Frustration reigns in Dark Souls

An old friend of mine is a musician. He’s always been a musician. And his first solo album was… well, even if I listened beyond the opening track, I never mentally got past that first song, hilarious as it was. The album opened with an extended narration discussing the concept of chaos with a musical bed underneath. The monologue’s delivery was like a heavy academic paper, but the content was nonsense: “Like all good stories, this one begins with a great flash of light”. Really?

I mention the above because, like my friend’s debut, I got past but never over the opening of Dark Souls. I’ve played this game through twice now, once on the PS3 and once again on Switch. Both times, the opening hours were enough to sour the whole experience for me. (By the way, in case it weren’t already obvious, what follows is going to be rather complain-y. If you would prefer a more balanced take, try my previous post on Dark Souls). If you’re sticking with me, I’ll take you through my own experience with the Undead Burg, one of the opening areas of Dark Souls.

Dark Souls opens with an excellent introductory opening sequence in the Asylum – the tone of danger, traps, and the dark atmosphere is firmly established by the time your character is dropped off by an enormous bird in the Firelink Shrine. Now, we know, the training wheels are coming off and it’s for real. For most, the Undead Burg is the next destination and it’s a linear ride (with a few secrets off the beaten path) until you’ve traversed the full area and hit the nice blacksmith on the other side of the town.

The journey from the Firelink Shrine to the first bonfire in the Undead Burg is fairly smooth going, especially if you’re played the game before. Advancing methodically, enemies can be dealt with in small groups of 2 max. It’s the upcoming challenge that looms large.

Once you reach the first Undead Burg bonfire, it’s time to prepare for the second part of the Burg. Here you’ll be:

  • Combating bigger groups (3+) of skeleton enemies at once
  • Fending off snipers
  • Optionally taking on a dangerous knight for a rare goodie
  • Avoiding a flaming barrel trap
  • Defeating an intimidating ogre boss on a narrow walkway with more pesky snipers located around
  • Meeting a genuinely friendly NPC – rare!
  • Getting roasted by a fire-breathing dragon as you cross a bridge

At this point you can finally open a permanent shortcut back to the same bonfire. God, this game makes you wait! Then we move onto the next gauntlet:

  • Fighting skeletons on narrow ledges under the bridge
  • Fending off poisonous dogs in the sewer
  • Another (even more dangerous) optional knight for another goodie
  • Taking on a rampaging bull…
  • …and at the same time more snipers/groups of enemies
  • More groups of enemies before eventually reaching two more powerful, faster skeletal knights
  • Don’t go into the church! Or odds are good you will be battered down by even more brutal knights
  • Look in the right place and the second Undead Burg bonfire, and blacksmith, await

Combined, these gruelling gauntlets took me several hours and rinsed the entire spectrum of emotions from excitement to joy to anger to intrigue to resentment to seething hatred. I figured on my second playthrough that my prior experiences would help carry me through and greatly reduce my time spent on these sections. Nope, not really – nothing significant, at any rate. After banging my head against the wall of each challenge, I was reduced in both cases to grinding for levels to boost my chances.

After the Undead Burg, Dark Souls generally becomes easier – if only because there’s a wider range of possible paths to take and the bonfires are generally more common. The bonfires in the earlygoing are the biggest headache for me. The above challenges could have been redeemed or justified with more frequent checkpointing.

Worst of all to my mind is that stupid, sadistic dragon. After reaching and beating the gargoyle boss – without an immediate checkpoint I know I can’t celebrate too hard! – there are a few straightforward enemies descending a tower (yes I did die here I think at least once). Then after a pretty view and meeting an iconic friendly face, Solaire, the next checkpoint is just over a bridge. The first time you attempt to cross – and the first time only – that stupid dragon immediately descends and bathes the entire bride in fire, roasting the life out of you.

Me, ten seconds prior to burning to a crisp.

“Git gud”, the internet said. “Become proficient” was the catchphrase of the day. Because of this moment, in an otherwise good game, I can’t say that particular struggle was worth it.

One comment

  1. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game, but I can understand the complaints. I think there are a lot of games with sections that are much more difficult than the rest of the game, usually because they are unnecessarily hard. I remember playing through the first Sonic game on the Mega Drive and completing the levels fairly easily, until I reached the Labyrinth Zone. I would find this level much harder than the rest of the game (mostly because I had to make sure Sonic did not drown, while avoiding the thrusting spikes) and would lose a lot of lives trying to reach the end. Another example was the Pelagic II level in Perfect Dark. I found I could devise a strategy to complete most of the levels in that game, but I would find the Pelagic II level much harder (usually because that level used a system whereby extra enemies would appear once an alarm was pressed, which frequently happened when I played). I enjoyed reading about the emotions felt while playing the game (which I have felt while accomplishing difficult tasks in a game) and the description of the sadistic dragon.
    Have you completed the difficult area of the game? How would you pass the dragon? Is Dark Souls considered a difficult game?

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