Learning Patience with Dark Souls

Dark Souls Path of the Dragon
The Path of the Dragon requires patience young one

Difficulty, Patience, and Dark Souls

When I was a kid, one Christmas my grandmother gifted me a rock with the word “patience” engraved in it. Being around 5 at the time, I didn’t get it. She told me that I could benefit greatly by focusing a little bit about the patience that I was lacking. I wasn’t alone, most kids lack patience in our instant gratification culture. It got top me though, and I still have the rock today. A more contemporary example of this act is a grandmother giving her grandchild a copy of Dark Souls. They would say, “finish this and they’ll be an amazing present waiting at the end.” I don’t think this is a thing that’s ever happened, but I really hope that it has or will. While the kid’s parents might think their mom or dad is losing it, they are completely on top of their shit.

So much of the growing amount of attention being given to Dark Souls games is about the difficulty. “Prepare to die” and “get gud” are everywhere in its marketing and community. Souls games are, without a doubt, more difficult than your average games. It’s something that new players should know before throwing down $60. The reason that they stand out as so difficult is how this all comes together though. They are different in their expectations of players than most other AAA games coming out today. Rather than guaranteeing a action filled thrill ride, they want players to learn, explore, and fight on their own. The games provide little guidance so that players gain a sense of appreciation and achievement from the experience.

Take a Breath, Plan Your Next Move

From Software expects patience and respect from their players. Take your time, don’t run in blind expecting to come out on top. Tread carefully and respect their game design as being proficiently executed and fair. It can feel like they’re just out to get you at first, but it all comes around.

The Index Gundyr is a perfect example of this. “Welcome to the game new player! Here are a few simple grunts to fight to learn the controls. Next up is the first boss, he’s a tutorial in the Dark Souls sense. Sink or swim.” From’s design implies the idea of learning and adaptation that’s guaranteed by the progressing through these games. From might as well follow up with, “he might seem tough, but wait until you see him again in New Game Plus. You’ll crush him”

The first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood

From Software might be forging their own digital fight club with the success of these games. “A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood.” The same rules apply, get in and get better or get out. The way you get better in Dark Souls is far away from some intangible toughness and skill that veterans have honed over the last few games. Most often, it simply comes down to patience. Slow down, watch for patterns, don’t force the last hit on a tough boss. Eventually, you’ll emerge victorious.

I started playing the original Dark Souls before I got into reading and writing about games online. I bought it based on the recommendation of a co-worker who told me that it felt old-school, like the re-invention of the games we grew up with. I didn’t know about its reputation online for its crushing difficulty, I just knew it felt different than anything else I had played around that time. It almost forced me into a flow state, it required focus and almost meditative attention like nothing else. I learned to take my time and plan ahead, that’s what the game required. It didn’t feel tremendously hard to me, but it did feel entirely different from any other contemporary game I’d played.  Savor the experience, work through it, don’t expect to be catered to, you get what you earn. With how much media attention the third entry had received, I wonder how many young players are benefiting from the same lesson I received at their age, except through a much cooler medium.

 

Image captured in Dark Souls 3, courtesy of From Software

Dark Souls 3- Updated Impressions

Dark Souls 3 irithyll
So many great sights and moments…

One Game Down, Many More to Come

I finally finished my first play through of Dark Souls 3. It took me just under 55 hours and I feel like I got a relatively complete picture of the game, at least as much as you can on a single play through of a Dark Souls game. I read a few reviews during my game and I think that all 3 of them listed shorter times. I focused on taking my time and exploring with this first go and rarely used guidance. There’s still a ton that I don’t know about the game that I will be starting to research, but here’s my updated thoughts so far.

Like many others have said, Dark Souls 3 feels like a distillation of everything that’s great about the series. All of the core aspects that fans expect are well represented in their best form. The only lacking aspect could be seen as the world map, a point I’ll hit on later.

Dark Souls 3 Boss Abyss Walkers
With the great combat come great boss encounters

Everything You Loved About the Series is Back

The combat feels better than ever. There’s a huge variety of items presented offering more playstyle and build options than any other Souls game. The combat and movement feel faster as well, offering the ability to make a Bloodborne-esque brawler, a great feature for players who jumped into From’s games with Bloodborne. Armor is no longer upgradeable, so the upgrade elements can be focused on weapons, luckily there’s enough in game to go around. There’s some debate about the value of heavy armor with the seemingly nerfed poise stat, I can’t speak to that as I generally use light armor but I’ve seen a fair amount of players online with heavy armor equipped.

The lore is widely presented and might be a little more accessible than other Souls games as far as piecing it together, although that could be a result of my previous experience with the series. An interesting cast of characters is present, and they offer a good amount of storytelling through their speech alone. Some work to piece it together is still required though, as it should be. There are several NPC side quests as well, although they are pretty obscure to initiate and proceed through. The only quest line that I completed was the deserter’s story, no spoilers but you might be able to figure that one out. I initiated others, like a certain knight’s, but never came across him again to continue the story. I have also heard a little bit about another side story which is supposed to be great, unfortunately the keeper of that story died suddenly, and not because of me… I’ve spent 55 hours in the game and there is still a ton to uncover and explore, that’s a great sign for me.

On my next play through, I’m planning on referencing a guide more. I referred to a guide on two occasions for this run, one was to find the Chloranthony Ring, which I found long after I should have. I love the ring for my quick builds and I knew it had to be in the game somewhere. I’m also pretty sure that I would have never found it if I hadn’t looked to Google, it was well hidden and I’m looking forward to discovering other treasures that are far from the beaten path.

There’s No Shame in Using a Guide

This brings up an interesting part of this game’s nature, especially if it’s anyone’s first Dark Souls game. I played through the game, taking my time to explore, and was reluctant to reference a guide at all for this play through. I fully intended to play the entire game at least one more time though. If you’re playing and only anticipate doing so once, I think having a guide handy is a totally valid approach. There’s so much to the game that it’s very easy to miss out on a ton, so you’ll get a much fuller experience in one go with some guidance. Luckily, the web is jam packed with DS3 guides and information now.

One thing that I neglects throughout most of my game, until just before the final boss actually, was the multiplayer. I read a great piece over on Kotaku by Patrick Klepek about running around helping other players with bosses. I’d been invaded my fair share, but I had not engaged in co-op at all at that point, so I went and grabbed a soapstone and wrote my summon sign in front of a late game boss. It wasn’t long before I was backtracking through the games bosses and areas to give other players a hand with my badass washing pole. It was a really good time and the limited emotes provide for some entertaining interactions with others. I still need to look into finding a DS3 PvP fight club, but it’s so damn difficult because no one talks about them… (Bad Fight Club joke, but no one can talk in Dark Souls after all)

Dark Souls 3 broken bridge view
I’ve been there before and I’ll be there again

Like I referenced before, one design that I’ve heard major criticism of is the world map. Unlike the first Dark Souls, where the entire world was connected in tangible and interesting ways, Dark Souls 3 uses a hub and allows you to teleport to any of the bonfires you’ve lit in the world. While I can see where players are coming from, the world of Dark Souls was a joy to explore and immaculately laid out and assembled, Dark Souls 3’s map has a nicely connected feel as well.

Sure, there are several junctions where you are swept to a far off area and unable return by any means other than bonfire. There are also other places where I gazed at a landmark in the distance only to wind up there a few hours later. The broken bridge where you find Yoel specifically stands out to me, I could see a ton of detail on the other side, and about 6 hours later I stood on it looking up. I had adventured much deeper into the unknown world only to end up a few hundred feet from a vantage that I had held earlier. That moment was great and there were more exactly like it, that’s enough for me.

Dark Souls 3 Mound Makers Cage Guy
Still making new discoveries

A Worthy Successor to the Throne

Since starting writing this, I’ve already started 2 new games, as well as a new game plus, to explore some different play styles. I’m trying out a magic user and an even lighter build where I won’t use a shield, which should provide some good fun. I’m obviously a huge fan of the series, but with the news that this is all but assured to be the last true Dark Souls game, I find this to be a worthy send off for a series I love.

The Dark Souls Board Game Kickstarter is Live!

The Dark Souls Board Game

Translating The Action of Dark Souls to a Kickstarter Board Game

As you may already know, I’m a huge Dark Souls fan and also big into board games. As such, a Dark Souls board game is definitely  something that I’m really psyched about. I’m 35 hours deep into Dark Souls 3 right now and loving it (just beat the Ancient Wyvern and working on the Nameless King), but I still have mixed feelings about it being the last of the series. I’m definitely going to replay it a few times, as I have with Dark Souls and plan to with Dark Souls 2, but it’s good to know the universe will expand beyond them. I’m really excited about bringing the universe to another format I’m into, but I’m a little shaky well it will translate the experience. Regardless of how much like Dark Souls it feels, the mechanics look solid.

The Dark Souls games are pulse pounding adventures through highly detailed worlds rich in lore and defined by their epic monster battles. You learn and develop as you play, and sometimes end up beating your head against bosses for hours until you finally emerge from the fog wall victorious. My left thumb actively hurts from playing so much more with my gamepad than I’m used to, and it’s satisfying as many hard earned accomplishments are. The board game is focused on both the daunting exploration and those epic monster encounters, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they capture that experience in miniatures and cardboard.

Dark Souls board game miniatures of Ornstein and Smough
Ornstein and Smough are awesome additions to a mostly Dark Souls 3 cast!

The Miniature Mock Ups Look Amazing

From the mock ups of the miniatures posted on the campaign site, the models look amazing. The game board looks rather bland, but even if it wasn’t, the figures would be stealing the show. That in itself is awesome and will sell some copies of the game to the inevitable overlap between Dark Souls fans and miniature fans and gamers. It’s a good start to show off the game when the mechanics are much more obscure.

Dark Souls board game hero miniatures
The undead heroes of this adventure!

The Gameplay Experience Parallels

Given that the game is being labeled as a “deeply immersive combat exploration” experience, there are several obvious mechanics from the original games to include. Some of these are discussed in the pitch video. While in combat, you must balance your damage with your stamina in order to not exhaust youself and leave yourself open to attack. There will also be leveling in order to strengthen characters as they delve deeper into the deadly environment. In order to level up, just like in the games, you’ll need accumulated souls and access to a bonfire. The use of a bonfire to level up does have consequences though, and as mirrored in the game, using one will bring back all of the monsters that were previously slain. This sounds great if they can pull off the tense atmosphere the game offers.

Dark Souls board game stat card
The stat card are definitely reminiscent of the games

Along with the mechanics of the world you’re exploring, the boss fights should be a huge focus of this game. During boss fights, you’ll lean the movement patterns and techniques of the enemy and use that information to find openings. You’ll have to balance risk and reward as you exhaust stamina in order to attack while not tiring and leaving yourself open to attacks. In theory , this all sounds great and like another awesome way to experience the fun of Dark Souls, this time in local co-op with some friends!

Below is a quick gameplay video from Steam Forged of an encounter with a boss, the Dancer of the Boreal Valley. The video only shows how players will interact with  the single boss. This is likely similar to how you’ll face minor enemies, just on a different scale. It will be interesting to see how the whole picture comes together though, when you bring together minions, exploration, and manipulating bonfires along with the set boss encounters.

Looking at New Gaming Trends

I’m excited for this, and not just because I’m crazy hyped up on Dark Souls 3 right now. The big reason I’m excited is, oddly enough, because of the Tomb Raider and Hitman Games. Not the big budget releases that we recently saw though, I’m referring to the mobile versions in Square Enix’s Go series of games. Hitman Go and Lara Croft Go both boiled down some action packed games into turn-based experiences that were basically digital board games. I’m hoping that Steam Forged Games can pull of a similar feat with this physical board game release, and bring to Souls series to a whole new kind of gamer.

Images courtesy From Software and Steam Forged Games

First Impressions of Dark Souls 3

That first death really brought me back
That first death really brought me back

The time has come. I’ve finally gotten may hands on Dark Souls 3 and now have just over 10 hours in the game. Here’s what I think of the experience so far.

Dark Souls 3 Offers Tremendously Variety

I started out rolling with a thief class character. I usually go for lighter, faster characters in games and especially in Dark Souls. It makes the experience more fun for me, and that’s one of the reasons I loved Bloodborne enough to buy a PS4 just for it. I have limited the amount that I’ve read about Dark Souls 3 keep myself somewhat in the dark. I’ve already played all of the previous games except Demon’s Souls, so I knew what to expect.

One idea that I did catch from the pre-release coverage though is the idea that it’s more Dark Souls, but cast in a negative light. I’m happy about that, it’s exactly what I wanted and the reason this is the first game I’ve pre-ordered in years. I find it a little weird that so many people didn’t go in expecting that. From Software took a ton of risks with Demon’s Souls and then again with Dark Souls after Demon’s Souls limited financial success. They staked out new turf and almost a new genre of “Souls-like” games and have influenced a ton of games since the release of Demon’s Souls. Why would they venture too far with Dark Souls 3, the promised last game of the Dark Souls series when they defined exactly what their fan base wanted with Dark Souls? Now that I’ve said that, onto my experience with the actual game.

Dark Souls 3 viewpoint
The first of many epic vantages in Dark Souls 3

Dark Souls 3 Looks and Runs Great (For Me)

As I said, I’m about 10 hours into the game and I am having a thoroughly good time with it. The first thing that stuck out to me was the beauty of this game. They went out of their way to offer players awesome vantages from the start, possibly to hint at the vastness of this game. Where Souls games have never been fawned over for their beauty, Bloodborne was a nice step in art direction and DS3 is a great combination of the two. The mountains and castles in the distance add a sense of beauty and wonder to a bleak world full of danger and encourages a few moments of rest to take in the view.

Other than the graphical prowess, it seems Hidetaka Miyazaki brought a little bit of his vision from Bloodborne to the final entry in the Souls trilogy. While the setting is purely dark, gothic fantasy, I have seen quite a few monsters and enemies that would be right at home in Yharnam. Along with the enemies looking like they could’ve come over from Bloodborne, some fight like it as well. Dark Souls 3 has the largest number of fast and nimble enemies of any of the officially Souls games. This adds a ton of variety to gameplay with players never knowing what to expect from unknown enemies, of which there are a lot. With enemies being faster, developers gave players the potential of some very quick and responsive builds to compete. I’m still early on with my character, but he plays so much faster than my speedy build from the original Dark Souls. While Bloodborne forced players to embrace a fast a furious pace to combat, it seems developers have left it up to players in this game by giving them the most potential for build diversity in any of the games.

It is Definitely More Dark Souls, In a Great Way

One criticism that is striking home with me is that this is a more linear game than the first of the trilogy. In my first few hours, I have only needed to wonder where to go every once in a while and have found the path quickly every time. This is not to say that I’m seeing everything though, I know of at least 2 areas that I need to go back and explore more and there could definitely be more. Items also seem easier to come by as you cannot venture too far off the beaten path,  making them much easier to stumble on. This wasn’t the case in the first game where paths ofter went on for a long time before dead ending and items were tucked in nooks and crannies that were easily missed. I found the Chloranthy Ring in Dark Souls 2 and it became a big part of my play-style, where I had no idea until after a few full play throughs of the original that it was even featured in that game. Items being easier to stumble upon takes away from the wonder and mystery of the game, but it also makes it easier to develop your own unique loadout after finding a variety of treasure without going online to see what’s best.

Now for the weirdly biggest part of the game to some people, the difficulty. First, I don’t play these games for the difficulty, but I do throughly enjoy it, as well as the way it brings the games together and makes them stand out from the crowd. The difficulty is a big part of the awesome mix of features that make these games the amazing experience that they are though, which is only possible because of the perfectly executed “tough but fair” approach.

At first, I was struck that maybe this game would be easier than the rest. I struggled in the first area of Bloodborne for hours before getting the hang of it, and I cruised through the beginning areas and bosses of DS3 with only moderate setbacks along the way. This could easily be because I just played through the first Dark Souls again and have been playing these games for years now. I’m a decently seasoned Souls player. Along with the difficulty, bonfires seemed much closer than I expected them to be. I would feel like i just visited one fire and then stumble on another shortly after having used only one swig of my estus flask. It didn’t feel like I was struggling and working to progress, it felt almost a little like a typical game where progress is a given with time. I was still enjoying myself, but the progress wasn’t as fulfilling. I beat a boss while talking to my fiancée, that wasn’t supposed to be what these games are like.

It’s a Great Place to Jump Into the Series

While, now I’m chalking up my earlier success to the boot camp I just ran where I manged to beat Gwyn, the original Lord of Cinder, on my first try. The area I’m now in is tough as nails and I’m back to struggling and learning enemy placements and patterns in order to eek out a little more progress with each run where I inevitably fail until I don’t.

Dark Souls 3 Badass
Badass

None of this soured my experience though, I already knew that I was going to keep going and finish the game. It seems like, given the newly mass market appeal of the series, the developers have instated a boot camp of their own into the beginning of this game for players that are prepared to die for the first time. Have you heard of the tremendously difficult Dark Souls series of games and finally want to jump in? Dark Souls 3 is where to do it.

I’m now 10 hours in and I’m not sure how long it will take to to finish the game, but I don’t think that my opinion will change. Dark Souls 3 is a great way to introduce yourself to the series if you’re open to it and an awesome finish to the trilogy if you’re a veteran of the series. I’ve already seen some great references to previous games and I love the attention to existing fans.

It may not be as mysterious as the first game of the trilogy that established the genre, but that just makes it different, not worse. I’m sure I’ll find myself wondering about plenty of areas, characters, items, and lore throughout my time adventuring in Lothric.

 

Images captured in my play through, courtesy of From Software

A Love Letter to the Grossness of Bloodborne on the PS4

bloodborne cover image post

Bloodborne is a Hell of a Video Game

So, I just beat Bloodborne, like a just a few minutes ago. My heart rate is still up from the “final” boss fight, in a way that no other video game experiences produce. That might sound ridiculous to anyone who is not familiar with the Souls series of games, but they are games unlike many others in today’s market. No hand-holding, a high learning curve, and the fact that every single enemy can kill you if you’re not on your toes makes all of the entries of the Souls series the polar opposite of a relaxing game to throw on the decompress after work. These games are work. That is what I think makes them so appealing to their highly devoted fan base of players like myself, you have to work to get through these.

 A Quick overview of Bloodborne for the PS4

 In a world where most games just take a commitment of time and attention to finish, Bloodborne and the like separate themselves by making players actually develop throughout the experience. There are levels so that your character can be upgraded and scale somewhat like your enemies do as you progress, but they not nearly as critical to the gameplay. Every Souls game implies the challenge of beating it without leveling your character or weapon, it’s completely possible in a game that is this focused on player skill above all else.
 

What Makes Souls Games so Appealing to Me and its Audience

I am a goal oriented person, I love setting a list of objectives and seeing them through to completion. A ton of games offer a similar idea: here’s a list of tasks, do them to get rewards. But no other game scratches that itch for me like a Souls game, every boss beaten or bonfire/lamp lit is a genuine accomplishment and gives you that sense of accomplishment, that’s probably why I bought a used PS4 off Craig’s List just to play a single game.
 
Bloodborne has the core values of every Souls game (full disclosure I have not yet played Demon Souls), tight controls force the player to master his chosen weapon and style in order to combat a cornucopia of intimidating and challenging (and horrifying in Bloodborne’s case) monsters. There’s no directed narrative and very little dialog to tell you exactly what’s going on, like everything else in a Souls game, you have to work to uncover the story. The story is vaguely hinted at and formed by item descriptions, brief conversations, and notes found throughout the region of Yharnam, the progressively more and more terrifying setting of the game. But where the core values of Bloodborne are more or less identical to the other games in the Souls series, the execution is very different.
 

What Makes Bloodborne Different from Other Souls Games

Where Dark Souls games offer so many potential weapons and armor variations that it can be overwhelming, Bloodborne has streamlined that entire system as a way to tell players how they should play the game. There are about a dozen melee weapons and a handful of firearms for your off hand that replace the shields of previous games. Each individual melee weapon seems to have more mechanical depth than weapons in the previous games and each is a “trick weapon” with 2 forms you can switch between on the fly. They’re all absolutely insane, like a sword with a gigantic hammer as its sheath and a long handled saw sword that flicks out into a halberd cleaver. They’re all a lot of fun too. Handguns have been introduced in lieu of shields to give players a way to interrupt enemies and perform awesome visceral attacks in the gap. The guns themselves do very little damage for the most part, the are simple a way to parry attacks without giving players the option to completely block an attack.
 
Combat is fast an furious in Bloodborne as every piece of armor offered up is light and flowing, encouraging dashing and dodging over cowering behind a shield and fat rolling. Armor scales as you do, I used the same set for the entire game and there’s no way to upgrade it, I just chose one I liked the look of and ran with it. In some situations, you can use a set that offers higher specialized resistance against poison or frenzy, etc. but the game never forces you to compare numbers ad choose which item is better, they’re all pretty even and this gets players back into the action sooner. 
 
As comes along with the fact that there’s little to no direction given and a huge world to explore in Bloodborne, it’s fairly easy to miss items and even large amounts of content in areas that you’re not expressly forced to go through. If you’re not following along with a guide online, which you shouldn’t, this is a definite possibility. I missed a large optional area and then stumbled back upon it later when I was too high leveled to experience it as intended. This only happened once with a fairly small area and it’s a valuable offering in itself. When I found an area with a boss that I had completely missed, it added to the sense of wonder that this terrifying world offered. How many times can you play through these games and find new areas, items, and characters that you missed before? These world offer players so much, they challenge players to discover their worth on their own with no guide to speak of. 
 
Not many games will hide content from players like that in an age where every publisher’s top concern is justifying their price tag with a huge amount of content, but From Software basically has a captive audience. Like I said, there’s so little out there that offers an experience like a Souls game that I bought a PS4 just to experience the latest entry, and I don’t regret it in the slightest. I just beat it today and there’s still so much more potential to explore that I’m chomping at the bit to get back into in and find a new weapon that I’ve never used and fight bosses in a different order. That’s not even bring up Chalice Dungeons, randomly generated dungeons for players to explore akin to Diablo, which I sorely neglected on my first play through. But that’s just the way the Souls games are, everywhere you read about them online, someone will say that your real first play through is your second one on new game plus. You’ve got the fundamentals down, and now you can start having fun and exploring properly.
 
What do you think of the Souls series of games by From Software (almost said from From)? Have you taken them out for a spin yet or what? Let me know in the comments below!