On Saturday I had a realisation. I had been playing Dark Souls games, almost non-stop, for about two months now, to the exclusion of all other games.
I had this thought after being completely stuck for three hours, wandering aimlessly from area to area in an attempt to figure exactly where the hell I was supposed to go next. Severe burnout. At around 8pm on Saturday night, I turned off Dark Souls II and, for the first time since I started playing the series, had no urge to turn it back on again.
A very unfamiliar feeling. And it had spawned from my own strange sense of guilt. Before I started playing Dark Souls II I made a loose commitment to myself: no summons, no googling, no asking for outside help, no using FAQs. It was a silly commitment in a way, Dark Souls as a game is designed to be discovered on a communal level, but I thought I’d give it my best shot.
And this was partly why I struggled so much with the Ruin Sentinels, a boss fight I found extremely difficult, but others found easy. I spent two or three days straight trying to beat these bastards, but it was worth it. When I finally took them down? Oh man. That feeling. Complete zen. Complete controlled adrenaline, like an illegal injection into my nervous system. Bliss.
Not once did I feel the urge to look up FAQs, to get advice on how to beat the Ruin Sentinels. I knew I would be able to beat them eventually, that it was just a matter of time.
But on Saturday night, after roughly four hours exploring every nook and cranny, looking for a new area to explore, or a new boss to fight, I gave up. I cracked. I looked up the solution online and I felt utterly, utterly crushed by the game, for a completely different set of reasons.
For context, I had taken down two great souls; taken them down relatively easy. I had an incredible sense of momentum and felt unbeatable. I was then halted in my tracks by a complete lack of direction. No idea where to go next. This is mild spoiler territory, but the solution to my issue was one I most likely would have never guessed: I had to exhaust dialogue options with a minor side-character I had completely forgotten about, so she would move to some random area and then help me unlock a new random area.
Random being the operative word here.
I couldn’t help feeling like Dark Souls II had betrayed my trust. Just a little.
Because Dark Souls had spent the last 75 hours of my life (50 with the original, 25 with the sequel) telling me some things: telling me it was a game about combat, about gear, about exploration; that it was a game about beautiful, seamlessly intertwining mechanics, a game with a seamless world, seamless design. Not once had the game taught me it was an adventure game where one had to exhaust dialogue options. Never.
And for all the discussion of Dark Souls and its difficulty, it was never a game that asked you to do something random. It was never a difficult game in that obtuse way. Sure, Dark Souls often refused to explain its systems, refused to guide you – but this felt different. It felt unfair in way that Dark Souls was never unfair before.
In short, I was a bit gutted. I blamed the game for misdirecting me. For ‘forcing’ me to ask for help when I didn’t want to.
I was burnt out.
I haven’t played since. On Sunday I did not play Dark Souls. I didn’t even turn on the console. I suspect, however, that it’s only a matter of time. Time heals all wounds. I will forgive. Or maybe I’ll just forget.