I’ve gone back to Dark Souls, cautious and wide-eyed at first but soon fearless, throwing myself off the brink and into death with enthusiasm. I’m not thrilled when death finds me, of course, but the gleeful “YOU DIED” on my screen reads less like a brick wall than when I first saw it five months ago.
Now it’s a challenge.
The sense of discovery brought me back, the same compulsive desire to see and consume that kept me tromping through Skyrim for ~100 hours. I didn’t know much about Dark Souls when I first started playing; I didn’t know what was just out of sight. My view was trumped by the Capra Demon’s bum rush and the menace of invisible ghosts. So I gave up.
A few weeks ago I read a few articles about the game, love letters from professional critics and nondescript names alike. The way they went on about the world I knew I was missing something.
But part of my problem is that I’ve never really enjoyed the challenge of games. They’re a way for me to unwind and release the pressures of life I already live with, not a way to frustrate me or add to that stress. The pull of this fantastic world, however, has been strong enough for me to grit my teeth and fight through Blighttown, planning my build and researching upgrades like I’ve never really done for any game before. I hate numbers! The equipment grind of games like WoW—spell power, healing power, resilience… who wants to do all this math?—has always been a massive turn-off to me. And yet here I stand scrolling through my inventory menu, comparing the defense and equip load constraints of Crimson Armor versus the Elite Knight set.
I’ll put myself through this for one reason: every debilitating boss is just a key to unlock an incredible new environment. I am constantly amazed by the intricacy of this world. When I first activated the elevator from the Undead Parish back to Firelink Shrine it blew my mind that these places were so physically close. The world is dense, riddled through with shortcuts, secret passages, and illusory walls just begging for you to roll up against them. There’s just so much to see.
But few games temper the joy of discovery with danger the way Dark Souls does.
When I first made my way down through the Great Hollow—all the while amazed by the size of this tree I was clambering around inside—I was struck by a picture as menacing as it was beautiful. My cage of roots opened up into the open air and I could see the trunks of other trees, just as massive, splitting the clouds in the distance. The music lent a hallowed air to the surroundings and I felt a sense of dread walking down to the beach (That song finally inspired me to use the free soundtrack download I’ve been sitting on since purchase).
In the midst of this ethereal, watery wasteland: the hydra. It looks distant at first glance, but any approach quickly reveals the length of its reach. It casts a shadow over the whole stretch of beach, so if you want to explore, to discover what else is hidden down here, you either fight or suffer under the constant threat of a magical conflagration.
Ten times I died to that hydra before I managed to hang on long enough to put it down. And you know what I found after that? A giant dragon. A giant dragon dragon sitting in a tree trunk who wanted to invite me to be part of his secret club.
This is why I love Dark Souls.
Even as I find myself tripped up and caught in the jaws of yet another murderous, mythical beast, I want nothing more than to throw myself back into the fray. Because I want to see what’s next.