Everyone talks about how difficult Dark Souls II is. People rarely talk about how funny it is.
But the Souls games really are very funny. The developers at From Software are a very specific type of smart — careful, calculated, and deliberately punishing, if never quite cruel. But all of their game's taut toughness is packaged with some delightfully twisted, subtle humour.
I began to play the PC version of Dark Souls II last weekend, and I'm fully hooked. I'll have a lot more about this game over the coming weeks, which should be fun since I know a lot of you have already played. For now, I wanted to share a joke from the early part of the game that made me laugh.
It happens in the small town of Majula, where your character arrives after fighting through the tutorial (or skipping it because it looked too scary). Majula is a safe haven, a place where NPCs you meet along the road gradually congregate to hang out in peace and peddle their wares. There's a blacksmith, an armour salesman, and a sad hooded woman who lets you level up. It's practically Club Med!
The first good joke about Majula: There's a huge pit in the middle of the town. If you fall into it, you die, even though there are some items on some planks midway down that you can eventually snag if you get the right piece of equipment. So right up front, Dark Souls II is saying, "Welcome to this nice safe haven! Mind the drop, it will literally kill you."
And then you meet the pigs.
Around the side of Cale the Cartographer's house, there are these three little pigs. They oink, but in a typically Dark Souls kind of way: Throaty and disturbing. The first time you see them, you're probably a low-level jerk who just arrived at Majula with some terrible sword and some really bad armour. And if you're like me, you probably think, "These pigs should be easy to kill!"
The joke of the pigs, of course, is that they actually aren't very easy to kill. Each one is a tiny little hitpoint sponge, at least for a low-level character. Worse, they do a fair bit of damage every time they hit you, and there are three of them. So of course, the curious player will immediately set about trying to kill them, just to see what happens. And what happens when you do defeat them? You get a measly 20 souls apiece, which hardly seems worth the trouble.
The joke works on a lot of different levels — the obvious "Three Little Pigs" reference, the shitty reward for killing a pig, and the fact that they're as likely as not to humiliate a starting player. Really, the pigs seem almost like a riff on the sort of RPG enemy you never see in Dark Souls — the easy-to-kill little beastie, the rats or bats or spiders in the basements of most other RPGs. In any other game, the Majula pigs would be a one-hit-kill that you can use to farm a tiny bit of extra XP, but not here. Dark Souls doesn't waste time with that kind of wimpy crap.
(Small spoiler) And then, the real punchline comes much later: Chris informs me that eventually, giant versions of these pigs turn up in the game, and they're much harder to kill than their wee counterparts. Ha. (End small spoiler.)
I'm enamoured of Dark Souls II's intricate design, but I'm just as enamoured of its humour. Those subtle, bitter jokes: The first appearance of The Pursuer, that jerk with the bow and arrow above the first area with the Heide Knight, these stupid killer pigs... Dark Souls II's jokes make you laugh, and then cry, and then laugh again. And then, on the eighth time, cry again.