Chasing The Dragon With Dark Souls 3

Inhaling the intoxicating vapour that is Dark Souls is a dangerous life choice. You’re going to find yourself caught up in something largely outside your control. An endless loop with no real escape or respite.

There’s a term for that: ‘chasing the dragon’.

‘Chasing the dragon’ describes drug use -- the consumption of heroin or opium specifically. It’s a slang phrase, referring to the process of burning and inhaling class A drugs.

But it’s also a metaphor.

Chasing the Dragon: the fruitless pursuit of an initial high. An attempt to recreate that first drug induced experience; an attempt to recreate that bliss, to re-achieve that dreamlike state.

I wouldn’t know. I’ve never tried heroin.

But then again maybe I do. I have, after all, played a lot of Dark Souls.


Over the past month I’ve been thinking a lot about the appeal of Dark Souls and why I’m so compelled by it. Why it’s so hard to stop playing once I start. No other game has the ability to ensnare me like Dark Souls.

Once upon a time games writers tossed around the term ‘addictive’ (or its bastard son ‘addicting’) like it was a good thing. That term was a mark of greatness, but very few games (particularly in the last decade) have felt compelling. I have enjoyed games -- obviously – but do I tend to play them in fairly discrete, short blocks of time. Even games others describe as ‘time sinks’ (like Fallout or Grand Theft Auto) after a couple of hours I’m more than happy to take a break and move on with my day.

This is not the case with Dark Souls.

With Dark Souls I have to drag myself away. With Dark Souls I do that thing. I look at the clock and say ‘holy shit, 4am? I have to get up in two hours.’ Why is that?

My brother in-law was watching me play Dark Souls recently and he used another term: ‘pot-committed’. I was 20,000 souls deep, miles from a bonfire in a strange land. After a long brutal struggle, a random scabby dog bit me in the ass.

“You died”.

In any other game that would be enough. I’d go and clean the kitchen, make a cup of tea, head off to bed. Not this time. Quick as a flash I was back in. Gotta get my souls back. Gotta get those souls.

“It’s so fucking hard to stop playing this game,” I said in passing, to my brother in-law sitting on the couch.

“Yeah, you’re pot committed.”

Holy shit.

Yes.

In that moment it all made sense. The manner in which Dark Souls gives you this currency, shows you all the reasons why that currency matters, has you lose that currency, then gives you a single opportunity to retrieve that currency. Here’s another gambling term: double or nothing. When you’re that goddamn deep, it’s almost impossible to walk away. But sooner or later you’re leaving that goddamn casino with nothing but lint in your pockets.

In that sense, you’re chasing a different type of dragon.


But there’s the grander chase.

Dark Souls 3 is a wonderful video game. Slowly but surely I starting to realise that. My initial disappointment regarding its structure, and its lack of a truly integrated universe, has given way. Now I’m enjoying Dark Souls 3 on its own terms. I’m in the process of parsing exactly how good Dark Souls 3 is: its intricacy, its wonderful design, its beauty. Dark Souls 3 is the most beautiful game From Software has ever produced.

I’m getting to the point where I’m asking myself the question: is Dark Souls 3 the best Souls game?

It might just be. In terms of the nuts and bolts – the combat, the enemy design, the environments, the depth and verticality of each individual area – Dark Souls 3 is peerless. It’s the cumulative end point of what From Software has been working towards for over a decade. In a sense it’s the game we all hoped Dark Souls 2 would and could be. If it were possible to be objective about these kinds of things, you might just say that – yes. Dark Souls 3 is the best Dark Souls game.

But it’s not possible to be objective about these things.

The first time I played Dark Souls 3 I listened to that sound. The sound Dark Souls makes, that echoes each time you enter a new area. A sound that has the power to make my entire skeleton shake. There’s a visceral, pure reaction there that just affects me. It’s uncontrollable, the end result of hundreds of hours spent playing Souls games. It represents a long, harrowing journey. A journey that began – for me at least -- with the very first Dark Souls game.

You’re never going to get that first experience back. You’ll never be able to relive it in that precise same way. Same goes for other epoch defining video games. For 25 years now Zelda games have been trying to replicate A Link To The Past – that structure, that feeling. Sometimes they’ve been successful in that endeavour, other times less so, but they’re always pushing. Always chasing that dragon. Until death if necessary.

We, the players, are no different. Dark Souls – and Demon’s Souls before it – provided most of us with something powerfully new and unique; introduced us to an experience that would intrigue us, confuse us, challenge us and ultimately reward us in ways that most games don’t. They would introduce us to a universe that seemed so fucking strange that we couldn’t help but be compelled by it, wrapped in mechanics that would literally ensnare us. There’s nothing quite like Souls games and that’s the beautiful and tragic thing about them. That dazzling originality. Again: we’ll never get that first experience back. I’ll never get that first experience back.

I’ll always be chasing that dragon, shivering with each chime and slash. Each boss fight. Pure conditioning. As good as Dark Souls 3 is it’ll never match that initial high. We need to accept that, accept each iteration for what it is. Otherwise it’ll leave you hollow. And if Dark Souls has taught me anything it’s this:

You don’t want to go hollow. And you don't want to fuck with dragons.


Comments

    The games are compelling. Their universe feels real and complete. These factors lead to an immersion that few games can rival...

    Holy shit. First person VR souls. Please, don't ever let this happen. I have a real life to live.

      I just started Dark Souls 2, thought i'd take the plunge and see what all the fuss is about. I got home at 6:00 last night, turned it on, was at the start of that pirate Wharf place, killed the Mace and Sword double buttface guy, went back to fight the pursuer, killed him and played until im at the sentinels in the Lost Bastille.

      I looked up and it was 11:00.

    Loving Dark Souls III so far. It does feel *slightly* more linear than the previous games in that it doesn't have as many simultaneous forks. Previously if you hit a wall in a Souls game it usually meant you chose the wrong fork and need to give up for now. In III it just means you need to git gud.

    Dark Souls 3 has been a very interesting process for me and my wife.
    Now, while she's a very experienced Dark Souls 1 player, this is her first experience at going into a Souls game blind - everything is new and must be explored carefully. No videos, no guides, no boss knowledge.

    We've both been playing at a similar pace - one will get an area or two ahead, then the other. For the second player it's a chance to find things that can be missed on the first pass, and it's been a really great shared experience. The second set of eyes is still deconstructing those boss patterns, or seeing little nooks and crannies that might otherwise be overlooked.
    This in itself has been a new part of the Souls experience that I'm feeling quite lucky to get this time around.
    Even when I grind my bloody, corpse-strewn trial and error way through a new area over an hour and countless deaths, only to see her skip through the same section in 10 minutes complaining about how easy the enemies are to take down..

    wow trigger warning for opiate addicts much.

    geez.

    <3 dork souls 3.

    the missus calls it the 'fuck you game' game. (i often tell it to go fuck itself).

    Last edited 27/04/16 1:42 pm

      I never get more dudebro than when playing Dark Souls. The number of times I've yelled "Fuck you buddy do you even lift" at enemies...

        I mostly just yell those sorts of things at the dog.

    It’s the cumulative end point of what From Software has been working towards for over a decade
    Absolute agree. In my opinion Dark Souls 3 combines all the things we love about DS1, DS2 and Bloodborne. It is a game that I will be enjoying for a long time

    I voted Ds3 as the best souls game but upon completion and reflection I agree with Bloodborne being the best. Somehow playing 3 made Bloodborne shine brightly in my mind clear as day as the winner whereas before I felt Ds1 and BB were equals. Dlc for Ds3 could propel it to new heights, after finishing the game I was disappointed in the NPCs and lack of dialogue, although that's a staple in all the games I think 3 has the least.. dialogue doesn't change for most characters after significant events, such a small thing but after hearing pritheee be careful for 1000th time I am disappointed.

    100% agree Mark.

    There's been some talk about Dark Souls being a trilogy.... and this being the final one?

    I hope not. They can keep making em forever as far as I'm concerned. If every few years I get a dose of this kinda of gameplay, design and good looks I won't ever be saying no.

    Amusingly, despite literally thousands and thousands of words written on the subject, I think Mark's first summary of the game's appeal is STILL the most succinct:
    (Bold emphasis, mine.)

    To be perfectly honest, I’m not exactly sure if playing Dark Souls for a single hour is the best way to experience it; it’s a game that needs to be learned and practiced as a skill, it’s not really something that’s passively experienced.
    .
    Towards the end I began to enjoy the raw combat of it, and the different ways to approach enemies. It felt good to be rewarded for experimentation as opposed to simply bashing buttons more furiously.
    .
    That said, in the rush to make a fetish of the sheer difficulty of Dark Souls, I think folks have had the tendency to ignore what amounts to nothing more that poor design decisions. Not being able to pause isn’t fun, it makes the game difficult in a sense, but it also makes it incredibly inconvenient. That’s not uncompromising, it’s just a little bit silly.
    .
    It is, however, all about the reward. That’s what makes it compelling. Most action games reward you randomly for smashing buttons like some schizophrenic Skinner Box. Dark Souls feels precise, you are rewarded for a reason — and that feels nice.

    Yep. It's also part of the reason why blind LPs of these games are so popular - a lot of veteran players are trying to re-experience that first playthrough by seeing it through another's eyes.

      "Haha, I remember thinking that would work! Now, to feast on your disappointment..."

      Last edited 27/04/16 3:26 pm

        This is why the cult of Souls is always hungry for new converts - we want to live that first experience again, and vicariously through others is the closest we'll get.

          I just started ds2 as my first game. After being stuck at Heides tower for 6 hours, finally beating it and wondering why I couldn't summon NPCs afterwards, I found out what joining the covenant of champions did.

          At least, the game feels really easy now, and those 6 hours of getting 1 shotted has made my swordmaster a nimble, dodging, combat God.

        I'm actually really enjoying that blind DaS1 LP that was posted on here a week or two ago... even though I never beat DS1, and I've seen 3 or 4 LPs end-to-end, it's actually making me want to go back and give it another shot now that I have a better understanding of the mechanics - in hindsight, my stats were a complete mess by the time I hit Anor Londo.

    I literally finished the game today and now I feel exhausted. I was worried initially at how easy the first half of the game was but the difficulty definitely starts to ramp up in the second half.

    With Dark Souls now seemingly finished (for a while at least) I hope we can maybe get a Bloodborne 2.

    I had a moment like this last night, I'm running as a sun bro so as soon as I zone into a bonfire the sign goes down and I try to make a little progress before being summoned. Ended up 35,000 souls in my pocket and began the round of merry go screw yourself of dying, edging back to my souls and picking them up only to die 5 seconds later. About half way through the session the little voice in my head was screaming "Just get the souls and homeward bone it out there you idiot" this was immediately silenced by me going nah, I can take this firey butt. Siegward is counting on me. Turns out if you bash your head into a demon scrotum long enough, it ends up breaking and you feel content and mildly sticky.

    Dude the game is literally like 24 hours at most long, it's not incomprehensibly hard by any stretch. It's so obnoxious to have these kind of articles pretending it's some way of life and to have the commenters acting like it's hardcore to beat the game. It's not a fucking drug and it's really disrespectful to equate it to drug use

      If you equate one single rushed playthrough as completing the game, then cool. I would say more than half of the Souls series fans would disagree though.

      I'm sure the author is very apologetic for upsetting heroin users by comparing them to video gamers.

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