Tag Archives: Dark Souls

Dark Souls in Awesome: Life Lessons from Manus, Father of the Abyss

Note: How the fuck did I have sixty views yesterday? Isn’t that a new daily record? I haven’t been doing a damn thing lately on this blog. Eh, I’ll take it!

If you’d like another Dark Souls post, I talk about how good the game is here, and how shitty the game is here.

“I totally used the pendant! How the fuck I die?!” I shouted drunkenly at the TV. My death was total bullshit this time. Manus had about ⅛ of his life left and I fought him nearly perfectly only to die to some bullshit glitch or oversight in the game mechanics. He shot his black jizz-orbs and I used the magic pendant to block them but somehow a few made it through the supposedly impenetrable magic barrier to one-shot me.

So I sat the controller down and took a drink of my second or third gin and tonic, but counting was becoming difficult at the time. I was about ⅓ the way through the bottle of gin and feeling pretty damn good about life and determined. I was hell bent on beating Manus and while sore about dying for the 20th or so time didn’t let it truly get to me.

I respawned and did the minute long run back to Manus and died for the 21st or so time. And then I did it again; the long trek back to the bastard. Then I died to the shitty sorcerer guy on the way to the boss. 22. And then I ran back again and died by some stupid fucking mistake I made: I dodged his attack a fraction of a second to early and had the shit beaten out of me by his six or seven-hit combo. 23. 24. And so on to about 35. Not that I was counting anymore.

Manus, Father of the Abyss. The fucker himself. Image from here.

I talked about video games and fun before, kinda hinting at the idea that we’ve lost the idea that video games are fundamentally supposed to be enjoyable to play. So during all the bullshit dying and running back to the boss I asked myself if I was having fun. No, no I was not. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable at all. Realizing this I asked myself why I was even playing it in the first place. Wasn’t the point of relaxing after work and drinking to have fun and/or relax? Why would I deliberately force myself into having a shitty time?

The only thing keeping me going was knowledge of the fact that I’d totally stomp his ass eventually. I had beaten him two or three times years earlier and it was only a matter of time before I’d beat him again. This is what kept me tossing myself at him over and over despite little to no actual progress at GITting GUD fighting him.

And if that isn’t interesting to ponder, that despite not having fun and having a really terrible time something kept me going back. Some blind determination of a goal that I’d see through to the end no matter what. The first few times I played Dark Souls I would get really depressed — thinking ‘is this the boss that I’ll forever be stuck on?’ — would I have to quit the game and give up forever being a Dark Souls failure? I kept playing and eventually cracked the Dark Souls formula: hard work, persistence, determination, a total unwillingness to accept failure, and being emotionally detached from your failures. Dark Souls taught me to not be too hard on myself. To keep moving forward. A bland pursuit towards some shitty goal that you weren’t sure you’d even succeed at but you’d keep working at the goal anyways. Dark Souls taught me to just do whatever you want to do, suffer through the shit, and you’ll eventually get that tiny and addictive taste of victory. 

The first Dark Souls boss you beat makes you realize why the hell people play the game so obsessively; it gives you an immense sense of satisfaction when you finally win that I haven’t gotten from any other game. You used to suck, you used to get stomped by the boss instantly and you bested him through dedication and persistence. And that instance of victory when you toss the controller on the couch with shaking and sweaty hands and start jumping around the room cussing at the TV is a feeling you’ll never forget. It’s a pure adrenaline rush during the fight that fuels the glory of the eventual victory. It’s the taste of accomplishing a goal through weathering massive hardship.

But then you inevitably feel good, cocky, like you’ve finally ‘gotten it’ and won’t have any other problems for the rest of the game. Wrong. Soon you’ll run into another wall and your past victory seems like a joke. An accident. A fluke. Luck. That one was easy but now it’s not easy anymore. You try to tell yourself to remain positive and be persistent and learn (just like before, desperately trying to keep your positive mindset) but eventually that starts to wear thin. The next challenge is harder than the last and your mood deteriorates and you crave, no need, the next victory to keep you going. And if you keep at it you’ll eventually get there, but hell if it isn’t difficult to continually fail over and over again with little to no progress to show for it.

I was walking to Manus and got hit by the shitty sorcerer guy again and had to heal. Instead of 20 estus flasks (the healing item in the game) I only had 19, a seemingly minor issue that could end the successful run; you never know how the boss fight will go down and single estus might mean the difference between dying and surviving. But my drunken mind knew that even if I did fail and it wasn’t the successful run that I might learn something during the fight anyways. I might finally learn to dodge to the left instead of the right. Or I’d finally learn the perfect distance to keep him from spamming dangerous mid-ranged attacks. Even if the run was a likely going to end in failure, maybe I’d learn something along the way. Gain the tiny puzzle piece that would eventually lead to completing the puzzle that is beating Manus, Father of the Abyss.

And fuck learning is hard. True learning is hard. We’re all wired to do things a certain way and in Dark Souls it’s difficult to stop yourself from reflexively blocking certain bosses when you need to dodge. The more ingrained your habits are the harder they are to break, the more lessons you need beaten into you to fundamentally change yourself. Change and progress is slow but if you keep tossing yourself at the boss, even ten, twenty, or 100 times you’ll eventually beat it. You fail over and over, tweaking your technique slightly each time until you stumble blindly on the magical formula that somehow works. And sometimes it’s counterintuitive to what you initially though would work. Take Great Grey Wolf Sif for example: at first you want to stay as far away from him as possible — he’s a giant fucking wolf so it makes sense — but you eventually discover this technique is suicide. Sif is ultra aggressive at mid- to long-range and will beat you to a pulp. Counterintuitively, Sif is almost harmless if you stand right underneath him. You never would’ve realized this without failing countless times and trying new techniques. Eventually you realize you were doing it all wrong, but without doing it wrong you never would’ve discovered what to do right.

BEING UNDER HIM IS THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE? YOU SURE BRO?”

So lying in bed drunk trying to think of a thought provoking blog post I found myself thinking about Dark Souls and one of the final bosses I hadn’t beaten yet, Manus, Father of the Abyss. What a dickhead. What a goddamn roadblock. I was almost done with the game but he was in my way. I couldn’t end the game without beating him because that would be giving up and bitching out. Manus was my way forward and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I quit that night in failure. I was a loser. I didn’t have enough points in GIT and GUD. So now what? Nothing. I’d fight him later. I’d let my brain make a few connections and keep tossing myself at him in a few days. Manus was as good as dead, but dead in the future where the time to conquer him simply hadn’t come yet. I still had to learn. I still had to grow. I still had to deal with my personal flaws in the game. But progress is progress and I tried to not think about, to let thoughts not useless thoughts and self-hatred wither away. Then in a drunken haze it clicked why Dark Souls is such a good fucking game. It’s a perfect analogy of chasing your goals, growing as a person, and conquering the real enemy during your quest of life: yourself.

Check out my Instagram where I post pointless artistic pics every whenever I get around to it.

Or my other blog where I sometimes post stories.

Or Wattpad where I have a Morrowind fanfic ongoing.

Or my Facebook page where I don’t do much of anything at all.

Dark Souls Sucks: Lautrec, The Four Kings, and Farming

I’m back. A two day break is long enough after you’ve posted 34 days in a row. I’ve been bored, antsy and playing more video games, namely Dark Souls. More on being bored and antsy later. Maybe.

I seemed to have been in a honeymoon phase with Dark Souls during the last post about it. Not that it isn’t a fantastic game — I stand by every word I said about it — but now that I’m actually playing the game all the old frustrations are coming back. The game is bullshit, and in a way that’s totally bullshit. I still think this is a positive though; the fact that a game I know pretty damn well can still piss me the fuck off is amazing. I think I’ve beaten the game ten times total and I can still get pissed off about things I know are in the game. Let’s cover a few here.

Spoilers ahead if you dare to read.

Bullshit Lautrec of Carim

There’s a knight locked in the Undead Parish early on in the game. With a key (maybe) you can free him. There isn’t anything obviously wrong with the guy at first besides his mildly threatening voice, but there is nothing to hint that you shouldn’t free the bastard either. You also come across various trainers in the game, Big Hat Logan to name an example, that are locked up as well. The fact Lautrec is locked up doesn’t really mean shit in the Dark Souls world.

So you free the bastard and after triggering a certain important even he kills the Firelink Shrine’s fire keeper putting the bonfire out. This is before you gain the ability to teleport and Firelink serves as a good hub for the world except now you can’t use it as a checkpoint anymore. So you must walk to the Undead Parish, the Undead Burg, or the fucking Catacombs to use their bonfires. It’s a pain and a pain that the game barely hints at and it happens at a very inconvenient time.

Not that you can get the bonfire lit again, but it’s a massive pain. Lautrec goes to Anor Londo where you can invade him, get the firekeeper’s soul back, and relight the fire. It sounds bad already but everything about it makes it worse. When you invade, you discover Lautrec has two goons with him and one is a sorcerer who tosses soul spears at you from a distance. Also when you invade you are unable to heal. Yes, you need to kill Lautrec with two fucking goons fucking your day up when a few hits is all that it takes you kill you. I tried this recently on New Game Plus with an old tank character; I only got a single hit on the guy before I was killed. This was Sunday when I was drunk and totally threw the controller twice and quit playing that character since. Fuck that playthrough.

The Four Fucking Kings

Best Wiafu!

After my anger over Lautrec, I decided to get the dark ending and talk to Kaathe, one of the primordial serpents. No big deal, it was NG+ and I was a tank and I could summon Witch Beatrice (my Souls wiafu) to help. I was surprised to see that my fully upgraded Black Knight Axe didn’t do a fucking thing to the Kings. The bosses spawn in every thirty seconds so if you can’t kill one in that amount of time (or an little extra time) you’ll eventually have for or five kings wailing on you. They also hit really fucking hard too. Three hits and you’re dead. Witch Beatrice didn’t help much because I died so quickly.

So to hell with the dark ending on that playthrough.

More Fuck The Four Kings

I thought it’d be a fun idea to start a new playthrough with a hand-to-hand based player. I’m currently running a shitty DEX build with NEARLY FULLY UPGRADED CLAWS. It’s fun as fuck and I’m having a great time. Once again I tried to fight the Four Kings before the other three Big Bosses. (You can’t go through the red fog gates until you give the lordvessel to either Frampt or Kaathe.) The claws didn’t do shit to them and like before I quickly had three of the fuckers wailing on me before I died. Beatrice didn’t even get to fight because I was running from a horde of Darkwraiths and Ghosts and couldn’t summon her. I didn’t have any of those transient curses either. 

Frampt got the lord vessel and there wouldn’t be a dark ending on this game either. Seriously, fuck the Four Kings. I don’t remember the boss being this hard on other playthroughs.

Solaire and Farming

This is going to be a mess so bear with me here. Solaire of Astora is everyone’s favorite Dark Souls NPC. He’s cheerful, he’s helpful, and he even muses himself that you might have feelings for him. Given the rest of the dreary, bleak, and depressing NPCs in Dark Souls, Solaire really is a ray of sunlight (get it?). “Praise the Sun!” “If only I could be so grossly incandescent!” Even if you’re not the biggest fan of Solaire, you probably do have some fondness for him because he’s such a nice guy.

One thing that makes Solaire such a badass is your ability to summon him for some key boss fights in the game. The first time you can summon him is for the Bell Gargoyles and as this fight can be difficult for a new character/new player; Solaire really is a godsend here. He’s also summonable for the shitty Centipede Demon and the final boss, Gwyn. The only problem with summoning him for the Gwyn fight is that you first need to stop him from going fucking insane!

Most (maybe all?) of the NPCs have a questline that ends with them going “hollow” — insane, corrupted, and hostile towards you. Nice and friendly people you meet eventually lose their damn minds where they will attack you the next time you come near them. Solaire is no different. He’s famously on a quest to “find his own sun” and given his failure to find it during the game, eventually goes mad. His downfall is finding a group of Chaos Bugs that emit light. Since he’s lost his shit, he finds these bugs, mistakes them for “his sun”, and goes crazy. You end up putting him down like the sick dog he is and this prevents him from helping you during the last fight. It’s a really bleak game.

Here’s the bullshit part. To keep Solaire alive you need to kill these bugs before he finds them. You can’t take the normal route because this automatically triggers him to go crazy so you must find a “backpath” way to kill them. A few cheesy ways to do this are to abuse a certain pyromancy spell or some other shitty game mechanic while the most “appropriate way” is to open a shortcut door via the Chaos Servant covenant. In short, you donate thirty humanities (a certain in-game item) to a giant half-spider, half-lady NPC and the door opens.

My problem was that I didn’t have shit for humanities. I need twenty-nine of them to open the door with the sole purpose of saving Solaire. Okay. Time to farm!

Farming in any game usually consists of doing mindless runs over and over to collect items. To farm humanity, people usually go to The Depths and kill about ten rats over and over again; these are some the most reliable droppers of humanity in the game. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as their drop rate is only about 5%. So to get five humanities you need to kill about 100 damn rats. I needed thirty so consider the fact that I’d have to kill about 600 of them. With ten per each run, this means I’d have to do 60 fucking runs to collect the humanities to give to the Spider Lady to open a door to save Solaire. Okay…

Karen hard at work farming…

Luckily there is an item that boosts your item discovery rate making the rats have a higher chance of dropping humanity; this is the Covetous Gold Serpent Ring and is found in Sen’s Fortress. So, to save Solaire: go to Sen’s fortress, find Gold Serpent Ring, go to The Depths, do maybe fifty runs killing rats to collect humanities, give humanities to Spider Lady, open the shortcut (“shortcut”) door, kill the Chaos Bugs. All so I can summon Sunbro Solaire for the final boss fight with Gwyn. I hope that proved my point how shitty this game can be.

Not that I hate farming — sometimes it’s fun to mindlessly run back and forth killing the same enemies over and over — but damn does it quickly get boring. After about ten or twenty minutes farming and having only collected a few humanities, you start to think about how much time the project is really going to take. I think it took around and hour to collect thirty-five or fourty humanities (I needed a few extra to upgrade the bonfires) and I might have to go farm some more soon. Shit. And humanities aren’t the only thing you need to farm. Titanite shards and chunks, which are used to upgrade weapons and armor, are also relatively rare in-game so if you want to actually do damage with your weapon those must be farmed as well. And if you ever get stuck you need to farm for levels, also called “grinding”, which is another shitty but sometimes necessary thing to spend time doing.

That’s about all I have to bitch about with Dark Souls this time. Like I said: great goddamn game, but holy hell is it frustrating at times.

Fuck the Four Kings.

Dark Souls is Awesome

For some reason my Apex Legends post is one of my highest and most consistently viewed posts. A few other of my video game posts (Mario Jump Rope, Stardew Valley, and three Zelda posts) also rank really well: apparently people really like reading about video games and I should probably try to write more about them. One problem though: this blog is about things that suck and I try not to play games that suck. My time is precious, there are thousands of games, games take a long time to play, so why would I fuck around with playing awful games?

My five-year-old daughter somehow found my Dark Souls game a few days ago and wanted to play it. I was amused. This kid was going to totally get her ass slapped in the game. I wasn’t wrong. She didn’t know how to lock onto enemies, use the shield, or even swing the sword. She walked away from the Undead Burg bonfire and instantly died. After a few minutes she finally killed a few enemies (without assistance from locking on) and would then get murdered. Progress at least, right?

After she gave up (maybe 15 minutes after starting) I began playing my own game file that I gave up on about a year ago. I had a pyromancer build and was stuck in the Catacombs of all places. The Catacombs is one of the “easier” areas of the game and popular theory assumes it’s meant to be completed earlier than later. I tried to do this instead of going there overpowered mid- to late-game like I usually do. But holy hell was that place a nightmare of level design. I was constantly getting lost and dying by falling, especially dying to those rolly skelly motherfuckers at the bottom on the way to the boss Pinwheel. I died about ten times maybe.

After that I branched out trying to figure out where the hell I had left off. The Butterfly was dead, the Gargoyles were dead, and the second bell hadn’t been rung yet. Down to Blighttown I went, via the Master Key of course. For the first time I tanked Quelaag which was very satisfying. I recalled how much trouble she gave me on my first playthrough and contrasted this with how easy she had become.

Storytelling aside here: Dark Souls is a great game. It’s probably one of my top five favorite games, maybe even in the top three. While it isn’t a flawless game, it’s about as close to flawless as you can get. The difficulty is fulfilling, the plot isn’t forced into your face, the gameplay is varied, and the worldbuilding, level design, sound design, and atmosphere are amazing. Let’s go through each one of these and give the game a proper dick sucking like it deserves.

Difficulty

Dark Souls is notably hard. I think this is misleading though. It’s challenging in an acceptable way whereas most games around during its release seemed to be too damn easy. It’s well-known that to survive Skyrim you only need to abuse healing potions. It’s just not a hard game, not that Skyrim and Dark Souls have much in common game-wise.

Not that Dark Souls doesn’t have plenty of unfair, bullshit difficulty moments and the rolly fuckers in the Catacombs are the perfect example of this. Or the Anor Londo archers: anyone who has played the game and made it that far know exactly what I’m talking about. They’re legendary with their immense total-bullshit factor. And let’s not forget the entire Capra Demon boss fight, or Smough and Ornstein’s Pornhub-esque tag-teaming of your innocent and unprepared character with their large clubs and spears. Or the stupid fucking bridge Drake. The game is brutal in many cruel ways.

I think what makes this bullshit acceptable is that it was purposefully done on behalf of the game developers. They added plenty of these bullshit-hard moments just because they could. While the game is mostly fair, these moments are what break you. They’re what make you persevere and beat the game. Those fucking Anor Londo archers are the definition of bullshit artificial difficulty, but they never feel cheaply done. They’re not nerfed weapons or terrible game mechanics nor are they large health pools just for the sake of having large health pools. The devs want to piss you off and this is a flaw on you not the game devs. Once you figure out how to relax, calm down, and deal with the bullshit in front of you, you can easily conquer any challenge the game tosses at you. And you feel great for doing so. Many times I’ve conquered something to realize my hands were literally shaking from adrenaline. I don’t recall any other games that can do this.

Varied Gameplay

Dark Souls offers a handful of starting classes such as a sorcerer, pyromancer, healers, and your normal typical warrior classes. This immediately gives you options and adds replay value to the game. A common view is that a sorcerer/magic build playthrough is the easiest mostly because you can stand as far away from the action as possible and hurl overpowered Crystal Soul Spears at the helpless enemies. A warrior build is probably the most difficult, forcing you to close the distance and do physical damage to your enemies.

But even besides those basic options you can play the game anyway you want. Some people eschew shields in favor of two-handing weapons and dodge-rolling attacks. Some people do “Soul Level 1” playthroughs, never leveling their character up during the course of the game. Even if you start off as a certain class, you can also play however you want depending on how you spend your points as you level up. A sorcerer at the start can be a tank mid-game if you dump points into certain attributes.

Hell, even the weapons have a wide variety to them. You can use a basic one-handed sword, or use some massive two-handed weapon like the Dragon’s Tooth or the Zweihander. Or you can use a spear/halberd/axe/whatever-the-fuck-else you want to use. Mix and match as you please. Wear whatever armor you want, use whatever spells/magic you want, and use whatever weapon you want. Play the game as you see fit. This creativity makes subsequent playthroughs of Dark Souls nearly always interesting and different.

The Plot

Differing with every other game ever made (mostly) Dark Souls has a plot that isn’t tossed into your face forcefully. In fact, Dark Souls doesn’t seem to give a fuck if you care about the plot at all, and this almost plays into the games favor. Ignoring the plot makes you a tool who simply walks around and kills shit blindly, so when you finish the game as an unknowing death machine it’s fitting in a way. Not to give away the ending, but completing it as a tool who doesn’t think is fitting with what you accomplish.

And if you care to learn about the plot you better enjoy puzzles because the plot is a puzzle. The only clues you get are item descriptions and sparse dialogue. The cutscenes in-game (besides the boss intro cutscenes) probably total three or four minutes at most. The dialogue in-game is probably at most two-pages long if you decided to type it all out. The item descriptions are just as vague and seemingly meaningless as everything else, but someone with a creative mind and attention to details can piece some things together which is massively fulfilling. Solaire’s fascination with the sun. The inscription on the Ring of the Sun’s Firstborn. The fact that the statue next to Lord Gwyn in Anor Londo is strangely missing points to a strange in-game fact and popular theory: Solaire is probably Lord Gwyn’s lost son. Why this is, who the hell knows, but even that jumping off point gives you many leads to ponder.

This is how nearly everything is in the game — vague, hidden, and uncertain — but how else would roaming around a dying decaying world be? It feels like you’re part of some massive story playing some important role and even you don’t know what that role is.

The Atmosphere

The subtle plot plays directly into the atmosphere of the game. The world is large, complex, and has a fascinating history but there are no clear signs of this history. No one is around to tell you what it all means. Only strange enemies in the woods, deformed people turned into spiders and other monstrosities, and crumbling (and strangely large) buildings scattered throughout the world. What does all of this mean, if anything?

You feel utterly alone in the world with few friends to talk to. The music is mostly non-existent except for a few key areas. Firelink Shrine and the Anor Londo Throne Room come to mind and they contrast well with the silence in the rest of the game. The bosses command their own impressive scores that raise your anxiety to hand-shaking and adrenaline-inducing levels. Playing for hours with no music and strolling through a fog gate to find a terrifying music track backing the boss charging at you is intense. Not all areas are quiet though: New Londo has a track that is so silent and subtle that you don’t notice it being there; if anything it makes you unconsciously even more terrified of the ghosts that appear out of nowhere and slit your throat or slice your character to pieces.

The stiffness of your character, the slowness with which they move, and the clunking of their armor all make you feel like an incapable and worthless person in some massive and harsh world. You’re not some superhero meant to save the world; you’re just another Undead trying to do whatever it is that you’re supposed to do. The world is cruel and doesn’t give a fuck about you. You feel alone, isolated, and nearly always in danger. The game is terrifying, depressing, oppressive and isolating, but sometimes it almost takes on a peaceful quality to it. A sort of resignation and acceptance with how dismal the in-game world truly is.

The Level Design

The level design of Dark Souls is where I think the game really shines. While the game does become rather linear later on, the first half of the game is immensely complex and interconnected.

I think this was mostly driven by the lack of teleporting/warping/fast travel until you get far enough into the game. This helps the game feel massive by requiring you to walk anywhere you need to go. Shortcuts are numerous and countless times I’d explore a certain direction only to discover it linking to a part of the world I never expected it to. The Undead Parish and Firelink shortcut is the best example I can think of. You start in Firelink, and walk all the way to the Undead Burg, fight the imposing Taurus Demon, and make your way to the Undead Parish in a long and arduous journey, especially for new players. In the Parish you find an elevator that appears to lead to a totally new and dangerous area and find yourself pleasantly surprised to discover you’re back at the Firelink Shrine. “Oh, I’m here?!” I clearly remember thinking the first time I discovered this. New London and Darkroot Basin via Valley of the Drakes. Blighttown to Firelink shrine. Darkroot Basin and the Undead Burg: everything is always closer than what you expect.

Take a look at this picture. I think it was created from actual Dark Soul’s game files on PC. The first time I saw it, it blew my mind away. I stole it from here, and while this person didn’t make the map himself (or the program) he does give credit where it’s due.

It’s a map of the entire game. Everything is interconnected and wraps around itself like a maze. You start the game in the red central area, and as you can see everything branches out from there. Some of the large branches are late-game areas which suffer from poor level design, but the entire early- mid-game levels are wonderfully interconnected and complex. Take a look at this map of the depths — one of the shittier areas of the game — and you can see the level design is still delightfully complex.

It’s a fucking maze! This design really makes you feel utterly and hopelessly lost. Stolen with love from here.

Dark Souls does have its flaws, notably the clunky gameplay at times, or the shitty framerate in Blighttown (which may have been fixed in the remastered version?), or the shitty late-game areas and bosses (Bed of Chaos, anyone?!?), or the fact that it’s really hard to get into initially, but I really think these don’t make the game bad at all. There’s so many positives that any flaws Dark Souls has can easily be overlooked. It’s a fantastic game and if you haven’t played it, well, get the fuck out there and play it!

Like this post and want more Dark Souls inspired posts? Here’s one about how Manus is a pain in the ass, and this one about some of the stupid shit about Dark Souls.