Coping with the tough love of "Dark Souls 2"

Tuesday, 11 March 2014 11:00 AM Written by 

DarkSoulsII2I enter an unfamiliar and uncharted area. It’s a series of massive stone platforms built above a sprawling ocean. I have my shield and sword, which is on the brink of breaking. My health is just shy of being half empty thanks to the dozen or so deaths I racked up in the previous area. I’ve always considered myself a “glass half full” kind of guy, but ‘Dark Souls II’ makes the most positive folks into grumpy pessimists.

 

I see a towering foe on the horizon that stands at about three times my height and width. His weapon is bigger than I am. I approach him and land a glancing blow. I had a better chance leveling a mountain with a paper airplane. He cocked has broadsword and took out little ol’ me with one crushing downstroke. The screen fades to black, and I am treated by the familiar words, “You Died,” for more than the hundredth time.

 

This is my thirteenth hour of “Dark Souls II.”

At around hour three, a single question kept washing over me. Why am I doing this? The obvious answer is that it’s my duty, my job as a reviewer. I have to brave whatever game comes my way be it good, bad, simple, or in this case, brutally punishing. Putting that easy logic aside, I wondered if I would still be doing this if I weren’t reviewing “Dark Souls II.” Would I continue to trudge through the countless frustrations, the umpteenth death, or the mind twisting labyrinth?

 

This is not my first run-in with the beast known as “Dark Souls.” I reviewed the original “Dark Souls” twice, actually. The first was the console release. The second was the “Prepare to Die” PC port - one that I judged harshly by granting it a 3 out of 10, and I stand by that score. “Dark Souls” is better than a 3, but the undeniably sloppy port earned those three points.

 

“Dark Souls” always failed to click for me. I never saw the joy in attempting to defeat the same handful of enemies before death, only to try again after inevitable death is swiftly served. Where’s the fun in that? What joy does that bring? At the end of it all, isn’t this supposed to be all about fun? I always welcome a good challenge, and I pride myself on being decently skilled at video games. The challenge isn’t what bothered me. The game just always felt like it was wasting my time.

 

I’m well aware of “Dark Souls’” loyal fanbase, so I had no intentions of dismissing “Dark Souls II.” I wanted to start the game with a open mind, with the hopes that I could finally see what everybody else was seeing.

 

After five punishing hours, I slayed my first boss. It only took me about six tries (not including the many that occurred during the journey leading to him). I felt strong and accomplished. I did it! I slayed the giant!

 

That first glimmer of genuine progression was quickly snuffed out by the subsequent four hours of aimlessly wandering. Not only are the enemies of “Dark Souls II” hostile, the world itself does you no favors. It’s a twisted maze with nary a map or a waypoint that is a staple of modern game design. You are dropped into this open world. If you can’t make it out, you’re just another body on “Dark Souls’” massive pile.

 

That glimmer of hope that shone after the first boss was slain was fading. I was ready to eject the disc, give “Dark Souls II” a bitter, scathing opinion piece not unlike this one, and never return to it again.

 

DarkSoulsII

 

(Please...just make it quick)

 

I cooled off for a couple hours. In that time I conversed with a fellow reviewer who was also working on the game. This experienced “Dark Souls” veteran suggested some new strategies and paths to try. I was all too familiar with the suggested path. It was the first one I tried prior to leveling up any of my attributes. Since then, I had leveled up several times. Success was a possibility now.

 

After some quiet personal reflection, I jumped back into the lion’s den. I pushed forward, driven by the desire to revisit the boss that destroyed me in my first foolish attempt. Needless to say I died several times along the way, and a couple more times at hands of the boss I was targeting. Each time was a learning process until I finally landed the last lethal blow. Sweet, sweet victory that was hours in the making was mine once again.

 

Currently, I’m in a new area that is littered with bruisers that have sent me to my death another dozen or so times. That’s to be expected. The silver lining is that it’s starting to click. I’m starting to get a sense of authentic progress. I’m on a path, discovering new areas while learning strengths and weaknesses. The path is a soul crushing one that demands patience, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The hope is there that I will eventually be able to say I bested “Dark Souls II.” I think that’s what it’s all about.

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