It would seem that the plot is thickening. Here I am, standing next to a bonfire in a place I have never seen before—in a place I have never even thought about seeing before. This business about a chosen Undead and prophecy and whatever else has undertones of something far more malicious than the standard fantasy plot. First I was sprung from jail (Though “sprung “may be too strong a word; I had to do most of the work myself.), then I was handed a dying man’s burden of a sacred mission to some Undead promised land. I chose to talk to that dying man, but past that this has been a hands-off affair from my end. I was just looking for a way to get to some shiny loot, and next thing I know I’ve been kidnapped by a giant crow. Or raven? It was a big, black bird.
The question is, how much does my character know about what’s going on? I, as the player, can hear the voice-overs giving vague justifications, but as far as I know my hapless little Undead is still reeling from breathing in too many demon farts during her prison stay and has no clue where she is.
But there’s nothing to be done about that now. I’m here in Lordran, so I may as well make the most of it. Maybe there’s someone around who will sell me some jeans.
The game tells me to rest at the bonfire and level up. Sure enough, there are new options at the bonfire menu: “Level Up,” “Kindle,” and, “Reverse Hollowing.” Those two later options are a mystery to me. The game tells me I can’t Kindle while Hollowed, and that I can’t reverse my Hollowing without Humanity.
In the level up menu I get my first clues about the game’s mechanics. I can hit the back button and read short descriptions of what each stat is for, which is a relief. Mostly they’re as I expected them to be: vitality will give me some HP, endurance will give me some stamina, strength some damage, and so on. Attunement has to do with attunement slots, of which I only have 1, and some further investigating tells me that they’re basically spell slots. Well, I don’t have any spells, so there’s not much point in investing in more spell slots. Ditto for intelligence and faith, which are both tied to spell types that seem to roughly equal attack magic and defence magic. I have no idea when I’ll gain access to that stuff, so there is no pressing need invest in those. I settle on 1 point into vitality, 1 point into endurance, and 1 point into strength. Oddly enough, no matter which stat I invest in, all my defences rise, which seems to make a dedicated defence stat like resistance a little redundant. The only advantage it has is that it also raises my poison resistance, but a game will usually give a player some alternative means of cancelling poison if that becomes a pressing issue.
I also notice that every time I distribute a stat point my character’s level rises. So I guess player level is an indication of power rather than a direct influence over it? The other important lesson I learn is that, unlike most games where XP is turned directly into stat points, there is no progressive cost increase for investing in a single stat, but instead a general cost increase for investing in any stat. Usually there is a tax involved to discourage dumping everything into a single stat, but here it looks like it becomes harder and harder to level any stat at all as the game progresses. There will never be a point down the line where it’s cost effective for me to invest heavily in a stat I’ve been ignoring to gain a new advantage: every point I take down a particular path will make it harder to switch later on. Something to consider.
Well, I’ve done all I can in the stat screen. Time to move on. Panning the camera around, I find a shiny trinket nearby. It’s another corpse, this time a poor sap who seems to have spent his last worldly efforts on gaining the lip of a well, only to find that it had long ago gone dry. I rummage through his pockets and find 3 Humanity. Their description says that upon use they will restore HP and give me +1 Humanity. I have no idea what Humanity is, but it seems to be important. I decide to save them until I know what they do.
Back at the bonfire is a sallow, dumpy looking fellow wearing some sort of scale-mail bodysuit. He isn’t hostile, and is actually willing to talk. He tells me about some sort of Bells that I can ring, and that if I do something will happen. The way he talks makes it seem as if I came to this place by choice, and that I’m just another plucky Undead hero determined to save the world, or die in the attempt. It’s not like he wasn’t looking when I was dropped here by a giant bird. Does he think I flagged down the local Giant Crow Taxi Service and asked for a flat fair to Lordran, Sacred Land of the Undead? According to him I can go up, or I can go down, deep into an Undead town he refers to as a cesspool.
Further conversation leads me to the conclusion that maybe he isn’t just another droning, clueless NPC. Perhaps he’s just a crazy dude who sits next to this bonfire hoping someone will come along so that he can troll them for a bit. He definitely laughs like a crazy person. He also tells me that I am “practically Hollow,” though the game tells me that I am full-blown Hollow. He then tells me that being Hollow might be helpful, whatever that means. He tells me I can restore my Humanity by collecting it from corpses (does that means Souls?), or I can get myself summoned by a Cleric, or just beat a healthy Undead into the ground and take theirs. Well, if he’s Undead like everyone else I’ve met, and I’m sorely tempted to try that on him. Eventually he stops giving out information and won’t repeat himself, and I even take a swing at him with my club, just to see what will happen. He stands up like he wants to fight, but doesn’t do anything hostile. I decide to leave him alone. The way he talks is annoying anyway.
When I leave the bonfire I find 3 different paths, all leading gently upward. Looks like I’m taking the high road. To the left is an old, flooded shrine, which must be what gives this area its name. There is a statue of a woman sitting on a gnarled piece of wood and clutching a baby, an already-looted chest, and a few more old pieces of pottery that have nothing inside them. I think I’m done with breaking things in this game. I can see the giant bird that brought me here, it’s perched over the left wall of the shrine, but it doesn’t show any more interest in me, and it’s too high up for me to reach with my club. I leave the shrine.
The rightmost path leads to a dead end and another loot corpse. I pick up 6 firebombs.
The middle path reveals a stout man in full armour, with a mace and a kite shield. He tells me his name is Petrus, and that he’d rather I stay away from him. The way I look (and probably smell), I don’t blame him. I talk to him again and he says that it’s not that he doesn’t like me or anything, but . . ., and then he gives me a copper coin, which the game tells me is a useless trinket. He then offers to teach me some miracles, which seems like a sweet deal. Turns out that miracles are just Clerical spells, and they’re also all well out of my price range. Time to move on.
I take a set of stairs up to what seems like another dead end, but I find a convenient hole to drop through, which lands me in a small yard nestled between the walls of this old stone building and the jutting spires of a mountain. There are 3 chests. I open each in turn and find some homeward bones (a recall item that will warp me to the nearest bonfire), a morningstar, a talisman, and some cracked red eye orbs, which must be related to online play as they are greyed out and unusable. Searching further, I find a short path that leads to another chest, which contains a set of 4 Lloyd’s talismans, which “block Estus recovery in a limited area.” Well, the only Estus I know is the Estus flask I have. I figure they’re another PvP item, used to stop players from healing.
With no other way out, I stumble down a short slope and land in an old graveyard, right next to a pair of skeletons. This is as good opportunity as any to test out my new morningstar. Or not; a swing a couple of slow, ponderous attacks in their direction, but the skeletons are jumping around like fools, and while I’m trying to recover they stab me deep. I am bleeding, and then I am dead.
Doesn’t seem like I have any other options, so I run the same path back to the graveyard, down the slope (which still does damage to me even though it was a shorter fall than the one from the top of the stairs to the yard with the chests), and I recover my corpse. This time I do a better job of fighting, keeping my distance from each skeleton, and then circling around behind them when they attack, so that I can land the triggered critical blow at their backs, which seems to also have invulnerability during its animation, which is nice. I eventually kill one of the skeletons, but I still die.
As long as I’m throwing my life away I may as well use it to learn more about the game. One thing I noticed while going through the attack animations of the morningstar is that, although it shares most of the animations with my club, the basic heavy attack is different. For the morningstar it is a slow overhead swing, one that left me open enough that a skeleton hit me with its own specially animated critical attack. For my club, however, the heavy attack is a short hop into an overhead smash. When I was first comparing the 2 weapons I assumed the morningstar would give me more control, since I can’t alter the distance or speed of the club’s jumping smash, but now that I’m fighting, I realize that finer control would only matter if I was fighting 1v1 against an opponent I wouldn’t be trying to keep my distance from. I have played 3D fighting games long enough to know how zoning works, and a jumping overhead smash is a zoning tool if I ever saw one. The next time I fight the skeletons I put my theorycrafting to the test: I keep my distance, far enough away that they can’t reach me before I can react with my shield, and wait for them to give me an opening. Sure enough, each of them does, slashing their swords pointlessly at the air in front of them. In the business, this is what we call a whiff, and my jumping smash attack is what we call a whiff punisher. Every time the opportunity presents itself I take action, and before long I have literally clubbed both skeletons to pieces.
I look around. The graveyard rolls out ahead of me, further evidence of death in Undead life. Behind me is a set of stairs climbing up to what I assume is an overview of the flooded shrine. I can see the giant bird’s black, twitching tail feathers jutting out abruptly, like a dark signpost.
I explore the immediate area and find nice new shield, a couple more skeletons, and a few corpses which hold the Souls of lost Undead. Were these the fragments of humanity the crazy guy next to the bonfire was talking about? Their description says that if I use them I’ll acquire Souls, and Souls are the equivalent of both XP and currency around these parts, and also the what I lose if I die and can’t recover my body. I use one of the small Undead Souls and add 200 to my Soul count. It would probably be a good idea to hold onto these until I can use them for a level up.
Before forging ahead in the graveyard, I decide to take the stairs leading back up to the flooded shrine. More souls are acquired, and I run into the giant bird.
It’s just perched there, doing nothing. I wonder if I can reach it. After trying out a few angles, I find that I can hit the giant bird with my jumping attack. It takes damage, but doesn’t react. What does that mean, I wonder? I know I should (and I do) resent this bird for dragging me here, but how much free will does it have? Was it the bird’s idea to grab me, or was it directed? More importantly, what would happen if I killed it. Would I need it late on? It did me a disservice by bringing me to this place without asking first, but it didn’t attack me. In the end, I decide to let it live. Anything I around here I can count on to not attempt to murder me on sight is a positive.
Also, there is a door leading directly from the flooded shrine to the graveyard, so I don’t have to take the long way and fall down that slope anymore.
In a little nook inside the graveyard I make my first major find when a loot corpse offers up a winged spear. I like spears! This one even does more damage than my club. It is also being guarded by a rather large skeleton with an even larger sword, but as it’s alone I don’t have any trouble taking it down. Further, I have discovered that, like in most games, proactive offence is more rewarding than reactionary defence. I switch to a 2-handed grip on my club and make the first move in fights. The skeletons always crumble away when I hit them and need a second to reassemble, so as long as I keep bashing them in turn there is little danger, and with a 2-handed grip they die in as few as 3 hits from my jumping smash.
The bad news is that I’m unable to use the spear I found. It requires 13 strength and 15 dexterity, which I am far away from. But now I have a use for the Undead Souls I’ve been collecting. I head back to the bonfire.
Unfortunately, even with all the extra Souls from my items, I can only get to 13 strength and 12 dexterity. I need more Souls.
I continue to explore the graveyard, taking down skeletons in groups of 1s and 2s, until I am finally confronted with a real challenge. I am standing in a small area clear of tombstones. Ahead of me and to the left is a set of stone steps that curve gently down the cliff face. Have I mentioned that this graveyard seems to have been built with an open-air mountain-top motif set against a backdrop of endless falls into a craggy abyss? And not a guard rail in sight. Ahead of me and to the right is a slight rise, on the crest of that rise is the largest tombstone yet, and when I approach I hear the rattling of bones like the nervous chatter of a madman on a cold night.
First there is one skeleton forming, sword and shield in hand, but he is quickly joined by another skeleton, and then another, and then finally one of the huge skeletons rises from the ground, adjusts his skull so it’s resting properly on his neck, and stares me down with all the rage he can muster in his empty sockets. This is at least 2 more skeletons than I am prepared to deal with, and even as I wade in, club swinging to batter their bones, I find myself surrounded, and death soon follows.
I am stymied. whack-a-mole with a couple of skeletons has been easy enough so far, but even if I had the stamina to get off 4 attacks in a row, the big skeletons don’t always crumble after a single blow. An alternative plan is required, and the first part of it will be not getting surrounded again.
This time I get close enough to the pack of skeletons to make them rise, then closer still so that I know they see me, then I make a break for the stairs. They are narrow enough that the skeletons should only be able to come at me one at a time, and though I’ll be fighting an uphill battle–pun intended–it seems like my best chance.
A funny thing happens, though. As the skeletons all pile onto the stairs in pursuit, their erratic movements undermine them. Almost immediately one of the skeletons takes a tumble over the edge of the cliff and disappears out of sight. I am pleasantly surprised that the game still gives me credit for the kill, as my Soul count increases by 100. This is good to know, as some games would treat that as an accidental death and I would be losing out for letting it happen. I back slowly down the stairs, shield raised, until I find myself in darkness. I must have found the entrance to an underground tomb.
Curiously, the skeletons are unwilling or unable to follow me into the dark. The big skeleton can’t even fit through the narrow opening, but the smaller ones have hit upon an invisible wall, like they’ve reached the ends of their leashes.
It takes some careful positioning on my part, but I am soon able to destroy each of the skeletons in turn, and with considerably less personal danger involved than if I had tried to fight them in the open.
Now I am sitting on nearly 2000 souls, and I’m not liking the prospect of taking that loot into the dark unknown. I decide to return to the Firelink bonfire, but before I go I check out what that last pack of skeletons was guarding.
There is a corpse holding onto a Zweihander, an “ultra greatsword,” which is an appealing category of killing tools if I’ve ever seen one, but it also requires at least 24 strength to use, so there’s even less hope for it than my spear. I also find a pair of binoculars. Good thing I didn’t pick those as my starting gift.
Back at the Firelink bonfire I make another discovery: it seems that guy wasn’t completely out of his head when he told me there were two paths to take. I had found the way up and into the graveyard easily enough, but I had completely missed the way down. There are a set of stone steps hidden behind an old, dead tree.
Underneath my landing spot is a small cell, built directly into the rock. Inside is a blonde woman, head bowed. I try to talk to her, but I’m told that she can’t speak. How I can tell the difference between a mute and someone who is ignoring me is beyond me, but that’s what the game tells me. There is another option, “Reinforce Estus Flask,” but a Firekeeper Soul is required to do that, and I don’t have any.
There are more stairs, leading further down, and eventually I find myself in a hollowed-out room, with what appears to be an elevator.
New Londo Ruins
I step onto the lift, my body weight depressing the activation switch. It plunges downward, further into the earth than feels safe. Eventually it slows and stops, and I step out into darkness. I am in a massive, open cave. In the murky distance are the ruins of walls and large structures. The only light comes from a large hole in the cave’s ceiling, like the malformed image of a moon reflected in dark water. It gives the place the effect of a land locked in permanent midnight.
From below where I stand I hear the constant moans and growls of the Undead. I can see a couple of dark, stick-figure shapes making jerky movements, but I have no sense of how many there could be. After my ordeal with the skeleton gang I decide to take it slow.
Turns out I had little to be worried about. I find my first Undead, pink with dry, exposed muscle, huddled in a corner with his head in his hands. There is no hostility; I’m not sure he even knows I’m near. I give him a good shot to the skull with my club, and it’s revealed that he was actually clutching a sword. Maybe he was waiting for me to turn my back to him? I feel more justified in the slaughter now, even though I’d have done it anyway. Souls is Souls, and mommy wants that new spear.
This place is called the New Londo Ruins. Was it the terrible Undead town I was told about? I stroll through the dank street, and find many more wretched Undead, and most of them are holding a weapon of some sort, but none of them have any fight in them.
A few of them are so far gone that they have started worshipping old pottery. I am taken in by their faith, and renew my efforts to smash more vases. No result. I don’t know what it is about those clay pots that makes them akin to gods for these folk, but it’s definitely not anything useful to me.
I eventually reach the edge of a large underground lake. From the damage in evidence the lake is the result of a catastrophic flood, but there are still creaky wooden walkways connecting the tops of ruined buildings, and leading further into the city, .
A clay pot near the water’s edge has a corpse in it, standing up like the guy got himself wedged in there and eventually died of starvation. I smash it up and loot the body, which gives me a pair of Transient Curses. “Temporary curse allows engagement with ghosts.”
I’m wondering how far I should be going into this place. I had just found a new path in the graveyard, and it might be best to concentrate my efforts until I have a better idea of what my goals are. I decide I’ll at least see what the opposition is like down here.
Down one wooden walkway, then another. I am nearing a large, flooded plain. As I get close, phantom forms appear out of the air and make straight for me, with obvious hostile intent. I swing my club at the nearest one, but it passes through without registering impact. I follow through with a roll, avoiding the ghostly limbs reaching for me, and retreat back to the water’s edge. The phantoms do not follow.
As the conveniently placed item said, I can’t fight ghosts without becoming cursed. But I only have 2 curses, and I have no idea where to get more. Even if I use the curse and fight off these ghosts, eventually I will die. How would I recover my body when I run out of curses? This looks like a losing proposition, so I’m headed back to the graveyard.
Before leaving I make two more discoveries. One is another prisoner, but this one is a man, and he’s willing and able to talk. He tells me that he’s actually content to stay inside his cell, as it’s better than having to wander around with the other Undead, the ones who are going Hollow. I guess becoming Hollow is bad now? Maybe that’s when they lose their minds. Having seen the state of New Londo, I find little reason to fault him. He’s just adopting a well-known Monopoly strategy, where canny players get themselves thrown in jail rather than risk moving around a board so built up with expensive properties that they could go bust with every dice roll. Why risk that when they can be safe and cozy on the public dime? Undead must not need food, either, because I don’t see anyone around feeding the prisoners.
This guy does say that he’s bored, being alone in his cell with nothing to do, so he offers to repair and upgrade my equipment. Looks like he charges Souls to repair weapon durability, and other items for more advanced procedures. There isn’t much I can do with him at the moment, so I leave.
Valley of Drakes
I also find a door that opens to my Master Key. It leads to the Valley of Drakes, a pair of narrow cliff faces running parallel to each other and overlooking yet another death drop. There is a tiny wooden bridge where I can cross to the other side. The Master Key says that “most doors are better left unopened.” I wonder. Have I stumbled into a high level area before I should have? There are no enemies in sight, but I’m not sure how far I should extend myself.
I cross the bridge and enter a cave. The deeper I go, the darker it gets, and after a short dip I am standing behind a pair of large, surly looking brutes with clubs. They don’t see me yet.
What’s the play here? Do I risk attacking them? Will I do any damage? Will they kill me as easily as they swat a fly?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The results are not unpredictable. I manage to draw the attention of one of the monsters, and I lead it back to a more open part of the cave, where I’m better able to keep out of its reach. I am doing a good job of avoiding its attacks, slow and obvious as they are, but my damage output is not great. Even with a 2-handed grip on my club I am barely scratching it, and eventually it does snag me with a sudden vertical attack. Now I’m poisoned, and eventually I die.
I retrieve my body, but can’t resist trying again. The attack patterns are basic enough, and slow. I work out that I can lead them into an open space and just circle them until they present their backs to me, giving me a free critical hit. It takes a while, but I eventually do kill both of them. Unfortunately, I still take a hit, and the poison takes a long time to wear off. Even though I am only hit once, I have to take 5 shots from my Estus flask to keep from dying to the poison. The monsters drop Dung Pies, which are some sort of poison bomb.
I am flush, with over 3000 Souls. I figure, what’s the worst that could happen? I keep going. There is another Dung Hulk, standing alone. I sneak up on him, close enough, I think, to land a club smash before he can turn around. I misjudge the distance and fall short, then desperately roll to the side as he swings for me. Somehow I get trapped as the Dung Hulk closes on me and pushes me up against the wall. I can’t move in any direction, and though I roll and roll to avoid his attacks, I eventually run out of stamina.
This is a crisis. There are 3000 Souls down there, enough for me to level up so I can use my spear. I need to get them back. I return to the cave with a fierce purpose, but my body is behind the pair of Dung Hulks that guard the entrance. Should I risk drawing them out and killing them, or should I just run past them to grab the Souls?
I decide that I’ve spent enough time in the Valley of Drakes. The poison is too much of a risk for me to go any further with only 10 charges in my Estus Flask. I also don’t like the feeling that I’m over-levelling here, taking advantage of enemies that I shouldn’t have access to in order to gain some easy Souls. I run for it.
It’s easy enough to split through the first two Hulks. Only one of them reacts fast enough to swing at me, and I roll past without taking damage. I see the 3rd Hulk, standing with his back turned to my body. I retrieve my Essence and turn around. The Hulk takes a swing at my back, and I roll away, but now the others are closing in. I start pumping my legs, trying to build up speed so I can dodge around them. I’m not fast enough; one of them snags me with its club. But I don’t fall. I roll, and I keep on running. I make it to the mouth of the cave, then across the bridge. The Dung Hulks don’t follow.
Back at the bonfire I heal and cleanse myself of the poison. I also use all the Souls I have, plus some of the Undead Soul items I’ve picked up along the way. It’s enough to get my to 15 dexterity, and I put another point into vitality as well.
It’s been a harrowing day, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. It was good to explore the other paths available, if only to give myself some focus. I’m headed back to the graveyard. That seems to be the most appropriate content at the moment. I’m headed to the graveyard with some new weapons in my arsenal, and the knowledge that skeletons are far from the scariest enemies around. Perspective is important.
But all of that adventuring has also made me hungry, so that tomb underneath the graveyard will have to wait.