the stairs away from them with a raised shield, occasionally stabbing over it at them with a spear. And then, this morning, I reached the roof of the church for the 15th time - and this time managed to kill the two bell gargoyles. I cheered when I did it. I can't remember the last time a game made me cheer. My wife and daughter shouted upstairs to me. They thought I'd hurt myself.

This then, is where the beauty of Dark Souls lies. It's in a glow of achievement. I know I'm still very near the start of the game, with a long way to go. The glow of achievement lasts a heartbeat, before the next beating begins - and this is where I'm finding that playing it alongside something like Destiny 2 really does work. One game will grind you down, the other will raise you up. Polar opposites, that work far better together than I'd ever have imagined if I hadn't ended up somehow playing them both side by side.

 

I'll be back soon. In the meantime, I have another bell to ring... and another project to begin.

 

 

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