Thursday, November 12, 2015

The First Like Two Minutes of Dark Souls

Well, I've gone and done something ill-advised, getting Dark Souls, the progenitor... well, not really, because Demon Souls existed before it... the beginner of the main franchise-within-a-franchise that includes Demon Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, Bloodborne, and the upcoming Dark Souls 3.

If you're not familiar, it's generally considered one of the hardest games out there, with a lot of obscure nuance to the stats and such, and some very punishing gameplay mechanics.

I got in about two or three minutes of actual play after the intro cutscene before I had to stop so my roommate could tutor in that room.

But here's what I've got so far:

Character creation involves picking a class, which I think really just determines starting stats/equipment (you can re-orient things in a different way if you want later on,) a trinket, some of which are consumables and some have more obscure functions, and your appearance, which I assume is just cosmetic.

Most interestingly, rather than a simple gender choice, there's a sliding bar of "masculinity and femininity," which I have to say is pretty damn cool to see. Obviously you can slide the bar all the way to dude or lady, but if you want something a little in between, there's a whole spectrum.

Once this is done, you pop in and begin.

I picked a Knight with a Small Being ring - the ring gives you a mild health regeneration effect, which I figure will be nice to have in a game that A: has no passive health regeneration and B: seems to allow you to stand still once you've cleared all the enemies that are an immediate threat to you.

In addition to just punishing combat, where a single hit will take a big chunk of your health, there are two other pretty punishing mechanics.

The first is that if you die, all the Souls you've collected (a kind of combination of XP and Gold, granted whenever you kill a thing or really just anything dies near you,) and any Humanity you have (which is a far more obscure thing that I'm still not totally clear on, and that's probably intended) will be left next to the bloodstain you've left behind. You'll start over near the last bonfire you rested at, and all enemies will reset, and if you want those Souls/Humanity, you'll need to survive the trip to retrieve them. You need to rest at a bonfire to spend your souls on leveling up various stats (or to replenish Estus Flasks, which are your healing potions) and so there's a constant tension between trying to progress a little farther through more enemies or going back to level up/replenish.

Also, any time you die or rest at a bonfire, the vast majority of enemies will respawn.

The other mechanic that is maybe less defensible is that there is no pause button. This certainly makes it a bit more hardcore, but is also perhaps not so nice to the player, who, you know, sometimes has other real-world things to do. (Granted, WoW doesn't have a pause button, but it's an MMO... actually...)

The other thing, and one that I'm not likely to experience, is that the game is actually multiplayer, despite seeming like a very single-player driven experience.

You can summon allies if you're online (actually, there are also some NPCs you can summon if you aren't,) but playing online also allows other players to "Invade" your game, potentially killing you and I believe taking the souls and humanity you've gathered.

No thank you!

So I've only fought one enemy so far, and while I managed to down him without much trouble, I'm definitely getting used to the controls.

The Knight has high health and a starting set of strong armor, but I'm very slow and my rolling dodge is pretty damn terrible at the moment, with an embarrassing "thud" as I slam to the ground and kind of shamble back up.

EDIT: I've now played for maybe an hour or two. I think I've died about ten times, though thankfully once I died right next to the main bonfire at Firelink Shrine, which I believe is kind of the main hub.

The intro "tutorial" area allows you to practice a bit at combat, but you can't level up. You can get a really satisfying attack if you manage to parry, but doing so can be very tough, timing-wise, and you'll often find yourself shield-bashing too early or too late to interrupt their attack and find yourself getting smacked. I'm playing this on a 360, and I'm pretty sure this was designed for a PS3 controller, because the regular attack button, which you need to use if you're going to get that nice, powerful finishing stab, is RB, whereas parry is LT, so there's a little bit of awkward muscle memory working against you. In fact, a lot of the combat involves using the shoulder buttons, which most Xbox games only use sparingly and assume you're going to be using the triggers more. LB is the button you hold to keep your shield up, which... yeah, is pretty important.

I haven't managed to die before retrieving my little patch of souls yet, which is nice, but I'm trying to maintain a pessimistic attitude toward the game. The "boss" of the intro level took me three tries to get him down (I think the key is nailing the mid-air attack, as you'll drop down on him to fight him, and you can get him down by about 50% in your first hit if you pull it off.)

There are definitely some nuances to the controls and combat that I'm going to have to get used to. Repeated attacks will do successively more damage, but you drain your stamina (used for dodging, attacking, and blocking) and leave yourself open to the enemy's attacks.

So my strategy for now is that I'm going to clear forward until I've run out of Estus Flasks (the healing potions that you get from bonfires) and then go back to the bonfire, spend as many souls as I can on leveling up my stats, then pushing forward through the same enemies until I've improved - in stats, skills, and understanding of enemy mechanics and placements - that I can make it to the next bonfire. I'm sure it will be slow going for a while.

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