25 years of playing games gives you a certain confidence to what you play. It doesn’t mean that you’re immediately great at everything, but it means you can generally pick up a controller and know what to expect. It also means that you know what you’re not destined to enjoy, even before you go near it. That was always my sentiment about the Dark Souls series.
I can see why others would enjoy the challenge of this famously tough series, but it never really seemed like it was for me. I’m a wimp when it comes to games. I have limited free time, and I like to actually accomplish something in that time. Dark Souls always looked like a matter of banging my head against a brick wall. Repeatedly. Throw in the occasionally elitist attitudes online, condemning anyone who’s honest about their disinterest, and I figured there’s a wealth of other titles out there to keep me happy.
Then, I ended up with a copy of Dark Souls III. It wasn’t planned. My Playstation 4 decided to die and I was in desperate need of a new one for work. Inexplicably, the cheapest deal I could find involved a copy of Dark Souls III. It was cheaper to have the game included, than to buy just the console. The plan was to trade the game in straight away in favor of something else, but I was intrigued. Maybe I should give it a shot? Maybe this was my opportunity to see what all the fuss was about? So, I did.
A wise person would have googled for some kind of beginner’s guide, but I’ve been playing games for years. Who needs that kind of guidance? Me, it turns out. Dark Souls III is occasionally unwieldy and often unlike anything else out there. And I rather like it, despite the fact I know I’ll never complete it.
Starting out, I chose the Knight class. I figured choosing a general all-rounder focused on melee combat is usually a good starting point. I was surprised to see how keen the game was to explain things to me, with a series of breadcrumbs providing a kind of tutorial. Maybe this wasn’t so hard after all? Then I paused for a moment to read a text on my iPhone, and I died.
Turns out there’s no pause button, and enemies can kill you fast. It was only one fairly decrepit looking skeleton of sorts, but he hit hard and fast. That was when I realized I should probably offer this game some more respect. So, I concentrated, and it was tough. A good kind of tough.
Slashing my way through the basic enemies was easy enough. I quite enjoyed the stylishness of it. Dodging around one, hitting it from behind, then rolling forward to inflict the final blow. There was a kind of satisfaction to it, rather than mindlessly hacking and slashing. This was easy enough, and there was even a bonfire to go rest at to restore my health. Because I was a little naive and a little too cocky, it didn’t occur to me that there’d be a downside to this. I.e. that enemies respawned every time I rested up. I could see the opportunity to potentially ‘grind’ some experience/souls from repeatedly killing these few enemies, but that seemed boring so early on.
I pressed on and encountered my first boss. It’s probably not really a boss though, is it? I get the impression any veteran to the series would laugh at me considering it a true boss battle. A huge monster that turned into an even bigger monster halfway through, this was a good test of my reactions. Mostly dodging around his blows was the key to success here, but I had a sneaky suspicion that being some kind of spell caster might be better. Being able to hit from a distance had to be the right idea, surely?
Stubbornly, I stuck with what I barely knew, and a few failed attempts eventually led to success. I learned that taking a healing potion slows you down, making everything even harder in the heat of battle. I also had a tiny life lesson. Sometimes, you’re better off backing off from an attack, and living to fight another day, then going in aggressively. It’s a stupidly obvious lesson, but a mere 30 minutes with Dark Souls III reminded me just how important this is.
It’s those little things that ensure that Dark Souls III is tough but satisfying. Everything comes down to timing and strategizing. I never felt truly safe just standing around anywhere. I guess you wouldn’t if you were a warrior in a strange and unfamiliar land. I was feeling good about myself. This was a game I could understand.
At least that is until I screwed up.
I arrived at a place called Firelink Shrine. I’ve since learned that this is a general hub of all things useful. At the time, though? Well, I was too busy hacking and slashing at everything in sight. It turns out you can attacl an NPC in Firelink Shrine, and then they will kill you, over and over again. Who would have thought acting aggressively could lead to something so bad? I tried many times to defeat the guy, then I realized I’d probably do better to simply restart. Even at this very early stage, I wasn’t entirely confident that this was a good idea.
Fortunately, blazing through that early sequence in the space of a few minutes, and without dying once taught me a lot. This is a game that you can study and improve at.
Will I ever complete it? I doubt it. I rarely get to complete many games outside of work as it is. I’m hoping to get as much out of Dark Souls III as I can, though. I found myself looking through the Prima quick-start guide that came with the game, and it’s a bit scary. There’s a lot of reminders of how you’re going to die a lot. It really sounds like the game hates you. It probably does.
I can see why people talk about it as being so pure, though. I don’t feel cheated so far. I just feel challenged. I’ve got this urge to Google everything I can possibly find on the subject, learning more about how to do things ‘correctly’. Maybe even try different classes out, and see if something other than a melee fighter suits my style.
In its brief time in my home, I’ve learned how to be slightly more patient, and how sometimes it’s a good idea to step out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to look around a store, and pick out something safe and comfortable, but I’m wondering if maybe I’ve missed out on some special opportunities in the past. That’s a lesson that can be carried on through more than just gaming choices.