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I've never played... Dark Souls

By Nick Cowen on Thursday 3rd Apr 2014 at 9:11 AM UTC

I am intimately acquainted with Undead Burg. I have traversed its crumbling brick work. I have killed its Taurus Demon. I have fought myriad emaciated undead soldiers and giant plague-ridden rats.

I have died at the blade of the Black Knight and been crushed by the club swung by Havel The Rock. I have stared at the banks of clouds swirling at its base. I have raided every chest and I have broken nearly every table, chair, shelf and barrel. I know every nook and cranny in its twisted multi-tiered corridors.

This is because it took me roughly twelve hours to get out of Undead Burg on my first attempt at playing Dark Souls. It took me a full night to carve a path from the bonfire in an empty room up on the battlements to one on the second floor of a crumbling building just outside the Undead Parish.

According to CVG's resident Dark Souls enthusiast, Tamoor Hussain, that's not bad going. I still fell like a chump, though. After twelve hours and countless YouTube walkthroughs I found I didn't like the character I'd been diligently levelling up.

He was a Knight named Baylock, and while his Endurance and Strength were reasonably high after a time, his sluggish movement irked me. Furthermore, by the time I encountered Andrei Of Astora, I'd run out of souls and couldn't afford any arrows for the crossbow I'd picked up on my travels. Seeing as this blacksmith stands a short distance up a staircase from a Titanite Demon, my path forward became horribly stunted.

Without distance attacks I was basically expected to take on an enemy who could kill me with two or three swipes with its staff at close quarters. Since my character was clad in clunky armour, his dodge and back-step moves weren't exactly nimble. After being killed twelve times on the bounce, I tried running past my tormentor but on the other side of the room containing the Titanite Demon lay Darkwood Garden and its head-chomping, branch-lashing Demon Foliage.

I'm certain there are players reading this who will know where I can travel in the game in order to obtain the assets I need for the Titanite Demon. Chances are, I stepped over them in Undead Burg. After all, I managed to land up in the bonfire room on the battlements a second time without kicking the ladder down - only Dark Souls players will know what the hell I mean by saying that - and I was wholly unaware of what Golden Pine was capable of until Tamoor cryptically alluded to it. I had to look up its properties online.

"The game's tutorial is a bad joke. It offers the basics, nothing more."

It's not like Dark Souls doesn't offer information. It's just that it doesn't offer it intuitively. It doesn't tell you, for example, that the souls you collect aren't just for levelling at the bonfires. They're the currency of the dark and terrible world you inhabit. You can buy items from vendors, repair your armour, equipment and - crucially, if you're about to square off against a Titanite Demon - buy ammunition.

The game's tutorial is a bad joke. It offers the basics, nothing more, and it offers them when you're armed with a toothpick for attack and a dinner plate for protection. It then proceeds to laugh in your face as you try to play it the same way you would any other RPG, knowing that it is in fact nothing of the sort.

Why would the developers do this? Is it because they couldn't be bothered? Is it because they wanted to artificially ramp up the difficulty of their game? Who knows? Who cares? At some point every player who tries out Dark Souls reaches the same tipping point and they either quit or they toss themselves beyond the event horizon.

In the interests of full disclosure, I've existed in both camps. When I first played Dark Souls, I absolutely hated it. Yeah, sure, you're probably thinking I hated it because I've been weaned on a generation of games that offered my inevitable victory as a foregone conclusion. Games in which skill and dexterity have only ever been required by the hardest difficulty level. Games in which players have been spoon-fed the necessities for their progression.

You know what? You're right. Dark Soul presented teething problems. I was initially put on the back foot by the prospect of having to accept that button-bashing and respawning held no reward whatsoever. I had to get my head around learning attack animations in conjunction with the clunky combat mechanics Dark Souls had been magnanimous enough to give me. I found myself walking into every environment I hadn't already traversed with my shield up, my attack coiled, and not really enjoying myself.

But you know what else put me off Dark Souls? The way everyone went on about it. The way the fanbase promoted it. The way it was inferred that if I didn't like Dark Souls, I was in some way an inferior human being to the people who did. This isn't retroactive hyperbole, by the way. This is how one reacts to one of the most smug and sanctimonious fanbases of all time; one takes an implied inference of inferiority and one rejects everything the source of this promotes.

"If you played Dark Souls and don't like it, stick at it. Eventually you will have fun."

To be honest, one of the greatest services some Dark Souls fans could do for the game they're eulogising would be to shut the hell up about it. It's an amazing game and the idea that a people could be put off it by the community-based hyperbole says more about the community than it does about the game.

If you have played Dark Souls and you don't like it, I'd advise you stick at it. Eventually you will have fun - even if it's not the sort of fun you expected. The reason being that Dark Souls takes a tin-opener to the neck of everything we understand about contemporary games.

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But just don't take it all to seriously. Dark Souls is a game. Games are supposed to be fun. This is if you can be bothered to play it. If you can be bothered to learn it. If you can be bothered to tell me what Golden Pine does. And where you can find it in Undead Burg...

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