Colin Le Sueur

Colin Le Sueur
Colin Le Sueur

Dark Souls: The Exploration of Death

It took me a couple tries to get into Dark Souls. I first tried the early PC port and wasn’t really impressed. The game looked dated and didn’t play well. I couldn’t get past the first big enemy and I soon grew frustrated. I’d heard amazing things about Dark Souls but I couldn’t see the appeal of the PC version. I uninstalled and largely forgot about it.

But over time I kept hearing great things. Eventually I decided to try the Xbox 360 version but again I didn’t play too much. I’m a PC gamer at heart so I thought I’d give it one last chance on PC. This time I applied the much-discussed DSFix, a patch developed by Peter Thoman. Turns out this patch is pretty much mandatory for playing Dark Souls on PC as it fixed my major gripes with the port. Finally, no more last-gen framerate and resolution. At last I’d found my way into the world of Dark Souls.

Nothing’s easy in Dark Souls, even from the beginning. You’re basically dropped into the story with minimal setup or introduction. The game’s presentation isn’t very helpful either. There’s no in-game explanation of core gameplay concepts like Humanity and Kindling. Even when it comes to combat the game doesn’t hold your hand. The short sequence that serves as your tutorial ends in a fight with a massive demon that you’re almost guaranteed to lose. You’ll die. Over and over.

You quickly get used to dying in Dark Souls but that’s definitely part of the appeal. Progressing is all about incremental improvements, whether levelling skills or learning the environment. I like to do loops in Undead Burg, collecting souls in a relatively safe area, one I know fairly well. I grind souls and use the grind as a warm-up for new, more dangerous areas.

I look at Dark Souls as a type of puzzle game. You need to learn the movement, position, and patterns of enemies before you can successfully move from one area to another. Every new area seems daunting at first, with unfamiliar new enemies and environmental hazards. However, after I get to know an area my perception changes. I look at the familiar enemies as helpful, even friendly. Oh, there are the stone knights that give 1000 souls but hit really hard. Hey, it’s those skeleton archers. Familiar enemies help to push me into unfamiliar areas.

I tend to play Dark Souls in cycles. I’ll get frustrated with trying to push into a new area and take a break. After awhile I’ll come back, do a loop of a familiar region and try again to push onward. For me, Dark Souls is a game of exploration; not only exploring the vast world but also the mechanics, enemies, and tactics. Of exploring what gameplay works best for you. It took me ages to realise that the class you choose at the beginning is a shortcut to how you want to play.

I discovered the first merchant purely by accident and was amazed to find he sold a variety of weapons that drastically changed my playstyle. Now I tend to use a halberd for reach and lighter armour to maintain mobility. I play with a mix of offence and defence, as I haven’t yet mastered the parry mechanic. I haven’t started using magic, but I probably will on subsequent playthroughs.

In all my videos I’ve highlighted how much I prefer games where you can choose your own playstyle. That’s a huge selling point for me with Dark Souls and I didn’t even realise how central that concept was before playing. Because there’s so little prompting from the game, you decide your path and playstyle.

With a little dedication, memorisation, and determination, I’ve pushed through countless deaths and fought my way through a very small part of the game. At the moment I’m enjoying the challenge and the experience of exploring the world of Dark Souls and I look forward to what will undoubtedly be multiple playthroughs.

For an excellent and indepth analysis of the story of Dark Souls, check out George Weidman from Super Bunnyhop’s recent Critical Close-up episode on Dark Souls. I’ll link it in the description below.

Colin Le Sueur
Friday, May 2nd, 2014
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