Back in the sepia toned days of my youth, before the advent of this new-fangled internets all you crazy kids get so worked up about, the secrets of games was the school yard commodity of choice. The kid who knew how to get that whistle in Super Mario Bros. 3 had some serious cache. Do you know how to make your way through that stupid maze in Metal Gear? There is some sway to be held. We kids (okay, boys) would spend whatever time was not already being spent tormenting each other trading these prized nuggets back and forth. After leaving grade school, I have not had the opportunity to recapture that feeling; something we were simultaneously working together to learn while competing to find the best way to win. Okay, that’s not quite true. The subject of girls reached a similar fervor in high school. The continuing conversations that I have witnessed and heard over the last few years regarding the Souls games brought back memories of the grade school days. Yes, many of the answers can now be found online, but I have seen players in real life take joy in figuring things out themselves or with the help of close friends. It is with this in mind, as well as the recent release of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, that I finally dipped my toes into this world. With vanilla Dark Souls 2. Truly, I am the master of timeliness.
Reflecting on the time I have spent with this gem, I would actually equate the experience to be closer to an adolescent’s first experiences with romantic intimacy. There was lots of lost fumbling in the dark, sweaty hands fidgeting in the attempt to gain access to things he was not ready for yet, and the frustration of being shut down right when success seemed possible.
With that, I must write a letter to this game. One that I hope will help me.
Before truly beginning, Dark Souls 2, I want to address this reputation that the Souls games are unforgiving but fair. I say this: horse freaking plop. This all comes down to my difficulty with the dodging. The enemies telegraph their attacks very well. If I over-commit to the incorrect move, I am not able to cancel out and dodge out of the way. I am cool with that, and there were times this system nailed me for being stupid. However, my experience with the controls has lead me to believe that there are unpredictable lag issues. There were times when I attempted to dodge, at full stamina mind you, to have it not respond, or respond a crucial half second or more late. At first, I thought this might have been by design, so I attempted to compensate for it. This resulted in immediate movement when inputted, meaning it was mistimed, and my poor character became so much strawberry jelly beneath the over sized sword of an old knight.
Along with these input issues is the “hollowing” system. Look, I get that there should be a fail state, something that should push the player into careful consideration of moves and decisions. Throwing attempt after attempt of careless buffoonery to brute force my way through your challenges is not the experience you wanted to create, Monsieur FromSoftware. Therefore, taking my souls away and making me need to survive back to where I lost them in order to recover my progress is great. This ridiculous system of lowering my max health points is just mean. Yes, I realize I can repair the damage with a human effigy. Yes, the Ring of Binding mitigates how bad this can get. Yes, there are other items found in game that offer some other protection from this. This whole concept still pisses me off. It smacks of, instead of a rough lover, an angry father coming across a tearful child and proclaiming “Do you want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about.”
And yet, like that poor kid, I can’t stay mad at you. You do offer me the freedom to screw up and do so royally. After clearing the tutorial, I went down to the beach in the same area to see what that giant ghost looking thing by the row boat was. The fact that he had a friend who proceed to pick me up and gnaw on my head like I was a stubborn bag of chips that wouldn’t open was my carelessness. I learned from it. But not well enough as after visiting your hub town, I wandered and ended up in Heide’s Tower of Flame. Oh, how you must have laughed as I attempted to truly figure this out along with why you thought it would be fun for the enemies here to take so many darned hits to put down. Only after giving up and finally stumbling across the Forest of Fallen Giants did I realize I went drastically out of order.
To give you all credit you are due, I must tell that my most spectacular failure is also one of my standout best gaming moments ever. I was invaded by another live player who sought to do me harm. He attacked me by the bonfire in the chamber next to Melentia. I am proud to say that I was holding my own pretty well, weaving in to deal blows and ducking out to avoid the repercussions. The adversary was down to around a quarter to a third health left while I was still around seventy five percent. Feeling cocky, I am talking to the TV: “What? What? You think you can take me?” The other player dashes in to strike. I move back a step to avoid. “What? Whaaaaaa!” That is when I discovered what it was like to roleplay a pile of broken bones on the pathway that was meant to be accessed via a ladder.
Will I stay with you? For now, yes. This is certainly not a relationship of convenience. You make me earn every bright spot of happiness. You are a harsh, cruel lover. One that is simultaneously a joy to be with as I dread your next mood swing. I never know when you want to be playful, and when you want to be left alone. I sometimes fear that you will just take everything from me just for your own amusement. But at least you let me ravage your No Man’s Wharf.