My Dark Souls II experience will be different. This time I am alone. Utterly alone.
My playthrough of the original Dark Souls was a journey I took with other, with my brother and brother in-law. We all played together, shared in the grief, the pain, the delight. It was also a journey I took with my entire goddamn twitter feed every time I whinged about a boss fight, asked for advice, agonised over gear choice.
This time it’s just me, the controller and the game. It feels strange.
And that’s why I’ve decided to keep this diary. To create a space where I can share my Dark Souls experience with others. It’s an experience designed to be shared. For this moment in time we’ll all be in the shit, but we’ll be in it together. Let’s drag each other’s broken bodies out of the mire and celebrate! There will be death, there will be profanity, there will be pain. There will also be mild spoilers.
Welcome to my Dark Souls Diaries.
Last night, after a series of false starts (being a husband and a dad is hard work) I finally started Dark Souls II.
For context: I’ve only very recently finished Dark Souls. I literally finished it a couple of weeks ago. Even then, years after its initial release, the original Dark Souls registered itself as one of the greatest gaming experiences I can remember having. It’s now my favourite video game since… Christ. Metroid Prime? I guess that makes it my favourite game of the last decade.
So my anticipation is high. My fears for the series, too, are high.
Like all 'Souls' fans, I worried about the info leaking in the months leading up to the release of Dark Souls II: the bonfire teleportation, the non-respawning enemies. Metroid Prime, Halo – sequels to games I absolutely love always seem to disappoint on some level. So I worried.
And I continue to worry.
It’s funny. The opening cut-scene of Dark Souls wants to dispel those fears. You worry that the game has changed, that it's easier. The game wants to reassure you. In the opening of Dark Souls you are welcomed to the game by what can only be described as an unruly gaggle of old crones. Their whole purpose, it seems, is to rip the complete and utter piss out of you. They spend a good 15 minutes laughing at you, teasing at the fourth wall, telling you how completely and utterly fucked you are for playing this game, telling you how often you’re going to die.
My favourite part: one old crone pipes up, “oh you never know, he might have a chance,” or something to that effect. A beat. Then they all just collapse into cruel crone cackles of laughter.
Great. So I’m totally fucked then.
Somehow, I’m warmed and reassured by this fact.
Other things worry me slightly. Plenty won’t notice it, but coming straight from Dark Souls to Dark Souls II has made me hyper sensitive to a few things.
General movement is the issue that concerns me most. In Dark Souls your character feels heavy, completely and permanently attached to the world he/she exists in. In Dark Souls — even at your lightest, no armour, nought but a scabby loincloth – you plod. You don’t walk, you plod. The feeling, that weight, is a little off in Dark Souls II. I feel like I’m skidding. I feel a bit disconnected. I hope it’s a feeling I can get past.
As for the bonfire situation: I was never convinced this could possibly be a good idea and I’m still struggling with it. In the beginning of the game you are asked to find a key. After about 30-40 minutes I found that key. It was right next to a bonfire. I teleported straight back to the location where the key was required. I felt a bit weird about that.
In any other game it would have been fine, but in Dark Souls? Part of the appeal is learning how this intricately designed world connects and intertwines. In the original Dark Souls I felt completely at one with the environment. I felt like I belonged there because I knew it so well. I know every single square inch of that game, and I worry that I’ll lose that feeling in Dark Souls II.
Because backtracking is important. Backtracking is one of the most underused design techniques in gaming. Almost all the games I truly love feature backtracking: A Link to the Past, Metroid Prime, Dark Souls. I want every aspect of Dark Souls II’s environment to become a part of my experience with the game. I hope that sensation isn’t lost.
The combat has evolved. Already I am in love.
Dark Souls II is constantly finding new ways to keep me on my toes. The old techniques I used to rely on – rolling through legs, circling left, backstabbing – they’ve all been subtly tweaked.
In short, my old techniques aren’t worth shit and this is a good thing.
It’s a very good thing. I worked hard to master the techniques required to crawl through Dark Souls and I want a similar experience from Dark Souls II. I want to struggle, I want to die, but more than anything I want to learn. I want to master something again. I want that process to mean something.
In my last moments with Dark Souls II late last night, a massive bird-like creature swooped in, dropping off what looked like a giant knight of some kind. I slashed, I swung my weapon. ‘He’s big,’ I thought, ‘so he must be slow.’ I timed his first swing, tried to roll to his left. In Dark Souls the roll often felt like a big ‘win’ button.
He hit me. During my roll. What the hell? In my confusion I lost patience. I was reckless. I swung my axe with wild abandon. In seconds I was dead. I was angry. I was pissed off at myself. But I learned a valuable lesson.
I'll be updating with new Dark Souls II Diary posts throughout the month! I'm looking forward to playing through the game with all of you by my side. Stay tuned!