It all started with a brisk walk through a castle corridor. I was minding my own business, as I didn’t want to disturb the gigantic unknown knocking about in the dungeons below, when I was suddenly surrounded by a group of angry skeletons. As my many ill-conceived life choices would finely reflect, panicking is rarely the soundest of solutions, so I decided instead to make a stand and clean the castle of the creatures, claiming it as my own once and for all. The battle didn’t go as well as I’d like the minstrels to sing about, and shortly after my elementary attempt at heroics, I found myself at the bonfire again; terrified to leave its presence, nervously scoping my surroundings like a homemade chemist. I climbed the nearest steps in hopes of finding a route that didn’t invite the grim reaper so easily, when I stumbled upon — you guessed it, an angry group of skeletons.
I argued with the game, “why are you doing this?” As it unleashed a surprisingly speedy group of undead warriors at me, I reevaluated my purchase. “I paid money for you,” I pleaded, but its ears were deaf to my cries of despair. And yet, I remained faithful, desperately evading arrows and swinging blades. It wasn’t long before their numbers dwindled, and I was graced with a satisfaction rarely found elsewhere. I stepped in to that room a man, and left a man with a slightly better handling of the game’s combat system. I made my way through a batch of gravestones, and as I crossed the final pile of collapsed bones, I was greeted by yet another angry group of skeletons.
My heart was racing, my mind was devising ludicrous plans that were sure to fail, and I was left with only one option. I closed my eyes, pushed the analog stick forward, and leaped to my untimely death, once again finding myself at that familiar bonfire. A calmness washed over me as I retraced my foolish steps for the third time, prepared for anything that wasn’t another trip to those godforsaken flames. This was my mission, my journey, my escape. I continued despite the abundance of skeletal hand prints firmly planted on my shoulders, and pushed forward, chasing that sense of satisfaction I had felt earlier.
The sounds of danger echoed around me, whispering their unwelcoming terror. I could feel the tension rising in my stomach; caterpillars metamorphosing, soon to be those pesky nervous butterflies, soaring through the pit of my belly. I was sure that there was something around the corner, as I slowly approached another potential death; it was coming for me; it was angry with me, but why? Maybe it’s the mother of one of those monstrous zombies I slaughtered earlier? I analyzed my surroundings, and discovered a message left by a poor soul: “Don’t trust the stairs.”
There were no stairs to be found. I was overwhelmed with relief, but also a dread that I simply couldn’t shake. Who was this person, and what was the purpose of their message? That was one of my early experiences with Dark Souls, a perpetually perilous practice of patience and plotting. No death was aimless, each step a grand lesson in survival. It was a rough, arduous experience, but one that I would gladly experience again. I walked away from the controller frustrated, weary and anxious to continue my adventure.
It’s been quite a while since I completed my journey through the depths of frustration, anxiety and accomplishment. I laughed, I cried, I screamed at my TV screen with an unquenchable blood-thirst; all in the name of fun. And with Dark Souls II quickly approaching, I’m reminded of my experience; the very one that dragged me back to the early days of gaming; days when success was a matter of skill and practice, rather than routine.
The sequel to Dark Souls, consciously titled Dark Souls II, is set to follow in the dark, demonic footsteps of its predecessor, with an all new graphics engine, a new hero to lead, a new storyline to explore, and a new world expected to contain substantially more content and areas of interest. It looks as if I’ll be leaping to my death from a prettier cliff next time around, perhaps rushing from a group of even angrier skeletons. We’ll still be repeating our actions, dying as frequently as we dominate, if not more so. We’ll still be learning from our errors, as well as the errors or successes of others. No longer will we be able to memorize AI attack patterns as easily, furthering the horror with varied beasts to battle or frantically escape from.
The truly courageous can conquer combat by dual wielding, throwing all caution to the wind, or performing patiently, which is rewarded as in the original. The “You Died” screen is likely to appear just as often, and human invasions will be much more cruelly intrusive. Difficulty is no longer determined by placing you in an impossible situation, forcing you to endlessly grind through a maze of monsters, but rather an improbable situation that requires solving, quite likely through a maze of monsters nonetheless. There’s something truly special about an experience that brings such pleasure through suffering, even if it did cause me to break a controller or two, and Dark Souls II is shaping up to bring a familiar experience with many welcome changes and enhancements. Here’s to another series of brutal deaths, angry skeletons, and a few shots of gin to sooth the aggravation. Until then, enjoy these newly released Dark Souls II screenshots: