The Dark Souls II Diaries: Burn Out

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.


    I swear when the game just came out multiple authors on Kotaku warned us of not exhausting dialog options, that's the reason I didn't have this problem!

      Yup! I was tapping A to talk like crazy. You get lots of goodies too.

      yeah, I read a lot of 'Tips For Playing Dark Souls' articles to avoid precisely this problem.

    I had a similar instance with Ass Creed. I finished number 2 (he-he) then immediately played through Brotherhood. I was a few hours into Revelations before I was burnt out. I still have "Assasino burnt into my memory banks and haven't touched another Ass Creed since.

    Man, I wish I could play Dark Souls 2 for two months. But then my roommate decided that dial-up connection speeds was adequate.

    I'm stuck at the ruin sentinels too. I tried all night last night attempting to kill them to no avail. I dropped down prematurely, and to face all 3 of them. Lasted pretty long to but died.

    I had to change my playstyle completely just to stand a chance in that fight.

      also bashing my head against them, i have defeated them heaps of times as a phantom but whenever I try myself i either stuff up the timing, get knocked off the platform early or get a phantom who is not prepared (to die)
      tonight is the night.

    Oh yeahhh, I'm already getting that feeling with DS1. Not to say I feel like stopping because I felt misdirected by the game or anything, just that its been too consuming lately. Need to pause for a while to enjoy it properly again.

      I have a suspicion it's because you've reached the point of mastery where it no longer feels alien and threatening? I hit that point a couple of bosses after Anor Londo. The path to the end felt like a formality.

      My interest picked up again once I beat the game and rampaged through NG+, but I'm looking forward to the break after I finish it one more time. Still adored the first 60-odd hours though!

        Yeah good call. I fought the Four Kings last night and my strategy was to just stand in front of them hacking away. So... not so much strategy as my guy has become too strong? But yeah, all my deaths are from rushing or stupidity rather than strategy.

          That's a common complaint with the end game of Dark Souls. Once you've beaten O & S the remaining bosses can easily be tanked through. Except for the final boss fight, which I loved.

          I don't mind that pacing so much. It's quite a powerful feeling. And it allows you to feel that mastery for a while. I enjoyed it.

            That's why I'm enjoying NG+. Beating previous nightmares like Capra Demon, Sif, Queelag, Gargoyles and the Iron Golem on first or second attempt is glorious.

            Though unsurprisingly, I'm stuck on frigging O&S. Especially because I need to kill Smough first to get 100% completion.

              Running continually backwards firing magics at them was my only hope. I had no other working strategy, at all

                Pyro! PYRO! :D

                  Nahhhhhh just regular magics. I cant remember what theyre called, great soul arrows or something. I havent even tried pyro :3

              Use summons, and start attacking Smough first. They should hopefully get the idea if they're experienced. If you notice someone's taking down Ornstein first, make sure you have the banishment stone handy to get those phantoms gone. Then quit out or homeward bone out and try again.

            Someone *hint* *hint* *nudge* *nudge* needs to write an in-depth article about the psychological effect of Dark Souls including:

            - The reward system (also contrasted to the reward system in Diablo)
            - How the difficulty links in with the subsequent rewards
            - How finally beating a boss after numerous attempts makes you feel and why
            - How the dark affects your mind and what it's like to finally see daylight
            - What it's like to place a value on your life in the game within the context of a certain boss (which I can't spoil too much) that requires you to hand over one humanity each time you want to fight, thus increasing what's at stake - which in turn also increases the reward system in your brain
            - What it's like to learn (or not) through subtle dialogue, hints and metaphors as opposed to having a story/concept shoved down your throat
            - The reward in accomplishing things yourself without any hand-holding vs conceding the fact that you need to sometimes rely on others in life (coop summons)
            - Why does it hook you in so much?
            - The risk vs. reward system of having to hold on to your souls or spend them now

            And so much more. It's an amazing game when it comes to understanding human psychology I reckon.

              *cough* *cough*

          I finally beat the Four Kings last night using power within. I was stuck for two days until I decided to throw flair out the window.

          Trying to get through Dark Knight Artorias. Even with Iron Flesh and Havel's gear, he's slowing me down.

    Burnout is the main reason why I'm not playing Dark Souls II any time soon. I've also been playing Dark Souls I for the past month or so to the exclusion of everything else. It has been engaging, I've loved the challenge, and I'm determined to get the last few achievements now that I've come this far, but I'm just about done. Let's talk again in six months' time - possibly when the next-gen versions are imminent.

      Man I would buy it again if it came to PS4, I think it's fairly likely, the demand is there and developers have stated that if there is that demand that they would consider it.

        I'm surprised Demon's Souls was not released on PC/360.

          I have only played Dark Souls 2, and having played only 15 hours i love it, it really is the game I've been searching for for ages. I've since picked up Demon's Souls and Dark Souls 1 and will get to them soon hopefully!

          it was a ps3 exclusive, made with help from SCE JAPAN, and that's the simplest answer.
          it was lucky to get a release outside of Asia imho, i had a Hong Kong version that i got form ebay (Chinese/English version), but Atlus came to the rescue and the rest is history.

    I've slowed down in Dark Souls 2 for a completely different reason: capped internet.

    Having switched from a plan with unlimited downloads to one with a download limit, I haven't gotten used to the idea of paying attention to how much internet flows through the pipes. Now I can't patch Dark Souls 2 (it keeps failing out around 5%) and the idea of playing offline simply isn't as appealing.

    Also, I can't help but notice bits and pieces of Twitter conversations falling into these articles. It's rather neat.

    I know the feeling Mark, I must be about 3/4 through and my problem is that I just can't leave the side areas alone. I don't know what it is, but I literally couldn't finish either bell for ages due to instant invasions of multiple people at a time. Rat people might be cowards, but you are never against two people at once when you get summoned. I am currently attempting a mundane run, with the zeiwander offering interesting results.

    Yeah I might be heading that way too, unfortunately.
    It's a bit too close on the heels of my onebro run, which I also almost burnt out on.
    Might have to go easy on it for a bit.

    I feel this uneasy tension between obsession and burnout every time I pick up one of the Souls games. I have no idea what this says about me, but the end result is that no matter what I want, I can't let it go until I beat it.

    Dark souls 2 is one of the first games that I just haven't been able to "get". Never played the other in the series, bought it for 360 the other day.
    I watched the intro cut scene and thought "cool".

    After getting through the early part of the game and making it to the 1st village, I felt lost which was refreshing. It was actually quite liberating but shocking to not feel like the game is "hand holding" me. I liked that feeling but i wasnt used to it. Awesome!

    After playing further I have (still very early in the game) the game still hasn't grabbed me. I like the combat and the harshness of the game, but I dont like the menus system and working out inventory/equipment.

    i feel lost completely in this game about what I should be doing and am running around aimlessly.

    Im happy sucking at this game.......Im not happy sucking at loving this game....Help?

      First off, if you're having any trouble understanding the menus the Help function is your friend (it's Select on ps3, not sure about 360 sorry). I overlooked this for ages and it explains all the stats etc.

      The thing about Souls games is that they're full of misdirection to make you play the game wrong. I'm not sure why Mark thinks is a recent stumble in DS2, because it was way worse in DS1 and DS.

      So here are the guidelines I had to discover for myself to make sure I'm "playing the game right" (and this applies to all Souls games):
      - Don't worry about hoarding souls. They're easy to come by and it's only worth doubling back if you have enough to level up.
      - "Move fast and break things" is apt when it comes to Souls games. More often than not, the easier way to kill enemies is to rush them, and if this strategy is wrong you'll quickly find out. It's better to experient than play it safe all the time.
      - If an area is too hard, you're probably in the wrong place. You've probably missed a zone that is much easier (in DS2 Forest of the Fallen Giants is the first zone by difficult, imo).
      - If a boss is too hard, you're either really undergeared, or your strategy is WAY off. Failing that, there's probably a switch somewhere in the level that makes the boss easier.

        there's probably a switch somewhere in the level
        perfect dark souls solution

    I fought the Sentinels yesterday and after some advice from someone else I've been watching, switched to dual maces (or morning stars for me)... It's kind of like cheat mode because almost nothing survives the poise drain. That said, I have had to switch to my crowd control gear of a bastard sword and knight shield a few times but dual maces is a lot of fun. That said, I've had quite a few times where I haven't figured out where I'm supposed to go next and even though I've defeated about 10 bosses so far, none have been the important ones and not all were necessary for progression. I'm not sure how I feel about that and identify with the motivation loss to continue. It seems there's a lot more reliance on trial and error this time round.

    100+ hrs in DS1, now up to 55hrs in DS2 (170 levels, 175 deaths. Not winning that race, nope.)

    When did DS2 come out? 55hrs in that amount of time shouldn't be possible with the hours and jobs I work. But lack of sleep and me? We've made it work. Totally not sustainable.

    I know EXACTLY the point you're referring to Mark. I spent ages wandering around looking for where to go as well before I stumbled onto it. In my case I'd exhausted the dialogue, but hadn't walked past the NPC's new location since doing so.

    It feels a touch poorly designed imo. As vague as Demon's/Dark Souls were in terms of story and direction at times, I never found myself wandering around without anywhere to go. It makes me wonder if this was an intentional design choice, or just the result of the level design. *shrug*

    As for the burnout, I can understand the need to take a break. Souls games are one of those that you really need to be in the right mental space to enjoy properly. No point forcing it if you aren't in the mood. You'll just end up getting tired and frustrated.

    I actually haven't been on Dark Souls 2 for a few days now for exactly that reason. I've been having some issues with my anxiety medication, and if there's on game you don't want to play while having anxiety issues, this is it.

    "Not once had the game taught me it was an adventure game where one had to exhaust dialogue options."

    Not entirely true. There are ALWAYS multiple ways to go and multiple entrances to most areas. You can even skip entire areas. But generally, if there is someone hanging around a bonfire, they are not minor characters. They are principle characters and you should talk to them.

    I've just cleared the last of the 4 great souls. I've found tanking with my Dark Nudist - no armour, just a great shield with 100% damage reduction and +10 lightning claymore - to be the easiest strategy for taking out the bosses. I'm finding DS2 to be much easier than DS1 and it is much more forgiving. More bonfires, can fast travel between bonfires (without unlocking the ability to fast travel), easy access to blacksmiths etc. It's almost too easy. I've only summoned help for one boss but purely as a distraction, and have taken most out while hollow. There's almost always a bonfire right near a fog gate so you don't have to speed run back to the boss.

    Bring back the difficulty. Demon's Souls was completely unforgiving.

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