Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Video Games

Kathy Rain: A Girl After My Own Heart

badass katmobile!
Hurtling towards oblivion.

In my desperation to find a game that I can play an a post-Dark Souls III world, I started rummaging through my pile of shame. Any gamer who uses Steam knows exactly what I’m talking about–all the games you bought during Steam sales that you promised yourself you would play at one time or another. Games you normally wouldn’t look twice at or games you’ve always wanted but are too cheap to buy full price*.

I’ve tried a few, and none have really kept my interest until I stumbled on Kathy Rain, a point-and-click adventure game. It’s a game I wanted because I like mystery novels and have been trying to find a good detective game. They’re hard to find for many reasons that I’m not going to go into in this post, but this one looked promising. The tagline is even: A Detective is Born. The protagonist is the eponymous Kathy Rain, a journalism major in college. She’s mouthy, smokes like a fiend, and drives a motorcycle–a girl after my own heart.

It’s set in the ’90s and has the crunchy pixel graphics that I normally don’t like, but it suits the game. I don’t find it intrusive at all, and the closeups of the faces are surprisingly good. The basic story is that Kathy’s college roommate, Eileen, tells Kathy that her grandfather has died. She goes to the funeral, and then she finds out that something weird happened to her grandfather many years ago. She didn’t know about it because her mother took her away from her (paternal) grandparents when she was young, and she  hasn’t been back.

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Salt and Sanctuary: A Bit Salty; A Bit Sweet, Part III

on my way to the blackest vault.
Going DOOOOOWN!

Ed Note: This is part three (and hopefully last) of my Salt and Sanctuary review. As you can tell, I have a lot to say about it. You can read part two here

I uninstalled Salt and Sanctuary last night. I didn’t want to play it any longer, but I found myself thinking, “I’ll just play a few minutes” only to look up and the sun is rising. I’m two-thirds of the way through my melee playthrough, so I feel I can comment on the differences between playing as a mage and playing as a tank. By the way, when I say tank, I mean still being able to fast/medium roll. I watched playthroughs of people clunking their way through the game, barely being able to roll or not rolling at all, and no thank you–especially as I still am not using a shield. I tried, but I still find it awkward. Also, it was useless against the boss I was having a shit-ton of trouble with–more on her in a bit–because she can drain your stamina in a blink. If you’re going to block, you can’t roll and dodge at the same time, and I couldn’t remember that in the heat of the battle.

My tank is leveled higher at this point than my caster was by the end of the game, and I still can’t wear my paladin armor without fat-rolling. I’m not happy about that, and it’s part of my dissatisfaction with the stats-leveling in general. As I mentioned before, you have to level everything up separately, and I’m sure that’s a common thing for a certain genre of games, but it’s horseshit. Light armor and heavy armor are separate tree branches, for example, which meant I couldn’t wear most of the light armor, even though I could wear some heavy armor. Currently, my tank character is rocking the Iron Butterfly VI and the Seawolf Cutlass VI. One is a  Class 3 Greataxe, and the other is a Class 3 Greatsword. Now, in Dark Souls, all I’d have to do is level up strength to probably thirty or forty, and I’d be able to wield both of these weapons*. In S&S, I have to level up each category separately up to the Class 3 in order to use them. And, it’s not just….

OK. Quick primer on the leveling up system. You have to use Black Pearls to level up your stats. You get a Black Pearl every time you level up in general, and you can find a few in the wild. If I want to level up swords, for example. I have to get to the Class 1 Swordfighter node from the nodes I had at the start of the game as a Paladin (spending Black Pearls on varying stats along the way), and then spend one Black Pearl on Class 1 Swordfighter. Then, you have to traverse up the branch again, buying other stats, until you reach Class 2 Swordfighter. You have to spend 2 Black Pearls for a Class 2 node, and so on up to 5 for Class 5. I had to do this with two different branches as I wanted to wield both greathammers/greataxes and greatswords. There are Gray Pearls that allow you to remove a skill, but not many. It’s hard to explain, and it’s confusing to use at the start. I figured it out pretty quickly, but I still didn’t like it. Souls games are known for their obtuse and unintuitive leveling systems, but I much prefer them to the Tree of Skill.

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Salt and Sanctuary: There’s a Lotta Salt in My Sanctuary, Part II

onion kniiiiiiight!
The Masterless Knight, one of my only friends.

Ed Note: This is part two of my review of Salt and Sanctuary, a game that wears it Dark Souls inspiration firmly on its sleeve. You can read part one here. There will be spoilers abound in this review, so be forewarned. Now, on with the show.

I just finished Salt and Sanctuary last night, and I have several things to say about it. Buckle in, boys and girls, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride. I have a hard time talking about this game because my feelings on it are over the place. On the one hand, I’ve been obsessively playing this game, even starting a new game as a melee player (much more on that later), thinking about it even when I wasn’t playing it. That’s a sign of a game that has crawled up in your spine and made its home there. I finished the game in roughly forty-five hours, which is one-third the time it took me to finish the original Dark Souls plus DLC (don’t judge), and that’s with plenty of exploring and grinding. I probably could have finished it in thirty-five to forty hours if I really booked it through. This way, though, I feel as if I’ve seen most of what the game has to offer, though I’m aware of a few things I’ve missed.

However, about a half to two-thirds of the way through the game, I begin to hate it. It started to feel like a destructive relationship in which you’re totally in love with the other person, but you know they’re going to be the death of you. No, I’m not saying Salt and Sanctuary is going to kill me–let’s not take the analogy too far. You know what’s a better analogy? Having a big bucket of popcorn at a movie. At the beginning, I’m munching the popcorn and feeling pretty good about. Who doesn’t love theater popcorn with the mysterious butter-like syrup they pour over it? I’m munching through the previews, and the popcorn is delicious! I have handful after handful, and about halfway through the bucket, I start to feel slightly sick to your stomach. “I should put this down,” I think, but do I? Of course not. I paid good money for it, and who likes stale popcorn? Plus, some theaters now give free refills(!), so better keep on eating that popcorn. Three-fourths of the way through the bucket, I’m grim. I don’t even know what movie I’m watching any longer because my stomach is hurting, and all I can think about is that damn popcorn. I know I should just get up and throw the bucket away, but I’ll be damned if I let it best me. I am going to finish the bucket if it kills me, which it probably will. By the end of the movie, I’ve stuffed every kernel down my gullet, and I’m already regretting it. Once I’m done, I feel nothing other than remorse, shame, and bitterness at the popcorn for being there. Then, I go to the concession stand to get my free bucket just because I can. I never learn.

Again, it’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s pretty close to my feelings as I went through Salt and Sanctuary. I want to make it clear that the game is still a solid game, but the last third of it really made me sour on the experience in general. I also have to say that I went through a similar fatigue while playing Dark Souls, and it’s probably because when I play a game, I gobble it down as quickly as possible. It’s similar to when I watch a TV series; I binge-watch until I feel slightly ill. Anyway, in the last third, the game started becoming more focused on platforming, which is not the part of the game I enjoyed. I mentioned in my earlier post that the platforming feels oddly squishy, and that it’s hard to tell when you can safely jump and when you can’t. In addition, there are disappearing platforms, crumbling platforms, and platforms you can’t see until you’ve jumped a certain distance. What’s worse, there are combinations of all these, which nearly did me in.

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Salt and Sanctuary: A Love Letter to Dark Souls, Part I

shivering shore sanctuary
Firelink Shrine, anyone?

Salt and Sanctuary is a game that wears its Dark Souls-inspiration on its sleeve. It’s a 2D, side-scrolling, platform, Metroidvania-like Souls game, and I wrote about my first impressions in another post. Now that I’m roughly twenty-seven hours into the game and ten bosses down, I feel I can make a more informed commentary on the game than I could earlier. Be forewarned that I will be hearkening the hallowed name of the Souls franchise frequently and unapologetically throughout this piece because there’s no way I can talk about S&S without mentioning DS.

First of all, let’s get the graphics out of the way. They’ve been divisive in the Souls community (and let’s face it, that’s mostly who’s playing this game), with half the people loving it and half the people hating it. I’m on the loving it side, but I can understand why people are put off by the cartoonish look to it. It’s mostly the characters that people hate as the environments are absolutely gorgeous. The characters almost look anime with their round eyes and wide mouths (not to mention spiky hair if you choose), and I think they’re adorable. I can see how it’d be jarring, though, to have a cute, cuddly character traipsing through a dark world, slaughtering all she sees. I mean, right in the beginning, you’re on this ship. You’re talking to an NPC, and he suddenly gets murdered right in front of you by a man dropping on him and shoving his sword down into him. To then see the cute turtle-like face of your character with her eyes moving back and forth, yeah, it takes some getting used to. I, however, love the art style, so let’s move on.

I want to note that I complained about the controls in the last post I wrote, and then I realized I probably could change them. I mean, it’d be stupid not to let me, right? I went into the settings, and lo and behold, I could, indeed, change the controls. Now, B is roll as it should be, and all is right in my world again. RB is light attack; RT is strong attack, and I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Side note: The B button on my old XBone controller is sticky, and I was telling my brother about it (as to why I bought a new one). He said he could fix it, but he also suggested I remap roll to another button. I reacted as if he said I should murder my first child*. That was unthinkable to me, which he found hilarious. A is not used very much in Souls games, so he said I should switch roll to A. OH HELL NO! Roll is B. It always has been, and it always will be. Amen.

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Diversity and Gaming; Progress is Slow

back in black.
Come at me, bro. (SR IV)

I read an article about Anita Sarkeesian being harassed at a panel by Gamer Gaters, and it doesn’t surprise me at all. She’s become a lightning rod for all the problems hidden within the gaming community, and she’s dealt with a ton of harassment, much of it vile. She was targeted from the beginning when she announced that she was going to look at games from a feminist perspective because she loved games. That was it. It was enough to get the haters hating her, and someone made a game that allowed the player to beat up Anita. Before she even had one video, the hatred was intense, and it made me wonder why gamers’ egos were so fucking fragile. When her first video came out, I watched it. It wasn’t terrific, but she had a couple good points. I’ve watched a few more, and I’ve had the same conclusion every time. She makes some good points, but she’s overly broad (ha!) in her assessments. Also, she needs work on her presentation.

That said, there are a ton of problems with game and representation. Not just of women, but of any minority. Ian once asked me why I spent an hour customizing my avatar, for Mass Effect, I believe it was, when I can’t see my character as I play. It’s hard to explain why I do it, and I do it for every game when it’s possible. My favorite avatar is from Saints Row IV because she looks like me if you squint and as long as I keep sunglasses on her. I was so in love with her, I took dozens of pictures. Because of her, I liked the game even more than I normally would. Here’s the thing about representation. It does really fucking matter. Whether it’s movies or books or video games, seeing people like me makes a difference. Being invisible in media is a way of society saying, “You don’t matter. I don’t see you, and I don’t care.” It’s hard to explain if you’ve consistently had representation in media how alienating it is not to see yourself anywhere. I was watching RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix, and it would occasionally show an ad for one of its shows. I would say, “It’s white people doing white people thing!” Every fucking ad was predominantly white people. It’s 20 fucking 17, and I will not watch something without people of color in it. It’s really that simple. There is no excuse for it, and it’s just willful at this point.

Back to video games. It’s funny how the assholes bleating about special snowflakes (those of us who want diversity in video games) are the same ones who are upset when, say, Mafia III deals with racism in America. At the last E3 conference, there were three games coming out that I knew would piss off the Gamer Gaters. Gators? Whatever. Far Cry 5, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. The enemy in the first game is far-right Americans; the second is set in Egypt with mostly non-white characters, and the third is set in America in the sixties, and the leading character of the American resistance in a black woman with a big Afro. The minute I heard about the last game, I tweeted:

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At Least I Know What I Don’t Like

it was made for my hands.
I love my Xbone controller so hard.

I’ve written before how since I’ve finished the Souls series* I’ve been struggling to find a game that I enjoy playing. I heard about this game called Unexplored, which has been described as a cross between Dark Souls and Binding of Isaac. I’ve played the shit out of both of these games/series, and I’ve always said I wanted to play a hybrid. It went on sale at Steam for nine bucks, so I snatched it up. It’s a really cute dungeon crawler in which you’re a one-eyed fluffy circle creature with a cape that has a weapon poking out in front and a side weapon you can throw. Before you enter the dungeon, you talk to this guy, and he gives you tips on the dungeons. You have to buy him beers (5 gold each), and the tips don’t seem that helpful yet.

It’s easy to see the Souls/Isaac influences from the very start. A little bit of Enter the Gungeon, too. The tutorial is straight out of Gungeon, but I didn’t even notice it was there until after I’d done a few failed runs. There will be many comparisons to Souls/Isaac because that’s what the game is clearly modeling itself after. Even with the tutorial, there isn’t much said before you jump into the game. I used keyboard/mouse, but there is gamepad support. However, according to the forums, it’s not intuitive, so I stuck to the keyboard/mouse with the typical WASD movement. I had to switch my keyboard from Dvorak to QWERTY, but I’m just glad I was able to do it. Some games consider this a problem. E is look, which is weird, and TAB is map. I’d prefer M for map, but that’s a little thing. I played on Normal, which was…weird. On the first floor in the first dungeon, I wandered around exploring everything. What I found was a lot of…nothing. I ran into maybe a half dozen enemies and a couple of puzzles, but that’s it. I went down to the next floor, and it was more of the same.

When I die, it’s a perma-death, and the next run is the heir of the first character. So, Mulan Rogue the first gives way to Mulan Rogue the second, etc. I don’t think you keep anything other than your gold for the next run. You start with different items, and I believe it’s procedurally-generated. You can right-click and see what they do, but true to rogues, some things need to be identified. Scrolls, potions, and rings are what I’ve found so far. Scrolls and potions are identified the second you use them (and, also true to rogues, some are positive and some are negative), but I had to wear the ring for five minutes before I knew what it did.

There are libraries with cryptic books, which you can take or copy to your journal. I chose to copy more often than not because there is a limited inventory, of which I am not fond. I hate limited inventories with a passion, and the one mod I used when I played Skyrim was the Convenient Horse mod, which allowed me to carry unlimited items. I do like finding the lore by reading books, which is similar to reading item descriptions in Souls games. I don’t mind finding things out in drips and drabs.

What I don’t like is persistent status effects with no antidote, pun intended. There was one level that had a gas atmosphere, and I couldn’t find a way to counter it. I had to go through it, but my health was dropping at an alarming rate. I lost all interest in the run. To make matters worse, when I was in the middle of a good run, the game started freezing on me, and I had to shut down the game. This happened again, and I lost any interest in playing it.

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Suggestions From a Filthy Casual

mad libs in effect.
I need to find a shoe, a hammer, and a cellphone!

Way before I ventured into the strange world of hardcore gaming, I was a dedicated practitioner of casual games. I’ve never given them up completely, and now while I’ve been sick for three months, sometimes, a casual game is all my brain can handle. Hidden Object Games (HOGs), Match-3, Solitaire, Time Management, I like ’em all. I have a much lower expectation of them than I do hardcore games because one, they’re churned out like processed meat at a rapid pace, and, two, they’re much less expensive than hardcore games. I am a member of BigFishGames.com, and a Standard Edition (SE) game is $6.99, whereas a Collector’s Edition (CE) is $13.99. In addition, the expectations are different when I play a casual game than when I play a hardcore one. I play casual games just to relax, so I’m not as critical about them as I am with hardcore games. That being said, there are several tropes in casual games that are way past their expiration date, and I would like to make some suggestions as to how to make them better. Most of my suggestions are for HOGs, but some of them apply across the board. I’ll indicate which games are the worst offenders for each trope I’m going to dissect.

Let’s start at the beginning. Literally. When I start up a HOG, I know I’m going to be greeted with a cutscene. Here’s a weird fact about when I play casual games–I play them with the sound off. It’s weird because I always play with the sound on with hardcore games, but I play with the sound muted for casual games. Why? First of all, the sound is jacked up in comparison to how loud it should be. Additionally, many of them have music that plays throughout the whole game, and I don’t want that in my ear the whole time I’m playing. Secondly, voice acting in casual games is usually atrocious, and I’d rather read the text than hear them speak. Anyway, the fact that I can’t fiddle with the settings before the cutscene starts is irritating to me. I would sit through the cutscene and read the text if that were an option, but because it isn’t, I simply skip the cutscene instead.

By the way, there are some things in casual games that will make it a no-go before I even get started. Oh! One of the best things about casual games and using a client service like BGF is that every game has a free demo. It used to be an hour, regardless, but now it’s more like a set amount of story/scenes that a developer wants you to see. I’m fine with that, but it seems as if more and more games are creating their games for that hour point and end on a cliff hanger, which is understandable, but somewhat irritating. Anyway, my top egregious sins are: One, not allowing for windowed mode. There is no excuse for this. None. Two, not being able to mute the music. Again, there’s no excuse for it. I have a hunch that the developers of casual games are not as experienced or knowledgeable as are hardcore developers, but it can’t be that difficult to code window mode or muting the sound. Not being able to skip cutscenes is also a non-starter for me. Basically, if I’m not in control of my gaming experience, I’ll tap out. I’m not as strict about resolution settings because that doesn’t matter as much to me, but sound and window? Yeah.

Here are some of my micro annoyances with casual games. One, making it so I have to continually press a button to mute the sound–especially if you have to do each aspect separately. I don’t even like sliders, but they’re better than having to repeatedly press a button. I wish more games had a ‘mute all’ button, but that doesn’t seem to be a thing. Another is once I’ve fixed all the settings to my liking, as the game continues, it ignores what I’ve done and reverts to previous settings. If a game does that (say with cutscenes and sound), I instantly stop playing. Another weird thing many HOGs do is that you can change the difficulty in the settings, but if you do it before they specifically ask you to select your difficulty, they’ll still ask you, even if you change the difficulty. In addition, some games will change your whole computer’s resolution when you choose window mode, and that’s another game stopper for me. Obviously.

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Dark Souls III, The Ringed City DLC: Part Five

Ed. Note: This is part five of my endless review of the Dark Souls III DLC, The Ringed City. I don’t want it to end, just like I don’t want the series to end. Read part four here

i'm sure we'll meet again.
Thanks for the tip, Uncle Gael!

So. Now that I’m done with the DLC, how do I feel about it overall? It’s hard to say. I played it one more time on my laptop* with the character I started while I was visiting Ian. She’s a strength/faith build because there’s a weapon, Morne’s Great Hammer, that takes 50/30 strength/faith to use, and I want to try it out. Unfortunately, it’ll take at least through the second playthrough to get the stats to use it, and then I may not have enough vitality to use it effectively. Right now, she has 29/40 and 13 vitality. The reason she has 40 faith is because I want to be able to use a lightning spell that takes 45 faith, which I can do with the Priestess Ring (adds ?5 faith). The problem is, though, I’m not going to be able to add 21 strength (or 16. I can wear the Knight’s Ring to add +5 to strength) plus whatever vitality I need in order to wear decent armor and heft the MGH. What I might do is respect just so I can play around with it, then respec again to a saner build once I’ve had my fill of the MGH.

I decided to take her through the DLC before writing this review so I could see if I still felt the same way I did when I first played it. This playthrough, I didn’t care at all about soloing the bosses, which made it so much easier, and, frankly, much more enjoyable. I ran through The Dreg Heap with little problem. It’s sounds silly to say, but knowing the way to go cuts out so much of the game’s difficulty. Not all of it, but a healthy portion of it. In addition, the patch that allowed Hidden Body to work was a godsend. The Laser Angels of Death (Technical name, Angels, but that’s my pet name for them) were incidental. They couldn’t harm me if they couldn’t see me, and I liberally used the Hidden Body spell to make sure they couldn’t see me.

Side note: I am not a stealth game player at all, but I love being able to stealth my way through the Souls games. I started another game (yeah, yeah, I know), another tank with a hint of dex, and I’m grumpy because I don’t have my Hidden Body/Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring combo yet. I forget how much I rely on being able to sneak around and ignoring enemies that I don’t want to deal with. One of the reasons I use a 10/5 Estus Flask/Ashen Estus Flask split is so that I can Hidden Body my way around the game to my heart’s content. That’s another thing with being in the beginning part of the game–having to actually monitor my mana** use. By the end of the game, I rarely have to keep an eye on it unless I’m doing a specific mana-only fight, such as trying to kill the second wyvern in Archdragon Peak after first taking care of the Rock Lizards. Who, by the way, are probably the most adorable enemies in the game, even though they are so damn aggravating. They’re hardy little fucks, but I love the way they roll. Anyway, being able to run around an enemy unnoticed in order to backstab them is the best. There are a few enemies that are immune to the Hidden Body spell, which is infuriating. Is using the Hidden Body/Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring combo (plus the Lingering Dragoncrest Ring to extend the length of Hidden Body) cheating? Hell no! It’s in the game.

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Dark Souls III, The Ringed City DLC: Part Four

Ed. Note: This is part four (and hopefully, last) of my review of the Dark Souls III DLC, The Ringed City. Spoilers ahead, so don’t  read if you want to play the game fresh. Part three here

if only i could save Gael.
Uncle Gael is not looking so hot.

Once I finished everything with the DLC* with my two casters, there was only one thing left to do–confront Slave Knight Gael with my tank in NG++. At this point, I was rocking most of Havel’s armor set, the Black Iron Greatshield (BIG), and my beloved Quakestone Hammer +5 (found in the first DLC, and at its highest upgrade). I knew even with my tank, this was going to be a long and arduous journey for me, but I wanted to end the series on a high. Astute readers will note that I have not beat Darkeater Midir with my tank, and it’s because I don’t want to put the effort in to beat him solo, but there are way less summons in NG++ than in NG. Will I do it at some point? Maybe. But it’s not a pressing concern.

I can’t tell you how many times Uncle Gael wrecked my shit. I’m sure I lost to him in the first phase alone at least twenty times. As I’ve said in previous reviews, I’m old, and my reflexes aren’t great, so I’m not going to be able to roll out of the way in time if I don’t know the patterns. I heard a Dark Souls enthusiast disavow that the games are about rote memorization, but for someone like me, memorization of patterns is extremely important. I can’t just react to Gael’s movements because by the time I process that it’s happening, he’s already hit me. Once I can recognize his tells, however, then I have a chance of reacting properly.

You want to feel as if you’re making progress with each death, but I didn’t feel that way for a long time. At some point, I started experimenting with my armor, shield, and weapon. I knew he was weak to poison and frost because of my runs with my caster, and I decided to do something I don’t do much of in Souls games–infuse a weapon with a poison gem. The problem was, my Quakestone Hammer cannot be infused, so I had to choose another weapon. I mained the Greataxe +10 for most of the vanilla game, but the main drawback of it is that it has short reach. Gael’s weapon is really long, and his cape is even longer. I wanted a weapon with reach, so I bypassed my beloved Greataxe. The other problem was that I would want a fully upgraded weapon, of course, and I didn’t have very many of those. I did have a Greatsword that was either fully upgraded or nearly so, and I decided to go with that. I took it up to +10** and had Andre infuse it with poison. Then, I took it back to Filianore’s Rest to face Gael once again. Because it weighed more than my Quakestone Hammer, I had to lighten up my armor. I can’t tell you how much I fiddled with my loadout during this fight.

Side Note: One of the things Dark Souls does best is take you out of your comfort zone. I don’t always like it because I tend to glom on to one weapon, get comfortable with it, and take it through the game. I marvel at people who can switch weapons on the fly, but I’m not one of them. Part of my skill is knowing a particular weapon’s moveset well, and it takes me some time to adapt to a new one. However, when I’m able to pull it off, I feel like a god. For example, the infamous Ornstein & Smough fight. That fight almost broke me, and I nearly quit the game for good during the depths of my despair. I tried everything I could think of, but I could not beat that damn duo. In desperation, I did something I had never done before and would never do again: I put the Lightning Spear in my left hand and Quelaag’s Furysword in my right. I was maining the Furysword at this point, but I never used the Lightning Spear, and I never dual wield. Anyway, I took care of Small with my pyromancy, then girded my loins to take on Supercharged Biggie. I pulled out the Lightning Spear and the Furysword, and I swiped swiped left right when I had my chance. That’s how I beat Super Biggie, and it made me proud that I had adapted my playstyle to beat him. Them. Whatever. Granted, I never used that playstyle again, but still.

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Dark Souls III, The Ringed City DLC: Part Three

Ed. Note: This is part three of my review of the Dark Souls III DLC, The Ringed City. There will be spoilers, so if you are going to play the game and want to do so unsullied, turn back! Part two  here

this can't be good.
Hey, Filianore. May I touch your egg?

Returning home from my vacation, I sat down to The Ringed City, determined to finish it. I still wasn’t looking forward to it, but I had already decided that I just wanted to finish it with my utility caster, no matter what. In addition, I wanted to see what my NG++ caster could do. She’s my darling, and I had her int/faith stats pumped up so I could use all the spells. I’ve complained many times about how people think magic is OP in souls games, but not in NG unless you pump one stat to the detriment of all the rest. In addition, in DS III, pyromancy scales with both intelligence and faith, but the faith perks don’t kick in until you hit 18 intelligence. I didn’t know this, of course, but I was wondering with my current character, the one I started on my laptop while I was on vacation, why my pyromancy wasn’t doing as much damage as I would have expected. I was gunning for a strength/faith build because there’s a weapon, Morne’s Great Hammer, that needs 50 strength and 30 faith. It’s similar to the Grant of the original game, which I could never use. It was such a weird build, I wanted to give it a try. However, there’s no way to reach those stats on NG. Well, very little. I’m currently level 84, and I started as a level 8 pyromancer.* Do the math. I was curious about the low damage output and Googled it. Found out you needed at least 18 int. for the faith perk to kick in. I pumped my int. to 18 and sure enough, that did it. I currently have 20 int.

Anyway, my first character, mulan (what I always name my first character), finally feels strong, and it only took until NG++. I wanted to take her through the DLC for a few reasons. One, she’s my girl. She’s been through everything in the game with me, and it felt weird not to play the game to completion with her. Two, well, I’ll get to that in a minute. I have to backtrack. I saw the next boss at Filianore’s Rest before I went on vacation. Much of this article is going to be devoted to him because he’s amazing, for many reasons. After I beat the Halflight, Spear of the Church with my utility caster, of course I went to the next area, which immediately transported me to a different place altogether. The fabled Ringed City in the title, the cutscene is breathtaking. I ended up at Filianore’s Rest, and I wandered through a beautifully terrible and desolated area. There’s sand. So much sand. And a furtive pygmy crawling on the sand, pleading for help from Filianore. He mentions something about the Red Hood coming to eat them, to eat their dark souls. As far as I know, this is the first specific reference to the dark souls of the titles, but I could be wrong.

I moved towards the obvious boss space and girded my loins. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the original furtive pygmy from the first Dark Souls seemed appropriate. Instead, it was someone eating the furtive pygmy’s dark souls, and that someone was…Slave Knight Gael????? What the hell? My buddy from the first DLC, the one who’s been guiding me every step of the way in this DLC, he’s the next boss? I have to say as much as I love the Souls series, there’s very little that surprises me any longer about them because I know them so well. This, however, surprised the hell out of me, and I applaud FromSoft for knitting the two DLCs together in such an ingenious way.

A little backstory: Slave Knight Gael is the NPC who tricks you into entering the Ashes of Ariandel DLC (through a painting) because he wants your ash to inflame the next painting of his niece or some such. (It’s more that he wants to end the endless cycle of flame.) That’s the condensed version of the first DLC, and at the end of it, his niece says, “Soon, Uncle Gael will bring me the pigment. I wonder if he has found it, the dark soul of man?” I also summoned him for the final boss fight of the first DLC, and he was invaluable in that fight.

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