Monday, October 8, 2012

Holy hell, do I love Dark Souls

After finishing Mark of the Ninja, I had a pile of games on my mantle that I didn't have time to play. Dark Souls was the one at the top of the heap and, well, I haven't gotten any further into the heap yet. I honestly don't even know what to say about Dark Souls. I've connected with it on a more basal level that probably anything else I've played in a long time. There's so much going on with the game that's presented in such fantastic, confident ways, I almost don't know what to make it so. So I'll just relate one tale from a few nights ago, and apologies, if you haven't played Dark Souls, this will probably make very little sense:

Basically, I just an absurdly amazing time in Anor Londo.

I'd never been through before when I arrived at the large palace/cathedral building. I made it through a bit of the place, nothing too crazy. I see a note on the ground that says "Need Humanity." I figure, why the hell not?

Go back to the bonfire where the Sun Knight is, Unhollow and then there are like 4 summon signs on the ground. I pull in a person, without much idea of what we'll even do, and I must have accidentally summoned two. Just as they're appearing, a Spirit of Vengeance invades my game. We pile on him, but he leads us through a crazy chase all through the castle, pulling as many enemies as he can. We chase him onto one of the roofs, where he tries to ambush us at the top of the tower. Doesn't work, we take him down.

Then I follow my two new pals further into the castle, to places I've never been. We end up in a big hall and then I get a message that says something like "Eye of Death is pulsing." I have no idea what the hell that means, but I figure it means someone is about to invade my game again. (Ed: I later figured out what this means and oh boy, was it satisfying) There's a giant white doorway, no idea what's on the other side. Figure what the hell, better than being invade.

Step through with my two mates and holy hell, I guess it's not one boss but TWO. Ornstein and Smough, who I don't know anything about, except I remember people speaking about them on Twitter back when the game came out, which can't be good. My two allies take one each and I pile onto Orstein. We lose the guy fighting Smough part of the way through, so my partner moves over to him. Smough goes down first, but Orstein was almost out of life too. Except I discover kill one, the other heals and gets *gigantic.* We persevere though and take him down without my pal dying.

Then, because it's Dark Souls, my friend then just silently disappears. But I'll remember you, The_Demise (PSN username). You were a badass and a friend, even though we never shared a word.

And that's basically the saga. The emotional experience isn't just one of victory and success though. For me, going anywhere you haven't been in Dark Souls is a harrowing affair, as you have no idea what you're going to run into. The chase with the Spirit of Vengeance included some areas I'd never been, and my overreaction later was all going blind. It's exciting in the truest sense of the word, with all the positive and negative connotations.

What's even more interesting is some people have said Dark Souls is a game about memorization, but I don't think that accurately capture the game at all. There's so much choice in the game, it's very difficult to imagine any two people having the same experience playing the game. There are so many choices on both the micro (rapier or axe? sorcery or miracles?) and macro (did you go to the Catacombs first, or the New Anor Londo Ruins?), but they're all focused through a tremendous tight set of levels. If the game was more open and mushy, I think it would feel as distinct. Truly open world games just end up seeming like, "I did crazy shit and blew stuff up, so did you." Matthew Weise recently related that he felt that Demon's Souls/Dark Souls were the best Looking Glass games he's played since 2000, and thinking about it, that might just be why I like them so bloody much.

And on top of that, you have the multiplayer component, which can provide truly unique moments like mine above. The experience you have are unique yours, which make the feel more tangible and genuine somehow. Just like real life, no two people will experience the same event the exact same way. Yet it feels like a lot of games seem to create identical experiences with their games, at least as far as the substantial bits that really congeal in your memory are concerned. Part of the reason why I think systemic games are interesting is that they fully embrace providing players with the means for generating their own unique arcs through the game that are truly their own. They're more real (or less unreal) and there's something very interesting there, I think.

Alright, I got one more day to invest in Dark Souls before the twin cruelties of Dishonored and X-Com necessitate a bit of a respite ... probably.