It's February, and I'm still playing Dark Souls. I'll be honest, I'm surprised by this - and a little self-congratulatory too. The progress is slow, but steady. Or it was... for a while. Then I arrived in Anor Londo. After the misery of Blighttown with its associated darkness, filth, and poison (damn, SO MUCH POISON) it was a relief to defeat Quelaag and get the opportunity to wander a bit. Ringing the second bell showed me a cutscene of a giant pulling up a portcullis, and I thought to myself "I know where that is." I had the option to mess around; the route out of Blighttown introduced me to a new area called Valley of Drakes, and I'd already set foot in Darkroot Garden before being mercilessly munched on by walking plants. "Nope," I thought to myself, "I'll go where the game's telling me to go." On my way back through Firelink Shrine I bumped into a dragon with a grin like a cheshire cat, who started talking about something called the "Lordvessel." I had no idea what he was on about then... and I still don't.
What I have done is navigate Sen's Fortress (one of the most finicky and precision demanding areas I've ever experienced in a video game since... well, ever) and defeated the Iron Golem, then caught a lift with a couple of blind demons. They dropped me off pretty unceremoniously, dumping me from several metres in the air and leaving me to tumble the rest of the way. Upon hauling myself to my feet, I found myself seeing something I wasn't really expecting to ever see in Dark Souls; a beautiful vista.
This was two weeks ago. Since then, I've wandered around it, uncovering its secrets layer by layer. I've killed giant knights, and white hooded... things. They were fun; they force you to walk narrow walkways and seem custom designed to knock you off them. I've fought pink skinned demons, armed with lightning spears. I've run a gauntlet up a church roof with a pair of black knights firing "arrows" at me that are so massive and hit so hard that they bring to mind sharpened steel girders. I've found a giant blacksmith, and adjusted bridges and opened a set of massive church doors - creating myself another enormous shortcut.
And also, I've encountered Ornstein and Smough. Quite a few times, now.
If you've played Dark Souls and made it this far, you'll know exactly who I'm talking about. If you haven't made it this far but have played Dark Souls, you've probably heard of them. Hell, if you've read anything about games in the last ten years, their names have probably come up.
Ornstein and Smough are the bad boys of Dark Souls. Their names are legendary, spoken in hushed and reverent tones wherever video game players gather to talk about games. Their reputations precede them - in fact I'd go so far as to say that when people think of Dark Souls and the bosses that gave it the reputation it has for considerable difficulty, these two are the bosses they think of. They certainly will be for me, going forward. Ornstein is quick and nimble, able to slide from one end of the map to the other to impale you with frankly uncanny accuracy. Smough is the traditional heavy tank enemy - he lumbers and hulks around, swinging a hammer that destroys concrete pillars. The only thing they have in common is how hard they hit you - and in that, they BOTH resemble speeding freight trains. A couple of blows from either of them is enough to see your health bar slide from full to zero, and their move sets complement one another perfectly. They'll often time their attacks so that one will stun and damage you, only for you to recover the split second the next attack lands... meaning it hits you, and you die. One of them on their own would be bad enough - to make you face them together really gives you the feeling that the developers are just laughing at you. All I can say is that these guys suffer from the same disease as most Destiny raids - a quick google takes you to YouTube, where there are seemingly ENDLESS videos of people defeating them. Solo, or only with a rubbish sword equipped, or with their fists. These videos, usually compiled by herculean video gaming gurus give an utterly false impression of the challenge they represent to us mere mortals - who will have our arses absolutely handed to us until we work out a strategy that can work for us and our skill level and the equipment we have.
Needless to say, I haven't defeated them yet - at least not in my own game. The closest I came was taking down Smough without a single hit being landed on me. When one of them falls, the other consumes their power and becomes a super-charged version of themself - super-Ornstein grows to become roughly the size of a three storey building. He celebrated my brief moment of triumph by hitting me with a bolt of lightning (a third of health bar promptly disappeared), impaled me (another third) on his spear, shook it (a quarter) and then electrocuted me. I died. And I swore at the tv and started again... and was killed by Smough within seconds of the re-start.
I've killed them a couple of times when summoned as a phantom to other worlds, though. On the best of those occasions, the guy who summoned me also summoned another guy and together the three of us absolutely took them to pieces. It left me with a pang of jealousy - as I lack the humanity to be able to do this myself. Seriously, I have NONE. The one time I found a lone piece of it, I consumed it only to immediately be invaded by a PvP player who stabbed my poor Wanderer to death in mere moments.
So, this is Dark Souls revealing another layer of its onion to me, then. The multiplayer, and the true purpose that humanity serves in the game. It's an interesting risk/reward. Reveal yourself to others, and you face someone helping you or someone hindering you - a lot like in real life. I remember when I had loads of humanity, and didn't really understand what it was for. I'd use it just because my character looked cooler as a human. I had no idea and I'm kicking myself. If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice at the start of this game it would be "save humanity for when you need it, and at the start of the game when you think you need to use it, you really REALLY don't."
For the moment then, I've accepted that I can't beat Ornstein and Smough. I need to go to other areas, and level up and farm some humanity I think - then come back later and try again. It sucks to have to walk away from them - but the frustration level is so high right now that it's either walk away from them, or walk away from the game... and I'm far too invested to allow the latter to happen. For the moment, I know of two other regions I haven't explored - Darkroot Garden, and Valley of Drakes. Time to backtrack, again.