16 September 2014

A Moment of Nostalgia with Heroes of Might and Magic III

I recently bought a copy of Heroes of Might and Magic III (1999) when it was on sale at Good Old Games. I was a little surprised to find it works almost flawlessly on my GNU/Linux machine using Wine. (I also installed an unofficial HD mod to make it run in bigger resolutions.)

Back in the 90s, I had a copy of Heroes of Might and Magic II. I recall it was probably one of the first games I bought after my family got a new Pentium computer. It was a cool fantasy strategy game, with pretty graphics and great music. Right up my proverbial alley at the time. Before that I'd been playing Master of Magic a little, but Heroes' more polished, modern aesthetics, and perhaps also the slightly more streamlined mechanics, quickly won me over.

But I was never very good at it, or should I rather say not patient enough. I never got very far in the campaign, mostly playing single scenarios on easy difficulty settings and sometimes hot-seat multiplayer with friends. (I never was very patient with games back then—I hardly ever 'beat' games until a little later when I got into more story-driven stuff, like JRPGs...) Even so, I might go as far as saying that Heroes II is the game I remember most fondly from the 90s (together with TIE Fighter).

So, I started up Heroes III, and I felt right at home. Even though I didn't play it back in the day, the game's similar enough to it's predecessor to feel instantly familiar and intuitive. I still love the aesthetics and feel of the game, so many years later. I started up a scenario, played it for several hours... and then I drifted off to other things and haven't been back since. Yup, that sounds very familiar as well.

It's a problem I've had with many classic games, and perhaps particularly strategy games. There would be a ton of content to play through in Heroes III (the GOG version includes the two expansions as well). But alas, it seems more like an itch that needs occasionally scratching than something I'd be really motivated to stick with. (I'd still heartily recommend it to fans of classic strategy games, though. Even when not on sale, the game's only ten bucks at GOG.com, which seems like a bargain.)

11 September 2014

Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition (Game Review)

Blizzard's Diablo and Diablo II are among those classic computer games I never played. Thus I was only vaguely aware of the hype surrounding Diablo III when it was finally released a couple years ago, and the maybe somewhat lukewarm reception it had. But when the expansion, Reaper of Souls, was released earlier this year, and people were saying how it improved the game, coinciding with when I was getting into watching more gaming streams and thus exposed to a wider range of games, my curiosity grew.

When the expansion was released for consoles recently, bundled together with the main game as the Ultimate Evil Edition, I decided it was time to finally check out the series and bought the PS3 version. (It's also out for PS4, but I don't have one yet...)

I'm sure many people reading this will already be aware of the Diablo series, but for anyone who's not, the games are isometric hack-and-slash style action RPGs, with a focus on randomly generated content and loot. The story is set in a dark fantasy world called Sanctuary, and deals primarily with the war between angels and demons, with the player taking the part of a human hero going up against the demon lords, particularly their leader, the titular Diablo. Diablo III takes place 20 years after the previous game. Diablo has supposedly been vanquished, but the remaining demon lords are again spreading evil in Sanctuary. You set out to investigate a mysterious falling star and the dead rising from the graves...

The gameplay itself is quite simple, on the surface. Basically you hit buttons until the monsters die. The console version, out of necessity, has vastly different controls than the PC version. Where the PC games have always been heavily mouse oriented, the console version plays more like a standard third person action game (you use the left stick to move, buttons to attack etc). The menus and inventory management were also completely overhauled to work better with controllers.

Despite the simple premise, Diablo III has a surprising amount of depth, for a hack-and-slash game. You can pick one of six different classes, each with unique abilities, which are unlocked as you level up. Most of the locations you explore are random generated. Each time you start up the game they change, so you'll never have the exact same experience twice, even if you go back to locations you've visited before. Difficulty seemed something of a mixed bag. I played much of the main game on the maximum allowed difficulty, and didn't die once, which was a little surprising. After beating the main game (i.e. up to Act IV) you unlock higher difficulties. Playing the expansion content on the next higher setting seemed more suitable for me, except now some of the bosses felt a little too hard, and I ended up lowering difficulty for them... But at least you can change the difficulty at any time, which is good.

The game's reasonably long, too. (As far as I can tell, there's no timer in the game that would tell me how long it took to beat it, which is a shame. I find that kind of information interesting.) It doesn't end with beating the campaign, either. After that you unlock 'Adventure Mode', which lets you freely travel the word hunting down randomly generated 'bounties', and exploring randomly generated dungeons. Character level is capped at 70, but after that you can continue to improve your character by gaining 'paragon levels'. I'm not quite that far yet, so I can't really comment on what that entails.

And then there's the loot. Dropped by enemies and discovered in chests, or bought from merchants, or crafted by a blacksmith... So much loot, most of which is also random generated, so you'll find an endless number of equipment with different combinations of magical properties. There are several levels of rarity in items. Though, honestly, this seems a little unnecessary. Not long into the game it became obvious that 'rare' (and above) items were much better than more common items, and plentiful enough to simply not bother with picking anything else up (except occasionally to salvage for crafting materials).

The game looks very nice, even on the PS3, which probably has lower resolution than the PS4 or higher end PCs (I noticed some occasional slight slowdown too, but nothing that really detracted from the experience). There are lots of different environments, and tons of cool monsters. The music, on the other hand, was... well, background music. It's well enough done and suits the atmosphere of the game, but not exactly what I'd call memorable.

Another aspect the Diablo series is famous for is the multiplayer. You can team up with up to three other players for co-operative play. In the console version you can even play local multiplayer. I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, but I'm sure it, together with the randomly generated content, greatly increases the game's replay value. (As far as I know cross-platform online play isn't available, and for local multiplayer I assume each player needs a local username and save file, which slightly limits the potential. But it's still a cool thing.)

Now, I've listed a lot of positive things about Diablo III Ultimate Evil Edition. I certainly had fun playing it on my first playthrough, and I'm still having fun checking out Adventure Mode. But when it comes down to it, the core gameplay is quite repetitive, and the story is hardly very deep or original. While in theory it's one of those games you could keep playing indefinitely, how long it can keep me interested after 'beating' it once is a question I can't answer yet. (My past experience with games with a lot of 'post-game' content doesn't exactly speak for me sticking with it. Always moving on to new experiences...)

One last complaint  I have (which I touched upon in an earlier blog post) is that the game came with virtually no manual, beyond a simple controller diagram. It turns out there's a game guide on Blizzard's Battle.net website, which answered some of the questions I had. But this guide was not mentioned anywhere in the packaging, as far as I could see...

2 September 2014

The Forgotten Art of the Video Game Manual

Blizzard's Diablo is one of those classic game franchises I never played. So, now that the expansion for Diablo III is out for consoles as well, and conveniently bundled with the main game as the 'Ultimate Evil Edition', I finally decided to pick up the PS3 version and give it a try. But I've barely started the game, so I'm not actually here to talk about it yet, but rather a related observation.

So I bought Diablo III, and opened up the box to check out the manual: a single folded sheet, featuring only a controller diagram and the usual warnings and customer service numbers.

Out of curiosity, I checked out the manual for Diablo II (2000) online. It's almost 100 pages long.

Another example. Some years ago I picked up a cheap second hand copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for PS3 ('Game of the Year Edition', 2007). Its manual is over 50 pages, which is actually fairly impressive for a PS3 game. A little later I bought the then brand new Skyrim (2011): a 'quick start' guide a couple pages long. (In multiple languages—this was the Nordic version, I don't know if UK/US versions differ.)

The trend is obvious. The video game manual is a dying breed. There are many reasons for this, of course. Designing and printing manuals is an additional expense. Online distribution of games is growing. Many games these days have extensive tutorial sections and in-game reference guides.

But there's a certain feeling when you open your brand new game and flip through the manual for the first time that an in-game tutorial can't replace. At best, manuals of the past have been much more than just about teaching you the controls. They could immerse you in the world of the game, expand the experience, get you hooked even before you start the game...

And all that aside, there are still games even in this streamlined, hold-you-by-the-hand age complex enough to benefit from a detailed reference guide. (Dark Souls springs to mind...)

I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule, game publishers still making decent manuals. But for the most part the manual seems to be a thing of the past, and I'm not very hopeful of seeing a resurrection. Which is a shame.

28 August 2014

Brief Procastinatory Ramblings on Learning Dota and Stuff

Hello blog. What have you been up to? Not much, I see. Well, maybe I'll just scribble down a little something, just in way of procrastination...

So in my last post I mentioned trying out a little Dota 2. I've been playing a little more over the past week. I'm not sure how worthwhile it is actually writing about it with still so little experience under my belt, but whatever...

I have now completed the tutorials and practice battles in the game's training section, except for the last one, which is matches with other real players. And I really don't want to do that. Even if some people playing in those matches may well be as inexperienced as me, I am well aware of how bad I am at this game and I have zero confidence in my ability to compete against other humans.

I'm not sure I'd be willing to try that even if the MOBA community didn't have a reputation of being very harsh towards noobs. But of course it does. When you read about MOBAs, the one thing you always run into—in addition to how they're challenging but rewarding games, of course—is how unwelcoming and aggressive the community can be. Which is a shame.

It's funny, really. For a long, long time I simply wasn't interested in online games, favouring engaging single player experiences. And that's obviously just fine. But various factors lately have, just slightly, piqued my interest; like getting into following gamers on Twitch and social networks, esports becoming more mainstream etc.—overall exposing me to a wider range of gaming. And just when I'm maybe opening up slightly to these different parts of the hobby and to gaming as a more communal thing, I begin to discover that some parts of the gaming community can actually be rather shitty... Not that I have experienced anything very negative first hand—since, as said, I have hardly ever played online games and also the communities I have had touch with are pretty much composed of actually decent people—but it seems like these days you're constantly hearing stories about harassment and abuse... Actually, come to think of it, no, that's not actually funny at all.

But let's get back to Dota. Because, possible community issues aside, it is actually an interesting and entertaining game. Or at least has been so far. And I can see it will require a lot of practise. I honestly don't know at this time whether I'll have the motivation and patience to stick with it. It's quite similar to my relationship with fighting games, really. I find them cool and fascinating, but I'm terrible at them and lack the patience to really practice.

I'm slightly surprised I didn't lose any of the training section battles. But I think the game was rigged in my favour. It was obvious that the bots on my side were vastly more efficient than the enemy bots. I expect when I get into the 'proper' bot battles, which is probably the next step for me, my side will lose, even on easier settings. Because, all other things being equal, I still suck.

[EDIT: OK, so I actually played one bot match soon after writing this with the bots set to 'easy', and... the result was very much the same as the matches in the training section—i.e. I sucked but my team still dominated. So I guess I'd need to play on a higher difficulty for the teams to actually be equal...]

20 August 2014

On Things Steamy, Esportsy, and Never Wanting to Be a Lumberjack-y

I haven't been blogging much this summer. Sorry about that. Just not a whole lot going on in my life to blog about. I spent a few weeks in the countryside recently, much of which I spent cutting up firewood with a chainsaw. Turns out using a chainsaw isn't as cool as it might sound, but actual hard work. Especially when you're doing it several hours each day in the middle of Finland's longest heat wave in 40 years... Let me tell you, I was not built for manual labour...

So let us talk about geekier topics instead. I've written in the past about how I'm a dedicated GNU/Linux user and how this isn't exactly ideal for gaming on the PC, and about the (relatively few) games I've actually played on my computer. Of course the situation has slowly been improving. A major contributor to this is Valve's decision to bring Steam to GNU/Linux. I stayed away from Steam for a long while (partly because, in addition to running GNU/Linux, my laptop isn't exactly great and I've had a lot of issues with graphics drivers), but I finally took the plunge and installed it.

Steam's GNU/Linux support is still far from perfect, I'm afraid. The release is tailored for Ubuntu, for one thing, which has caused some compatibility problems with the Debian testing release I currently use. Getting it to run required a little trickery, like removing outdated libraries bundled with it in favour of actually working versions in my OS. But lo and behold, I did eventually manage to get it to run.

The main reason I decided to try Steam was that I have a whole bunch of games I've gotten from the Humble Indie Bundles, most of which are redeemable on Steam. I figured Steam might make installing and managing these games simpler. I installed a few of these games before I went on my trip... but of course I never had the time or energy to play anything after all the woodcutting. But I've finally been playing around a little over the past few days. I've played a little Legend of Grimrock, which seems pretty fun in an oldschool, nostalgic way—harking back to classic dungeon crawlers like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder (the latter of which, if I recall correctly, might have been the first PC game I ever bought, back when I got my first PC in the 90s).

Perhaps more surprisingly (to myself at least) I've also been playing a little Dota 2. Just tutorial matches against bots, of course. I doubt I'll ever have the skills or confidence to actually play with other humans... I suck so bad at it. I'm still completely lost with all the powers and items and whatnot. But I find the basic premise of these kind of games interesting and I figured I might as well try to learn some of the very basics. And I spent a fair amount of time watching The International (not least because it happened to coincide with my woodcutting 'holiday' and I had little energy to do anything more productive), which I guess instilled a little interest in me.

Plus Dota 2 is free. Which is cool. I'm actually quite surprised it even runs on my laptop. Though of course I have graphics settings almost at minimum...

I'm not going to go any deeper into these games at this point, since I haven't actually played that much of them yet. There's a bunch of other games I now own on Steam I'd like to try some day as well. But can't play everything at once, alas...

3 July 2014

What Kind of Creature Am I? (Album Review)

It's not very often these days that I encounter a new band or artist that I get really excited about. But Australian prog band Toehider is proving to be one of those.

I first heard of the band when frontman Michael Mills was featured on Ayreon's latest album, The Theory of Everything. I didn't look into it too deeply then, but sometime later the man behind Ayreon, Arjen Lucassen, posted a link to a crowdfunding campaign for the new Toehider album, What Kind of Creature Am I? I thought it looked interesting, and the cost for the CD wasn't too high, so I decided to take a chance, even though I wasn't at all familiar with their music.

The album isn't officially slated for release until next week, I believe, but backers got a link to download the album last week, and today I discovered the CD in my postbox. I have listened to the album several times now, and... yes, I'm quite enjoying it.

I often talk about how much I appreciate albums as physical, aesthetic objects, and this one is no exception. The artwork by Andrew Saltmarsh is delightful. The liner notes are quite hilarious (another thing that adds value to owning the physical version). My one complaint is that the font in the booklet is quite small and hard to read. (Alas, this is a far too common problem in CD booklets.)

While Toehider has additional members for live performance, almost everything on the album is done by the quite talented multi-instrumentalist Michael Mills (which makes the music all the more impressive). Best I can describe Toehider's music is as prog rock. The songs display a wide range of styles and influences, with intricate, skilful arrangements, often complex (as prog tends to be), but still frequently quite catchy as well...

There are obvious Queen influences in several songs. There are heavier guitar parts, at times venturing close to metal (though much of the music is fairly cheery), as well as softer, more folky sequences (parts of the epic 12 minute track 'Meet the Sloth', for instance, remind me greatly of Jethro Tull).

Mills is a quite competent singer, as well, with a remarkable vocal range. The lyrics are frequently surreal, fantastic, even whimsical, though occasionally veering into darker, more personal territory.

I will probably have to try to get my hands on Toehider's earlier works eventually, although that may take a while. Meanwhile, I'll just go on listening to What Kind of Creature Am I?

22 June 2014

One Solstice Night, Pt 5

So, as my followers could conceivably know, for the past few years I have stayed up till dawn on the night of the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, and blog my activities during that night. The actual moment of the solstice (astronomically speaking) was at 1:46 p.m. my time, so I guess tonight is the closest to it.

This year is a little different from my previous solstice nights, though, because, as it happens, the solstice this year happens to coincide with the awesome Mario Marathon for Child's Play Charity, which (as my followers again may be aware of) I follow every year with an almost religious fervour. So my night isn't going to be a whole lot different from the rest of my weekend. But I'll try to write up some of the highlights, anyway. (I also don't have any booze, like I usually do, largely because the stores have been closed for the last couple days due to the Midsummer holiday...)

22:51 - Sunset. The MM crew has now been playing for almost 29 hours and they've raised over $26,000 for charity. Pretty cool. They're currently playing Super Mario Bros. 2. That's one of my favourite games from the good old NES days, and (iirc) the only Mario game I actually beat (without Game Genie codes) back in those days. (Before this they played Super Mario Galaxy, which is probably my favourite modern Mario game...)

23:00 - A couple words about my marathon watching set up. I went all out this year, hooking up my laptop to my 40" TV so I can watch the stream way bigger than I ever have before, and I can have my laptop next to me for chatting in the marathon's IRC channel (and, you know, writing this blog and stuff). It's pretty cool. Don't know why I haven't done this before. Just laziness, I guess (and of course I didn't have a TV this size in previous years).

23:25 - And they just beat SMB2! I think this was the fastest playthrough yet this marathon, faster than SMB1 even. Next up is Super Mario Sunshine for the GameCube, which should be a much longer game... Not one I've played, not likely in the foreseeable future, but Mario is Mario...

00:00 - Midnight calls for a midnight snack. Gonna make me some nachos! Well, I call them nachos, but it's pretty much the simplest version I can imagine. Basically I just put slices of cheese on top of tortilla chips and toss them in the microwave. Well, I've got some salsa for dipping, too. Fancy.

1:00 - Should be about as dark as it gets around now. Been a pretty rainy week, but apparently the skies have cleared up just in time for tonight. And the skies are a nice shade of blue, fading to almost gold on the horizon... Yup, that's midnight at midsummer here in Finland...

1:20 - Ah, good old blindfold mode, always good fun to watch.

1:40 - Hah, wouldn't be Mario Marathon without the eventual technical difficulties. Apparently the website is down. Stream still works fine, luckily, 'cause it's through Twitch.tv. Of course the stream is a lot more quiet when people are fixated on fixing issues...

3:10 - I probably shouldn't be having more nachos at this time, but maybe just a little... Hope I won't regret it soon when I'm actually trying to sleep...

3:55 - Sunrise. Which means I should be heading to bed. Fun enough night, just a bummer about Mario Marathon's server issues. Tomorrow will be... pretty much the same as tonight! Hopefully the issues get sorted out soon and the rest of the marathon will be a huge success!

22 May 2014

BioShock Infinite

BioShock's one of those game series that's been sort of on my radar for a long time, but, perhaps mostly because I've never been a particularly passionate FPS fan, I never got around to buying them. However, I recently joined PlayStation Plus and one of the free member games at the time was BioShock Infinite, so of course I decided to download it and give it a try.

Infinite is the third game in the series, but it's a more or less independent story set in a new location, so I didn't have too many qualms about not having played the first two. Booker DeWitt is a private investigator living in 1912, who, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, ends up in a floating city called Columbia, looking for a girl called Elizabeth. Of course things soon get crazy. Or crazier, I should say. Columbia turns out to be a religious white supremacist community on the verge of rebellion. Mix in supernatural powers, strange quantum technology that keeps the city in the sky, alternate realities, mechanical creatures and whatnot, and you've got a pretty cool, original environment and interesting story.

Quirky vintage environments have of course been a defining feature of the BioShock franchise from the start. I really enjoyed the look and atmosphere of this game. Radios and gramophones play music in the style of the period and the aesthetic in general is not quite like any other game I've played. For much of the game you travel with Elizabeth, which, from a story point of view, added opportunities for dialogue, something that normally isn't perhaps the strongest point in FPSs. The storytelling in general was pretty good, although it did feel like there was the occasional unnecessary MacGuffin used to add more action sequences that didn't quite fit in the otherwise original and high quality design of the game...

Gameplay-wise, BioShock Infinite plays much like any FPS. It does have some slight RPG elements mixed in too, though. You gain a variety of different supernatural powers you can use. There's a lot of loot lying around for you to gather and you can buy upgrades for your weapons and powers. There are also sequences with little fighting, some exploration to do and a few sidequests as well (though honestly I didn't find the sidequests particularly interesting or rewarding). All in all, it plays pretty smooth and fun.

The amount of choice in weapons and powers is good, I guess, but honestly the game didn't really give much incentive to experiment with them. You're limited to carrying two weapons, and although there's plenty lying around that you can pick up, I rarely felt comfortable switching away from the familiar weapons I'd been using from early on and had spent resources upgrading...

I've always considered myself pretty bad at action games and often pick easier difficulty settings when available. But I decided to go with the default setting this time, and... honestly, I don't know if I've actually improved over the years or whether this game was on the easy side, but I found most of the game not very hard at all. Dying wasn't really a problem, as enemies you've killed stay dead. Really only the final battle caused me any trouble, largely because it had a different type of objective from most battles (protecting a target, rather than just killing things). But I still had fun playing, though, and that's what counts, of course.

I also had some complaints about the save system. Namely, the lack of one. The game only saved at particular checkpoints, and should you have to quit at any other point, you'd have to start again from the last checkpoint...

So yeah, overall, while not perhaps exactly perfect, I quite enjoyed the game. Once experienced, though, I don't really see myself replaying this in the foreseeable future. I guess I should eventually check out the other two games. But it's not a terribly high priority, got plenty of games to play as it is...

12 May 2014

One More from the Normandy: the ME3 DLC Post

So I just finished my second playthrough of the Mass Effect trilogy. It was a great, epic journey once again. And a long one. (Some 140 hours, at least, spread over the last six months or so—I tried to be as thorough as possible this time, probably doing a bunch of optional stuff I might have missed first time round.)

When I first played Mass Effect 3, a year ago, all the DLCs were already out, but I was somewhat low on funds and they were, all put together, pretty expensive. So I decided to postpone purchasing them, hoping they'd be on sale before too long. Well, they finally came on sale in the PSN store earlier this year, just a little before I was moving on to ME3 in my replay of the trilogy. So obviously I bought them all (the single player expansions, that is), meaning I had a ton of exciting brand new content for my playthrough. So, let me just go over those expansions briefly.

From Ashes features a new mission, revisiting Eden Prime. Some nice scenery, but the mission itself was hardly anything special. The 'meat' of this expansion, however, is a new squad member. And not just any squad member, but an actual living prothean. Who turn out not to be necessarily the nicest of peoples. But I don't want to spoil too much. Though not hugely important, it's a fun enough addition to the game, and obviously expands on some elements of the game's lore, which is always cool.

Leviathan has the team chasing after a mysterious being in several locations around the galaxy. The story builds on some concepts from the game's ending, particularly the origin of the Reapers. This was a fairly entertaining mission, overall, in my opinion, with a decent balance of action and story.

Omega sees Shepard helping Aria recover the Omega station from Cerberus forces. The loss of Omega was of course mentioned in the main game, but more importantly, this DLC ties in heavily with one of the Mass Effect comics, Invasion (which, of course, I re-read before embarking on my replay of ME3). As a mission, though, it's mostly pretty straightforward and linear combat, little more. While it was still a lot of fun and offered several hours of gameplay, in some ways it seemed perhaps the most overpriced of all these DLCs. You don't even get to revisit Omega again after finishing the mission or anything...

Citadel, on the other hand, features a pretty fun mission with plenty of variety and new areas to visit on the Citadel, along with a ton of little dialogue scenes with various characters, mini-games etc. You get to see the Normandy's crew just hang out and have fun, for a change. Compared to most content in ME3, which can be quite grim, this expansion has a very tongue-in-cheek tone throughout. Some parts are just downright hilarious, which is a nice change. Anyway, I think Citadel actually had the most 'bang for buck' of the expansions, although it's still not exactly cheap.

Overall, the DLCs add a fair amount of fun content and variety to ME3, easily adding 10+ hours of gameplay. I do, however, feel that, at full price, they're somewhat overpriced. The four major single player expansions together (in the PSN store for my region, as of the writing of this post) cost almost as much as a new game, and probably a fair amount more than you'd actually pay for ME3 these days. Which is just ridiculous. Well, I guess it's hard to be a fan of anything without someone, somewhere squeezing money out of you...

5 May 2014

A Noob's Guide to Dark Souls

I recently beat Dark Souls and thought it was a very entertaining, cool experience. It is, however, not one of the most easily approachable games around, so I thought I might write down some of my thoughts for potentially interested gamers.

I am by no means an expert on Dark Souls. In fact, I'm barely more than a noob myself. I've only played through the game once, and there is much I don't know, and much I probably could have done better.

What Is Dark Souls?

Dark Souls is an atmospheric, challenging action RPG title by Japanese developer From Software, originally released in 2011. Set in a gloomy, desolate fantasy world, you take on the role of an undead warrior, banished from the lands of the living, on a quest to learn ancient secrets of the world.

The game has a reputation for being rather hard. And I guess it is. You will likely die many, many times while playing it. But it can also be very entertaining and rewarding. And for all its hardness, the game is still, mostly, fair. You learn to deal with the challenges. You improve your character and equipment to help you overcome them. I'd say anyone with some experience with action games, and a little patience, should be able to beat it.

That being said, Dark Souls definitely isn't for everybody. If it's not your thing, that's perfectly fine. It's just a game, not some sort of holy grail, although some may portray it as such. From what I hear, the community for this game can be a little elitist sometimes. But you can just ignore such people. Remember there's no one correct way to play the game. As long as you're having fun, you're doing it right.

Do Your Research!

Here's the thing about Dark Souls: it tells you very little about anything. The manual that came with the version I bought is not very informative at all, and doesn't even list all the controls (for instance, I don't think it makes any mention of jumping—not something you need often, but occasionally useful). The game itself is not much better. While there is a tutorial section of sorts, it doesn't really hammer a lot of stuff in, or explain every aspect of the game. The menus may well be confusing. Like, what do all these stats mean?

However, there is a wealth of information about the game online. Several wikis are dedicated to it. (Here's the one I ended up using most.) You'll find more detailed info about locations, enemies, items, NPCs etc. For a game like this, I don't think there's any shame in doing your homework. There are so many things you simply cannot know. Once you get some way into the game, you'll likely want to explore more on your own, but getting to that point is much easier with at least a little more information than the game gives you. The story of the game isn't hugely complex, and the style of storytelling quite minimalist, so you're not likely getting a whole lot of big spoilers if you read up on some stuff (heck, it might even clarify some plot points that aren't necessarily all that obvious from the game's dialogue).

Early on, watching other people's experiences can be valuable. I watched Alex Steacy and Graham Stark of LoadingReadyRun play the first few hours of the game on the LRR stream, which I'm sure was helpful. (Here's the first broadcast of Graham playing the game, archived on YouTube—it's fun and also informative.) (There's also a post by Alex giving advice to new players here, which I recommend, though I'm covering some of the same ground in this post.)

Character Creation

The class you pick determines your beginning stat levels and starting equipment. But over the course of the game, you can increase whatever stats you want and use whatever gear you want; the class is only your starting point. So the class you choose isn't hugely important, although it does give you a small head start in certain areas and you may wish to focus on those areas. Some sources have recommended warrior or knight for beginners, as they're fairly straightforward melee oriented characters, and I have no argument with this. You might not want to trouble yourself too much with magic on the first playthrough. (I played a warrior and used almost no magic, and it worked fine for me.)

The gift is probably even less important than your class in the long run. Many of these are of very little consequence at all. Some are single use items that would be soon expended, so they don't seem especially valuable. The binoculars you can actually obtain fairly easily quite near the beginning of the game. Be wary of the description of the Tiny Being's Ring—it does not, in fact, regenerate your health, only gives you a slight increase in total hit points. The Old Witch's Ring allows you to speak with a particular NPC. It doesn't really affect the game, but is a fun little scene. (You can obtain it late in the game, but it requires a little work.)

The one gift that actually has a significant game impact is the master key. This allows you to open several doors in the game before you get the keys for them. I have seen some sources recommend it, but it's a double-edged sword. It might allow you to skip some potentially difficult areas early on. But it might also give you early access to areas that are too tough for you, and confuse you about where you're supposed to be heading. And if you're playing for the first time, do you really want to be skipping content anyway? I, at least, wanted to experience the whole game, from beginning to end. So I would only recommend the master key if you really know what you're doing. (Note that the thief class gets the master key as part of its starting gear, so beginners might want to be equally wary of picking that class.)

General Gameplay Considerations

I played on PS3 and have no experience with the PC version, but I have heard many people heavily recommend using a gamepad rather than mouse and keyboard. The game was obviously designed with consoles in mind.

The easiest tactic against many early enemies is to wait for them to attack, block with your shield, and then hit. Repeat until it's dead. Being too hasty will likely get you killed. Beware of getting crowded by multiple enemies.

Kicking is useful against enemies that constantly hold their shield up. It's a little tricky to perform, so you might want to practise it. Parrying is supposedly a really effective technique, but if you have trouble getting the timing right, don't stress over it too much. I beat the game just fine without learning to parry. Backstabbing is a little easier to do and quite effective against many slower enemies, so you might want to practise it.

Remember that you cannot pause! While you're in menus, you can still be attacked, so make sure you're in a safe place before you adjust your gear of whatever. Also, make sure you're fully out of the menu when you continue, as you can still move but you might, to your surprise, not be able to block or attack because there's still a menu tab selector active in the corner...

Once you do something, it's done. You can't go back. There's only one save file per character, and the game is frequently autosaving. When you quit, you carry on from where you left off. However, there's not a whole lot of things you can screw up permanently. If you use or dispose of an item, it's gone. Some you may be able to replace, others not, so take care. If you kill an NPC, they're gone for good, so be sure about what you're doing in such situations.

If you're ever stuck at a certain point, there may be other areas you can explore, and you can usually also grind and level up or upgrade your equipment.

Getting Invaded


While Dark Souls is primarily a single player game, it has some online features woven in. The most noticeable (apart from the many messages popping up all over the world) is the ability to 'invade' other players. You will get invaded, sooner or later. It is quite possible you'll die, since the invaders are likely more experienced players and likely to have better gear. Some may be actively trying to troll other players.

But, overall, it's not really that bad. At least it wasn't for me. You can only be invaded while in human form, and you can play much of the game just fine without restoring your humanity. (You will want to do it every now and then to kindle bonfires, though, and in order to summon NPCs to assist you in boss fights. But those are the only important times.) There's a cooldown before you can be invaded again, too. At worst, invading seemed like a minor annoyance. At best, it can even be exciting, especially when you actually manage to beat the other guy. Just be mentally prepared for the possibility.

A Few Useful Early Game Hints

There are several useful items you can get around Firelink Shrine when you first get there (in the nearby graveyard, and down the lift into New Londo Ruins). Getting some may practically involve suicide runs, but that's fine, because you keep all items when you die.

Try talking to NPCs more than once. Sometimes they have more useful information, gifts etc. if you talk to them two or more times.

Find the merchant in Undead Burg. He's got some useful stuff to sell, and there's a bonfire fairly near, so grinding for souls isn't too hard, if you don't have enough. The repairbox is really useful, especially if you use gear with low durability. You should probably also buy the residence key. When killed, he drops the uchigatana, which is a very good sword for anyone going for a dexterity-heavy character build (I pretty much used it as my primary weapon throughout the game). But if you do decide to kill him, make sure you buy everything you want from him first.

When you get to the bridge with the dragon, you can fairly easily get the Drake Sword by shooting its tail from a location under the bridge. You'll need a bow and plenty of arrows, which you can buy from the merchant. It might take a few tries to get the aiming right, and dozens of arrows before it drops the sword. Once you get a little further in the game and start upgrading your gear, the Drake Sword is easily outclassed, but at this point in the game it can be really good.

If you kill Lautrec when he shows up in Firelink Shrine, you'll get a rather good ring. You'll miss out on a storyline involving him if you do this before ringing the second bell, but it might still be worth it, and easier at this point... (Just make sure you never remove the ring, though, as you'll lose it!)

Before you head into Blighttown, go to the Darkroot Garden from Undead Parish and kill some of the tree creatures. They drop varieties of moss, which cure status ailments and can be quite helpful.

Afterword

There's probably important stuff I've forgotten, and obviously I haven't gone into a lot of detail about the game's mechanics and controls. But you should be able to find a lot of this on your own, if you're interested.

I don't know if anyone who might find this useful will ever stumble upon my blog. But if even one person out there actually finds this helpful and ends up enjoying Dark Souls as much as I did, I'd be happy!