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-

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