28 April 2014

The Continuing Adventures of the Chosen Undead

So over the past week or two I've been playing a lot of Dark Souls. I honestly don't remember when I was last this excited about, or addicted to, a video game. It fills my free time, and when I'm not playing, I'm checking up stuff on a wiki. (OK, I exaggerate slightly, perhaps—I've done other stuff too, like read the latest volume of Saga, which was brilliant, as always. But I have played a lot of Dark Souls.)

Last week I wrote about some first impressions of the game. Now I guess I'm getting relatively far into it. I've beaten a bunch of cool bosses. I've managed to find the Lordvessel. I've got my trusty katana upgraded to maximum level, and some fairly decent armour as well. All is going pretty well. Oh, and obviously I'm still dying a lot.

It's hard to really put my finger on what exactly makes this game so addicting. On the surface it can look like a fairly simple hack-and-slash game with not much plot—not exactly my usual cup of tea—but the world of Dark Souls is surprisingly rich. I love the way the levels are constructed, from the darkest depths to the loftiest castles. There's a surprising amount of variety, yet it's all connected (and interconnected). The NPCs are scarce and there's not much dialogue—and what there is is frequently kinda silly, even cheesy—but even those NPCs seem to fit well in the atmosphere of the game.

Of course that would all mean very little if the gameplay wasn't good. While the game is basically all about combat, you have options about how you go about that and how you build your character—heavy weapons, lighter weapons with more speed, magic etc. There's a ton of equipment to choose from to supplement your chosen style. The combat is fun and fast, but usually not too fast—you actually need to think about what you're doing, block attacks etc. Button mashing will get you nowhere. There's some advanced stuff too that I'm not really even trying, like parrying, which requires really precise timing and reading your opponents moves—things I'm pretty bad at.

A thing that is sometimes said about Dark Souls is that it's hard—but fair. It's tough and you'll die a lot, but very little is random or cheap. You get better. You learn to read enemies and adapt to their patterns. And it is an RPG, so you'll often have opportunities to grind and improve your character, or explore alternate routes. I have certainly been taking my time, not rushing into things.

The one catch that I already mentioned in my previous post—although it really isn't a catch at all as long as you're aware of it and act accordingly—is the frequent lack of information on some important topics. I've probably spent more time reading about this game online than I have for any other game in the past. Not actually a lot of actual 'walkthrough' stuff, as in what I'm supposed to do next, but mostly about strategies for bosses, what equipment best suits me and how to upgrade it, where to find certain helpful items, making sure I haven't missed any really important secrets in a particular location etc. I think that's all actually pretty cool and rather than being 'spoilers' might even add to the experience. Very rarely have I felt that I'm actually stuck in a place and had to check a walkthrough—although it has happened, sometimes the right exit or switch can be hard to spot.

The PvP part of the game is something that many people don't appreciate, and I'm inclined to agree. That sort of thing really should be something you can easily opt out of. It can be a source of annoyance for new players, since invaders are bound to be much more experienced players, and, I'm given to understand, sometimes actively trolling other players. That being said, I've actually had a fairly easy time with PvP thus far. I've only been invaded a small handful of times (you have to be in 'human' form to be invaded, and I tend to use my humanity only when absolutely necessary), and, somewhat to my surprise, I think I've actually won more than I've lost...

I'm a little concerned about how the difficulty will develop from here on, as, my gear already being pretty high level, I'm getting lower on ways to improve my character. I can keep levelling up for a long time, but it's a slow progress. No challenge so far has been insurmountable, though, and I've had fun encountering them. I expect I'll write more when I actually beat the game.

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