Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Skyrim Musings

Dark Souls Review is in progress despite a myriad spectrum of delays! Naturally in the meantime I got a chance to play a fair amount of Skyrim and it is pretty fun. Bethesda is actually one of the few companies I still have a lot of respect for, as my experience with Morrowind circa 2004-2005 was wonderful and they seem to have remade that game about 5 times in different environments. Skyrim is no exception, though it does feel better in general. Marginal improvements alongside much better music and voice acting add a new level of atmosphere and pseudo depth to an otherwise unchanged experience.

Skyrim still has the general problem of the overall plot being kind of silly and most of the random events or quests you find being more satisifying. Of note are the Thieves Guild (Fantastic) and the individual Daedric Quests (almost all are great). Of course, if you simply don't find the Thieves' guild for 100 hours you might be left with the mediocre Companions or Mage Guild for your time. There's still a great exploration value in roaming the landscape, and the archaic leveling system is still somehow interesting, despite it taking forever to level most combat skills after about 65.

One huge thing that I have personally is not having played Oblivion at all, I think if I had I would have been bored with Skyrim quite a long time ago, instead it's very immersive and interesting. People like to say that Skyrim is this huge improvement over Oblivion but if you actually go back and look at review scores they're almost identical. Oblivion vs. Skyrim

This situation has almost become akin to the laughable reviews of Zelda games post Ocarina of Time. "Sure it's the exact same game as before but I love it! Wasn't Ocarina the best game ever made!?" Personally I tend to think Ocarina of Time's actually worse than a Link to the Past, simply because it's 3D and has a targeting system doesn't somehow make it untouchable. At any rate Skyrim is still a very good, if largely trivial game and if you haven't played an Elder Scrolls game in years is a wonderfully immersive experience.

Edit: I suppose I should note that Dark Messiah of Might and Magic still has a superior first person melee combat system and is 3-7 bucks on amazon. It's short, linear, and has comparable graphics to Skyrim despite coming out 5 years ago. Best of all it uses VTF files so it's fairly easy to edit random things via console and mess around.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Uncharted Musings

My primary comp is having some issues at the moment so the Dark Souls review might be another few weeks off. Instead I'll engage in some self indulging and say random things about Uncharted 3 multiplayer! As I've said before it's quite luck based but still a decent amount of fun. Map knowledge seems to be the most important factor alongside willingness to camp power weapons like a dink. Personally my advantage in any FPS or 3PS is my intelligence, most console tards are kind of colossal morons and perhaps the dumbest crowd of the whole bunch is people that play Call of Duty et al. The Uncharted populace is no exception to this rule and I've encountered maybe 2 or 3 vaguely smart players out of 10,000+ seen.

So, while I might not have kiddie reflexes I can still outplay most people just by approaching them the right way. I thrive on the predictability of the other team, hence why I mostly played Team Objective and Plunder to start with. Plunder is probably the best match type, though only about 10-15% of the matches wind up being good. The ideal situation is a very low scoring match where it's an all out death struggle for the idol ("flag") non stop for around 20 minutes. This of course means very few campers and about 20-30 deaths for everyone involved. Even if I don't manage to kill 40+ people in this process it's still fantastic as everyone's just saying "fuck it" and going nuts instead of holding back and trying to find people to shoot in the ass/camping.

Unfortunately when my team is predictable I sort of can't do much, as a result I often do much better opposing a premade group of people instead of actually being part of that group. Since I've started playing TDM this has happened quite a lot, my whole team is terrible aside from me and of course we lose but I still get 15-20 kills and 5-10 deaths. I also feel like a champion and am somewhat inclined to not mute the other team as they whine, but their annoying as fuck voices eventually get them muted anyway.

Uncharted 3 has the ingame recording system but it doesn't record matches that you joined after they started, and so about half of the interesting things I've done I can't save for posterity and self applause. I've had about 5 king of the hills where I've killed 8-10 people in the span of a single hill (~2 minutes) but only 3 of them were actually recorded. The craziest thing I did was to kill 4 people in about 5 seconds (disadvantaged 1 on 1 linking immediately into a 3 on 1) with no one else supporting me and it being a head on fight. As a vaguely intelligent player I of course avoid massive confrontations of that sort, but if it so happens that I don't die horribly it certainly feels great. For every guy that kills the whole team on the plane there's hundreds of others who die horribly, including that same player.

There's plenty of people that think they're playing smart when they aren't. For instance, lots of people will blindfire grenades behind them whenever someone shoots them in the back, but this isn't a very good strategy as it more or less wastes the grenade. The one time you should do this is if you're fired upon as you turn a corner, then to throw the grenade so it lands right at that same corner. If it's not visible to the pursuer it's an almost guaranteed kill and you can carry on with your own mass murdering.

Co-op is great, as previously stated. The best thing about it is that there's actually very little luck relative to a regular match. Sure the Heavy Machine Gun guy might walk up behind you and fuck you in the ass but he's just as likely to wander around aimlessly for 10 minutes, plus you could always just toss a cluster grenade or two at him and laugh (if it lands directly at his feet it kills him in one shot and doesn't explode into 9 grenades, otherwise 2 almost always does the trick). While you could argue Co-op is easier I'd just have to disagree as crushing is pretty fucking hard even if you are excellent at other difficulties. Even if you put the 3 best players in the game together they'd still take 10-20 tries to beat crushing adventure maps and 10+ tries on arena. Of course, they'd rather pad their stats on the much more efficient and easy 2 man hard arena of yore.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


It bears noting that almost everything listed in the previous post as broken is being nerfed or altered in patch 1.04. This won’t change the review score, but might change a few paragraphs I already wrote. As it is a console game and the Souls game have a reputation for being complete (i.e. no DLC, few patches) those abilities are/were still notable. I’m unsure if I’ll patch the game or not, as I don’t enjoy 4 kings on NG+ at all and simply speeding up the process helps (doubt they were correspondingly nerfed, obviously Iron Flesh needed it). However Dark Souls is a very relaxing break from the oft stressful Uncharted multiplayer, don’t really think I’ll be able to avoid playing it for long.

Speaking of which beta players kept all of their experience and apparently most of their unlocked treasure weapons. In a game like Call of Duty having increased rate of fire is a small advantage but since everyone dies so damn fast it doesn’t really matter, in this since people often take 20+ shots like a champ it’s pretty damn broken (Perks get much better at higher levels, so do “Kill streak bonuses” and weapons). This ignores the hundreds if not thousands of hours of experience that these “people” are likely to have over me. If matchmaking worked hah, I cracked myself up on that one. Still doing alright though and co-op is still fantastic if worst comes to worst. Thank God I found the Mute All button.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dark Souls Week Four - Pain and Derision

To start this week off I went to confront the last major challenge remaining, fighting Ornstein and Smough solo. I did this on New Game + on my original character and did it the harder way killing Smough first. This is harder for a few reasons, it’s generally more difficult to damage Smough with Ornstein always on your ass and Super Ornstein is much harder than Super Smough. As with any other multiple enemy boss there’s some randomness to it though I’ve decided this is the fairest, cleanest fight of them and about as good as a dual boss is going to get. I died 4 times, twice to chain hits (with some pretty decent dodging on my part to boot) in the first phase and twice to Ornstein’s mega lightning doom grab. I’ll call the former 2 deaths bad luck and the other 2 a lapse in skill.

Super Ornstein’s grab is the hardest hitting attack in the game as far as I know at north of 1400 damage on the first playthrough (I don’t precisely know, it’s always killed me in one hit even with fairly high Vit, guide has damage numbers on everything but grabs), and presumably hits for more than 2000 on NG+. It’s also one of the hardest grab attacks to dodge, if you back up right when the animation starts you can avoid it but he could also be doing a lightning bolt (very similar startup animation) to sap some health from you. If you roll backward too early he’ll still poke you, if you roll to the side with close to perfect timing (hard to judge) you can dodge it. Additionally continuously strafing to the right with no obstructions will make it miss just barely (once I ran into a column and poof). Unlike Gwyn there’s a pretty big ranged bias here.

Ornstein and Smough are the community-labelled hardest boss in the game (by reviewers and forum goers alike), as Four Kings is considered too cheap to count and most people cheese Lord Gwyn. I’d say it’s third since Four Kings is technically harder and Gwyn is a monster in a standard fight. In my regular runs I always have a shield with very high stability and ideally lightning resistance (Eagle) which makes them unlikely to crack your guard (note you can’t just stand there and eat certain attacks, move your ass). Openings do happen as Ornstein jumps off randomly and Smough has long delays in his animations, Ornstein will still poke you while you hit Smough but with a small amount of poise it won’t get you into a chain hit. The biggest problem, much like fighting Gwyn, is selecting the proper time to use your Estus Flask. Do it at the wrong time and you risk chain hit spam requiring more wasted Estus or plain old death.

Past this the only obstacle left were the Four Kings, back with more misery. I used a Chaos Halberd for most of my run and thus every time I died on this fight I had to get my corpse back to maximize damage output (scales with humanity). Eventually I figured it’d be faster to simply homeward out on corpse runs and run back. Four Kings have nearly twice the HP of any other boss in the game and at least in the first playthrough you have to deal 2500 or so damage in a short period to prevent them from spawning too quickly. In NG+ without specific fairly cheap builds it’s not possible to deal enough damage to keep pace so in essence my SL 50 sorc (Crystal Homing Soul Mass can do 2500 in one shot, the Kings don’t dodge) had a better chance at killing them than my SL 100 chaos melee guy. If the first king decides to grab you, regardless of whether you dodge it, the second king will be up and running long before you can kill the first. Once more than one are up you basically just pray for the best and eventually kill it. I didn’t cheese it this go around but I certainly wouldn’t have felt bad doing so.

I quickly went on to finish most of the next areas and finally got enough strength to use the Greatshield of Artorias. This shield has 88 stability, which is pretty damn insane since stability scales exponentially the closer you get to 100. You can block every physical attack in the game with low stamina with Artorias’ shield. If an attack actually ate through my 160 stamina it would be doing somewhere north of 5 times my health if it had landed. This, and a few Crystal +5 shields (Eagle and Hollow Soldier), are one way to make Bed of Chaos substantially less painful. Don’t like dodging those annoying sweeps? Just put up your sweet shield and laugh at how it only takes 1/5th of your stamina bar.

The shield isn’t broken for a couple of reasons, the high STR requirement being one. The other reason is that it doesn’t have particularly high elemental resistances. Only Havel’s shield (50 strength instead of 34) has the potential to be “broken,” but it also has substantially lower stability. Anywho, the shield helps for fighting Lord Gwyn as it does have decent fire resistance and can actually soak up most of his hits (he’s still kind of nuts), you will bleed a lot and have to heal several times, picking the right time to heal is what saves you. The Black Knight Shield +5 is the best anti-Gwyn damage shield (as well as being overpowered in PvP) in the game but the 76 stability means your stamina bar will get crushed in any clear but the first, so this mandates the alternative (unless you’re a rolling guru or something). I still died once, I healed at the right time but he got off one of those lovely combo attacks just as I started to recover and death was upon me (it’s so damn tightly tuned that the fight is always tense regardless).

I quickly ran through the beginning of the next game, platinum trophy now in sight. All I had to do was make Sif’s cursed sword and I was finally in the clear. Everything was going smoothly, nice and relaxing. Peace, calm, happiness, things to cherish. At this point Sen’s Fortress decided to have it’s vengeance on me. In the past I hadn’t died much there (and had 3 consecutive no death clears even), so now I barely missed a roll on the last trap section of the area and died a few more times on the way back. I rushed to fight the Iron Golem and skipped killing the boulder guy only to find out that he tosses boulders into the fighting arena if you don’t kill him (makes sense in retrospect). Ordinarily this would amuse me quite a bit but I was a tad pissed so I bit my tongue and went to slowly defeat him.

There’s an amusing, somewhat hard to find, spell called Fire Spray which shoots a constant flame and ticks down rapidly (80 charges), if you use it on a larger enemy it’ll rack up damage fast but also drop the framerate to 5ish (has to be constantly hitting them) and make it really easy to dodge any attacks that might happen. It’s not particularly overpowered since you need most of the charge just to kill one stronger enemy, but it is a humorous way to fight things like the Boars (bitch to predict, do way more damage than you think) and these selfsame boulder tossing giants. Aside: the golem gives an absurd 90,000 souls when killed in NG+. For the most part experience scaling seems to be in line with how buffed the enemy you’re fighting is; Gwyndolin hits more than twice as hard and gives the most souls in the game after the first clear.

Anyway I made it through Anor Londo without too much trouble (cleared that damn Dragon Bow spot in one try once again, fuck you Sen’s Fort), made the sword and no trophy was acquired. Aggravation was building, I looked through every weapon I had and verified it in the guide. I realized one thing was missing from the guide and my inventory… the Dark Hand… Fucking Four Kings again. I wasn’t having any of this bullshit and promptly decided it was time to break down and acclimate myself to assholes. Lightning Zweihander +4, be mine!

Alongside the trusty lameass Zweihander (hits for over 500 a swing on most things, only requires 16 strength to 2 hand) I used Iron Flesh, which is basically warding from the first game except it reduces damage by even more and affects all damage types. You can’t move very quickly with it on but you can still attack and just tank everything. This in hand I moved on to fight the new Maneater. Four Kings is quite simply a terrible fight, it’s manageable enough in the first clear so I don’t think it hurts the game too badly. Since you can’t roll off a bridge while fighting them it’s still a huge improvement over Maneater. However, unlike every other fight in the game instead of skill being the primary determinant of success gear is. Gearchecks are dumb (if sometimes necessary) in MMOs and equally retarded here. It doesn’t matter how awesome you are at dodging, you can’t kill Four Kings reliably without a certain fairly high damage output (and/or Iron Flesh), that output raises to an extremely restrictive set in NG+. Thank God this is the only bad fight the game has to offer.

Iron Flesh is absurdly cheap for every boss except Four Kings on New Game + or beyond (Four Kings is still annoying and random in the first playthrough but it is possible to beat it with a variety of methods), but yet it seems most of the playerbase has trivialized difficult bosses with it. The last boss is absolutely fantastic, why someone would want to ruin it with overpowered abilities is beyond me. I’ll address this more in the review but Dark Souls has a whole bunch of abusable things (and insanely good weapons that can be used with low stats i.e. Lightning 2 Hander X) as opposed to just a few in the previous game.

They’re unlikely to affect a mostly blind first playthrough and thus don’t really ruin the experience. However for the legion of sagely morons on the internets it sort of softens the difficulty. It’s still the hardest game in 10 years at a slightly more difficult clip than Demon’s Souls, I just wish varied approaches were better rewarded. In Demon’s Souls I wound up using whatever weapon I wanted (Crescent Kilij +5 was my favorite), sure the enchanted Blueblood was the most powerful but I’d only use that to speed up bosses I already devastated. In Dark Souls you could theoretically go after a cheap Lightning Weapon and use it for the rest of your playthroughs. As a result, while I don’t think much of them already, there isn’t much chance of the playerbase actually getting better at the game over time. If all you do is spam iron flesh and swing your overpowered 2 hander how can you be thoughtfully approaching more difficult enemies.

Thank you, dumbasses, for buying this game and ensuring more will be made in the future. I truly am indebted, as this game is definitely a huge improvement on the first and From still has a solid chance at making something perfect in the near future. In some respects Dark Souls not being flawless actually raises my hope for the third game. The “second game in the series is the best” trend continues to spread, but there is still quite a bit of room for improvement in this series. They still have the capacity to make great bosses and the tendency to make retarded ones appears to be slowing (just the one in this game). Asinine areas are still present but they are much shorter segments and they aren’t nearly as annoying on later playthroughs.

Unless you went a very specific route the Valley of Defilement was a huge pain in the ass even on New Game + (and still had to fight at least 2 Giant Depraved Ones). But things like the Tomb of the Giants or Crystal Cave are fairly easy to swiftly move through after the first time. Lost Izalith might be kind of a pain but once you realize you only have to fight a handful of the 20 or so non respawning Bounding Demons it’s really not that painful (assuming you don’t skip them entirely via Covenant shortcut). I thought Bed of Chaos was always going to take several tries but found myself beating it on the first try in later playthroughs and it is probably the best puzzle boss in the series (though Dragon God still looks better).

I’m presently bouncing between 9 and 9.5 on this game, methinks Gwyn is good enough to more than negate Four Kings’ badness and I’ll eventually settle on 9.5. No where near as flawed as the first game and since I don’t have nostalgia disease I can see the huge improvement for what it is. Review will be up within next month, not particularly sure what else I’ll post about yet. God Hand is miraculously $10 on PSN so I picked that up, I had been playing Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage as an admittedly poor substitute (new hardcopies of God Hand are up to over $70). That doesn’t stop it from having an awesome intro though.

Oddities: The Giant Blacksmith Hammer that you get from *gasp* killing the Giant Blacksmith is actually a damn good weapon (every smith you can get to drops a hammer of some sort, obviously kind of crippling to kill them all). You lose the ability to make soul weapons but it’s yet another evil thing you can do in the game with both profitable and dangerous consequences. You can long distance snipe with lightning spells and to a lesser extent soul arrows/spears. The direction your character is facing is precisely the horizontal(?) component of your projectile (left analog stick), while the vertical pitch of the camera determines the vertical component of the trajectory (right analog stick). It’s pretty touchy but can be quite useful for fighting things you can’t lock on to very well due to distance or terrain. Range seems to be slightly less than a regular bow shot, though the projectile doesn’t lose damage over distance nor arch.

Phantom Stories: I made a few new characters but wound up with a Deprived (no master key this time) with extremely pale skin. To my surprise this actually makes your Hollow form look pretty damn sweet (instead of that dark red weirdness it’s pale and bluish). I’m making this character into a strength build since I haven’t really gone that route yet, and was fortunate enough to get the Black Knight Sword off the first guy so I can eventually dick around with that (20 Str 18 Dex required) alongside the not quite as lame plain old Zweihander and eventually Great Axe/Dragon King stuff. I summoned a few jolly cooperatives to fight the Minotaur. All 3 of us attempted to downward the boss, the first got knocked off the edge by an axe swing mid fall (great stuff), the second hit it but did piss poor damage, and I forgot to switch to 2 hand and did about 20 myself. I now fought the boss in melee for a bit while the other dude dicked around on that ladder for a few minutes, I really kind of wish he eventually died (more souls/comedy) but he came down and helped out right at the end.

I now summoned a phantom who decided it would be brilliant to put his sign in front of the Hellkite bridge. The Hellkite Dragon has a very strange attack pattern and it’s difficult not to take damage from it (not as good as the long bridge in Demon’s Souls), if you block you tend to die horribly even with a super high stability shield (for whatever reason the first hit does substantially less than subsequent ones after your guard breaks). I let the phantom lead the way and slowly walked around the corner and watched him get immolated, success! I ran down, hoped for the best and was fortunate enough that the Dragon didn’t destroy me as well.

A Note on Gargoyle Phantoms: Summon the ones by the Boar if you want to have a reasonably fair experience. It's the second most popular WP boss in the game, but it's possible to grossly overpower them with no chance of dying whatsoever as an SL 10-25 White Phantom (eg. Lightning Zweihander is usable by an SL 5 character, Pyro scales with how much you power up the flame and humanity moreso than int). Ornstein and Smough are still finicky enough that you always have a chance of dying (and so does the host) even if you can kill it in 30 seconds(instead of 5). Gargoyles have ~1500 and 750 HP respectively with 2 phantoms summoned, 0&S have 3000-5000 and 5000-7000 depending on order.

Approximate Death Count (kept forgetting to bring my journal):
Ornstein and Smough: 4
Four Kings +: 8
Darkwraiths: 1
Four Kings ++ Cheesed: 2
Gwyn: 1
Falling: 6
Flaming Boulder Iron Golem (Hard mode!): 1
Competent White Phantoms/Hosts: 6
Incompetent White Phantoms/Hosts: 15

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dark Souls Week Three - One Shot, Two Shot, Three Shot, Four Shot

As previously intimated the character I made for this week was a frail Sorceress named Gimp. I unfortunately failed to live up to my promises and did not use white phantoms quite effectively until later in the run. The first phantom I summoned was a stoic fellow who greatly outclassed the zone and completely trivialized the gargoyle fight. I’m still undecided as to how I feel about this, there are quite a few fights that could cockblock players for several hours and having some random dude rescue you could be nice, but my heart says that the man truly does evil as he leads these poor sheep into darker pastures. My own behavior may have come to reflect this.

I now ran up against my first wall of not finding signs for a while, there were several anticipated points for this: any optional area, the last 4 major boss areas as they are gigantic and somewhat harrowing (phantoms are lazy), and a few others. This spot was the land of Goat and Dogs of yore, still an annoying random boss fight as always. I wandered around for a while in this area and eventually fell off one of the rare bottomless edges here. On my way back I miraculously found a sign and wandered backward through the zone from the fog gate to my corpse with my phantom dutifully following. I didn’t really want to dick this kind sir over so I promptly broke my vow to not do more than 33% (or 50% with just one phantom I suppose) of the bosses’ hp and crushed the goat.

My next set of phantoms (again after some aimless wandering and waiting) were for the Butterfly. One Phantom clearly did not want to fight this boss (overlap of signs between Sif and Butterfly’s area) and bailed in short order, the other showed me a completely new hidden area with a quite useful (some might say overpowered) drop. I was of course grateful to this wise and sagacious mastermind and once again broke the creed, and did the vast majority of the damage to the boss in killing it (naturally any ranged build does much better against the Butterfly).

Gimp managed to die to a few attacks which weren’t troublesome at all on the more stoic individuals I created, having a massive 10 vitality and 10 stamina throughout much of this experience, but I did eventually make it to the Depths bonfire. Here I eventually found another phantom, this fellow a user of the much beloved Crystal Ring Shield. I did not approve and sort of wanted the 25k souls for killing Gaping “solo” so I watched him die whilst not taking a single hit personally. I get the feeling that lots of people did use phantoms to kill Gaping Dragon on the first try and never really figured out how the fight works. Even if they go to help others much later they’ll still suck at it and die to certain attacks.

The Crystal Ring Shield is made from the Moonlight Butterfly soul, I discovered very early on that it does an absurd amount of damage and eventually decided it was bugged. Whether or not it actually is the damage it does (fires a Captain America shot vertically) is equal to the combined damage of your equipped weapon and the shield, regardless of which hand is equipped with which. As such it can do well over a thousand damage fairly early in the game. I have yet to use it on my own personal boss kills but I did use it a couple of times to kill the Centipede for a host who had no chance of beating the boss (once I ran out of lightning to toss). Now, a couple of weeks after first finding it, it is ubiquitous amongst phantoms, as every single one wants to trivialize every fight for their respective host. The CR shield isn’t that overpowered in a single player game, as the animation takes quite a while to come out and most bosses will smack you before you can get it off. However when you have something else to pull the boss off you it makes it very easy to do thousands of damage to a boss in short order. While I was the host I did my best to let CR Shield phantoms die, though this wasn’t always successful.

I now ran into the “Failed to create session” problem in Blighttown, eventually went and killed the boss in short order and then died about 5 times trying to get the Eagle shield. For my other two characters this is the primary shield I use and is the best scaling, easy to use shield in the game. However I have yet to use it on Gimp as it has a Strength requirement of 16. All of that said I somewhat grew to hate Blighttown, stealing my 5 humanity and 40k souls. I present to you a partially fake rant:

Fuck Blighttown and its miserable framerate. Fuck the infinitely respawning fucking wasps that give no souls. Fuck the ladder camping fire toad things (going in reverse technically). But most of all, fuck the blue shits and their grab attacks that kill you in one hit on the final fucking enemy on the arduous route to the shield you’ll never even use…

All of that said Blighttown is a pretty good zone, it’s my fault for making such a frail character. I still love the boss and it’s still a gigantic improvement over the swamp in Demon’s Souls. The reason I was carrying around so many damn souls is because most good spells are super expensive in Dark Souls. Instead of tying spells to boss souls like the first game they stuck with just driving the price absurdly high the more advanced the spell. This character was starting to become reasonably powerful with Great Soul arrows and such but Homing Soul Mass was required for any great damage dealing potential.

Testing out my newfound powers I visited the Stray Demon in the Asylum. This boss actually has one of the easiest attack patterns in the game, being a variation of the tutorial boss. However his “Boom” attacks are difficult to not take damage from and I insisted on having Homing Soul Arrow on when I dropped into the arena (doing 500 or so damage at this point with 30ish int), which made him attack extremely fast after the mandatory fall damage. This killed me a few times, but I eventually prevailed and marveled at Gimp’s spellcasting glory.

I quickly made my way through Sen’s Fortress (actually a pretty fast zone once you know where everything is) and to the Grand City of Anor Londo, that land of White Phantoms. You can only start summoning them about a third of the way into the zone, but I quickly did knowing the hazards ahead. The most difficult narrow ledge sequence in the game is in Anor Londo, and there’s nothing quite like watching someone fall headlong to their death. Unfortunately after 2 sets of phantoms the last guy was hesistant to continue, so I had to lead the way and failed to fall. If I had to do it again I probably would have suicided to summon more phantoms, but a few divers made for some enjoyment.

I now brought some phantoms along for the rest of Anor Londo, discovering first an awesome Drake Sword user. Naturally anyone who uses the Drake Sword possesses the brilliance to shoot arrows for an hour, and therefore dies horribly when faced with 2 giants. The last room before the primary boss in Anor Londo has 2 powered up such beings and is quite the hazard. It is not uncommon to be invaded while fighting them and they are each individually more dangerous than the vast majority of Black Phantoms.

1 set dead I returned for more, finding this time a guy who liked to backstab everything. He of the backstabbery was so proud of his gilded skill he neglected to pay attention to not being hit in the process and eventually died horribly. I as the host, may have intentionally killed him by not using my Estus Flask, but mayhap not. A Gold Phantom lived through this ordeal and we made the way to opening a useless shortcut, I didn’t really want to kill the boss yet and died instead to ensure more phantoms. The next set were actually competent and quickly dispatched the boss and the area as a whole, naturally using the Crystal Ring Shield to the fullest. I tried to let them die but it was not to be.

At this point I realized I was unlikely to find any more phantom signs, as the game diverges from the main path severely. I therefore took a short break and returned to my Occult Sword wielding fellow from a week past. After 3 hours of farming covenant raising crap I decided to finally go and fight the last boss, Lord Gwyn. Having put this off for going on 70 hours at this point I was anxious to finally see him. Instead of a cutscene I was greeted by one of the best songs in the game and Gwyn’s magnificent sword. I got something of a feel for the fight then homewarded out like a bitch and re-setup my gear accordingly.

Gwyn is pretty handily the best boss fight in the game and has elevated the game all by himself in my eyes so I might have to give it a better score. He’s basically a cross between the Penetrator and Flamelurker from Demon’s Souls. Unlike Flamelurker he doesn’t stagger unless you do a shitload of damage to him so even with perfect dodges it’s quite difficult to actually get in a hit with no response. I died pretty quickly the next foray, and next tried to regain my souls. Gwyn laughed at my foolishness and quickly murdered me again, giving me the finest beating since my original encounter with Flamelurker many moons ago. Still, I was getting a feel for the fight and got him down to about half 2 attempts later and beat him the next (quite similar to the Flamelurker experience overall).

I’d have to say he actually is harder than Seath even if you do go after Seath’s tail, and has the hardest learning curve of any boss in the game (though Bed of Chaos has an argument the first few attempts). I can’t really say if he’s harder than Flamelurker (several points for either side) but he’s certainly just as good a fight and fantastically placed as the last encounter in the game. I wish there were 1-2 more Flamelurkers instead of the several dual/quad boss fights in the game, as while those are certainly much more enjoyable than Maneater they’re still a tad random. Super Ornstein is probably the closest equivalent but Gwyn is much harder than him, though his grab is not quite as devastating (instead everything else is).

Following this I decided to white phantom with Gimp. I needed to farm about 100k souls to buy the best set of spells in the game, and what better way than to kill Ornstein and Smough for 15000 souls a pop. I was also able to one shot Silver Knights with Soul Spear and could farm 900 souls every 15 seconds while waiting. Homing Soul Mass turned out to be the most useful spell in this farming process, as I discovered I could one shot Black Phantoms.

Highlighting the ridiculousness of PvP in Dark Souls neither my balanced initial character nor slightly unbalanced second character were even close to a match for my pure Int stacking sorceress. As I went on through the week I killed close to 15 BPs, some in host games and some who invaded mine, and while they could also 1-2 shot me I only died a few times and my previous 50/50 success rate was greatly improved. In truth I have had an epiphany and am now one with the cheapness. I’m so skilled that I press one button and then run around for a while waiting for it to annihilate whoever comes in my direction. Sometimes they roll a few times, and then die. Sometimes they don’t show up for 20 minutes and I get bored. Sometimes they sit outside the hallway the instant that I am summoned to someone’s room, and die. And occasionally they backstab me while I’m casting a spell (should have waited 10 minutes corner camping like a real pro, leet skills yo) or afk, alas.

Fully embracing the douchebaggery of the Dark Souls populace I decided to get the best set of spells in the game from the Duke’s Archives. The Duke is actually Seath, as I found out in a very informative set of dialogue from one hideous being who I had oft murdered in the past. Chasing weird sets of dialogue is always fun in this game, as it usually is done quite well and is the only way to really figure out what’s going on in the world. Alas, everything in those accursed Archives could either 1 or 2 shot my character, and I had to tread extremely carefully in making it through. This slow plod took about an hour, even skipping all of the golems (900+ Magic Resistance, even my weapon does nothing but magic damage). However, it was most certainly worth it.

After outdueling Seath with his own methods (highest Magic resistance of any boss in the game) I gradually realized the enormous power of my previously weak seeming character. Stacking one set of stats is the only viable way to build your character for PvP, all Vit and Endurance, all Int, or all Strength, and if you’re good enough with rolling Vit and Endurance don’t necessarilly matter for PvE survival either. Crystal Homing Soulmass could do 1500 damage in one shot, with 10 casts.

Seeing this I despaired for my poor faith build, whose Sunlight Spear (requires 50 faith and the last boss’ soul to even use) only did 750 damage to the weakest enemies. I realized then that faith was useless in PvP, as only the much improved Wrath of the Gods is worthwhile and instead of 1500 damage and 10 uses it was 400 damage and 3 (with a sweet knockback). Additionally Wrath can only be purchased once per playthrough, but Soulmass variations can be bought 3 times (effectively 30 casts to 3). About half of the BPs I’ve faced have used the Fog Ring, but even without it lock requiring spells are almost universally inferior to Soul Mass spells and Wrath, while you can dodge Soul Mass fairly easily it doesn’t much matter if you walk around a corner and get hit with more than a thousand damage.

Gimp eventually became a Gold Phantom and with my 1500 damage (can boost it up to 2500 with the correct setup, though limits spellcasts) I can kill Ornstein and Smough in about 45 seconds (20-25 seconds + 20 seconds of cutscenes), depending on the boss’ movement. I could 2 or 3 shot the last boss, 4 shot Four Kings, and one shot almost every other player, and will probably wind up playing this character the most whenever I stop playing online. I now have 16 Sunlight Medals and have succeeded as a phantom 5 times as often as the character I actually made for that purpose. I sit on a pile of 500,000 souls ot this point, and want to eventually get to Sunlight + 3 (Covenant rank, 80 sunlight medals) for the hell of it, though incompetent hosts can still die to a variety of things and ruin my trivializing the game for them.

One strange thing I noticed is that lag (I assume host-side) simply makes NPCs pause into a spot for the phantom, the host likely sees the fight as normal but on the phantom side you can just sit there and nuke the stationary enemy/boss. This happened a handful of times, one time the host disappeared and reappeared repeatedly. If a host is aimless I’ll generally just go clear the way to the boss and wait for him to find me, only one host has really taken forever to do so. Upon fighting the boss I quickly killed Ornstein and he appeared to suicide into Smough’s lightning ass pound (normally difficult to avoid but he was well outside of the radius when Smough went in the air). I haven’t mentioned I also killed a phantom that would have murdered him easily and the Titanite Demon (HUGE ranged bias) of all things to save his poor ass. But he still was so entitled as to slowly maneuver through the zone while I dutifully stood at the boss door.

It’s kind of liberating to have such a tiny amount of HP. Ring of Favor isn’t all that great with low Vit so I finally have 2 ring slots to mess around with. There’s one obscure as hell ring that changes your roll animation, that might sound useless but it actually gives you the fast roll at half equipment load instead of 1/4th, thus enabling me to have 2 shields equipped. Additionally I can wear whatever armor I want instead of at least halfway decent (second character) or generic (first character) gear. Almost every armor in the game can be upgraded quite a bit, so even normal armor can exceed the stats on some of the best first clear sets. However it does take a titanite slab to boost a single piece of armor to +10 (from +9, generally a huge stat boost), so it would take at best 2 clears of the game (or 10+ hours of farming them, S drops aren’t worth it) to make a full set. My otherwise terrible armor is not too bad at +6 and looks pretty damn sweet to boot.

Random oddities: I’ve killed a BP while the host died in unison, I received the souls for killing him (pathetic amount as always). I’ve also killed the boss after the host died, presumably the boss does stay dead though you get ported out before the 15k souls are handed to you. In New Game+ Soul income is greatly increased from Demon’s Souls, ranging from twice as much to five times as much. Some enemies have more than double their previous damage output and several bosses are quite a bit more difficult. There is no block to phantoms helping players in NG + as opposed to the regular game, as Gimp was able to assist a fellow in failing to kill Ornstein and Smough.

Death Count
Falling – 8 (4 for a single chest)
Sewer Blobs – 1
Wasps – 1
Blue Shits – 2
Crystal Undead – 2
Stray Demon – 3
Giants – 1
Mimic Grab (not opening) – 1
Gwyn – 4
Ornstein/Smough (as Phantom) – 4
Other Players (as Phantom) – 3
Competent White Phantoms/Hosts – 25
Incompetent White Phantoms/Hosts – 60
CR Shield White Phantoms – 10
Ornstein and Smough Kills – 20
Host Deaths - 30
10 Vitality
19 Attunement
10 Endurance
12 Strength
12 Dexterity
8 Resistance
44 Intelligence
14 Faith (hint)
Soul Level: 50

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


In quite the horrible ordeal both Arkham City and Uncharted 3 have received ridiculously good review scores. This forces me to actually play them and I might even buy one of them at full price! The horror... the horror... Hopefully CoD receives a perfect 100 score on metacritic so I can mock it.

In other news you do actually have to get all the rare weapons on one character unless I'm missing one (not according to any list I've seen), unlike the spell/miracle trophies. Probably going to be stuck at 97% for the immediate future as it's difficult to write about playing only one style of character with little or no interaction with phantoms.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Yar first sports post in a while. Pujols, the man, the myth, the legend, hit 3 bombs last night in the World Series. He tied Reggie Jackson's record for most in a single game in that illustrious set. Ideally he hits about 15 more over the next few games and secures his magnificent 300 million contract so I can feel rectified in my previous propositions. While he may have failed to get the MVP 4 years in a row he certainly came quite close and will probably get the World Series MVP at this rate. My beloved pa-joles shall extort the victorious Cardinals for as much cash as possible, and rightfully so.

Unfortunately GM's have started to become smarter so ridiculous huge contracts may start to become a thing of the past at some point (or not?). Still, Pujols should set the record as long as he retains his ridiculous postseason numbers. Carlos Beltran was the last player to get a hugeass contract as a result of a postseason (and he actually performed reasonably well in it), but this next deal will double or triple what Beltran received.

In other news Michigan State miraculously won the game against Wisconsin yesterday. This is yet another stupendous example of the Big Ten cannibalizing itself. However, since we are very definitely the second best conference (okay, maybe you could argue Boise State makes Mountain West better all by itself) in the nation we may still wind up with 2 BCS reps this year. The SEC of recruiting violation land might be superior, but our Rust Belt metaphysics will lead us to vic... err I mean crushing defeat. Still, I like the hype at the end of the season that the Big Twelve Ten receives, if only for ridiculousness.

I still kind of spite the Spartans for deciding to not suck for the first time in my life shortly after I graduate. I am a common man and naturally am somewhat resistant to change, my team sucking at football is what's supposed to happen! How dare they be good when I can't really celebrate it effectively any more. HOW DARE THEY! The Packers are golden Gods, the Lions are actually halfway decent (still holding out for a midseason collapse), and the Spartans are good... in the Big Ten. I am happy that Ohio State sucks though.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dark Souls Week Two - Schizophrenic

Alternative titles include: Online Offline Online; Help, Kill, Assist, Murder; and Why is everyone so retarded?

To start this week off I bought the Official Strategy Guide, as the internet was failing miserably in providing any obscure information on various things. With the collector’s Edition you get a mini-guide which is just a few excerpts from the main guide, I looked at this and realized that the actual guide must be quite good. Having beaten the vast majority of the game already this wasn’t going to make the game easier but finding whichever obscure ember or rare weapon or NPC would be useful. I can’t recommend the guide highly enough though, it is just as comprehensive as the present wiki for Demon’s Souls is, and pretty much all information on the Dark Souls wiki is poorly plagiarized from the actual guide anyway (much like most other guides).

In a perfect world there would never have been an official guide and people could still discover the entire game piece by piece (it would take months for people to figure out how to find certain covenants, or how certain NPC trains functioned) but what ultimately occurred was one person bought the guide, spread that information to their friends who posted it on the internet. I am content with my weeklong discovery phase and sort of want to just figure out how the rest of the game works at this point, and the guide has assisted me greatly. I wouldn’t suggest buying it prior to beating the game, but if you’re just going to look up shitty youtube vids on how to beat bosses you might as well have a nice book to look through instead. The only thing you can really spoil about these games is boss fights, and having beaten them all I did not worry about any sacrilege that I might have caused.

After a fairly long while spent farming on the main character I created a new one. This time I made a pyromancer knowing full well the heights such power might grant. The Pyromancer is effectively the new Royal from the first game, you start at the lowest SL and you start with the most useful, rarest spellcasting implement. It’s not as blatantly overpowered as the Royal and you can do quite well with any other class, but it is still arguably the best. I still was undecided whether to be help people or be evil with the character and thus decided to try out both and figure out which one was more fun. You can get 4 cracked Red Eye orbs to invade with very early in the game, and I did and attempted to invade the first two areas in the game. Unfortunately regardless of whether or not an invasion actually occurs each use of the item consumes it. Thus, I now had to join an obscure covenant 15 hours later and then donate 10 humanity to that covenant to have a permanent Red Eye orb with which to invade an infinite times with.

So, I was now stuck with setting white signs down everywhere. I initially approached this in the best way, I set a sign down after every fog door and progressed normally through the game. I was not summoned until reaching the Depths, and the first guy who summoned me was actually fairly competent so we killed the boss there with relative ease (I didn’t take a single hit the entire time, even). I now foolishly strayed from the path and began simply waiting around to get summoned, which took about 15 minutes this time. Unfortunately this second summon resulted in the death of the host to curse, despite him clearly being an experienced player he still managed to not evade this easiest to avoid hazard the game has to offer. I laughed and sighed knowing the pain that dear sir would have to endure being cursed so early in the game.

I set down yet another sign and started farming in unison, a slightly better approach. It still took another 20 minutes to get summoned, this time I died due to carelessness. A completely unexplained feature that I eventually discovered is that the host can heal his human phantoms with the consumption of an Estus Flask, so theoretically the host could have saved me but I try to take as little damage as possible when a phantom, as only a scant few hosts will actually know to heal you. I received 12,500 souls for killing the boss of the area as a phantom, a huge amount early in the game, and greedily sought more hefty sums of souls.

In addition to other players you can now summon NPCs to join you in boss fights as phantoms. If they die as a phantom they don’t die in the game world, so there’s no hazard in doing this multiple times. Like everything else you must be in human form to summon the NPCs to assist you. For the most part these NPCs are relatively intelligent and will help you kill the boss but you’ll do the bulk of the work. There are two, well hidden exceptions to this rule that almost trivialize certain bosses (one of them being fairly hard and the other being relatively easy anyway), but chances are you’ll never find those signs. If you still can’t find these signs when you’re in human form and you’re sure they should be there simply quit the game from the menu and reload (a common cure in Demon’s Souls for various troubles as well), they will be there when you return.

I progressed through the game much faster this time around and was less than half the SL of my first character by the time I finished Anor Londo. It was in Anor Londo that I decided to attempt yet more White Phantoming, and was relatively successful in finding people. I had yet to fight Ornstein and Smough without phantom assistance and started to learn the fight while assisting others. Simply based on a person’s playstyle I could tell whether we had a chance or not, as O&S have specific biases. There is one attack they have after the midway point in the fight that is very difficult to avoid, so I saw various phantoms die to this. Of 3 fights as a phantom only one was successful. On that occasion the host summoned me as well as an NPC, I to that point had very little HP so almost every grab attack could kill me in one hit (SL 35 or so).

We did very well early in the fight but I finally got hit by a grab that is fairly difficult to avoid and died just as the boss was about to. While bosses are doing grabs they’re just as invincible as you are when you’re doing a riposte or backstab, so I was forced to painfully wait through this one shot attack. However, since the “returning to your world” death animation is so long they actually killed the boss prior to that and I still received 15000 souls, a Sunlight Medal, and a Humanity for my trouble.

At this point I ran into an issue where I was unable to connect to any multiplayer whatsoever. The message “failed to create session” kept popping up on my screen and I figured that it would eventually go away. A day and a half later it still persisted, cutting off several summons, hosting and invasion opportunities. I then astutely decided (only took 30 hours) to unplug and replug in the connection cord, though I did have access to all the other online features. This actually worked and I was quite able to play once more. I believe this only happens when there’s a shitload of people on (weekends and nights), but try pulling the plug and reconnecting if you start receiveing the same messsage and potentially save yourself some trouble.

I now went down to New Londo Ruins and went to fight the Four Kings, a necessary prerequisite to join the Red Orb providing covenant. Now, I had beat the Four Kings on the first try on my first playthrough, it was a somewhat close fight but relatively easy. However this new character was vastly weaker in most stat departments, and I discovered Four Kings is much like Maneater from the first game, if you have the gear/health and the damage output the boss isn’t particularly difficult (though random things can still happen), but without it’s almost impossible. I also summoned an NPC to fight with this boss, but this was actually a bad idea. The Four Kings have multiple AI strings, and if you’re going at it solo generally only one King will go “all out” on you, but if you bring in NPCs or other players each one of them will activate and you might get completely massacred by chain attacks and novas. I wound up levelling a bit prior to beating the Kings, which probably made my Red Eye experience a bit more irritating. Just be thankful you don’t fight them on a bridge. /shudder

Now SL 50 I decided to try invading people, this took quite some time but I eventually found a coward. As a phantom in Dark Souls you are unable to heal yourself with the Estus Flask, this means either wasting an attunement slot on heal or simply not healing. However the host can heal himself as he pleases. The first douche I fought ran away at the first sign of trouble about 10 times and I eventually did somewhere around 5000 damage to him prior to finally dying, him using his Estus Flask about 15 times.

The thing with the Estus Flask is that even if you see the start of the animation and attack they’ll probably still get the heal off and potentially block prior to your attack actually hitting. You effectively have to hit them before they even start the heal animation due to lag, and even a strong hit isn’t guaranteed to knock them out of that animation. Naturally this makes being a phantom a tedius task unless you build your character to do nothing but an absurd amount of damage in a short combo, which is fairly cheap and skillfree, particularly if you use a fog ring.

Speaking of Fog rings I was promptly invaded immediately upon leaving the fight with the pansy. This sagely fellow had a fog ring, murdering any potential respect I might have had for him. The fog ring makes it impossible for other players to target you, that may sound bad but it’s actually fucking horrible as the vast majority of spells require lock on to hit with any accuracy or sometimes even come out. As you might imagine fog ring users are a reliable candidate for genocide in my book. Fortunately I eventually figured if I forced him into a narrow hall I could reliably damage him the more straightforward fashion and won the fight.

I began the next day with a few more invasions. The first ventured into Sen’s Fortress and died to something or other before I could even get to him. The game started me almost at the start in a hidden hallway so I had to methodically make my way up through the traps (just as dangerous to phantoms) and by the time I reached the top the host had died, what he died from I’ll never know. I now went to the forest nearby and had my first and only relatively amicable fight as a phantom, against a person who outgeared me tremendously. Still, I managed to do about 2000 damage to him before all was said and done and I died, after he healed himself a few times (not 15 at least).

There’s a new spell in this game in an obscure as hell place hardly anyone would have figured out in the aforementioned perfect world. Also in this location: the spell to light up your surroundings… Excuse me while I ceremoniously fall to my death in a fit of rage. The spell I’m referencing is Chameleon, which turns you into some inanimate object from whichever area you’re in at the time. Running around as a phantom without a fog ring makes it painfully obvious where you are, but disguising yourself as a pot can make the host go insane trying to find you. I now had a trump card to fuck with people who should be burned alive.

My next invasion was once again in Anor Londo, that land of overused multiplayer items. However, this time it was in the Twilight version and I rightly figured this person must surely be someone else trying to invade people in Anor Londo. I sought a wondrous hiding place and waited for about 30 minutes (well, mostly switched to the computer for 30 minutes), occasionally hearing footsteps go by. He eventually found the room I was in, though I was of course a pot so I probably could have just sat there and avoided discovery. In the room with me was our good buddy the Titanite Demon, this particular one having around 3500 HP, naturally he almost killed the host without me having to lift a finger, but he just barely rolled out of the room.

Unfortunately this douchebag was also a Fog ring user, so there wasn’t much point in trying to fight him as a phantom. I still went and did anyway, did 2500 or so damage to him (healed himself, naturally) and then chased him down a hallway. After a while I was randomly backstabbed while still chasing him down that hallway. Joy of joys! Still, I’m glad I wasted this asshole’s time, as this mindless sort of scum are what ruined my opinion of the Dark Souls playerbase.

I now started to run into the “Failed to create session” issue again and decided to hell with it. I pumped up my faith to 40 (farmed 650k souls in an hour and 15 minutes) and joined the hardest to join covenant. To join it you need 50 faith minus 5 for every time you helped someone else kill a boss as a phantom, I had my 2 and was glad for it. Prior to joining I offered another 20 humanity (1 gained from actual PvP! Well, sort of…) to the Red Orb covenant (Darkwraiths of Kaathe) to receive some extremely evil looking armor and a sword. This sword was just a normal sword with a cool attack pattern so I decided, ridiculous faith stacking build and all, to build it up to Occult +5.

In order to create delicious irony I decided to try Gold Phantoming (being in the Warriors of Sunlight turns your signs from white to gold, if you beat a boss you and everyone else in the group receives a Sunlight Medal to go with everything else) while wearing around my deathmask suit. Miraculously, despite my SL being 80 now I actually started finding people down in the Demon Ruins. I fought the easy boss in this area a couple of times and the harder boss a couple of times, doubling my previous success numbers. I now have offensive miracles and can toss lightning at NPCs/people (though it has no tracking so it’s effectively useless in PvP), which looks fantastic. I’ll probably finish the game on this character and simply start laying down signs everywhere I go on New Game +, as waiting around for people to summon you is boring as hell.

Something else I noticed amidst the madness: Trophies track across all characters, so if you found a rare ass weapon on one character but not another don’t fret as it will still count towards the total. I received the all magic spells acquired trophy despite only having 90% of the spells on either character. It would have been nice to know this as I wouldn’t have farmed nearly as much crap (2nd character got several rare drops off the first non respawning enemies), but I’m happy to spread occasionally useful random thoughts. Additionally: dodge jumping does not have any invincibility frames, makes no sense but there you have it.

My advice for pvp is as follows: Don’t approach Dark Souls as a multiplayer game. It is a fantastic single player experience with occasional support or interference which tends to be fun, but trying to repeatedly fulfill those experiences takes a lot of sitting around and waiting, and at least when it comes to fighting other players it often comes down to who used the cheaper mechanics/who got luckier with shield clipping if no one used a fog ring. If you’re trying to invade someone you basically have to be able to do 1200+ damage in one stamina bar or they’re going to be able to run away and heal while you can not use your estus flask at all as a phantom, which comes down to using specific 2 handers. Approaching PvP in any fashion but the most generic will ultimately lead to a tedious experience. There is a small amount of skill involved, but lag, luck, and willingness to be a cheap asshole are really the determining factors in these fights.

On the other hand if you have a few friends and want to do something like Dragon Eye dueling it’s quite possible to do so if you’re in the same SL range, there’s no block to multiple fights with the same person and assuming neither party wants to fuck over the other side it can be a lot of fun. Additionally Dragon Eye dueling actually has a useful, rare reward. It is far easier to simply farm humanity at a few particular spots in the game (or just buying it from patches) than waiting a half hour between invasions or being summoned. The top guy in the Book of the Guilty has about 500 anti-renown or whatever, the top “Servant of Chaos” has 10,000 humanity donated, so even if you did nothing but nonstop red orbing to the cheapest extent possible you’d still be 20 times slower than just straight up farming.

Well, there’s one true way to experience Dark Souls almost exclusively multiplayer and that’s by being the host (assuming you don’t “fail to create session”). With that in mind and considering my most joyous experiences were watching phantoms fail miserably at bosses I’ve made a new character. This time a Sorceror, the most divergent from my other two characters. (melee/heal/pyro and pyro/melee/miracle) I’ll try to keep my character as frail as possible (a whopping 8 starting Vitality). If both phantoms die I will either die myself or homeward out and I will not under any circumstances do more than 33% of the bosses’ HP, even if I have 100 + Soul arrows to do so. I’ll be starting with the Gargoyles and will find out just how easy the game can be made. I may try Gold Phantoming in New Game+ alongside this character, or I might save that for the week after (2-3 more weeks of posts, review after that sometime).

Death Count
Undead Drake (Hint) – 1
Falling – 10
Gargoyles – 2
Balder Knights – 1
Black Knight – 2
Gaping Dragon – 1
Ratmen – 1
Lightning Serpentman – 1
Iron Golem – 1 (One Shot grab I didn’t even know he had!)
Ornstein and Smough – 2
Titanite Demon – 1
Havel – 1
Skeletons – 2
Four Kings – 4
Ghosts – 1
Other Players – 3
Competent White Phantoms/Hosts – 10
Incompetent White Phantoms/Hosts – 15
SL – 80
Time Played – 30 hours (~10 hours spent doing nothing)

Friday, October 14, 2011

World's Shortest Post

Hello Friends. I started a new character in Dark Souls and came across an error in my previous reasonings. No, the Gargoyles are still lame, no the Goat/wolf boss is still luck based, however the Gaping Dragon fight does not have to be fought while the Priest is still in the area. You do, however, have to go through the area with the curse frogs if you find the priest, so pick your poison. Next week'll be deaths for the new guy (what took me 14 hours and 30 deaths to clear first day now took me 3 hours 30 minutes and 7 deaths, 3 intentional).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dark Souls Week One: Falling Returns, With a Vengeance

I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible as I could probably write 50-100 pages of random crap about the past 45 hours of gameplay. Picking up from last week I started off by going a different direction. Now having Astora’s Longsword I felt confident in my ability to negotiate more areas, little did I know how meek this weapon was compared to later weapons I would acquire. There was one more Black Knight to kill in the Undead Parish and so I went there first.

This particular Black Knight has a Greatsword, and fighting him was similar to the Havel (Fat Brushwood guy) fight. However he attacks much faster and has much faster recovery times and is, at the point in the game when you fight him, essentially the hardest non boss NPC in the game. Despite this it’s quite possible to kill him using the environment, you fight him near where the Boar was and can use fire or falling/staggering there to help kill him. It’s not a very good idea to try and out block or dodge him as pretty much everything he does one shots you and one of his attacks comes out insanely fast and will crush any shield you can have at this point (one handed overhead).

Astora’s was able to do 40-50 damage to the skeletons near Firelink so I decided to head to the Catacombs. This was the first area I went where it felt about as long as a Demon’s Souls first level, as far as I know there’s only one bonfire and shortcuts are opened up at regular intervals. Instead of ladders or elevators this time it’s a set of falls which you can make, though even at the shortest possible route there’s still about 20 enemies in the way (longest route is around 60-70), the last of which are quite nasty. Normal skeletons do not give souls, thus making this area quite odd as you wander around for a few hours. There’s several items that give you a solid chunk of souls and some enemies, though only the last area just before the boss offers respawning enemies that grant souls.

Those particular enemies are one of the better new designs in the game, fairly cruel and murderous early on but quite killable as long as you adapt to them. They’re Skeletons, attached to wheels with spikes, see if you can figure it out. Said Skelewheels killed me a few times on the way to the boss, making the return trip fairly tedious each time. It took me 2-2.5 hours just to reach the boss, but thankfully enough I did beat it on the first try. It’s basically the Fool’s Idol from Demon’s Souls with much better mechanics, not too difficult but one of the rare bosses in the game that gets harder as the fight goes on. The reward for beating him is one of the best in the game.

Having beat the boss I naturally wanted to wander into the next area. Except it was completely pitch black and there were pitfalls everywhere. I fell, died about 5 times making that same runback to this point only to fall a few more times before giving up and putting off the inevitable until much later. That’s one excellent thing about this game, even if you run into one of the occasional asininely designed areas you can just go somewhere else, and continue to go somewhere else for 20-25 hours. There’s not as much bad design here as there was in Demon’s Souls, which I’m thankful for, but there is still some stupidity to be wary of.

I decided to mess around with multiplayer for a bit. It took me a while to find a good spot to put a white sign down, but I finally found one near the Butterfly of yore. In retrospect I was probably one of the first non importers to kill it (probably the only one to exclusively use melee attacks) as it is easily the hardest boss early in the game and one of the hardest overall, so coming back a day later I found 2 different morons attempting the area. The first had a much better sword than me so I assumed he was reasonably competent, though I gradually figured out this was the Drake Sword of genericness which you get from cutting off the Dragon’s tail in the previous area (every damn retarded player on youtube has this in their “pro” walkthroughs). If I had had this weapon it would have trivialized much of that fairly difficult content, so I’m glad I skipped it.

Back to the tale, this player knew his way around the area and went straight to the boss, pausing to summon another phantom along the way. The fight went reasonably well for a while, I plugged away with my bow and noticed that I wasn’t being targetted by *anything,* (The Butterfly only targets the host with most of his early attacks) the boss descended into melee and all 3 wailed on him for a bit. He was about 1/3rd dead at this point but the sagacious host stood in too long and got hit by the easiest to avoid attack in the fight, a little nova as he flies up again. Naturally I found this to be quite hilarious and decided to continue the search for moron White Phantom hosts/Phantoms.

Almost immediately upon setting down another sign I was summoned once more, I assumed by the same player but it was someone else entirely. This fellow was more like myself the first time I entered the area, early gear, a yearning for treasure, joy, and success; only to be massacred. This poor bastard wandered into the biggest trap in the area and managed to aggro almost everything else to go with it. I lured about half of the monsters away but it was all for naught, he died horribly. For my part I was once again amused. I farmed this area for about a half hour trying to find more comedy but was n’ere summoned, alas. I had felt a bit sad about my mediocre performance of the previous day, but nothing cures sorrow like the failure of others.

Having been rebuffed by the Darkness I opted to return to the logical route, into the Depths. This is the first area with a bunch of status effects, rats can poison you and Froggish creatures can curse you. Curse halves your HP and persists through death, however it’s very easy to avoid almost everywhere in the game, including the one boss that curses you, so while almost every review bitches about it this is ultimately insubstantial, a small bar with a skull appears on your screen: run/kill easy enemy, victory. I avoided being cursed for most of the game, so by the time I failed I had 10 purging stones. Additionally the areas with curse are completely optional, though you’d have to know which way to go to avoid some of the frogs entirely.

The boss in this area is the most visually impressive boss in the game. He’s also the first boss you can’t just sit around and block a bunch, you have to avoid him. I did this fight first with White Phantoms accompanying me, one of whom was actually vaguely competent (a rare trait to this point). This heroic fellow assisted me in cutting the tail off the boss and netted me a Dragon Great Axe. Strength Requirement: 50 See: 2 playthroughs later. The other phantom died horribly early on and reassured me of the stupidity of mankind. I died to the boss barely clipping me with his relatively tiny heel (one shot), though he did have the priest’s power buff. I actually liked fighting this boss though so that was fine, I would not have learned how it worked had I killed it with the phantoms. Suffice to say it’s quite possible to do this boss without taking a hit, save for the incredibly annoying priest that takes potshots you for the entire fight, though his attack pattern is very random and there’s a lot of Sound and Fury. For killing the boss I received an enormous amount of souls, almost as much as everything else had given me to that point. I then used them for the purpose most proper, I bought a key. Then I saw a ghostly NPC beyond the door and wrongly figured I’d have to be cursed to fight them, and avoided this place until I was much more powerful and the entire area was trivialized.

The Depths boss drops a key to a door that’s not even in the room, I did not find this door until about 25 hours later. The zone where this links to is accessible from another, much shorter path which I had already known about. Taking this path probably saved me 1-2 hours of relative pain, nicely enough. I still fell to my doom a fair amount, as descending into Blighttown demands, but I did find the Bonfire in relatively short order. I had quite a few mosses from farming forest plants and could cure poison with ease, so I set to exploring the swamp. As there are no Giant Depraved Ones and the lighting is not terrible this zone is vastly superior to the Valley of Defilement in Demon’s Souls, additionally the boss is one of the best designs in the game.

I returned to the Bonfire and summoned some heroic White Phantoms, one of whom looked like a Nazgul, a common theme. A Black Phantom invaded at this point and seemed to be retarded, turns out it was actually an NPC and dropped a bunch of Humanity, so there are BPs after all, though they’re in really obscure places and not guaranteed to appear (have to be human form obviously). We then fought the boss, who killed both Phantoms in a single Nova attack within 5 seconds. Hilariously the Nazgul armor actually comes from the next zone so somehow at least one of these sages had beaten the boss before. I believe bringing phantoms to a boss boosts the HP of it, though I’m not positive so I Homewarded out of there.

Homeward, like Recall from Demon’s Souls, sends you back to the last bonfire. It takes 18 faith which is quite a lot for most classes but it is easily the most useful spell in the game, unless you want to buy a ton of Homeward Bones (easier to get than Nexus Shards from Demon’s Souls) it’s probably the first thing you should go after in a standard run of the game. After I returned to the fire I kindled it a few times and summoned some more phantoms, assuming more hilarity might ensue. One of these phantoms was also wearing Nazgul armor, so they must have slain this mighty foe at some point in the past! But, you guesssed it, they died to the same Nova attack, this time one lived for about 10 seconds longer than the other. I fought the boss after they died and accidentally observed a weakness to exploit, which I used to defeat it on the next try, barely even taking a hit and causing me to question my kindling and rang a bell to clear my thoughts.

Bells opened a path, as expected, in a very impressive mundane cutscene. However I decided to descend further, discovering a lake of fire and a path. The path led directly to a boss with no hostile enemies in between. I approached this boss in an odd fashion which I will not describe here, evidently there are other ways to fight him, but it is absolutely gigantic and quite impressive, if relatively easy. It’s also named Ceaseless Discharge, perhaps the finest naming of a boss in any RPG.

To the path I went, into Sen’s Fortress. This area is the first one in the game where the enemies start to get much harder than your present SL, though they also give you a decent amount of souls. However it’s also a lair of various traps and you can use them to kill the enemy half the time. Notice an asshole leaning against a wall? Roll a boulder on his ass 3 times. See a guy facing you on a bridge past several perilous pendulums? Shoot him with an arrow so he’ll run directly into them. Environmental kills are immensely satisfying, though I guess a tad rare overall. It’s still an interesting improvement over the first game, non mandatory positives are always appreciated.

When you finally reach the roof area of this zone you are greeted by giant flaming boulders and the bonfire is in a rather dickish place (at least it’s not behind an invisible wall), though I think I would have found it offline as well. Boulder tossers have an interesting enough attack pattern and drop good crafting materials, once you get to them. I then fought the Iron Golem, one of the cooler looking fights from trailers. However, despite fighting him on top of a fortress full of Deathtraps I did not even get hit once on my first attempt, though I imagine he could be moderately difficult depending on your approach (mine being melee) and there’s probably at least one attack that’s hard to block. It’s quite possible I’ll die to this boss a few times in New Game+; hence I won’t condemn it too badly (still seemed more difficult than Valley of Defilement tripe).

Now a rather stunning cutscene plays, and you discover that Dark Souls is even more vertical than you ever imagined. When I fell through the world the first day and went through 7 texture packs little did I know every single one of them had their own area. This next area is Anor Londo, a magnificent city which houses tons of fairly difficult enemies and links to four bosses, two of them being optional. I gradually made my way forward, eventually fighting a Gargoyle and cutting off his tail this time. Despite thinking I’d failed to capitalize on getting every tail weapon in one playthrough I actually managed to catch up thanks to the first 5 bosses repeating in other areas as regular or irregular enemies. The tail axe actually has an R2 that bends the weapon, and while it is of specious value it certainly looks awesome.

Unfortunately about halfway through Anor Londo I foolishly decided to summon more White Phantoms, but these dastardly devils were actually competent, ruining my fun and largely trivializing the more difficult part of the zone. One of them had a sword which did almost twice as much damage as my weapon, but thinking on what it could possibly be I actually figured out how to make it myself. Weapons that are crafted from souls actually have tie ins to bosses in this game, so it’s quite possible you’ll figure out how to make whichver weapon you saw a boss use on you. Most of them also have unique special attacks that eat durability.
At the final lobby of this area we faced off against two buffer giant enemies and a Black Phantom invaded. This kindly gentlemen was actually a player and a pyromancer, and melted my two compatriots. I stabbed at him repeatedly with my spear and kept failing to hit due to miraculous dodges, though it turns out this was most likely lag. I just barely took him down and was greatly exhilirated, though he offered many less souls than the NPC phantom. At this point I was paranoid about phantoms and opted to get yet more White Phantoms to assist me for fear of being invaded. Unfortunately they were also both competent and trivialized what was supposed to be a fairly difficult fight. This is where I saw the glory of pyromancy in full effect, as they both melted Ornstein in about 20 seconds, with Smough falling a minute or so later, my melee approach only landing a few scant hits. I think by White Phantoming this zone I saved myself about 5 deaths and 2-3 hours of gameplay, which is unfortunate. However the game was soon to repay my vileness with gravity.

At this point I decided to make the aforementioned sword, assuming it was a sword that the spider boss had used. As it turns out all soul weapons now upgrade from +10 and even if you can’t upgrade them the upgrade and the soul is listed at the blacksmith for whichever weapon you boosted to +10. This is a pretty big improvement over the first game, albeit the sword became a little too powerful for this playthrough. For the most part Soul weapons are absurdly powerful in the first playthrough but deteriorate ever so slightly each run, ultimately being outstripped by normal weapons at the highest upgrade echelons. Eventually I’ll be running around with Crystal x + 5 and enchanting it with some sort of weapon upgrade to do the most damage, though there doesn’t seem to be a warding spell so it won’t work quite as well as it did in Demon’s Souls.

Sword, upgraded shield, and much better armor from Anor Londo gathered I set forth to kill more fools, pausing to shoot fanservice right in the face and changing Anor Londo from a gorgeous sunset to a dark night. This, it turned out, unwittingly closed off two covenants, but it also opened up a boss fight and the best soul grinding spot in the game (possibly bugged, but knowing From they’ll leave it in there). This particular boss was quite interesting, I like all of the non traditional fights in this game and this one is no exception. You run down an infinite hallway chasing a guy who fires arrows and magic at you, I won’t spoil how to approach it but suffice to say there’s several kinds of evasion going on. This boss was the first to give the hefty sum of 40000 souls and I’m told his boss soul also gives the most in the game, (albeit I used it to make his bow) so deciding to murder fanservice seems to be the only choice to me.

Finishing Anor Londo finally nets you a main quest objective and opens several doors which you could have possibly encountered already, all leading to primary bosses from the opening cutscene. I had seen only one of these doors and went straight for that. This area is pretty amazing looking, a nice set of infinitely tall Beauty and the Beast library areas and eventually a crystal cave. However it’s also a Labyrinth and it took me about 2 hours to reach the outside, and another 2 hours and 10 falls to my death (though I did get the trophy securing loot in the process) to reach the boss. The boss is the most difficult in the game if you go after his tail, if you don’t he’s not too hard as one of his attacks’ hitbox seems to be broken. I of course went for the tail (just the tip of the tail) and died about 5 times, learning his attack pattern perfectly in the process. It turns out going for the tail is mostly luck as you wait for him to do a specific set of attacks and pray that he doesn’t do one of them twice in a row.

I now went to explore the forest door I had unlocked many moons previous. On the way I found a hidden bonfire which would have made the walk back to the Butterfly slightly less painful. I still didn’t know if you had to be cursed to fight the invisible guys in this area, but I found out it’s just a ring that makes them untargettable, they can still be hit/blocked. Unfortunately I was a bit too powerful for this area and essentially massacred everything (there’s even some stuff that gives decent soul returns). The boss is likely the easiest in the game and, perplexingly, he also gives the most used soul in the game.

Killing Sif netted me a ring with which I could fall some more. I now descended into the ghost lands, as many transient curses as I could find in hand. It would also have been possible to fight the ghosts here while permacursed, but I didn’t really like the sound of that. I was still fairly powerful for the area and only died from falling a few times, eventually working my way to the boss. I won’t spoil how you get to the boss but I have heard this boss is one of the hardest in the game, I still managed to beat it on the first try. Also you have to be cursed to even hit the boss and fighting it/them while cursed (instead of using the limited items) is probably absurdly difficult, so I was grateful to have beaten it on the first try. Aside from Seath I hadn’t really died to a boss more than once in quite some time, perhaps shortening my game by up to 10 hours.

With this sublime victory I now ventured into a couple of optional areas, one of which you might find and the other probably not (I looked up the purpose of a particular item). Despite being mostly a blind playthrough there’s some hidden things I wanted to do on the first playthrough ensuring it wasn’t wasted, I don’t really think you can spoil a game like this unless you watch a boss kill video or something, learning boss fights is where the game’s difficulty really lies (granted there’s a few labyrinthine areas). I died once to a boss in one of these areas due to being greedy (last possible hit), the second such time I had died, and killed the other one fairly easily.

I now was faced with two choices, one the longest, most difficult standard area in the game, and the other the absurdly dark area of yore. Having fallen a whole bunch so far I decided to hell with it and went into the darkness once more, knowing a method of lightening was to be found somewhere. When you die item messages pop up on the screen, a few of those happened to be light producing so I set out to find them. It turns out the spell version is ridiculously obscure and I never would have found it, so I was just going after the other item.

After falling a few times I eventually made my way to good ol Patches from the first game, who kicked me down a hole with the lantern in it. Said Lantern didn’t seem to work and instead acted as a Placebo for about 15 minutes as I navigated the same darkness without dying, I found the bonfire (no more 10 minute walkback yay) and eventually figured out how to work the lantern. The worst designed enemy in the game is also here, ready to knock you off ledges or just do damage with spazzy animations, thankfully they have low HP and can basically be brute forced as long as you don’t get caught in a heavier hit. There’s also an area where you’re pretty much guaranteed to die (if only you could shoot downward) but the loot is worth it.

Now the area started to light up a bit and the motif of a world tree in the background revealed itself again (almost every underground area shows it). As I made my descent I discovered a wonderful new enemy in the area just before the boss, a perfect rendition of plague babies from the first game. Last game they were just annoying and really ugly looking, now they’re hilariously awesome. Another enemy akin to the boss of catacombs also showed up and died.

Now the boss revealed himself, and despite being relatively easy I did manage to die once since I was rushing the issue. His attack pattern is cool enough that I don’t really have any problem with this boss being relatively easy. He can still do significant damage and so can his minions, if they live long enough to do so. After he fell I was left with one massive area to explore, the one surely intended to be the last regular area in the game.

This was back in lava land, wherein there were now several minotaurs to fight prior to fumbling about for a bit looking for the way to go. I eventually figured it out and had to fight Goats. However this time my shield had much higher stability and they were easily defeated. More Taurus’ were presented, these one’s actually respawning (the horror!), and I wandered into one of the most devious traps in the game and died, though I returned and plucked away with arrows for 10 minutes to avoid this a second time (melee seems highly discouraged against a certain enemy type). I then ran into a boss I had no idea existed, making me quite happy. He wasn’t particularly difficult but it’s always nice finding yet another boss to fight.

As I expected immediately after this boss was another, this one much more odd. The room you fight him in is filled with Lava, so you’ve only a small area to fight to start with (the whole fight in my case), and he has quite a bizarre hitbox on his attacks. I wouldn’t call him difficult persay, just strange. You can get an item midfight to enable you to move around a bit more but it doesn’t seem like it would change the dynamic of the fight at all (though it might improve the camera). Somehow or other Solaire wound up at the bonfire of the spot beyond the boss, though I hadn’t used him in any fights yet (I intend to do a “complete” playthrough doing as many NPC tasks as possible later, probably offline).

The NPCs in this game are generally much more interesting than their Demon’s Souls counterparts, they have silly lines and even the Yurtlike NPC is quite vociferous. One particular fellow wears a ridiculous suit of armor (and is mocked by another character, naturally) and blunders into trouble everywhere. I had rescued him 3 times to this point, as well as his daughter (same silly suit) and found him in the ruins of this penultimate area. Amazingly he did something incredibly badass and helped me out, though I wasn’t fast enough in response to assist him appropriately and this changed the outcome of events. There are several different paths NPCs can take depending on when and how you interact with them. It was fun figuring out some of this stuff by myself, though a lot of the more obscure things seem impossible to crack without spending another 100 hours looking for NPCs (or just looking it up online, if you can find the information).

The next area had about 20 enormous enemies which were difficult to approach but did not respawn (don’t know if this is a bug either, I would hate this area if you had to fight 20 of them each walkback as every one takes quite a while). Mercifully these enemies can hit each other, and once given a nice perch I sniped about 6 of them who all wailed about failing to hit me and crushing themselves, another give/take where the game appears to be dickish for a while but winds up being entertaining in the end. I now made my way to the next boss, which I won’t spoil here. All I’ll say is that you’ll probably die 3 or 4 times, but chances are you’ll die 3 or 4 times every other time you fight him/it as well.

At last the final area was available, which I knew was good for farming and I set about my business. About 20 minutes in I realized there must surely be lots of other people in this area and set down a Dragon Eye. I had gone through 4 different covenants in my time, the Dragon Covenant being the most interesting by far, but getting there is kind of a pain in the ass. Regardless this covenant lets you change your head into a firebreathing drake and lets you duel other players (no penalty) in the covenant for Dragon Scales. There a 3 different “Colorless” Demon’s Souls in this game, all of them easier to gather and especially find than they were in the first game (though Titanite Demons are a little rough).

I was almost immediately summoned to a duel and won fairly handily, using my newfound pyromancy to assist me. However, after several more duels I found that the system is a tad messed up. Almost every time I lost a fight (won about half) it was due to my character lagging behind the other’s by several frames, so on my screen I was blocking from the front and I’d get hit or even backstabbed by whichever attack. I imagine if I intentionally made my connection more laggy I could reliably do this but it’s kind of a shame. Additionally when I hit players still in long recovery animations they would often manage to block. Rolls in PVP seem to give you about 15 more frames of invincibility than they do in the actual game, sadness.

I’ll still do more Dragon Eye duels but I’d really rather fight people that were doing it for fun rather than exploiting the silly mechanics of the game (there’s still a clever rat’s ring and a few “hyper mode” spells). There’s not much skill involved in these fights but they do prove entertaining. Unfortunately Generic mcHavel armor/mask/lightning weapon gets to be a bit dull to fight after a while. The lack of creativity in the playerbase is astounding, but to be expected. Stamina is too easy to level up to the point where you can swing a heavy sword 4 times without pause and spells become less powerful as people start to use better shields (though there’s no easy to use shield good against everything).

55 hours in I’m close to finished with the game, though I’ll probably go farm/explore a few areas for a few hours to ensure I don’t miss anything else on this playthrough. I killed a bastard NPC that blends in with the environment and let another die unwittingly since you have to find them quite quickly after rescuing them, so a near complete playthrough was impossible this time around. I think I was supposed to die 30-40 more times at least which would have extended the game another 5-10 hours, and New Game + is supposed to be harder than it was last time. Next week: new character for either being a dick or helping people, haven’t decided which, nor if I’ll kill the last boss now or later.

Death Count
Black Knights: 5
Skeletons: 2
800 Soul Pyro guys: 1
Falling: 30
Skelewheels: 2
Pinwheel: 0
Titanite Demon: 2
Gaping Dragon: 3
Red Dragon (Fought on the bridge instead of plucking with arrows for an hour): 1
Quelaag: 3
Ceaseless Discharge: 2
Traps: 2
Lizards: 2
Iron Golem: 0
Ornstein and Smough: 0
Gwyndolin: 2
Seath (tail): 5/1
Priscilla: 0
Four Kings: 0
Sif: 0
Lightning Drakes: 1
Stray Demon: 1
Giant Skeletons: 3
Nito: 1
Demon Firesage: 0
Centipede Demon: 2
Bed of Chaos: 4
Lava Drakes: 3
Lava: 3
Rock Worms: 1
Other Players: 5
Incompetent White Phantoms/Hosts: 8
Competent White Phantoms: 4
Soul Level: 75
Time: ~55 Hours
Self Grade: A-