Dark Souls doesn't treat me well. It's my abusive spouse. I'm afraid of it. I feel like I can't do anything right. It humiliates me and puts me down. And it makes me feel like I deserve it.
And still I love it.
I've always had an almost masochistic side when it's come to gaming. Having so much experience in the medium, I feel that I can overcome almost any obstacle, should I decide to. So when something comes along to absolutely shatter that notion, I can't help but be enthralled.
For those unfamiliar, Dark Souls is an RPG developed in Japan by From Software, and the "spiritual sequel" to Demon's Souls, another notoriously difficult dungeon crawler. Plot details are scarce. All that's certain is that our character is dead, and wants to do.....something.
|"The Gaping Dragon"......SERIOUSLY, FUCKING LOOK AT IT!|
And that vagueness is part of the appeal of the game. There is literally zero hand holding. Players are given the basic controls, then thrust into this brutally unforgiving world. Frequently, you'll stumble across orange scratchings on the ground - messages left by other players online. However, there's a very limited number of options, so these are only occasionally helpful - and frequently left simply to deceive. In Lordran, you'll very quickly learn to trust nobody and nothing, and always have your guard up - literally and metaphorically.
While the term "hardcore gamer" is something bandied around with reckless abandon, and is something I frankly despise, I can see why it's attached to this game. It's not for the so called casual gamer, nor for those who won't put up with dying hundreds of times. I almost used the word "relish", but that's not appropriate - I don't like dying in games, and I doubt many do. But each time it happens in Dark Souls, I find my will resolved, my knowledge increased, my desire enhanced. I want to beat it down like it has me.
The game world is a beautiful, desperate, aching place, laced with atmosphere unlike any other. Almost everything oozes despair, so when a beam of sunshine slashes through the grime it can provide real hope. Unfortunately, with no fast-travel options, and few shortcuts, trekking past these heartwrenching backdrops after being killed by the same fucker multiple times can lose its charm.
Part of Dark Souls' difficulty comes from its mechanics. For instance, in the most devilish instance of double-swordery conceived by man, while resting at a checkpoint will refill your life and health potions (you only get five each time), it'll also respawn any enemies you've killed. The combat is delicately balanced (though mostly against your favour), but there are some technical problems. Clipping and collision detection are, in some instances, laughable (I beat a hydra boss through a brick wall), and the frame rate can absolutely die - yeah, I'm looking at you, Blighttown.
My biggest problem though came from the distance between checkpoints in certain situations. Without an intimate knowledge of the game's map (of course there's not one provided in the box - don't be an idiot), your real life travel between safe havens can be upwards of ten minutes. Getting killed repeatedly by the same enemy trying to make that journey becomes not a test of gaming aptitude, but force of will. I've had to physically restrain myself from breaking anything within my reach on several occasions.
|You will died so many times|
And yet I keep coming back. I love Dark Souls because it treats me this way, unlike anything I've ever played before. It's INSANELY frustrating, but that just makes defeating a boss after the 12th attempt all the more rewarding. It's difficult, and confusing, and enchanting, and unapologetic. And I love it for that.
I read an article a while ago with the title "Dark Souls Isn't Broken - You Are". It pissed me off, because, well, opinions are exactly that, you sanctimonious prick. Everyone has their own. Not everyone will love this game. Many will hate it. Jesus, I hate it on some level. But I can't stop thinking about it, can't stop coming back to it to get my ass kicked again and again. Because I know when I finally beat it, it'll actually mean something.
And the really, truly terrifying thing about Dark Souls is that I know as soon as I finish it, I'm going to start it over right from the beginning.