In our last chapter, Onederboy had defeated Smough and Ornstein in the quest to beat Dark Souls without levelling up. In doing this, I was granted the ability to teleport between bonfires, making quick progress throughout Lordran. In order to reach the final boss, I had to get certain souls from the Lords of the land. It's time to get to work.
The Great Grey Wolf, Lord Sif
There's more than one way to beat the game, but by receiving and placing the Lordvessel, I've locked myself into a path that leads to one of the most iconic and beloved boss fights in Dark Souls. Sif is quite beautiful — you want to pet him more than kill him — but he holds a ring the once-great knight Artorias used to traverse the Abyss, hunting the horrors it held. Even though he's not a prime Lord, to get to my destination, I'd have to follow in his footsteps. I'd have to kill his pet and guardian, Sif.
This fight is one of the best examples I can think of when considering the science of what our eyes see. We sense detail better in the middle of our vision, yet we're more responsive to our periphery. And Sif's attacks from the sides come in fast, whereas his facial tells are more subtle.
As Sif swings his sword in big, horizontal arcs, it's tempting to roll "against the grain", maximising avoidance. But occasionally he'll 360 and come back with another swing. It's timed to catch you at the end of your roll, and designed to make you say, "Damn, I keep falling for that!" The solution is to counter-intuitively roll forward, putting yourself directly under Lord Sif. Once in this position, my pyromancy has a heated disagreement with his fur. I mutter a joke about putting fire in his belly, and put an end to a fight far too beautiful to be over this quickly.
Nito — First of the Dead
Making my way back to the Catacombs, I visit the undead blacksmith again and make sure everything is upgraded as far as it can be. I get to test it quickly, as making my way deeper towards the Tomb of Giants, I encounter a necromancer boss who has stolen some of Nito's power. A simple victory, I charge towards him and four hits takes him down.
I slowly make my way forward, in a completely lightless environment in which large skeletal beasts can pop out at any moment, and undead archers shoot from far away. I came prepared with a light source this time, and it's not too difficult to make it to the First of the Dead.
Nito isn't the hardest fight for normal players. His main trick is summoning skeletons to fight you while you're trying to hit him. But for a Onebro, these skeletons can be a genuine challenge. There are six or seven in addition to Nito if you're unlucky. I tend to have three on me while I fight, and I try to position myself so that Nito's attacks damage his own skeletons.
I don the ancient witch's robes again, a very light setup that allows me to roll fast. When Nito hits his own minions, I strike Nito. When he charges up a large AoE attack, I roll away quickly. Rinse and repeat a few times, and Nito is. . . Deader?
Seathe the Scaleless
One of the ancient dragons, Seathe was always jealous of their magical, protective scales. He betrayed his kind so the Lords could rule Lordran, and now he spends his time employing travelers like myself to bring him the scales of fallen dragons, in some sick attempt to hoarde what he coveted before.
The path to Seathe is across a chasm with falling snowflakes. In some areas, the keen-eyed would notice the snowflakes bursting into mid-air, revealing invisible pathways to the boss. I'm a little luckier, and travellers from far away have written messages on the pathways. I sprint across and put on my heaviest gear.
Fighting Seathe carries the danger of being cursed; an affliction that halves your health, and lasts beyond death. It can also stack on itself, as you get more and more cursed. When it happens, a black, crystallised version of yourself is left where you died for others to see, filling Seathe's arena with dark statues in the middle of death throes, where other real players fell.
It takes a few attempts, but my hunch is correct. After chopping a particular crystal that makes him invincible, I'm able to stand right next to Seathe's belly and completely tank him. My gear has sufficient curse resistance and damage protection. I just wail away, and the soul is mine.
The Bed Of Chaos
An odd boss that requires I traverse through an underground lava pit. I take on the Bed's protector, the unsettling Centipede Demon, in just a few tries. Once I'm through, the Bed itself is just a matter of sprinting and jumping across openings created in the ground when it thrashes about.
I miss a few jumps, but when I'm close to the Bed's weak area, I cut through some branches and there's little it can do. Its soul is mine.
That Oolacile Might Be Mended
Okay, so, things are going well. After the last few boss fights, that's three out of four Lordsouls that I'll need to reach the final boss. The last is a soul from the Four Kings, a boss fight that I didn't have much trouble with before, but is notoriously hard for Onebros. Being in the Abyss, it requires Artorias' ring which I obtained from Sif earlier.
In the fight, at first one ghostly King appears, with 100% magic damage in his swipes. A further three Kings spawn successively on a timer, meaning if you fail to kill one in time, the double-team will make easy work of you. Avoiding the magic damage is also a must, requiring careful distance management, hugging the Kings close to duck under their swipes.
Partly because I want this to be a more comprehensive Onebro run, and partly because I'm terrified of the Four Kings, I decide to expand my adventure into the DLC.
Getting into the lost land of Oolacile, introduced in the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, involves a complex sequence of events that include killing a Hydra boss, saving a princess from a golden crystal golem, killing another blue crystal golem, and being fondled by a giant, toothy hand from the Abyss.
Upon arriving in Oolacile, I'm welcomed by the Sanctuary Guardian, a friendly little pup who shows its love with fast, swiping paws, lightning breath, a wind blast that breaks your guard, and a whipping poison tail. It's a good, well-rounded boss fight with a bit of everything. Two hits from it can kill me, but it wasn't that long ago that I beat the Sanctuary Guardian while reviewing the DLC, and the muscles in my hand still remember the movements mere months ago.
There's one element the Guardian doesn't command, and that's fire. I organise an introduction, and make my way to the next bonfire.
Oolacile's forests are actually the pvp forests of Lordran, but from a different time. I run through the paths I already know. Past Stone Guardians with massive AoE on their club slams. Past scarecrow-like gardeners trying to snip me with their shears. I reach the telltale sign of a boss fight — a wall of fog — and prepare myself to face the Great Knight Artorias.
Memorising attacks, working out the best plan... From this point onward, these aren't solutions — they're givens. In order to beat Artorias of the Abyss as a Onebro, I'll have to do better. I'm going to have to become a better gamer.
The Artorias fight is designed to be a blocker's nightmare. According to lore, he saved Oolacile by braving the Abyss. He's a hero. Artorias of the Abyss. The Abysswalker. But the knight who challenges me now knows no honour, or even sanity. His uncompromising purity meant he had no knowledge of the dark, thus no means of defence, and now he'll rain a series of blow on me that won't stop, powered by some force this world doesn't understand.
I'm naturally reliant on my shield, and my hard-fought win over Artorias before was thanks to a high stability greatshield which reduced the impact of his incessant heavy swings on my stamina (which had been increased through souls). I'd have no such luxury this time.
One of Dark Souls' clever tricks is offering up attacks from an enemy that are plainly telegraphed, but look similar. A full second might pass while Artorias flexes his sword-arm, arcing his Abyssblade from his right side to his left. His next swing might begin to his right, but slightly lower, and with an extra fraction of a second wind-up — insidiously tricking you into dodging too early.
That, combined with relentless flipping attacks, makes my stamina bar cower in fear before the hits even connect. There's rarely a moment in the Artorias fight when you can take a breath. Which is why when you see him roll backwards three times, it's so instinctual to reach for your health potion. That's a mistake — the only time Artorias desires distance is when he kneels down to charge up an Abyss-powered, Super Saiyan version of himself that I'm convinced no one but the God-tier of Souls players can beat as a Onebro.
I know exactly what's coming, but my first attempts are pathetic. It's time to try new tactics. What about a full tank build, block-heavy? I try. I die. What about ditching the shield and gripping my club with two hands, substituting blocks for rolls? I try. I die. I just can't get the hang of him changing up his attacks.
Suddenly I have an idea. His three backward rolls, and subsequent charge-up, are my biggest danger but also my saving grace. There's barely enough time to get the necessary hits in to break him out of the charge-up — but I'm still hitting him, right? Maybe I should see that as an opportunity?
Luke — You've Switched Off Your Targeting Computer
A plan is forming. I put the Grass Crest Shield on my back. I won't block with it, but it increases stamina regen. I put on the Red Tearstone ring, which nearly triples my damage when I'm on my last bar of health. To make room for it all, some parts of my body are bare. No gear at all.
On my way to the fog from the bonfire, I intentionally take hits from the gardeners, until I'm on my last bar of health. One hit from anything will kill me. I was a walking mannequin for every risk/reward system in the game; the ultimate in glass cannonery.
Another attempt. Somehow, I dodge every attack from Artorias until he rolls back three times. I run up, and... press the wrong button while trying to switch weapons. Damn. Another attempt. He rolls back, I start sprinting forward, and... Instead of rolling back again, he plunges his sword into my face. Damn. False alarm on his charge-up.
But here's something encouraging — my Red Tearstone-powered Pyro attacks are taking off an eighth of his health. An eighth! Mathematically speaking, my Great Combustion spell with its Red Tearstone bonus should kill Artorias in eight hits. Somewhat serendipitously, I can only use Great Combustion eight times before resting again.
Another few attempts, and I'm knocking him out of his charge-up. I notice that while my club is better at knocking him out of his charge-up, there's also time for one more hit with the club than my Pyromancy. It's extremely tight — Artorias will already be mid-swing by the time my fourth hit is done, requiring an immediate backward roll — but the extra swing triggers my club's bleed effect for additional damage.
I'm feeling a bit anxious about all the weapon switching that goes into this plan. Going from Pyro to club, then two-handed club, while sprinting towards Artorias' charge-up, might be a bit much for just a few seconds. But I knew I'd have to get better... And then something catches my eye.
Artorias seems to always retreat after I knock 2.5-3 bars off health off him. After one or two Pyro attacks, I could pre-emptively switch to my club and charge forward.
This is the key. All the planning, the analysis and problem solving... The growing as a player. This is the essence of Onebro. This is my plan.
I silently praise the sun for the fact that Pyromancy doesn't require stamina, and continue attempts with what I think is "the" plan. Try after try, Artorias' health bar gets lower and lower. I still need to play better. There's no way around that. I need to be more on the ball with my rolls, as there's no margin for error.
But eight hits is all I need, and eight hits, after days of trying, is what I get. I let out an incoherent roar that forces a housemate to look over. "You got him?" he asks. I reply: "Yep." He's been walking into the room, seeing me fight this one dark knight for days, and I think he feels a small amount of the triumph building within me. I must be radiating it.
By putting Artorias down, I've protected his honour. No one will know of his corrupted state, and Oolacile is saved. A beautiful tale, and with typical Dark Souls mastery, told without using many words at all.
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!