Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition - 20/20 hours

In the last five hours, I defeated a Gaping Dragon and reached a new area, Blight Town. Unfortunately, I subsequently stalled out on my advancement, and was unable to get to Blight Town's bonfire. I think my main problem, aside from the game's punishing difficulty, is that my character's build is simply not very good. I chose the Wanderer class and am still using my starting scimitar (buffed up to +5). I also foolishly decided to dabble in sorcery, miracles, and pyromancy (because I was unsure which one would help me the most). I wound up wasting a bunch of stat increases on Faith and Intelligence, and as a result, I don't think I had enough dexterity, endurance, and vigor to survive in Blight Town.

My next move would be to grind for souls and gain a few more levels (I'm currently at 36) and stock up on poison-curing items before heading back into Blight Town and just plugging away until I get it done. However, I don't think I'll be continuing Dark Souls at this time.

It's not just because this game is frustrating, though if there were more checkpoints, so I didn't have to walk so far every time I died, I might be more inclined to keep it up. Rather, the reason I'm stopping is because it's a frustrating game . . . that does not run very well on my computer. I think I'll probably, one day, get the console version so I can play it with a decent framerate and start a character who is not hopelessly sabotaged by poor stat choices.

Dark Souls has really made me question what it means for a game to be "fun." It would be misleading to say that I enjoyed it, but it would be flat out false to say that I didn't enjoy it. Much of the time, I felt like the game was punishing me, and depending on my mood, that provoked in me either anger or despair. Yet, when I was "in the zone," playing it felt really good, so much so that I barely minded the back-tracking or the stacked odds. So, do I judge Dark Souls by the highs or the lows? It threw my emotions into turmoil, and there were times when I dreaded starting it up. But beating the Bell Gargoyles or the Capra Demon put a huge smile on my face.

I'm tempted to judge it by the little things - the menus and inventory system, for example, are awful. There are two layers of menus you have to go through to change your equipment, but the game will let you move while the first layer is up, and I can't count how many times I blundered into an enemy while still in the menu and thus had to take a few unnecessary hits before I realized what was going on and exited. You also pick up a huge amount of junk that I never figured out how to get rid of. And so much of the game is completely unexplained - I never learned if being hollow actually hurt me, or what was up with the Covenant I joined.

So, I might say that Dark Souls is a game that needs a lot more polish to be truly great (I'm curious how Dark Souls 2 fares in this regard - if it were Dark Souls with improved quality of life, I may well fall in love with it), but I kind of feel like maybe I'm selling it short. Dark Souls feels like a much older game than it really is - like it is a relic from a time before things like "balance" or "learning curves" or "player experience" were well understood, and game designers just threw whatever they felt like up on the screen and trusted that players would figure out a way to get past it. It feels primitive, and raw, and even though it's a newer game, I kind of want to grandfather it in, and say that its roughness is no impediment to it being a great game because it's "old school."

I think that means Dark Souls is definitely a great game. Of the games I've played so far, only Antichamber has provoked stronger emotions. In a way, I'm grateful that a game could stir my heart so forcefully, but I'm not so grateful that I'm eager to continue. I think I miss being able to relax while playing a game.

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