Tuesday, October 11

Return on Investment: Time and Loss in Dark Souls

Dark Souls is my first encounter with From Software's masochistic brand of Action RPG gameplay. I can see the elements that have made it a critical success, but I don't think it's for me; at least not based on the first few hours worth of frustration.

Why? Time is a finite resource, that's why. I can't get back the two hours and two thousand souls that I just lost to a dragon after finally besting the Taurus Demon. If I invest four hours in a game, I expect to have made four hours worth of progress: not a solid two hours of progress and then an hour and a half trying to consolidate the following thirty minutes' worth of work. Worse yet, what if you fail like I did? At least I made it to Lordran.

Three letter word: begins with R, ends with UN

I may have felt differently if the game held my hand just a little bit. In the opening zone, you are told the basics of combat through a series of text messages, but any abilities outside of attacking and blocking are left for later. The parry system: fair enough, not essential at start-up. Magic and miracles: maybe hit us with that knowledge sooner rather than later (read: I still don't know how to use either).

On the bright side, the punishing combat system is easy to pick up and - as you may have read from others - you only have yourself to blame for your mistakes. A few agonising input errors aside and slaying the undead hordes makes for some addicitive, though painstakingly-paced fun. I say that because if you rush in, you'll be dispatched faster than it will take to utter a four letter word. You have to bait your foes - one-by-one if possible if you want to survive. Your enemies will take every chance to ambush you and this is at times countered by cryptic messages left by other players. Some of the messages I've seen are plain nonsensical; sure, you only have preset phrases and text to choose from, but what does "Praise the sun" have to do with a fort filled to the brim with murderous skeleton warriors? Stuffed if I know, but when you read "Behind," you'll know your time is at an end.

It may be due to the lack of narrative pretense or perhaps the lack of gore, but I've felt nothing akin to dread in Dark Souls. I've felt acceptance and - at times - agony, but I know what my enemies are here to do. There's no conspiracy running parallel to my character's quest through Lordran, there's no grey area here: survival is the only objective.

Really? You have no interest in killing me? That's refreshing!

It works, but I don't have the time lose the amount of progress I've lost so far again... and again and again. Perhaps in contradiction to my previous statement, I'm opting to start again. I want that Master Key - I hate being taunted by locked doors - and I want a little bit more agility. If the new class and equipment strategy works out for me, maybe I will find the time.

Is anyone else toughing it out with Dark Souls? Any hints?

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