I have written three posts granting awards for various games throughout the year. They are all deserving winners, and I appreciate every one of them for a variety of reasons. However, we now come to the one game that is nearest and dearest to my heart, and anyone who has read my blog with any consistency can probably guess which game it is. Or if not the actual game, at least the developer.
Whenever I am between games, I always return to my roots–Dark Souls. I recently finished another playthrough of DSII: SotFS in anticipation of the Prepare to Try boys* doing a full playthrough in February. I played as a strength caster, which is now my favorite way to play Souls games. Nothing feels as good as a Greatsword +10 in hand and an array of powerful pyromancies/hexes/spells/miracles. There were still people playing, and I was able to summon humans for several bosses, even in the DLC. I love that the Souls community is alive and thriving, though not so much when I get invaded. I had one invader wag his finger at me when I used an Estus to heal, but if you fucking come into my world, I’m going to do whatever I can to come out alive.
The invader system is one reason I play offline until the bosses much of the time. I know it’s a beloved part of the games for many people, and so I accept that it will never change. Not to mention there will probably not be another Soulsborne game, but that’s besides the point. I hate PvP, and I know that anyone still doing it now must be really good at it because they’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve been invaded in the DLC area in NG+, and think about that. There’s someone camping out in the DLC in NG+ of a game that came out almost four years ago. Has it really been that long?
It has, indeed. The base game came out over six years ago! I think it’s pretty cool that people are still playing (and, yes, I realize that I’m people and I’m still playing, but the fact that I could consistently summon people for certain bosses made me happy), and I’m finding it the same in my current Dark Souls III playthrough, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
One thing I love about Dark Souls games is how they push me out of my comfort zone. My preferred playstyle when I first started out was as much a caster (preferably pyro) as possible. Now, I like a blend of strength and casting, and I lean more on the former than the latter once I’m past the first playthrough. This time, on NG+, I decided to try something different with Vendrick. I had five Giant Souls, so he didn’t have any hyper-armor, which was a relief. By the way, the Ancient Dragon is so much easier than I anticipated. Granted, I summoned Bashful Ray and Vengarl, but I could easily do him again on my own.
Side note: I love that once I’ve soloed a boss, I don’t have any compunction about summoning for the boss the next time(s) I meet him/her/it. Jolly cooperation is fun, especially when everyone is in synch. There are a few bosses in SotFS, however, in which you cannot summon, which means having to go solo. Vendrick is one of them.
Vendrick got me three times in NG before I got the rhythm of hugging that left leg and smacking that ass down once again. He could kill me in one hit if I wasn’t fully healed, so I went in naked. I had four Giant Souls at this point, which meant he had twice the armor he normally would. This fight is a grind no matter what, but it definitely taught me to try something different. The first time I faced him, I had four Giant Souls, and I was rocking the Battle Axe probably +9 or +10. I couldn’t cast against Vendrick, so I stripped naked and plunked away with my Battle Axe, doing chip damage even when wielded in both hands. It was roll roll roll, plink, roll roll roll, plink until I finally beat him. This time, it was the same except I used my Greatsword instead of my Battle Axe, and I finally whittled him down to nothing.
Before I faced him in NG+, I Googled him to see his weaknesses. That’s another thing I like about facing a boss for a second (or tenth) time. I have no issues with looking them up, whereas I try to go in with no preconceived notions the first time I face a boss. I read that pyro worked well on him (because he’s hollow), and I thought I’d give that another try. I put on the ring that shortened cast time, loaded up on all my best and quickest pyros, and I went to town on him. I did exactly the same thing I would if I was fighting him melee–hug his left leg, wait out his attack, then hit him once with a pyro. With Great Combustion, however, it was so fast, I could hit him twice, and I think it did 700+ damage each time. I can’t rightly remember because there were other things on my mind when I was fighting him, but I do remember it did more than twice the damage of my Greatsword. Of course, he had half the armor he had when I fought him in NG, so we have to take that into account, but still.
The fight was laughingly trivial with this method, and I beat him without breaking a sweat. I also don’t use a shield in this fight, which is not at all like me. Yes, I went shield-less in Bloodborne, but that was because I had to, not because I chose to. I know using a shield is heavily frowned upon in the Soulsborne community, but I don’t give a shit. Everything I do is frowned upon by hardcore Souls players, so why not add one more to the list?
I am now playing Dark Souls III again, and it’s been a bit of adjustment, even going from the second to the third game. They tweak the systems with every new game, and this time, for whatever reason, I can’t get used to the change in how you shoot the bow. Anyway, I have finally gotten my Hidden Body, Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring, and Tears of Denial combination, and it’s my jam. Yes, I’m a strength caster, and now I’m a stealth tank, which is the absolute best. I have the Lingering Dragoncrest Ring as well, so ringwise, I’m leaning on the caster side. I hate that pyros have Int/Fath levels in this game, but I guess they would be totally OP otherwise.
Anyhoo, I was able to summon TWO phantoms for the Curse-Rotted Greatwood, but I allowed it to go to waste by getting greedy with one hit left to go. I wasn’t using my strongest weapon, either, since I prefer using the Hand Axe in the beginning, but I switched when I realized that had I been using my strongest weapon and/or upgraded my weapon once, I would have finished off the Curse-Rotted Greatwood. I approached it properly the next time, summoned someone who got killed in the first phase, and polished off the boss, anyway.
I have to mention again that RNG plays a big part in a boss fight. The time with the two summons, the CRG kept doing the hand-swipe attack which was something I struggled with. The time I beat it, it repeatedly did the stand up and fall attack, which is the easiest attack to punish. I got it in the loop of stand up, fall, me punishing the hand, him swiping once and turning around, then rinse, lather, and repeat. He didn’t do the swipe swipe swipe attack once.
With that out of the way, here’s the last award I’m giving out this year.
The game that started it all and which made me nostalgic when I returned to it
Dark Souls Remastered
This is the game that is the pinnacle of all games. Patient zero for my obsession with all things Souls. The game that shaped what I expect from games in general, and the one I judge all other games against. It’s the game that spoiled me for all other games, and it’s why I return to the Soulsborne universe when I have no other game to play. I’m talking about the original Dark Souls, obviously, and more specifically, the Prepare to Die edition, but returning this year to Lordran via the remastered version reminded me of how amazing the original game was. Well, at least the first half, but I’ll get to that in a second.
I was of two minds when the remaster came out because playing on the PC with dsfix, many of the perks to a remaster simply wouldn’t matter to me. I had the Prepare to Die edition which includes the DLC, and it’s pretty much the definitive edition. When I watched videos of the remaster before the release, I didn’t see enough of a difference to really make me want to buy it. I don’t have a good eye for definition, anyway, and so I don’t care if something is 4K super-HD or whatever. Obviously, I can tell the difference between HD and non-HD, but once you get into HD, it’s all cake to me.
I bought it, of course. For all my dithering, there was no doubt I’d get it in the end. It’s Dark Souls. That’s enough to make me fork over my money. Except for the mobile game because that’s shite and because FromSoft had nothing to do with it. They didn’t have anything to do with the remaster, either, but at least they made the original.
The game looks crisper and the sparklies are shinier. I like that the souls are brighter when you crush them and just how everything pops now, but in general, it’s not that much different than the original. What is different is how much more confident I was this time around as I traipsed through Lordran. I made it past the Capra Demon (with the aid of summons, which I regretted because it made the Capra Demon and the Bell Gargoyles too easy) before I ran into a problem that Bandai Namco couldn’t predict–fucking hackers. Yes, someone hacked my game and killed Andre, the most important blacksmith in the game.
I was livid, especially as it reminded me of the first time I played. I wasn’t used to the controls, and I accidentally hit Andre when I was trying to talk to him. That made him instantly aggro, and I couldn’t go back to him without him chasing me around and trying to kill me. At that point, I had two options. I could either start the game over again or I could pay to have my sin absolved, thereby resetting Andre back to normal. I couldn’t fathom doing the former, so I reluctantly decided on the latter. The problem was that you had to pay for the absolution based on your Soul Level. It’s 500 per level, and I probably was around Level 30 at the time. That’s a shit-ton of souls for that part of the game, and it took me a long time to carefully accrue and retain them. Remember, you lose your souls when you die, and if you don’t get back to that spot to pick them up again, they are gone forever.
This time around, I had no choice but to start again if I wanted to use Andre’s services. The difference was that it didn’t seem that big a deal to me, and it only took me a few hours to get back to where I had been. This time, I played offline, and I polished off the Bell Gargs and the Capra Demon with no problem. In fact, I played the whole game offline without ever summoning, and it was like old times but infinitely better. I knew what I was doing, and I knew how to level up properly. By the time I made it to NG++, I was living large as a strength caster. I conquered all of NG with the Zweihander, and the biggest obstacle was the Bed of Chaos, which remains one of the worst bosses in all the Soulsborne games.
I did Biggie & Small on my own in three tries, and my biggest nemesis, Black Dragon Kalameet, was cake with the Black Knight Greataxe +5 and the Giant Shield. I had been bracing myself for three hours of bashing my head against him, and I got him in a half-dozen attempts. What’s more, I never felt out of my depth, angry, or frustrated (that would be Manus for this playthrough), and it felt good.
This game is brilliant, especially the first half (told you I’d get back to it), and I really enjoyed going back to where it all began. I couldn’t believe how much more confident I was this time around and what a difference it makes in how I approach the game. I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic as I played, remembering how hard it was the first time I played it. I loved every minute of this playthrough, even through the decidedly-rushed and not fully-realized second half of the game. It cemented my feeling that this game is the one true game, and I will be playing it for the rest of my life.
*Which may or may not be happening. They announced that it would be their next series a few months ago, then posted a comment in…November, I want to say, that it would be postponed until February because of personal reasons. Then, a few weeks ago, they announced they were leaving IGN together and doing the Let’s Play thing full time. They posted a last Prepare to Try video, but they said that Finchy (they name all their characters Finchy) will be back. They’ll have another announcement on Monday, and I fully believe that Dark Souls II will be their first playthrough on their independent channel.