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The Art of Death

A Dark Souls Retrospective

WARNING: Sharp Edges

Long time no blog, folks. Sorry for the massive time gaps between my blogs of late, but I've been quite busy, and actually still am. I've found some time today to write to you from an entirely different location than my normal humble abode back in Indiana. Today I write from my laptop in the good old city of brotherly love (you know the one). Anyway, in preparation for more death and destruction in a few short days, I've been playing Dark Souls lately- and now I'm going to be writing a little bit about the game as well.

Today's main focus is going to be a relatively simple fact actually: that Dark Souls isn't a hard game so much as it is a difficult one to master. What exactly does this mean, and what strange connotations do these words have? Well, hopefully, throughout the course of this blog you will come to understand my views just a little bit more comprehensively... So, we shall suffer through this together- after all, isn't blog withdrawal a terribly wonderful thing? It just sucks you in for one more hit, even if you've gone clean for several days, or even weeks... (Which I haven't, but three days feels like an eternity here with all the news and whatnot...) Now, without further dilly dallying, let's get on this little adventure and see where we can ride.

Dark Souls is only truly hard in its introductory moments, which can be why it scares the so-called "unworthy" gamers away often times. However, for the prepared and well-advised player, Dark Souls isn't such a difficult adventure as it would otherwise be. Now, don't get me wrong- by no means is the game ever a cakewalk, however, when you begin to slowly grasp the controls, how your stats affect literally everything, and the ins and outs of strategic, role-playing related combat- you've got a really good chance of having a successful run from Lordran to Anor Lando and back.

Dark Souls' introductory "tutorial" level that starts in the Northern Undead Asylum is only truly 'hard' due to the fact that you are not able to level up, kindle, or otherwise do anything helpful at the two bonfires in that specific area at that point in the game. Leveling up in Dark Souls is a little bit different than in most games in that you need only meet the soul requirement in order to advance your stats- albeit one stat at a time. So, essentially, the more you farm for souls or the more enemies you kill without deaths (unless you recover), the more times you can level up and consequently the better prepared you will be to take on the horrors of the surrounding, open world.

From the hub area of Firelink Shrine to the deepest reaches of the Abyss, bonfires are spread about sparingly as checkpoint and restart points- serving both as breathers and a reset/reboot that spawns most enemies (save a few, special ones) again for you to defeat or meet your demise from. These have multiple uses in and out of multiplayer (coop/PVP) as well as obviously while playing solo, and therefore immensely affect the outcome of your playthroughs and pathways you may take as well- thus helping to ease the difficulty of most challenges the more you progress.

Thankfully, there are also several items to be found quite early on in your adventures which make for an incredibly easy experience (or relatively thereso) from the offset. Also, combat is easily the trickiest portion of Dark Souls' more difficult segments- with the exception of the almighty platforming challenge that is the majority of Sen's Fortress, so understandably so long as you avoid direct confrontations and run for your life, you can traverse all over the place just fine. However, at low levels, the vast majority of your foes can easily land a lucky one-shot on you, thereby ending your Dark Souls recreation of 'Chariots of Fire' in a pretty painful manner.

Now, as for the aforementioned items that make your first few moments in the game a lot more "laid back," the tail of the first massive dragon you encounter in the game, and any bow and arrows, make for some handy and powerful weapons to pick off most enemies with. You can head over to the Undead Burg area and find a decent bow from either random pillaged corpses or from a back room once you have the residence key, and you can also purchase a wide variety of arrows from the shop keeper there as well. As for the dragon's tail- it can be shot from below the bridge with arrows- thereby avoiding the majority of enemies and the dragon's deadly fire, and netting you a free, powerful sword as well. After about ten hits, you gain the sword which already does 200+ damage, and can one-shot most enemies in the easier stages of the game, and the surrounding ones. It's definitely a weapon to keep in your arsenal for a long while as well.

Now, as far as tips go for wielding more powerful weapons and wearing potent equipment, four stats to make sure are always pretty high are your dexterity, endurance, faith, and vitality attributes. All of your stats are important, and dexterity and strength are virtually the same in some instances, but I'll explain why these four are definitely game winners in the beginning of the game especially.

Dexterity determines your attack damage, as does strength, but dexterity also controls what weapons you can or cannot wield. A high dexterity means you can wield weapons more efficiently and even that you can wield weapons that are generally meant for two hands- such as the battle axe, with one (meaning you can increase your defensive capabilities with a shield as well).

Endurance measures your amount of stamina, which is the green meter beneath your vitality or health meter (the red one). Endurance is just as essential to your survival as health, and sometimes even more so, as it attributes to the amount of times you can attack in quick succession, how many evasive maneuvers you can make, and how much overall stamina each movement takes as well. A high endurance can help when coupled with other stats that make for a faster and more agile player who may not always be powerful enough, but that can rush through areas and pick foes off one by one through attrition in choke points as well.

Faith may seem like a silly statistic to have on here, but due to the major fact that a higher faith skill determines what sorts of potent 'miracles' players can utilize, faith is very prominent in this game indeed. I recommend trying to increase this stat as well because you're going to need essentially miracles and sorceries such as healing and soul arrows for a lot of boss battles and heavier enemy encounters. These are some of the more basic spells and miracles you'll learn, but they still require a higher faith rating than what any class starts with (aside from sorcerers themselves).

Vitality is obviously key in this game as well, especially for less skilled or more rash players. Dark Souls may have some action-packed moments, but it is a very strategic game at heart. Therefore, a high health can be very beneficial- not just for the obvious reasons such as taking more hits, but for the fact that you can traverse areas faster if you have more health to spare through fall damage here and there, without having to estus up every few seconds. Vitality is great in abundance, but don't think for a minute it means you cannot die or will be ultra powerful- even the lesser enemies do a ton of damage, and usually much more than you can at any one time as well.

Now, I've talked about some of the aspects that can make your start a little less rough on your character, but I'd also like to talk about some misconceptions people have most times regarding Dark Souls' level of difficulty. As I've said, and in some ways hopefully proven as well- Dark Souls isn't impossible at all if you're prepared, and even less so if you've come prepared to die a few times. Face it: you will die. That much is certain. However, you don't have to die needlessly fifty times just to get to the next area, and you won't if you follow simple guidelines and instructions more experienced players may fill you in on. I've given you a few tips here, but there are plenty more out there. Also, don't be afraid to ask for or get some assistance in the form of coop partners when facing bosses- in fact, I'd heartily recommend that! It helps to have two (hopefully) smart heads than one average one, especially since most bosses are so unfairly weighted against your level anyway.

So, a few things people hear about Dark Souls that aren't quite accurate are that the game doesn't have many shortcuts, is brutally difficult, and that it's bosses only have one special weakness. Now, as most times is the case, these are rooted somewhat in truth, but are still slightly misconstrued versions of them. The game has so many shortcuts between areas, secret pathways, and new entrances that open up as you explore- it's not even funny. Sometimes your enemies use these to get the drop on you as well, which can really suck as you must be on your guard constantly because of those sneaky bastards.

As I've probably convinced you (hopefully) already, the game isn't 'brutally' difficult at all. It's a challenge, yes, but easily (well, I say easily, but you understand) doable. Most people don't complete it only because they get frustrated, make silly mistakes, and rage quit. Don't let that be you. Be cautious, think clearly, don't be afraid to run. You'll do just fine- you'll die a few times, but you'll be alright. That's why we've got bonfires after all! If they'd wanted it to be brutal, they'd have included the swamp portion of Demon Souls... (though there IS a swamp in Dark Souls as well...hmm...)

Now, as far as the bosses go- sure, there is usually one pretty great way of taking them down, and some are more subject to certain kinds of damage from particular weapons, however, you can take them out with whatever play style pleases you, and whatever powerful weapons you have on hand. Whether that's lightning, divine weapons, or firebombs is up to you. Granted, there are some NORMAL enemies who require specific weapon types in order to defeat, which could bar progress in certain areas until you acquire said weapons- however, bosses usually just have an incredibly large health bar and powerful attacks (not to mention some menacing looks). Skeletons and ghosts are such examples of enemies requiring different methods to defeat- skeletons requiring divine weapons for the best effects and ghosts requiring specific stones to either banish or destroy them.

Now, as you can imagine, Dark Souls is quite the thinking man's game- a game of strategy, almost comically (or ironically) like a much, much more bloody, action-oriented version of chess. Wizard's chess, maybe... Jokes aside, Dark Souls is no joke at all, but isn't nearly as bad as most people think it is, discouraging as it can be to die at the hands of the same foes and to lose your plethora of collected souls. However, while there isn't a really good way of protecting your interests aside from spending them to ensure they make it through, caution and a good frame of mind can often win the day even in seemingly-impossible encounters. Remember to keep an eye on your surroundings and to analyze your foes before rushing at them and you'll do alright...

Hopefully this blog is simultaneously helpful and interesting, despite the fact it took me a record time of only fifty minutes to complete- whereas I normally spend hours drafting these tedious things. Anyway, whimsical thoughts aside- stay safe folks, and have a pleasant day. Until the next time, I'll just be signing off here...and maybe playing Dark Souls some more (ha, I DID bring my 360 with me too, since I'll be here for awhile...and I've got to conquer Sen's Fortress yet again after all...).

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