Warning: this post contains mild spoilers for Dark Souls (NPC names, locations, broad strategies).
Up until October, I’ve always considered myself to be an above-average gamer with a hardened tolerance for difficulty, but goodness gracious, Dark Souls has kicked my ass so many times now that I’ve officially given up.
It started last night when I decided to make yet another feeble attempt at rescuing Big Hat Logan from the Duke’s Archives. For an underworld-renowned sorcerer, the dude sure does end up imprisoned with rather alarming frequency. As a sorceress, I’ve struggled in this area for quite a few days now because of my crystalline foes’ staggering resistance to magic spells. I’ve been told that pyromancy serves as a viable alternative, but even after hours spent tracking down NPCs to train me and even more hours spent grinding for souls to pay them for their services, I still find myself getting utterly destroyed.
Maybe the roots of my demise stem from the fact that the area’s boss cursed me as I entered his domain, halving my HP until I can find an NPC or an item to break it. Maybe it’s because it takes me two or three hits to kill each enemy, and I can only cast about 40 spells before my magics are exhausted. Maybe it’s because enemy archers and sorcerers can lock on to me from a practically unlimited distance and can fire at me no matter their spatial orientation, laughing as their projectiles inexplicably home in on my location, often transcending through solid objects to connect with my soft undead flesh. Those arrows and magic missiles always prove to be fatal because of the curse I suffered.
Upon being felled in combat yet again and being mocked by a very large “YOU DIED” marquee that has been permanently emblazoned into my memory, I felt a strange chemical reaction occur in my head. As my sorceress fell to her knees and disintegrated, I stared in quiet contemplation, reflecting on the events that had just transpired. An archer’s arrow had traveled through a staircase and hit me in my hand with which I was holding my shield in an attempt to deflect the shot. At first, I was angry that the arrow seemed to have phased through my shield, but then I rationally determined that the bolt must have been ethereal, since it passed through the stairs as well.
In short, I should have expected this.
After I respawned at the bonfire nearby, I didn’t pick up my controller that was resting in my lap, and I didn’t keep playing. I just kept staring at the screen. I felt the anger dissapate into sadness as I reminisced on the hours and hours wasted battling Ornstein and Smough as my former warrior, only to be bested by them in every bout. The battle seemed so unfair that I actually quit playing that character after 40 hours of development and made a sorceress so that I would be more proficient with projectiles, in a futile attempt to turn the tides of this harrowing fight.
That plan eventually did work, but it took hours of persistence, just like everything else in Dark Souls. Had I known that the region after Gwyndolin’s domain would be even more impossible than Anor Londo and Blighttown, I probably would have just retired then. I was naive when I started playing; I actually thought Dark Souls was a game. And not just a game—a game that was capable of being beaten.
In the end, it was me that was beaten. That sadness eventually turned to remorse as I averted my gaze from my idle character and took one last look at the cover of the game, committing it to memory so that it may serve as the blame for the recurring nightmares I will no doubt be having in the coming weeks. Instead of continuing on my hopeless quest, I dashboarded, hit the eject button on my console, pulled the disc from the tray, put it in its case, and drove to a certain store that shall not be named, where I did the ungujable:
I traded it in.
That’s right, I traded it in. I couldn’t hold out for Skyrim any longer, and simply had to have a new RPG to play, so I bought Dark Souls, determined to prove to myself that a game can be sandpaper-dickingly difficult and thoroughly enjoyable at the same time. Dark Souls started out fun when I could honestly admit that my multiple deaths were my own fault; haste and hubris got me into trouble much more frequently than they saved my life.
I think my exacerbation sort-of metastisized from the thought that I was actually battling the game’s controls, camera, and combat systems much more fervently than I was actually battling the enemies I was pitted against. Melee combat feels great when you are prepared for it; if you aren’t, you literally stand zero chance. Magic can only be used effectively when you are locked on to a target, and the targeting controls require you to be much too close for comfort. Oftentimes when facing enemies larger in stature than your character, you can only lock on to the “core” of the beast and target its midsection, which is almost never a weak point or even a point capable of taking damage. Archery feels more like a system to be used for pulling enemies than an effective means of combat, although I cannot speak from experience on that one.
Admittedly, if I had more patience, I could farm souls and actually improve my character to the point where I could utilize more methods of fighting, but that would take hours due to the fact that the experience needed to level up increases exponentially and I’m already in the mid 40s. While I was experiencing my silent meltdown, this was actually the one cognitive thought that I managed to grasp, and I weighed the pros and cons of trying to salvage my time spent roaming Lordran. It was, after all, a beautiful trip filled with gorgeous views.
Try as I did, nothing could convince me that it was worth it. Dark Souls stopped being fun when the floors were poisoned and slowed your movement speed to a mere trudge. It really stopped being fun when flying enemies began hovering slightly above melee range and bathing me in damaging fluids that could also poison me. It started feeling downright stupid when I was pitted against two gladiators at the same time who both outclassed me. And when it got to the point that every enemy I encountered was capable of downing me with one attack and I could do nothing to them in return, I realized that I was not having any fun.
I am not ashamed to admit that Dark Souls beat me. I wish that I had the fortitude to persevere, but I am broken. You win, From Software. Congratulations. And for those of you still hanging in there, I hope you are still having fun. If you ever reach the point where you feel as neurotic as I did this mroing, you might want to seriously consider putting it down for a while. Just play some Skyrim—it’s totally worth it.