Sprinkled throughout Dark Souls' land of Lordran are bonfires, which act as checkpoints. They regenerate travellers, but also respawn the hostile world around them. On our quest to beat Dark Souls as a level 1, becoming a Onebro, we're chronicling our journey, scribbling the events of each chapter — from bonfire to boss.
First off, I make my way to the Ceaseless Discharge, an easily defeated lava demon who guards the robes of an ancient witch, the mother of Pyromancy. It has the best weight to protection ratio for a Onebro, making it pound for pound the most useful gear I'll use, with the added benefit of making you look like a badass ringwraith. Unfortunately it can't be upgraded, so I'll have to find a bin for this sacred garment later.
I also make a series of suicidal sprints to an area I'm way too weak to be in, made possible by the Ceaseless Discharge's death. I pass several Taurus and Capra demons, as well as giant worms which can kill me in one hit, to reach a very large flaming ember, intended for blacksmithing. I'll need this later too.
In the name of said upgrading, I pick up a few precious metals in the Great Hollow before heading over to the Catacombs. This is an area placed cruelly close to the start of the game, full of regenerating skeletons that have probably deterred more than a few people wondering what this whole "Dark Souls" thing was all about.
Slash them apart, and you'll have enough time to keep moving. But seconds later, their bones will start to trickle back towards each other, and you'll have a bleached pursuer. Running through the Catacombs with a small army of skeletons at your back is a breathless experience.
There are two ways to navigate the area safely: obtain a divine weapon, which makes them stay dead, or seek out the necromancer close to each group of skeletons, who thankfully, don't respawn when you rest. I make the decision to skip the whole divine weapon crafting process, and kill the necromancers, making slow progress towards a skeleton blacksmith.
Here is an undead so enveloped with his craft, even in death his hammer doesn't stop ringing. And he's the only one who can use my ember to apply the most powerful upgrade to my spiky club. With that, I'm ready to walk through the giant gate opened by my ringing of the two bells in the last chapter.
It's normal for Souls games to name something like Sen's Fortress and not give you a clue who Sen is. It's part of the understated narrative we love so much about the game. A juicy hint, supplemented with detailed level design, yet rife with gaps for our our imaginations to fill in. It's the reason we latch onto phrases like "Praise the Sun!", or "That the world might be mended", which aren't clever or memorable in their own right, but through our passion of the game, become highly quotable.
But whoever Sen is, I hate him. And I'm damn sure he doesn't like guests.
The fortress itself is just a testing ground - a series of traps and enemies designed to determine whether you are truly the Chosen Undead. There are pathways that may or may not be populated by rolling boulders, elevators which crush you at the top of their shaft, mimic chests that eat you when you try to open them, and blades and spears sticking from everything.
Underneath it all are paths thin enough for just one person, leaving lots of open space for you to observe the spiky death that waits for you down below. It's really quite... Feng Shui.
There's a level of mastery beyond avoiding the traps in Sen's Fortress, and that is using them to your benefit. Luring enemies, running along certain paths, and activating traps at just the right time can turn them into the deadliest weapon you have against the guards. In a would-be 1v2 fight, I can't ignore the traps' potential to wipe out an enemy instantly, evening the odds. It's a Godsend for a Onebro.
I start running past some swinging pendulums, each fitted with massive blades. I pass a half-lizard, half-man trying to block my way, and don't spare him a second thought as he tumbles down. I'm already 20 metres in front of him as I absorb his souls.
Up and up through these pathways I climb, utilising traps so I have to do as little fighting as possible. I escape a tunnel just as a massive boulder rolls past - if I had a hat, I would have reached back for it.
As I'm sprinting through a thin hallway, I hear an odd sound:
There's a moment between when a trap is sprung and the damage is done when you feel the keenest anticipatory pain. A lucid nanosecond filled with regret as arrows spring from the wall and there's nothing you can do. Ah well. Up until now, I've done well to make Sen's weapons my own.
After a rest at the next bonfire, I come across a merchant selling metals I need. He's a downtrodden sort. The type that used to be an adventurer, before he took an arrow to his enthusiasm.
He mentions something about killing whoever's necessary to get by, and in one of my favourite things about the Souls games, I see in his purchasable wares the armour of a less capable traveller I came across before. NPCs have their own stories, agendas, and betrayals in the Souls games. Did he murder the other chap for his gear? Understated storytelling. Brilliant.
At the top of Sen's is the Iron Golem. It's one of those giant boss fights where you end up hacking at its heels, with the added benefit of being on a pathway so narrow, blocking attacks carries a serious risk of being knocked off.
Like a lot of enemies in Dark Souls, if you do enough damage within a certain timeframe, you'll trigger a vulnerable state. My new fire club does just enough damage to send the golem reeling, and I experience a rushed panic while I'm waiting for my stamina bar to regenerate so I can hit him some more.
He recovers, but I know exactly when to roll away from his grab move, which has an incredibly wide hit radius. A few more hits and he's down. Continuing one of the Souls games' bizarre tropes, gargoyles descend from above to carry me to the next bonfire, and the next chapter.
Praise the Fun!
I so rarely get to use the term "church ninjas". Before me is a large cathedral, and my path takes me along the wooden beams in its ceiling, all the while being assaulted by... church ninjas (squee!).
They throw knives, they try on their fast, lengthy combos, but ultimately my balance is better than theirs in these altitudinal altercations, and I make my way across. I cut a chandelier to crush the church ninjas below, before making my way to a massive building where I'll eventually find one of the hardest boss fights in the game, Executioner Smough and Dragonslayer Ornstein.
The Silver Knights of Anor Londo don't concern me. I've parried a thousand of their identical slashes, and replied with a thousand uniform thrusts. My new club's riposte animation smacks my rusty nails, enchanted with fire, directly into their Silver Knight faces. I can do this all day.
The only challenge they pose is a narrow ledge atop a high building, with one Silver Knight at the end, rocking a bow the size of himself. Blocking the arrow pushes one's avatar back a few feet - not good on this ledge - but after a few tries I get close enough for his sword arm to get itchy. Parry. Thrust. I'm in.
My good NPC friend Solaire is waiting by the bonfire for me, and I'll need him for the upcoming fight. Two against one is never good in Dark Souls, even with the most insignificant enemy. I haven't exactly used souls to raise my stamina, meaning I only have enough energy for a few attacks or a few blocks - not both - before I have to let my guard down and recharge.
Here's the problem: When I use my tangible form of humanity, of which I have 15, I become more connected with with the intersecting timelines of Lordran, each with their own adventurers, acting under the belief they are the Chosen Undead. I'll have help from Solaire, but I'll have invasions of a different sort, too.
After summoning Solaire, we make our way over to the giant sheet of fog that separates us from the boss encounter. But before we get there, a message appears on my screen. You are being invaded, it says. This would be a battle with a real player, who has geared towards pvp, with humanity, souls, and perhaps gear on the line.
When my attacker rounds the corner, I see that my assumption that Dark Souls only matches you up with similarly-levelled players was wrong. Such an invasion would have to be another Onebro, intentionally crippling fellow Onebros. But I recognised the hammer this player carried as requiring around 40 or 50 strength to carry - Dark Souls wasn't going to protect me from the higher level bullies.
Solaire and I make the run towards the fog a dozen times, and each time we meet the invader. It's mostly the same one, who I'm unable to kill. Discouraged, I use the rest of my humanity to increase the power of my potion flask. I was going to have to do this alone.
What did I have going for me? As many armour upgrades as you can buy with souls, and the game's crudest weapon paired with its finest enchantment. If there's such a thing as polishing a turd, this is it.
Executioner Smough cuts no small figure. And his armoursmith deserves an award for his craft - golden plates fold and flex in response to a massive, flabby interior. Smough's high-pitched giggles remind me of Hedonism Bot as his little T-Rex arms swing a hammer almost as big as me.
Dragonslaying, on the other hand, is clearly fantastic cardio. Ornstein is able to pounce his lean figure at great speed across the entire room, his spear's pointy end first. Unlike Smough's electric power, Ornstein is able to hurl his lightning as well, a spell the ancient lords used to challenge the dragons.
My attempt isn't pretty. Lord, it isn't pretty. Fighting these two is all about positioning — if Smough is in front of Ornstein, vision of the Dragonslayer is blocked, and his spear could dart through at any time, ending the fight. You need to coax the faster Ornstein in front of Smough, so you have vision of both, and Smough's larger hammer attacks aren't close.
Many of their attacks carry a degree of lightning damage with it, going straight through my armour. They have the annoying habit of dodging away from my pyromancy, and as soon as I kill one, the other absorbs his electric energy, growing in size and regaining full health.
I try a full lightning resistance setup, without much luck. I try to tank it, reducing mobility for heavy armour. I eventually settle on a hybrid setup, the witch's robes mixed with a Silver Knight's gauntlets and boots, with a ring for increased physical protection.
I lose count of how many attempts I do, but I'm pretty sure it's around the same as in my first run of Dark Souls. I aim to kill Ornstein first, and slowly, but surely, every attempt gets Smough's health bar lower and lower. Always backpedalling away from his giant hammer charge. Always darting in for a hit until he triggers a bodyslam. Each of these things is capable of one-shotting me, until I'm at that last, victorious moment.
When you're about to do that final thrust that'll kill the boss, you almost don't want it to be over. It's been hard, but it's been great. Like a good book, it's a shame it has to end. "Do I even want the payoff now?" you ask yourself. "All that time spent mastering this fight, just to end so abruptly?" I briefly consider a few more fights with the bosses, just to toy with them. But in that millisecond, the temptation is too great. Onederboy spanks Smough's belly with a final swing, and then stands motionless as he can sense, in a far off universe, a fist being pumped into the air and a shout of "F*ck yeah!" being stifled for the sake of a sleeping housemate, and the thin wall between them.
I am the Executioner's executioner. I am the Dragonslayerslayer.
The Chronicles Of Onederboy is one man's attempt to conquer one game with one level. These are the life and times of a virtual warrior that refuses to level up in one of the most challenging games available. Do you have any gaming goals over the summer? Let us know how you're going below, and watch out for the next instalment in the Chronicles of Onederboy!