I finished Dark Souls Remastered yesterday, and I have many thoughts about my return to Lordran. One, I maintain my belief that this is the best Soulsborne game out of the ones I’ve played* because it was so fresh and innovative for the time. Things we take for granted now (interconnected levels, elaborate level design, hard-as-nails bosses, unforgiving death system, summoning, and the list goes on and on) were on display in this game. Yes, I know many of them were in Demon’s Souls as well, but they are much more polished in this game.
One thing I loved about this playthrough was comparing it to how the first playthrough went at the same points in time. First of all, even though I did a shit-ton of grinding in this playthrough, I still finished the whole game (plus the DLC) in roughly forty-two hours–which is less than a third of the time it took for my first playthrough. Or so Steam says. I’d say 5-10 hours of this playthrough was me grinding for levels, upgrade materials, and humanity, so the actual gameplay time was closer to thirty-two hours. Now, I’m on NG+ through the Capra Demon in roughly an hour and a half, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
I romped through the Northern Undead Asylum and the Undead Burg with nothing but my trusty Hand Axe and Fireballs. Yes, I was a pyro again because it’s all I ever want to be in these games. It felt like coming home to swing the Hand Axe or hurl off a fireball. It also was amazing how easily I could recall every minute detail of the map and enemy placement. I’ve mentioned before that I have spatial awareness difficulties, but for some reason, I was able to overcome it with this game. I think it’s partly because I had to play areas over and over in my first playthrough until they were seared in my brain. Now, I can go to, say, the Undead Burg and be like, “OK. Up the stairs, pause for the hellkite drake, then there are three Hollows waiting. There’s a fourth further up who is an archer. There are two Hollow Soldiers to the right guarding a hidden staircase down to the Undead Merchant (Male). There’s a door that leads to the Wooden Shield. Up the stairs to the left is the bonfire.” It’s a bit scary how much of this game is embedded in my, ahem, soul. I haven’t played the original in over a year, and it was as if I had never left.
There’s a mod for DS II that mixes up enemy placement, and while it sounds intriguing, it also sounds like my worst nightmare. One of the strengths in a Souls game is how scary a new area is, and how, by the end of it, it becomes, if not comfortable, then at least very familiar. The element of surprise is used to great effect by FromSoft to make you terrified every time you enter a new area. Once that’s taken away, everything becomes much more manageable. For example, the Asylum Demon. First time I fought him for realsies, I thought I would never beat him. Now, four or five fireballs to dat ass, and he was toast. Literally.
I also am much better at knowing what I want to do and in which order. Once I hit Firelink Shrine, I went into the graveyard specifically to grab the Zwei** and managed to run by all the skellies. I was going to be a strength/pyro which has been my jam since I tried it out in DS III. I went into New Londo Ruins to get the Fire Keeper Soul to strengthen my Estus Flask. Then, I proceeded down the ‘right’ path and decimated everyone who dared cross me.
Let’s talk stats. In my first playthrough, I did what most people do–put the levels in at random, thinking to keep things fairly even. This is a sensible approach that doesn’t work the best in Souls games. I feel the games are made in a way that encourages true builds, which means pumping two or three stats rather than spreading out the levels evenly. This time, I focused on Strength and Endurance so I could handle the big girl’s weapons. YES I MEAN THE ZWEI WHICH I USED THROUGHOUT THE GAME AFTER MAXING IT OUT AT +15. I’ll get to that in a minute as well. I put enough points into Attunement so I have five spell slots, and I have two rings that give me an extra slot each.
A note, it still sucks that there are only two ring slots in this game. I think it would have been a fairly easy fix to add two more (there are four in both DS II and DS III), but I get that the point wasn’t to add new mechanics/gameplay to the game. More on THAT later, too. I will say that having one really good ring you can’t take off (Favor of Protection. It raises health, stamina, and equip burden) is frustrating as well because you really only have one slot to mess with, and there’s one boss in which you have to wear a certain ring just to access the arena–which is still bullshit.
I had to restart my game, which come to think of it, would account for a few more hours of my total, because of the stupid hacker who killed Andre or however he died. Because of this, I decided not to use the online function of summoning when I was in the Undead Parish. Also, I had felt bad for summoning for the gargs and Capra during my first playthrough of this version because it really trivialized both bosses, so I decided to go solo. I ended up doing that for the rest of the game. I had little problems with any of the bosses in the main game save one, and she is still the worst boss in all the Soulsborne games combined. Yes, I’m talking about the Bed of Chaos, and, man, does that boss fight suck. So much so, Miyazaki has actually apologized for it. There was hope it would be tweaked for the remaster and that Lost Izalith would be improved as well, but the former didn’t happen, and I can’t speak to the latter because I’m a Chaos Servant so I get to skip that whole horrible area. How bad is it? You know it’s terrible because I chose the Master Key as my starting gift and still went through Blighttown the traditional way, but I fucking skipped Lost Izalith without even giving it a second thought.
BTW, am I the only one who thinks Blighttown isn’t that bad? Granted, I never played it on a console so I didn’t have to deal with 2-3 fps, but it’s still supposed to be legendary for its awfulness. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a romp through the park, but I never got pissed off at it the way I did at Lost Izalith. Anyhooo, my point is that’s how much I fucking hate Lost Izalith. I don’t see any point to it, and let’s get real. The second half of the game is still decidedly weaker than the first half, but more on that in a bit as well. Damn. I hope I can remember all the later bits I want to talk about.
I think the thing I liked best about this playthrough besides revisiting all the different areas of Lordran was how I could see in a tangible way how much better I’ve gotten at Souls games from the first time I tried one (this one, the original!). That time, I was fumbling my way through the game, despairing more often than not when I discovered that I had done things in less than an optimal way. Or in the least optimal way possible. At the time, I didn’t want to rely on wikis and guides as I played, and while I had a more authentic experience, I paid the price for it. This time, I had a plan from the beginning. I was gonna be a pyro tank because I really enjoyed that in my NG+5 playthrough in DS III. I knew I wanted five attunement slots because that’s fairly easy to attain as a pyro. I started with 12 in Attunement, and I needed 19. I bumped my Intelligence to 16 so I could use the Great Heavy Soul Arrows, and then I didn’t touch either it or Faith for the rest of the game. The thing I love in the first Dark Souls is that Pyromancy does not need any stats to use it. At all. So I don’t have to put any points into Intelligence and Faith if I don’t want to. Which I didn’t. I also skimped on my Vitality because I wanted to stack my Endurance and Strength. I did add several levels of Vitality near the end of NG because I was feeling a bit too glass cannon-y when I was fighting the boss who gave me the most difficulty. More on that later.
My Vit was 25 at that point and my End 35. Normally, I try to keep them at similar levels for compulsive reasons. Now, my Vit is 35, my End is 40, and my Strength is 36. I want my Strength at 50 so I can rock Havel’s Greatshield, but I highly doubt I’ll get there before I’m done with this playthrough (either by finishing NG+, or more likely, moving on to something else). I was wearing Havel’s Set most of the time, and I had a medium roll***. This build is what took me through this game this time, and I’m totally in love with it.
I did Biggie & Small in 3 tries and was impatient it took me that many. Seriously. This is how far I’ve come in this game. The first time I met them, they nearly broke me. I was down to, “OK, if I don’t beat them in this try, I’m done with this game forever.” Needless to say, I did, and I wasn’t, but it reached that low point after they killed me 60-70 times. I am not exaggerating this number, either. It took me a week to kill them, and the high I got from doing it is still one of my best video gaming moments ever.
You know which boss in the main game took me the most tries to kill? Bed of Chaos, and it’s for bullshit reasons as any fan of the game knows. It’s sad because I really like the concept behind the boss, but its execution leaves much to be desired. See, the Witch of Izalith is punished for trying to recreate the First Flame, and the Bed of Chaos is the result. When you enter the boss arena, you slid down a long slide and end up facing a….tree? Is it a tree? It looks like a tree, but is it really? It is. Kind of. If you try to attack the tree, however, nothing happens. There is an orange ‘bubble’ on either side of the tree, and you have to attack those. Easy, right? Well, no, because the Witch uses her tree limbs with shiny pointy things at the end to scrape across the ground as you run. She could two-shot me at this point, but I managed to destroy the first bubble in my first run. Then, I turned around to run to the other side, and I fell in one of the holes the Witch created with her limbs. It’s totally on me because I misgauged where exactly the hole was, but it’s still bullshit. You have to look at the floor for the holes as the limbs are sweeping and attacking. Fortunately, the progress you make lasts from one run to the next because otherwise, it probably wouldn’t be doable. There are other bullshit things that happen in this fight, so when I talk about how many tries it takes to kill a boss, I don’t count her.
Near the end, I entered the DLC with trepidation. Artorias of the Abyss. It’s well-known for how brutal it is. It’s also brilliant, but that’s secondary to the brutality. I’m running long, so I’ll tackle the DLC, the end game, the beginning of NG+, and my general impressions of the remaster in my next post. See you then!
*Demon’s Souls. Holding out hope it’ll be remastered for the PS4. Would love to see it on the PC, but that ain’t ever gonna happen.
**I mean it. Don’t @me that using the Zwei is babby mode. I don’t give a shit.
***I’m not going to talk about rolls in depth because it’s above my pay grade, but basically, there’s a fast roll if you’re under 25% of your equip burden, a medium/mid roll if you’re under 50%, a fat roll if you’re between 50% – 100%, and no roll/over-encumbered if you’re over 100%.