Thank you, Dark Souls.

Two days ago on the 27th March, From Software released the final DLC for the final Dark Souls game ever, thus bringing the trilogy to a close. While this doesn’t mean that I won’t be playing the games anymore, delving into the lore, streaming the game etc, it does mean that there will be no more fresh content released under the Dark Souls name, and for me and many people around the world, this is the end of a special era. The goal I have in mind while I am writing this is just to talk about how I got into Dark Souls, my fondest memories of the games and anything else that crosses my mind regarding the series. Just a look back at my personal experience with The Dark Souls franchise.

 

My first time playing a Dark Souls game…

I was a very late comer into the Dark Souls universe. While the first Dark Souls game released in 2011, it wasn’t until 2015 that I first downloaded the original game after receiving it for free on Xbox Live Games With Gold. I remember I had the game installed but it wasn’t for a couple of months or so that I randomly decided to give Dark Souls a whirl. Like many people, the only thing I really knew about Dark Souls was how difficult the game was, however I had heard some good things regarding the game and I had seen some clips on YouTube of people playing. I thought it looked pretty interesting in all honesty, due to the fact that I’ve always been drawn to high/dark fantasy content. Anyway when I first began playing Dark Souls, I quickly learned that people were not lying… The game was truly difficult. I really felt my patience tested during my first times playing like I never had before with a game. Being a consumer of AAA games content in the modern era, will almost undoubtedly mean that you will be used to having your hand held through many gaming experiences. The majority of popular AAA releases ensure that the most casual gamer is catered to. Key pieces of information such as how to get to a certain location or objective or how to complete a certain objective/goal   are very often given to the player, resulting in an easier experience. Games that wholeheartedly guide players through its experience often lose the opportunity for true mystery and challenge of experiencing the unknown. Well in Dark Souls it quickly became apparent that Developers From Software did not care if players weren’t able to make it to the end of the game. The world that you find yourself in doesn’t throw itself at you, telling you everything worth knowing; it is you the player who throws themselves at the world. Trying to learn and navigate the semi-open world and master class map. Trying to come to terms with the harsh combat systems, the relentless enemies, learning how to upgrade weapons and more. Dark Souls is a game that will punish new players. And this was a new and interesting concept to me.

 

My first ever Dark Souls save which may I add never saw the end of the Ornstein And Smough fight was shall we say, a strange build. Of course being a completely new player, some of stats and weapon upgrades were questionable. With no knowledge of  scaling ratings and the like, I remember splitting many of my Soul Levels between vitality, strength and Dexterity, not bad right, While using a Morning Star which I think I upgraded to approximately +4 or +5. It was a combination of laziness and fear that led me to having the Morning Star as my main weapon of choice. You of course receive the Morning Star underneath the elevator at Firelink Shrine so this was an early game and easy to access weapon for me. As soon as I saw that it did more damage than the other two weapons in my inventory I knew, or thought, should I say, that this was the weapon to carry me through a large portion of the game. I immediately upgraded the weapon to +1 and it was at this point that the mentality of “there’s no going back” hit me. I seem to remember realizing that the Morning Star wasn’t the ‘best’ choice of weapon to upgrade, as I was seeing players on YouTube videos deal so much more damage than me during boss fights, however I was afraid of having to restart my weapon upgrade progress as this would require getting more upgrade materials in this harsh and unforgiving world, which led me to constantly upgrading the Morning Star, which I’m sure I was convinced, would deal great damage upon many upgrades. I just wanted to stick with what I knew. Using bad weapons and builds was a part of a first playthrough though, right? I hope at least anyway.

 

While the Asylum Demon and Taurus Demon were difficult fights which unsurprisingly took my noob self a few attempts to beat, it wasn’t until the Bell Gargoyle’s fight that I learned true challenge. Yes, the Undead Burg pummelled me relentlessly, as I spent days trying to traverse that one area, however in terms of boss fights, the Bell Gargoyle’s were my first real vein-popping challenge that almost made me quit the game forever, out of frustration. This time of frustration was also something that allowed me to realize and appreciate what Dark Souls did as a game though. Within the first two boss fights (Asylum and Taurus Demon), there is the opportunity for plunge attacks from high ledges, which undoubtedly decreases the difficulty of a fight, which is of course a short term bonus, however I remember getting all too comfortable with that plunge attack life style. I remember entering the gargoyles fight and having that ability ripped away from me. A huge game mechanic, and cheesy strategy simply taken away from me. It was just me and the gargoyle on this rooftop, slogging it out until the death. It was at this point that I realized that Dark Souls would always keep me on my toes, and I should always be open to learning new mechanics and skills. In addition I learned that I should never take anything for granted as a new player in this world. These lessons were also reinforced when I realized that a second gargoyle actually joins the fight during the battle. The second gargoyle is of course on half HP from the get go, and it usually only executes  a very predictable and easy to dodge fire attack, however nonetheless… For a first time player seeing that duo in a boss fight for the first time, and so early on in the game, was very daunting to say the least. From Software very cleverly took my growing confidence, as I grew closer to victory with each attempt, and tore it apart, by simply throwing in another enemy to worry about in the fight. It was something that I wasn’t used to as a player. Something that Dark Souls hadn’t warned me about, but From Software didn’t care. I just had to get over it, and overcome my challenges. And after over a hundred attempts  on that fight and after finally tasting success, I knew that this game was a journey that I would never forget.

 

Realizing that Dark Souls is special…

 

As somebody that genuinely loves the Dark Souls franchise, there are of course a platter of aspects of the game that I have come to love over the last two years. I’ve previously posted a Dark Souls post which praises many aspects of the game that I love, and so I won’t just repeat myself here. At least not too much anyway. I came to realize that Dark Souls was special pretty much immediately upon playing the game. On the surface and to most people, Dark Souls is “That really hard game” and sure, Dark Souls is hard, and it’s one of the many reasons I love the games, however when a player delves deep into the universe that From Software have offered us, it becomes apparent quite quickly that there are so many more memorable aspects of the game rather than the difficulty at hand. The in depth and seemingly infinite lore which players can unearth. The elegance and ferociousness of the games OST’S, the beautiful enemies, NPC’s and environments which all have a story to tell, even if the player just looks at them. The many builds that players can utilize to complete the game. The faint, and yet rewarding and exciting link between players worlds through PvP. The games brilliantly smart level designs. These are all just a few things that outshine the games difficulty and learning curve in my opinion. Of course only those who step up to, and conquer the challenges that Dark Souls throws at them will understand this. It’s essentially a reward. You’re reward for not giving up is the ability to witness more and more of a beautiful world.

 

Fondest memories…

 

There’s no doubt  that there are to be many more fond memories for me to experience within the Dark Souls universe, however seeing as there will be no more content released in Dark Souls’ name, let’s talk about some of my fondest memories to date.

 

Firstly, I have to mention the release of Dark Souls 3. I began playing Dark Souls in April 2015, and so the first Dark Souls release in which I got to personally experience was Dark Souls 3, a year after my introduction to Dark Souls. I’ll never forget how ready me and the community were for Dark Souls 3. I remember I watched Lobos JR all night until mere minutes before the games release, and when the time struck, I as well as thousands of players across the world all began to uncover the content of Dark Souls 3 together. The community truly felt alive, and I truly felt like I was able to finally live out a big event within the Dark Souls community. The same goes for the games two DLC’s, Ashes Of Ariandel, and The Ringed City. There’s just something special about playing a game or DLC alongside the community as soon as it is released. Boss fights, areas, secrets and more are all discovered together, and it truly brings the community together as one.

 

Continuing onwards, another fond memory I have of Dark Souls is discovering the room full of Chaos Eaters in Demon Ruins (Dark Souls 1). This is a fond memory due to the fact that after over 200 hours of play time, I still had not discovered this room. After finally entering the room, and falling through the floor into the secret room below I was mesmerized. I simply believed that I had seen every area within this game and so realizing that I was wrong was not only amazing, but wonderfully refreshing. People talk about wishing they could experience things like Dark Souls for the first time again, and discovering that room after so many playthrough’s was a glimpse into being able to do just that.

 

There are too many fond memories to be able to write about them all, so I’ll mention a couple more, but a very special moment for me within Dark Souls happened a couple of days ago, on the day of the Ringed City’s release in Dark Souls 3. The fight with Slave Knight Gael. This fight was so incredible, particularly the arena that you fight him in, that I know it will stay with me forever. The sheer vastness of the arena that is covered in desolate sands just feels like it goes on forever. I probably spent twenty minutes simply running around the arena before, during and after the fight with Gael. In addition to this arena, the OST and elegance of the fight itself just puts that fight up there with the most fond memories for me within Dark Souls 3, however it is the arena itself that amazes me most.

 

Some of my fondest Dark Souls memories don’t even come from playing the game. Watching streams of the game is always very entertaining, as well as simply listening to the OST’s.

 

Something that I often think about when it comes to Dark Souls, is the relation between a players skill and knowledge, and  the linearity of the game. When a player takes on Dark Souls for the first time, they will quickly learn as we have mentioned that the game doesn’t throw information at you. The player is left to essentially work out where to go and in what order, and the way that new players work out whether they’re going to the right area at the right time, is by seeing if they’re being absolutely destroyed by the enemies in a certain area. Take Firelink Shrine for example. Upon first arrival at Firelink Shrine, a player has multiple options. They can either go upwards to Undead Burg (the intended route for new players), downwards into the catacombs (an area which developers want you to visit during late game, down an elevator in New Londo Ruins (another late game area) or back to the Asylum. If a player begins to wonder in the direction of the catacombs, they will soon realize that they shouldn’t visit this area immediately because the enemies deal insane damage, and take so long to kill, in comparison with the enemies on the upwards climb to Undead Burg. The enemies towards the Burg can mostly be one-shotted and so naturally players will stick to this invisible and optional linearity, that is in place within the game. After a little exploration and combat with the locales, it should seem obvious that Undead Burg is the route to go upon first arrival at Firelink, and this is the intended route set out by Developers. While it is the intended route set out by the devs, it is not the only order and route that players can take, and this brings me onto the skill and knowledge aspect that I mentioned earlier. When a player is experienced enough with Dark Souls, they can take it upon themselves to ignore the intended route and order of areas visited, and go straight into the Catacombs for example where they can fight the Pinwheel boss fight. In addition somebody might choose to farm enough souls early on to go and immediately kill Sif, a boss which is intended for the later part of the game. The game isn’t completely open world, as that just isn’t what Dark Souls is about, however it is open world enough, combined with unrivalled level design,  to allow for unique, strange and simply fun routes to be taken which freshens up a players experience and simply adds a level of re-playability to the game.

 

What’s next for me and Dark Souls?

 

The Dark Souls universe is itself a work of art that will stay with me for my entire life. The love I feel for these games is unrivalled by any other game I’ve ever played. I know that I will continue to write about anything Souls related. In addition I will continue to stream the games on Twitch, and furthermore I want to try making some lengthy videos simply discussing Dark Souls when I gain the equipment to properly do so.

 

These are a few of my favourite things…

 

I can only feel guilt when trying to pick a favourite from a group of things that I love so much, so I think I’ll name a couple of my favourites in each category. Seriously it’s too much to ask for me to pick only one.

Favourite area: Majula – Dark Souls 2 receives a lot of criticism for its sometimes lacklustre areas, and environments, however Majula (the main hub and safe place of Dark Souls 2) is the polar opposite of lacklustre. Every Dark Souls has a main hub area, that is essentially the players safe place, and Dark Souls 2’s Majula is a place that truly makes the player feel at home. The unique evening sunset that beams down onto the never ending rippling waters, combined with the innocent, and tranquil OST makes me never want to leave. Many of the NPS’s in Dark Souls 2, and some of the ones housed at Majula don’t know why they’re where they are, and some don’t know how they got there, but obviously Majula must be pretty special for them to want to stay. A feeling of true happiness and optimism comes over me every time I’m basking in Majula’s glory. In addition as I briefly mentioned, the aesthetical properties of Majula are indeed very unique to the Dark Souls series in many ways, and I love that so much that it’s my favourite place within all of Dark Souls history. There are other areas that I equally love, such as Dark Souls 3’s Undead Settlement, and Smouldering Lake, Dark Souls’ Undead Burg and many more but if I had to pick one, I’d have to go with Majula.

Favourite Boss: My favourite OST piece and areas stick out to me much more than my favourite boss fight does. I like different fights for different reasons, and so I’ll mention a couple. First of all, the Bell Gargoyle’s in the original Dark Souls will always be in my mind as one of my favourite boss fights, and this is primarily because of the sheer challenge that it brought me as a new player, two years ago. I mentioned earlier how difficult that fight was for me upon first playthrough. It taught me that Dark Souls was beatable, and that there is always a way to beat a boss. In addition I simply love how From Software decided to shake things up by just adding in another Gargoyle to the fight. It throws new players off completely as they simply are not expecting a second enemy, but if they can take on that challenge, I’d say they can take on any challenge in the game. Furthermore, any boss can be hard upon first playthrough and then feel like a breeze when you understand how to kill a boss easily, however the Bell Gargoyle’s are the embodiment of that realization for me. After over one hundred attempts at killing that boss, it is almost funny to me now, knowing the speed run strategy of using gold pine resin, and staggering the gargoyle’s with an early game weapon such as the Battle Axe. Simply pummelling the Gargoyle’s non-stop will result in you being able to kill the first gargoyle before the second has even landed, and this of course means that you will never be in a gank situation. What seemed like such a difficult fight, is actually very easy. From Software even give you the opportunity to find three gold pine Resin’s before the Gargoyle’s, at Undead Burg. What was once the hardest boss fight for me, is now essentially the easiest, and I find that fascinating to think about.

 

In terms of my favourite boss fight because of the quality of the fight itself, there are so many to choose from that I love, however Covetous Demon has to take the top spot for me. I just simply loved the star wars fan service that From Software delivered with this fight… But in all seriousness, Dragonslayer Armour is always in my mind as my favourite boss fight. I love the aggression that comes with this fight, the fast paced action ties in with the frantic OST, to concoct a very memorable boss fight. In addition, is Dragonslayer Armour actually a living thing? I believe it is controlled by the by the outside Pilgrim Butterflies, meaning that the boss you are fighting is actually just a suit of armour. I like this, because despite it seeming like there’s no personality to the fight at hand, or any sort of emotion, as there is supposedly nobody inside the armour, the move-set and aggression displayed by Dragonslayer Armour, almost leads me to see a person inside that suit of armour. Like somebody is truly inside. To be fair, it reminds me of the synths within Fallout 4. They aren’t really people, however they display human characteristics and emotions, and this leads me to feel empathy for them.

 Favourite OST: Souls Of Fire – Souls Of Fire is the name of the piece that plays within the character creation and load a save screen on Dark Souls. You’ll hear this track before you’ve even set foot in the vastness that is Lordran. It’s a beautiful, elegant and calming piece. Essentially the calm before the storm.

 

To conclude this life changing series…

Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, and Dark Souls 3 are all games that mesmerize me every time I play them. All three of these games and their DLC’s inspire me on a level that nothing else can, and I know that the interests and hobbies that I continue to pursue in the future such as writing and streaming, will all be influenced by these games. The sheer beauty of these games is something that I simply cannot put successfully into words. I’ve wrote more than one post about different elements of Dark Souls in the past, and it never feel s like I’ve explained my love for these games properly. Dark Souls has changed my life in many ways. It has helped me through bad times, as well as being there to enhance the good times that I’ve had. A game that started out as a challenge with a massive and what seemed like an unfathomable learning curve, has turned into what is in my eyes, a work of art in which I’ll appreciate and continue to talk and create content about for many years to come. To everybody who has ever worked on a Dark Souls game, thanks for the laughs, the tears, the Goosebumps and thank you generally, for a trilogy of masterpiece’s.

Thank you Dark Souls,

A fan.20161025000123_1

Atmospheres And Aesthetics (AAA Games) #3 – Hyper Light Drifter

The third entry into the Atmospheres And Aesthetics series will see us discuss the action RPG released in 2016, Hyper Light Drifter. This game was developed and published by Heart Machine and was very well received by critics and fans alike.

I wanted to begin talking about this game with a quote taken directly from developers Heart Machine’s website. “Explore a beautiful, vast and ruined world riddled with unknown dangers and lost technologies. Inspired by nightmares and dreams alike.” I used this quote as it sums up the game very well. You truly do explore the world that you are traversing. Most games have an element of exploration to them, however Hyper Light Drifter really sticks out to me as a game that does exploration to a very high standard. This is due to the fact that the locations of the keys and treasures required to progress through certain areas of the game aren’t shown to you. You aren’t even told that you actually need certain items to progress, and so the exploration element of the game begins. In some games searching for what can seem like hours for one certain item can become extremely irritable, however with Hyper Light Drifter, the more you search a certain area, the more the game opens up to you. New enemies, contrasting areas and secrets become visible to the player and this keeps the game refreshing, even when trying to search for one particular item.

Something that I absolutely love about Hyper Light Drifter is the fact that the world initially is split into four parts. North, east, south and west. Each of these four areas of the world contain very contrasting and vibrant terrains in which the player must explore. In the north we are greeted with a blizzard battered zone. In the east we are mesmerized by a zone filled with water falls and canal like structures which must be crossed by jumping over stepping stones or accross bridges. The west is home to a cosy, autumn mood which is filled with thick, lush pink trees. The sound of the wind whisks around you so elegantly that it creates a feeling of home (when you’re not being attacked by bandits). And finally in the south… Well I haven’t explored or unlocked the south zone as of yet.

All of this 2D beauty, charisma and charm is sewn together by a soundtrack crafted by the artist Disasterpeace. The electronic based OST brings a mixed bag of emotions to the player. For me I felt that the soundtrack opened up a creative void for me, as there is a mysterious and secretive element to the tracks that play within this game that creates a fruitful concoction with the fact that the game itself is very secretive and mysterious. While there are times where the soundtrack to Hyper Light Drifter can get a little frantic, the OST generally holds a very mellow and relaxed tone, and this contrasts brilliantly with the fact that Hyper Light Drifter is a very difficult game. You will die a few times during your play through of this game and the unexplained exploration within the game can get a little frustrating when it feels like you’re making no progress. However the OST will always be there. Keeping you calm through its mesmerizing and mellow beauty.

The things that I wanted to say about the ambient sounds within this game, are very similar to what I said about the OST itself. The ambient tracks within this game are some of the most tranquil that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing in a video game. The flowing waters of the east, the howling winds of the north that make you wish your character was in the warm indoors, the autumn whispers of the west. The ambiance is of such a high level that I feel like i’m in a different world when I hear those tracks. They’re so elegant that they make you feel bad for exiting the game.

Hyper Light Drifter is a very special game to me. I was recommended it by a friend and I took his word and purchased the game. After going into the game blind and discovering such a beautiful 2D world that had one of my favourite soundtracks of all time tagged with it, I was instantly hooked and I knew that Hyper Light Drifter was special. The game is so powerful that at times I will just find myself staring at the screen, taking all all of the games creative wonders until my character decides to meditate on the ground. I would recommend this game for even one of the elements of the game that I spoke about here today.

Embers – A tribute to ‘Dark Souls’.

The embers were dancing. Such coordination and glowing grace to fill only one man’s eyes with beauty. The fallen cinders sat below and spectated; their dying breaths used to be reminded of what they once were. At the centre of the performance, stood a steel long sword, the heart and soul of the embers. Though engulfed by the scolding dancers that had been recently en-kindled It possessed a firm stance, with an aura of pride and protection about it; nothing would be hurt here. A safe haven for the endangered, comfort for the hunted and a beacon for the lost, however the amenity found in this decrepit land would soon be left behind. For he who wishes to link the first fire and break the undead curse must venture forth into the unknown, leaving divine embers behind.

Dark Souls is an artistic masterpiece.

Dark Souls, the game released in 2011 by From Software, first for consoles and later for PC. The game famous for its vicious and punishing world. The game famous for its tendency to make players throw their controller down in anger, to never return again. Dark Souls is an absolute artistic masterpiece for these reasons and so many others.

The developers at From Software did such an excellent job at combining so many flavorful aspects of Dark Souls together to create something that in my opinion is unrivaled. The incredibly deep lore which caresses the world that players traverse in such a subtle manner, gives reason for hundreds, if not thousands of hours of exploration. The beautiful landscapes that players may gaze at, are varying and contrasting to one another, always keeping the inspiring and curious flames inside our heads enkindled. The way that the distant areas become out of focus and blurred, give off a mysterious feel to that area. The area may not be fully visible to me now, but what secrets are held there? What creatures are there to slay or co-operate with? Continuing, the beautifully designed characters of Dark Souls, whether they be lore based, NPC’s, or enemies to fight, are beautifully and carefully crafted, and the back stories to many of these characters compliments their physical appearance and apparent behaviour so well.’ The Great Grey Wolf Sif’ optional boss fight stands out to me here. This boss does not actually want to fight you. Instead, it is valiantly trying to stop you from proceeding to the dangerous ‘Abyss’ where his previous master met an uncanny fate. And so he fights you to attempt to ward you away. Jumping back to the lore, you can only discover this fact after carefully observing the lore of Dark Souls. You won’t be directly told these things, and so you the player must set out to discover them for yourself. This skilfully adds a layer of mystique to the Dark Souls world.

The word perspective runs through my mind when I think of Dark Souls. This is because the game teaches you to really look at situations carefully and to even empathize with people. In video games, we are usually the good guy fighting the bad guys and the evils of that universe. In Dark Souls, the line is effectively blurred in various cases. An excellent example of this is the boss fight ‘Pinwheel’. Pinwheel is a necromancer who’s wife and child tragically died. In his peak of loneliness and despair he attempted to bring them back to life through necromancy, however failed and instead created a grotesque fusion form of his wife and child. He tirelessly attempts to undo the damage but doesn’t manage to as you, the player and chosen undead, arrive in his home to end his life, as well as his research. Pinwheel did nothing to hurt the chosen dead, or anyone for that matter. He just wanted to fix his mistakes but in a cruel manner, you slay him. and his family. After learning the story behind pinwheel, the way I looked at Dark Souls changed forever. I realised the depth of the game I was playing.

One of my personal favourite aspects of Dark Souls is the soundtrack that accompanies the already excellent game. The tracks included range from aggressive and tense pieces of music which coincide with the heart rate raising boss fights, all the way to the likes of the Firelink Shrine piece as well as my personal favourite track, the character select theme which is a mellow track which calms and soothes all before being tossed into a world of torment and death. Dark Souls’ soundtrack is masterfully orchestrated and composed which for me is the very thick and flavourful icing on top of the cake.

All of the various fragments of Dark Souls which I have spoken about are excellent. However it is the graceful way that they are all fused together that create an artistic and cultural masterpiece, which for the rest of my life will continue to inspire and move me. Thank you Dark Souls, and thank you From Software.