Underneath my yellow skin

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The end of Dark Souls Remastered…or is it just the beginning (of NG+)?

i seemed to have lost my top somewhere.
Nearly-naked me means fast-rolling is viable!

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.

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

on my way to the blackest vault.

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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Social Media Unplugged

crashing into social media.
A constant social media stream.

Ed. Note: I’m writing this on Saturday, June 17th, 2017, which is the first day of my experiment of not checking social media on Saturdays. I decided to live-blog the experience to fill up some of the time in which I’d otherwise be surfing my social media. If I have to suffer, so do you. Enjoy.

Ed. Note II: I define a day as starting when I wake up and ending when I go to bed. So, my days start around noon and  end five or six in the morning. 

12:45 p.m.

Woke up late, and am already frazzled because I have to leave for taiji in twenty-five minutes. I haven’t done my morning routine, and my instinct is to check social media because I have several notifications. Immediately, I start bargaining with myself. “I’ll just answer my notifications and then say I’m going to be off social media for the rest of the day. That’s a good compromise.” I am stern with myself because I know if I allow for that, I’ll soon slide my way back into social media all the time. It helps that I have to do my morning routine and change before heading out to taiji.

3:15 p.m.

I’m in the restroom at the co-op, checking the temperature as I pee. Verdict: Unfuckingbearably hot. I studiously ignore the notifications until I put my phone away.

4:00 p.m.

The notification numbers are staring at me, mocking me, from their respective tabs. I can’t stop seeing them, so I put them in their own separate set of tabs. It’s in the back of my mind, though, that I should check. It’s time to admit it: I have an addiction. By midnight, my hands will be shaking, and I’ll be scrounging for all the social media scraps I can find, muttering to myself, “I just need one hit, Hong.” Yes, I call myself by my last name; I don’t know why. I’ve been doing it for decades, and it probably won’t change any time soon. For now, though, I’m holding steady.

4:30 a.m.

One way to ease the hunger is to take a long nap. It was so long, I’m tempted to call it my actual sleep and check social media. That would be cheating, however, because I know I’ll sleep some more in a bit. Oddly enough (not really that odd), the longer I go without checking, the more distance I feel from it. I’m tempted to see how many days I can go without checking, but I know I’ll give in at some point.

Ed. Note: It is now Sunday, so I’ve made it through one day of being social media-free. Am fiercely making up for it now.

I woke up this morning*, and the first thing I did, of course, was check social media on my phone. Facebook, not Twitter, because I wanted to take it a leisurely pace. I put it away while I fed Shadow and did my morning routine. Then, I jumped into my mentions and got right back in it.

When I was checking Facebook, I felt OK. The minute I looked at Twitter, though, I could feel my anxiety rise. All the constant poutrage and incessant yelling at each other wore me down in an instant. There was a reason I had decided to take a break from social media, and it was this. Social media, especially Twitter, heightens my anxiety and my anger. It also disrupts my ability to focus on other things because I always have the tabs open. I’ve muted my phone so I don’t get the constant notification beeps, and that helps, but it’s still hard not to glance at the Twitter and Facebook tabs to see if I have any notifications.

I think it’s been good to take a day off from social media, and I plan to do it every Saturday. However, I also think I need to regulate my daily intake of social media. The thing I noticed on my day off was that after the initial anxiety of not checking in every few minutes, it was so damn freeing not to think, “What’s happening on social media?” and feeling compelled to check. The longer I went without checking, the more I was able to relax and let it go.

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