It’s that time of year again. A new Dark Souls is upon us and I feel the draw of the game pulling me in. So despite my hatred for the game series, it sits drawing me in on top of my PS4. Why do I do it?
For me, it’s very simple. The lure of the challenge is too great. The Souls series of games and Bloodborne to a lesser extent, are widely accepted as the greatest mainstream challenge in gaming. They have the formula of risk and reward down to a fine tee. But they are notoriously difficult and unsuited for someone, who doesn’t dedicate themselves fully to the challenge. Here is where they always get me. Whether I play a game for review or pleasure, my style of play lends itself to mastering a game and getting to a point where I can leave it for a while before resuming when I feel the need. This is the polar opposite attitude needed for the Souls’ games and I believe why I never can see them through to completion.
These games are so beautifully designed, that they require you to dedicate all your playing time to them. Starting off as a standard third-person hack and slasher, albeit with a beautiful art style, Dark Souls soon hooks you in with its detailed combat system. Some people laud it for being responsive. I prefer to think of it as realistic. Pick up a sword or shield and try to swing it. You can’t immediately lift and swing it again. Such is a Souls game. Swing a sword in this and you cannot swing again immediately. Miss and you are dead. This simple mechanic lives and breathes through the game and in your first four to five hours becomes all encompassing. You start to think more about each swing, you wait to see what a newly encountered opponent will do before attacking and you accept each death as the ‘learning experience’. Where it starts to fall apart for me, is usually around the third boss.
By this stage, you are adept at the game and have developed your own style from the variety of weapons and class builds available. You feel confident and ready to plough on with the game. Unfortunately, the difficulty of the game scales with your ability. It continues to rise as you get better. While this is a feature, that should be in all games, In the Souls games, the difficulty doesn’t scale at the same rate as your ability. It actually gets harder as you get better, forcing you to go back and grind and farm your way through areas previously conquered. While it never becomes boring, the lack of tangible progress in the game over the course of play sessions grinds me down. You can literally play a few hours each night and be in the same place storywise at the end of the week. You should be stronger of course, but anyone who likes to check for progress markers as they go will soon be broken.
If you manage to get over this hump, the true beauty of the game will reveal itself. You will learn when to risk a few more areas before bonfire and when to save often. You will get a handle on what kind of character suits you. This is where I struggle. I start wanting to be a dextrous swordsman, using my skill and stamina management to weave my way through the enemies. Unfortunately soon, I find myself stuck against an enemy that requires a heavier approach. I change and all of a sudden my character’s identity is lost. Without the character I want to identify with, the game soon becomes a struggle. Add this to the punishing difficulty and lack of progress, means it becomes very easy to leave it on the shelf and put in a different game.
When the different game goes in, Dark Souls soon gathers dust, before trading. If you do manage to lift it and pick it up again, the skills you learnt are long gone. The cycle of despair is complete. I tell myself, this time, will be different. Respected journalists like Jeff Cannata, Patrick Klepek, and others can do these games, even with the drain of having to play other games for review. Why can’t I? I fear the real reason lies deeper. Dark Souls 3, is meant to be a refinement of the series, perhaps even the last game set in the Souls, medieval universe. This is the perfect time for me to have one last stab at the series. I was competent at Bloodborne, despite losing the will halfway through, I enjoyed the fact that the depressing and oppressive nature of the surroundings, was starting to fade, It was becoming just another game, a difficult one but still a game designed by man that could be beaten by a man. Unfortunately, it seems to be a game series that I enjoy watching others beat and toil against whether via their written works or on twitch or youtube. Despite this, I have the game. It sits there emanating an evil and temptation that I know will bring me nothing but frustration and pain.
However, there is always a chance. This will be the time when I pick the correct character class. I will not think the depraved option is for people who want an all-rounder. I will learn to dodge and roll and not panic when I see enemies. I will manage my stamina bar and learn how to parry. I will not be stuck on the outside as the rest of the gaming world battle their way through. I am not completely useless, I’ve done Mile High Club on Veteran, I have finished most games I begin. I used to be unstoppable on ISS 64… Of course, time moves on and the reflexes and ability to devote hours in the day to one game are gone. But the soul is still there and one day I will finish a Dark Souls game.
My journey begins again.