The flow of time may be convoluted in Lordran, but in the real world, there’s a mere month until Dark Souls II. For some people, it’ll be a homecoming, a return to a world that’s taken so much, and given back so much more. But naturally with every new entry to a series, it will also bring in a whole batch of new blood, blindly taking their first steps into a world that wants them dead. It’s a fascinating thing to watch someone delving into the Souls world for the first time, seeing them slowly getting to grips with how the cruel world works and, with some unfortunate cases, seeing how much punishment is just too much for some people. If you’ve read anything about Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, you’ll have heard what I’m going to say a hundred times, but I’m going to say it again, because it’s still so fresh in my mind what my first time in Lordran was like. Don’t give up.
My first ragequit was out of humiliation. Defeating the very first boss so easily had given me a rush of confidence – too much – to the point where I was questioning other people’s struggles with the game. ‘You think this is hard?’ I boasted, making my way through the Burg, effectively a training ground for bogstandard combat. I thought I had won from the start, that my experience with other RPGs and third person action games had given me a one-up on Dark Souls, and self-assurance soon turned to hubris. I flew too close to the sun, and this is something Dark Souls punishes like no other. The Taurus Demon tore me to shreds, keeping me trapped on a narrow bridge rather than the wide open playground of the prologue’s boss, and hammered my broken corpse to a fine dust. I shut my console off immediately. I couldn’t show my face around there again.
At least I thought, but soon enough I was back; my pride’s wings had been clipped, but I was angry enough at myself and at Dark Souls that I was determined to teach it a lesson. I threw myself at that boss what felt like a hundred times, each failure battering me into a state of numbness, until I was at a point where battling didn’t feel like fun, but rather something I had to do. I had to win. I wasn’t having a good time. I didn’t understand the appeal of this at all, but I’d at least show it what I was made of before I quit.
I couldn’t tell you which attempt I must’ve been on when it hit me: the tower. On one end of the bridge upon which the Taurus Demon charges towards you is a climbable tower, with some archers standing atop it. I’d clambered up there each time to dispatch them, but had never thought any more of it, assuming it to be a simple environmental setpiece. But on Taurus Demon assassination attempt #74529, I decided get his attention, sprint back to the ladder, and leap from the top, plunging my sword downwards. It sliced through his health like a knife through butter, and with a couple of rolls and swipes, the bull bastard was dead.
This is the point where most other people would tell you they got a euphoric, victorious rush of adrenaline, which instantly wiped away all the pain and monotony and made it all worth it. I’ve heard Dark Souls is ‘pain+time = reward’, but that wasn’t it. I didn’t punch the air or yell out in elation – I was tired, and besides a mild relief that this fight was over, the overbearing thought was ‘if that was the game just getting started, what the hell comes next?’
What it did do, however, was open a distant door that let in a dim light at the end of the tunnel. It implanted an idea, a glint of hope, a suggestion that things were not as they seemed in Dark Souls. This was not just an exercise in reaction times or quick fingers, as much as those helped along the way. Instead, here was a game where you’d have to think – REALLY think, not just process. It meant not waiting for a hint or following the obvious path, but truly taking everything in, and collecting all the tools you can to carve a victory out of a suicide mission.
And thank god that spark was lit, because moments later I was mercilessly slain by a dragon, and sent back to the same spawn point I had been coming back to for the last two hours. Enough was enough. I didn’t ragequit, I surrendered. I traded in Dark Souls.
But just like the embers of the First Flame, that spark lived on. Over the two months that followed, I tried to forget about Dark Souls. I said it ‘wasn’t for me’, that I didn’t get the satisfaction other people did, but deep down I knew amidst all the frustration, I could do it. The spark grew into a flame, and I had to pick it up again.
500 hours later, and I have ten characters of ten different classes, twenty playthroughs completed, and a head full of lore, strategies, and incredible memories. I regret the months I wasted after the dragon incident, where I foolishly gave in when I could have just pushed myself a little further. There’s plenty of misconceptions about Dark Souls, and I think chief amongst them is that it’s simply an RPG with the difficulty ramped up to 11, and only for the most skilful of players. I’d honestly recommend Dark Souls to anyone and everyone; not just because of how much I love the world, but because a universe in which you’re expected and pushed to think for yourself is so rare now. Dark Souls is so dedicated to being like this that it doesn’t care what you think, and to some new players it can simply seem underwhelming, like it’s unfinished or not user friendly. It’s a complicated beast, so it’s hard to give succinct advice, but I will always say this: don’t give up. Think.