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Opinion – In Defense Of Walkthroughs

by Jeff Cork on Jan 21, 2014 at 10:26 AM

When Dark Souls first came out, I tried to drink the Kool-Aid. Unfortunately, it was a brew too bitter for me to choke down, and I eventually gave up. I appreciated what From Software was doing, but I made peace with the fact that I lacked the patience and perseverance to fully enjoy the game. This weekend, I picked it up again on a whim and spent 12 hours having a fantastic time. I got to see places I’d only heard about over the years and battled – and defeated – a slew of bosses. And it was all possible because of a walkthrough.

I was in the seventh grade when the Legend of Zelda came out on the NES, and it was a sensation among my nerdy clique. Our conversations constantly steered toward Hyrule and its mysteries, and we shared in our triumphs and defeats. We swapped tips, like dungeon locations and boss strategies. Did you go behind the waterfall? Have you tried using the boomerang? Did you notice that the level is shaped like a swastika? It was a fun, communal experience that I’m glad I had.

My life isn’t like that anymore. I’m fortunate to work with a crew of dedicated gamers, but I don’t typically have friends over all the time to play. I’m married, and I have two young children. When I play games at home, it’s around their schedules. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, really. But as with most things in life, you make adjustments when you get older, like I did with Dark Souls.

I was finally fed up with never making it past the Undead Burg, so I tried something new. I started a new game as a knight, based on recommendations I read online. And then I played until I met the guy who stopped me dead in my tracks before: The Taurus Demon. I’d watched our video editor Jason Oestreicher and some other people take him out by climbing up a nearby ladder, stabbing him with a plunging attack, and repeating the process. I tried it myself, and it was surprisingly easy. With him out of the way, I was ready to proceed further.

I opened up a guide on my iPad, and kept it handy as I continued. When I got lost, I used it as a beacon. When I cleared an area, I double-checked to see if I missed out on anything important. I made progress, my skills kept improving, and I was doing something I didn’t think would happen: I was having a great time with Dark Souls.

I understand that to a lot of people, what I’m doing goes against everything that Dark Souls is designed to do. By using a guide, I’m stripping away the sense of discovery that’s so fundamental to the game. I don’t deserve the Wolf Ring, for instance, because I never would have thought to look behind that green tree in Darkroot Garden. I am, in essence, missing a core pillar of the game.

While I see that position, I have to disagree with it. I’ve talked to several rabid fans of the game, and they all have the same reaction when they learn that a fellow player just isn’t in love with it: They want to sit you down and show you how to play Dark Souls, sharing the knowledge they’ve gleaned through dozens of hours of trial and error. Basically, they want to be a human walkthrough that may or may not drink all your beer. Former GI intern Brian Albert (now associate editor at IGN), enthusiastically sat down with GI’s Tim Turi to be the living guide he felt the game needed. It’s a tempting offer, and it’s one that I would have eagerly accepted. Since my schedule’s become more complicated over the past few years, however, I’ll use a more passive alternative.

When I play, I’m still grinding for souls, dodging potentially deadly attacks, and learning how to parry (ugh). I’m just not spending hours looking for the next area I should explore. Someone else has done that before me, and with the limited amount of time I have to play, I’d be foolish not to take advantage of that knowledge.