They say that you should never meet your heroes, which may be true, but in my experience the real maxim is that you should never meet your villains, or at least not your greatest enemies, especially if you’re also the type who believes that a person’s strength can be measured by the strength of those who oppose them.
What I mean to say is that I killed the dragon on the bridge in Undead Burg. Well, technically it’s a drake, but technically it also dropped one of the legendary dragon weapons, so technically I’ll call it whatever I want.
Checking in on the dragon is something I usually do when I’m in the area. I suppose that I am the figurative troll under the bridge, except that the dragon is more interested in stopping me from crossing, for whatever reason. I suppose he was just an asshole, unless he was ordered to do so, and if that was the case why didn’t he follow me?
It’s not like he was guarding anything: all I found behind him was a bonfire and an empty area with only a couple of feeble, oblivious Hollowed and an old broken statue. There was a switch opening the gate to the Undead Parish, but that’s only a shortcut if I’m going from the church to Lower Undead Burg, and I don’t know why I would want to do that since there is the bonfire in Undead Burg that would still be closer.
So, I’m standing on this bridge and being a jerk. I still have it in my head that I can time a desperate run to the items under the dragon.
I step out. The dragon breathes a wave of fire back and forth over the bridge, killing all of the hapless Hollowed soldiers stumbling around there. I step out again. The dragon breathes fire up and down the length of the bridge, turning it into a physical Hell.
I step out again. The dragon breaths a steady stream of fire over the bridge, a roaring jet of heat and death. I step out again. The dragon leaps into the air and strafes the bridge, then lands back on its perch.
I’ve seen 4 different attacks now, and I’m waiting between them, counting the heartbeats to see if any is longer than the others.
I’m prepared to step onto the bridge again, when the dragon does something it has never done before. It hops down from its perch and lands on the bridge. Close enough for a hug, and close enough for me to finally do the damage I’ve been longing to do.
All this time I’d been looking for some way to get to the area the dragon was guarding, some alternate path where I would come out below it and it would have to fly away for fight me, and now I see that I could have fought it at any time.
Here’s the thing though: the fight is terrible. This epic showdown, a lone Undead facing down the very beast has been the cause of so many of her nightmares, the living embodiment of a primal fear of heat and fire. It should have been the stuff of legends, the kind of duel that would have poets coining new words in an attempt to capture one tenth of the grandeur. Flabbistigatory! Incredifying! Spectaculous! Any Hollowed who witnessed it would have their Humanity restored just so they could cheer me on, and that stupid crow would realize my mastery over anything in the air and just pick me up and take me to Anor Londo so I wouldn’t have to bother with Sen’s Fortress.
As it is, I’m presented with weird mechanics and random, unpredictable deaths.
The first time the dragon lands on the bridge I am surprised, and I almost don’t block its breath attack. I still take plenty of damage, but I get up and drink from my flask. The dragon then jump into the air and blasts the area with fire, killing me dead.
Fair enough. I wouldn’t even want the fight to be easy, as that would rob me of the pleasure of killing the thing.
I make my preparations. I put on my gold-hemmed equipment to achieve maximal fire resistance, and to make up for the loss of poise I also wear my stone chest armour. I add my gold resin, the item that will enchant my weapon with lightning damage, to my hotbar. I’ll use that once I’ve figured out the dragon’s patterns and I’m confident I can get the kill.
With the experience I’ve already had, I know my first goal is to cut the tail off. I try to get behind it, but the tail is so far to the side that it’s hanging off the bridge, and I can’t hit it reliably. It then waves the tail back and forth, hitting me with an unblockable attack that knocks me off the bridge. Fine, fine. I can deal with that.
I return with my Black Knight Sword, held in both hands, as it has my most reliable vertical range. I get behind it again, dodge the tail swishes, and then chop the tail off with a single mighty swing. I pick up a Drake Sword.
Enraged, the dragon leaps into the air and starts breathing fire down on me. I pull out my shield and block. I lose all of my stamina and get hit anyway, but it’s not that much damage. Then the dragon does it again. And again. And again. And again. I heal through each breath attack. Then the dragon does it again, and I take more damage than each of the other attacks combined, and die.
I equip my club. I put away the shield. I put the Drake Sword in my belt, as it adds more fire resistance. I have cut the tail, and now it’s time to go for the kill.
As I wrote in my first entry into the diary, the reason I first decided to play Dark Souls was because I’d just beaten Rogue Legacy (including new game+ and the secret bosses), and I was not at all impressed with what passed for difficulty in that game. In fact, I even wrote a few words about it. As I said, what disappointed me the most about that game was that the most challenging parts of it were so random that I was always left with the feeling that it was as much luck as my skill that saw me through. At least those bosses all had clear, well-defined mechanics, though. This dragon does not, or if it does then they’re too opaque for me.
My fire resistance is considerable, and I don’t even bother with my shield because I take less damage most of the time if I let the attacks hit me and knock me over right away. Most of the time. Sometimes I just die. I look for a reason. Is it when I have low stamina? When I’ve been hit by a bunch of breath attacks in a row, wearing down my resistance or something? Nope. I can have full stamina or none at all, it can be the 12th breath attack in a row or the 1st breath attack in the fight. Usually I take minimal damage, less than a quarter of my HP, and sometimes I die. Once he even killed me while I was standing behind a wall.
That wouldn’t even have been so bad if the breath attacks had any sort of regularity or predictability, but they don’t. If the dragon feels like it, it will leap into the air and just keep breathing fire until I’m dead. Or it will just stand around on the bridge looking stupid and doing nothing. Maybe it’s waiting for the coin flip in his head.
I give up on establishing any sort of pattern or meaning in the fight, and instead I just hold my club in both hands, get as close as I can, and keep swinging, hoping that the dragon will stay still long enough for my to kill it. Eventually, it does, but not before giving me the worst fight in the game. Not the most challenging, because there is no challenge in playing a slot machine, but simply a bad fight that is neither interesting nor fun.
Maybe, in a very abstract way, that’s the best I could have hoped for from the monster I wanted to kill the most, if the fight couldn’t actually be a challenge. I suppose it did live up to my ideal of it being the worst thing in Lordran.
I get 10000 Souls, and pick up the items on the bridge: a claymore, Undead Soul, and a Titanite shard.
I go away feeling like, somehow, the dragon still won.
Before leaving, I have one last thing on my mind. I return to the Darkroot Garden. I’m going back to the forest with the mushrooms. On the way, I spy a curious light in the forest full of ghostly bandits.
I run over and pick up an item bundle. It’s the Pharis’s Hat and the Black Bow of Pharis, along with Twin Humanities. Pharis must have been the archer that I killed. So he was the leader of these guys? He’s gone, but the rest of them aren’t. What was he doing parked in this forest anyway?
I move on. I kill the little mushrooms. I hear the distinctive bird calls. The first time through here I thought it might have been connected to the hedgecats I fought nearby, that each mushroom I killed attracted another one of them, but they haven’t returned. Most of the mushrooms I kill cause the bird call, but not all of them. The ones that don’t, are they the ones I killed before? I hunt them all down and murder them. I walk through the empty forest. Nothing happens, nothing has changed. I even check the grave where I killed Sif, but there’s nothing new there, either.
I’m not sure what I expected to happen, I just felt like the game was telling me something. Maybe I’d kill all the little mushrooms and then the big momma mushroom would show up to get revenge. That doesn’t make sense, though, since mushrooms don’t have mothers.
Back at the church bonfire and I have enough Souls to level up a single stat. I briefly consider getting an extra spell slot, thinking that I could hold a catalyst in my free hand. I try various combinations of the spells I already have, but none of them seem that great, even magic weapon and magic shield, since they are awkward to use. Pyromancy would be easiest, but I only have the poison mist spell and spell that sucks my HP in exchange for power, and I have no interest in either of them. In the end I just get a point of dexterity, since I’m using my spear again.
Time to finally do this.
I fight the snakemen inside the gate. At one point I trigger an arrow trap, but the arrows hit the snakemen and not me. Good to know the traps are dangerous for everyone.
I’m only in the first room and I’m already wondering what kind of sadist this Sen guy was. There is no part of this place that isn’t designed to look dangerous, from the huge pendulum blades blocking my passage across the narrow stone bridge–the only way forward from here–to the stone walls stained with endless years of old bodily fluids and the ominously hanging rusty chains dangling iron cages over the pit below. Was this some sort of game, where prisoners had to watch as their comrades were run through the deadly obstacle course, knowing that eventually their turns would come as well?
Below me, in a black pit, I see a Titanite Demon.
Across the stone bridge I see another snakeman. I wonder if I have finally found an enemy smart enough to not jump over the edge when they see me.
I start to cross the bridge. Timing the blades is easy enough, but I’m not half way over when I am struck by lightning. I look up and see that on the bridge that crosses over mine there is another snake, this one a 4-armed female, and she is happily blasting away at me. My Black Knight Shield has mediocre lightning resistance, so even when I block the attacks I’m still taking plenty of damage. I hurry forward until I’m underneath the other bridge, far enough in that the snakewoman can’t target me. There I fight the snakeman, allowing him to come to me so that I don’t lose my cover. I kill him and notice that there are yet more snakes below me, also trying to zap me with magic, but with no success.
I switch out my Black Knight Shield for the Eagle Shield, which has marginally less physical defence, but much greater lightning resistance.
On the other side of the bridge I find a rude display of statues. They look an awful lot like the Black Knights I’ve been fighting, and I know I’m going to go through the rest of this place wondering when one of them will come alive. Were the Black Knights once based here or something? Maybe they weren’t as nice as I imagined them to be, or maybe you have to be an asshole already to want to take down demons for a living.
I take some stairs to the upper bridge, where I have to get through more swinging blades and run directly into the sorcerer’s lightning. This would probably me much easier if I had a ranged weapon.
I hold up my Eagle Shield and run across the bridge, where I kill the snake. An arrow trap triggers, but I’m out of the way and they miss. In the next room is a chest containing a large Titanite shard and another pile of knight statues.
In the next room are more crossed stone bridges. I look down and see another Titanite Demon. The same one as before, or a different one? How many are there?
On the bridge below mine is a snakeman who is standing as casual as you please, arms crossed, knees bent. He doesn’t seem to be armed, though. I drop down and walk up to him. He doesn’t react. Maybe he’s asleep?
How would I get his attention? Kick him? Maybe he’ll wake up when he’s needed. I leave him alone.
There are stairs leading up from here, higher into the fortress, but I can’t get to them.
I hear a loud sound, the sound of something big, a rock or piece of metal, being moved around in the distance. At the top of the stairs I see faint movement. There is some great mechanism at work up there, but I’m not sure what for.
I get my answer when I try to take the only other door out of this room, one that leads to the outer wall of the fortress. There is a snakeman waiting to fight me there. Suddenly a giant boulder plows into him from the side, from the direction of the top of those stairs. The snakeman struggles back to his feet, so I put my spear through him. Another boulder rumbles outside.
I peak around the corner. The boulders roll down from above, definitely the direction of the top of those stairs, and then down into a pit behind me. At least, I assume it’s a pit. I figure that going in that direction to look over the edge is the perfect way to get trapped and knocked into the void. I should probably avoid that and head up the stairs instead. That would be the sensible thing to do.
I wait for the next boulder to pass the doorway, then I turn and follow it down to toward the pit. Part way and I start sliding uncontrollably where the continuous crush of boulders has worn the stairs into a smooth rut. I manage to recover just in time and step to the side as another boulder careers past. I look over the edge. It’s an endless drop. That was a close one.
I turn at another sound, barely audible over the sound of the boulders. There is another snakeman down here. I kill him. Further alone, next to the stairs I was planning on climbing, are another snakeman and someone clad in familiar onion-shaped armour.
I knock the other snakeman off the ledge, then go speak to the onion knight. He is again forlorn, dangling his feet over the void below. He tells me that he stuck since he is too fat and slow to make it past the boulders, but if he waits long enough then maybe something good will happen. If I assume that he knows I’m the one who rang the bells and got this place opened up in the first place then I can also assume that he’s being pretty passive-aggressive here and implying that it’s my job to open the way for him again. If I’m being more charitable then he’s just hinting that it’s possible to run past the boulders and also possible to stop them from rolling down here.
I run back up to the doorway into Sen’s Fortress, then time the next boulder and start running up the stairs. Just when I’m sure I won’t be able to make it before the next boulder arrives, I find another doorway into the fortress, which is blocked by white light.
I step close, avoiding the boulders. There is a snakewoman at the top of the stairs, and when she sees me coming she decides that I’m definitely more interesting and important than not being smashed to bits by the giant boulders hurtling down the stairs, so she runs at me and immediately gets smashed to bits by the giant boulders being hurtled down the stairs. All of that ivory tower education to become a sorcerer, but no street smarts. What a shame.
I could go through this doorway, but I’m more interested in seeing what the snake was guarding. I run to the top of the stairs and find another room full of statues, as well as a chest, which I open to find a Ring of Steel Protection. It boosts physical defence. It’s the kind of item that every single-player RPG has, and it’s probably just as useless here as it is in all other cases. Plus, its description claims that it was owned by a Knight King who once stood down a drake, and having just stood down a drake myself, I don’t see what use it would have been. He’d have been better off hanging a pair of lucky dice from his visor and hoping the gods of RNG were on his side that day.
I walk through the doorway of white light. Inside is a small room with a suspiciously placed window and another snakeman. I kill the snakeman, then investigate the window. It’s suspicious because it doesn’t look outside. All I can see is a big, rusty chain. Then a platform comes up from below, and then back down. The platform itself is stained with blood, but at least I know there is some sort of elevator leading down into the fortress. That’s probably how I get to the Titanite Demons. The sound of the elevator had been blending in with the sound of the boulders, and I hear another sound as well, like a large metal saw.
I walk down a narrow hall to the next room. An arrow trap triggers, but I’ve already moved clear of it. I turn around and see the slit they’d been fired from; I’ll have to pay more attention to the walls, because I won’t always be as lucky as I’ve been so far, and from the damage the snakemen take, those arrows will hurt.
Through another door and I find the remnants of a central stairwell. Years of boulders have worn the stone steps into a smooth ditch. If not for the boulders and the snakemen and the snakewomen and the traps and the Titanite Demons I would consider hoping on my shield and sliding down to the bottom.
Up or down? The higher I go the more likely I am to find the source of the boulders. I time the boulders in my mind. The distance to the top of the stairs is probably too far for me to climb before the next boulder comes, but there is no wall here, so if I needed to I could drop off the stairs to avoid an oncoming rock.
I run up the stairs. I get all the way to the top and then turn a corner before the next boulder is ready. I’m too far from the edge to jump off and there is no space to dodge, so I just take it on the chin, then get to my feet and run out of the path.
I’m in a large room now and I have indeed found the machine controlling the boulders. They are being dropped through a hole in the ceiling onto a pedestal, and after a few seconds the gears have spun enough and a large metal rod sends the rock flying out of the room through one of the open doorways.
There are 4 main exits, and each of them has stones that have been worn down by the boulders. It must be possible to at least change the direction they are sent if I can’t turn the machine off. I’ve already made it to the top, though, so what is the value in turning the boulders off now? There must be something else down there.
I check all 4 exits. The one in the back leads out to a dead drop, another leads outside to where I met the onion knight (No more boulders going that direction, so did someone alter their course while I was on my way up?), then there are the stairs down to where that snakeman is napping, and finally the stairs I took to get into the room. I find a handle on the stone pedestal and I turn it so the boulders are sent out to the void, where they will do no harm.
I go back out the doorway I entered and look around. Below, where I could have dropped off the stairs, is some wooden scaffolding, a snakewoman, and a loot body. I drop down and kill the snake, then pick up a brave knight’s Soul.
The scaffolding leads to a small room. Chains, a low bench, iron bars. A cell? The iron bars are broken and I could drop down to the floor below, which would put me somewhere high up in the room with the swinging blades. If I drop down here, though, I won’t be able to get back up. I’ll try other options first.
In a nearby room I find a body holding a set of Black Sorcerer’s gear and a Hush spell. Not sure what I would do with that, since I definitely want them to hear me coming. Further on, through a metal gate, and I find the room with the bloody elevator. I cross a bridge over some stairs, and I drop down and run to the bottom. I’m back down with the casual snake, and he’s still not reacting. I step outside to check on the onion knight, but he has disappeared. He can move fast enough when he wants to.
I drop down off the stairs above where the onion knight sat and loot a corpse holding a Shotel, which is an odd curved sword, like a sickle.
I head back up to the boulder room. As I get near I hear a metallic scraping sound. I heard that last time I was on my way up here as well. I turn a corner and get flattened by a boulder. That sound is the sound of the pedestal being turned around. Is someone doing that, or is it set to a timer, or maybe I’m tripping a switch.
I go to the room with the elevator. I notice right away that the platform goes down, then comes back up, then goes up again before going down. That’s strange. I look up the elevator shaft and see the reason why: there are nasty metal spikes coming out of the top of the shaft. That would explain the blood as well. I wait for the platform to start going down and try to hop on, but it falls faster than I do and I basically fall all the way to the bottom, then roll off before it can carry me back up. I lose about half my HP, but there are no enemies around. When will I find a bonfire?
There is nothing down here but more statues and a chest, which is placed at a strange angle in the middle of the room. I circle around and open it.
Arms grab me and the chest lid, now a mouth full of teeth like needles and an oversized tongue, snaps down on my head. I try to struggle, but I am weak after my fall, and I soon give up the fight.
So, there are mimics in this game. Great.
On my way back through the fortress, I knock a snakeman off a bridge. He falls to the bottom, where the Titanite Demons are. He lands safely enough and runs across the black floor to a small alcove in the corner. The way down there? The way out? I am sure I could fall down there and live, even without a prism stone. However, my body needs to be recovered, and maybe it’s close to the bottom as well.
It’s as if now that I know where the traps are, I can’t avoid being hit by them. Arrows stick into me out of wall slits, but I have plenty of healing so I’m not that worried. On my way up I hear the direction of the boulders being changed again, but I know an alternate route. I get to the elevator and drop down to the bottom again. I pick up my body. The mimic doesn’t move..
Just to be sure, I check the next room over. Maybe I was that close to a bonfire. It’s only the bottom of the stairs I took up to the bolder mechanism. The rocks are coming this way now and falling into a hole. I probably should have changed their direction before coming down here.
I turn to the mimic.
I can’t target it; that would make finding a mimic too easy. I stab at it. It begins to unfold itself. I had assumed it would be like the mimics in most games, just a chest with teeth that hops around and bites things, but it’s much more than that: the kind of gangling limbs that only exist in fever dreams; freakish proportions that suggest creeping, energetic violence; the impossibly long shadow in a dark room that is still there after the double-take.
It makes a couple of awkward grabs for me, then tries to run up and kick me like a ball. I kill it. It drops a lightning spear. This weapon is relevant to my interests, though I could have used it earlier to take down the drake. Its description is the same as a normal spear’s, but it has better damage stats. It also has no attribute bonuses at all. I decide that snakemen are close enough to dragons that maybe lightning will work on them, so I equip my new spear.
I turn around, walk back to the elevator, and promptly fall into the void and die.
The lightning spear is a mild success, as adding both its physical and lightning damage together is slightly more than what I’m doing with my winged spear, and it even has a neat crackling electricity effect.
I go to the boulder mechanism first and turn it away, then run down the stairs instead of taking the elevator again. I pick up my body and see that the hole at the bottom has been plugged up by the boulders, and the wall behind it has been smashed open.
I find a slumped body and pick up a Covetous Serpent Ring. It triples my item find stat. I put it on immediately. There is nothing else down here but a long, suspiciously barren hall leading back outside.
I walk down it fully expecting something to show up and try to push me out, but nothing happens. I find a ladder where the boulders have plugged the hole and climb down, but there’s nothing down there.
In the boulder room I find stairs leading up. I walk down a narrow hall with very obvious arrow slits in the walls. I depress a plate on the ground and let them go by harmlessly. Past that is another narrow stone bridge, more swinging blades. They are so tightly spaced that I’ll have to run past them all at once. Whatever is past them had better be worth it.
I get part way across and think that I won’t make it, so I jump and roll to safety. I kill more snakemen, pick up a large Titanite shard from a body. I climb more stairs and find an even narrower bridge with more blades and a snakewoman throwing lightning.
It’s not nearly as difficult as it seems, and I time the blades so that I don’t even get hit by lightning. On the other side I can circle around and kill the last snake.
There is a doorway of white light here.
What else can I do but go on? If there was a bonfire somewhere in the fortress then I’ve missed it, and I’m not backtracking through those blades again. Eventually I will get hit.
When the light clears the first thing I see is a giant who is dropping boulders through a hole. That explains that.
I am outside now, on top of the fortress. I climb some stairs and turn to get a better look at the giant. In the distance I hear a furious grunting, and the floor I’m standing on explodes. I fall back down to the lower level, but take minimal damage. I look back up and see that some clown is lobbing giant bombs at me from further up in the fortress.
Never a moment’s peace. I run back up the stairs, then up more stairs. I see a body on the ground, and it’s laying face down in a large splash of soot and debris. Seems obvious enough that if I stop here I will have the same fate. I keep moving. Bombs fall behind me. I climb another set of stairs and I’m close enough to the walls that I’m out of sight and the bombs stop.
Around a corner is a large armoured knight.
I kill him and he drops a large Titanite shard. I switch back to my Black Knight Shield, as the bombs should be fire damage, and the Eagle Shield doesn’t fully block physical blows.
There is a ladder here as well, leading down.
I run back to where the bombs were falling and keep climbing the tower toward the giant. I hear bombs falling around me, and then I hear a crossbow being fired. I run across some open stone bridges and find another knight.
He is one of the knights that fights with a thrusting sword, so I let him attack me, parry the blow, and put my spear right through his chest. I pick up a rapier and a Titanite shard. This item find ring is paying off.
From back here I get another look at the giant with the boulders. I wonder if I can get down there.
I cross back over the stone bridges. I’m climbing the tower again. Inside I find a pair of empty metal cages. Outside I find a knight with a crossbow.
When he dies his body has an item, but it falls over the edge. Bombs are still falling, and I don’t want to chase after that item. I duck inside the tower.
There is another doorway of white light here.
The giant with the bombs is close. I can hear him as he moves around. Each step shakes the room.
Where is the bonfire?
I figure that going through the white light will lead me to the boss. Maybe the giant with the bombs? There has to be a bonfire around here somewhere.
I climb some stairs. At the top I’m about to step outside when something starts screaming, the ground shakes, and the place starts rumbling with heavy breathing. That’s the giant then. I try to peak around the edge of the door, but a huge fist clubs me right through my shield and knocks me back down the stairs.
I get up and dust myself off. There is another exit, and I walk across a stone bridge toward another tower. I can see past the doorway of white light from here. Yes, that’s definitely the boss.
In the other tower is a room empty of everything save a table and a couple of chairs. What’s the point of that? I break them apart.
Maybe the giant on the roof is guarding a bonfire? I climb back up the stairs and quickly get outside, into the open. The giant screams again and starts smashing its fists and feet into the ground. Its rage is so great that it quickly exhausts itself, and while it is on its hands and knees trying to recover I take advantage, stabbing deep with 2-handed attacks of my spear. It stands up and stomps the ground, which nearly kills me, but I take a quick drink from my flask and finish the job.
It drops a Titanite chunk, which is what is used to upgrade weapons like my lightning spear. I break apart all of the bombs, but there is no bonfire hidden underneath.
From up here I get a better look at my ultimate destination: Anor Londo. I can see only the giant walls that surround it, and a church or temple at the top of a hill.
At least now I can explore without having to worry about bombs. I look down from a stone bridge and see a body and a knight.
I run back down to where I exited from the fortress and find stairs leading down. There I fight a couple of knights and recover a Flame Stoneplate Ring from a chest, and a Titanite shard and pair of Balder Leggings from the knights. The ring is your standard +50 fire resistance, another requisite item like the defence ring I found earlier. I doubt I’ll ever have a use for it.
I can’t can get up to the body, though, so I return to the bridge. I see a gap, and on the other side is another tower. I figure it’s worth my time to try to make that jump, because even if I fall I’ll just land near the body anyway.
I clear the gap easily. In the tower I find an armoured man who sells me items.
When I talk to him he tells me that he was once arrogant enough to think he could make it through Sen’s Fortress, and someday I’ll realize it’s futile, or I won’t and he’ll strip my body of valuables to sell to the next poor sucker. Creepy Undead laugh. I don’t see what his problem is, since it looks like he’s already made it to the top. Is the boss that scary?
I wonder about these Undead in Lordran who have decided that continuing their quests is pointless and they may as well sell crap to others who pass by. What is their endgame? Is this some sort of pure capitalism where their only goal is to sell more items? I mean, what are they doing with the Souls, or do they think the steady stream of saps passing through will be enough to keep them from going Hollowed, and if that were the case wouldn’t it make sense to set up shop in a more accessible location?
Anyway, this guy sells some expensive stuff. He has a complete set of armour like the onion knight’s, a couple of heavy weapons, a massive tower shield that has excellent defence but weighs more than twice as much as any shield I own, and also large Titanite shards and green Titanite shards. I check to see if there’s a limit for how many I can buy, but there is none. This is a boon, I think, as I can use these to further upgrade most of my equipment without worry. I can max out my spear and club to +10 if I want. I see that the large Titanite only brings raw weapons to +5. Is that the limit for raw weapons? How does a +5 raw weapon compare to a +10 normal weapon, since they can both be made from the same Titiante. I know the raw weapon will have a lower stat bonus. I wonder if it would be better in the long run to turn my winged spear into a +10 normal weapon.
The man tells me to give up on Anor Londo. He says that Black Iron Tarkus, Knight King Rendel, and even Logan all went there, and implies that none of them returned. How long has this guy been here, exactly, and how long ago did these other guys pass through? Am I going to run into Hollowed versions of them later on?
There are stairs leading down to the bottom of the tower. There, I find a snakewoman and loot a body for a Cage Key. It says that adventurers are taken by the snakemen and locked in the iron cages around the fortress, and there they are either forgotten about or get dragged away. For food? I wonder who I’ll be rescuing. There must be a bunch of the fortress that I missed. Should I go back?
I consider my situation. I am at the boss, but without a bonfire. I have no more healing spells, but I still have 10 flask charges. When I drop down to the body outside I will probably have to use one of those, so I’ll call it 9 flask charges. I could go after the boss, but if I die I will have to run through the entire fortress again. Maybe there’s a bonfire past him? I also have to consider the 24000 Souls I’ve collected. I can’t level up without a bonfire. I could just buy items instead, and then I wouldn’t be losing so much against the boss. I buy 6 large Titanite shards. That’s a weight off my shoulders.
I drop down to the body below and pick up a sniper’s crossbow. I lose half my HP in the process and have to use a flask to heal. That’s 9 charges left.
Then, I find what I’m looking for. I’m walking back up toward the boss’s tower when I notice a conspicuous break in the tiny barrier running along the edge of the fortress. Those walls are so short that they should be nothing more than a tripping hazard, but I know that any wall is enough to bar my passage in a Dark Souls, so any break starts to stand out. It’s weird logic that only exists in video games, but it tells me that this is a spot I could use to fall down somewhere. I look over the edge and see a bonfire.
I drop down and light it. Back inside the fortress I am on a ledge above the stairs leading back out to the top of the fortress. This is a one-way path, so I’ll have to drop down to get away from the bonfire, and the only way back is to return to the roof and fall again.
I spent so many Souls on the Titanite that I don’t have enough left over to use them for upgrades. Instead, I use 3 of the nearly 40 Humanity I have. I reverse my Hollowing and kindle the bonfire once. I want to see how the Serpent Ring effects my item find number now that I’ve got Humanity. I only go up to 350, so there’s no multiplier.
I kill the large knight with the mace again. He drops a large Titanite and Steel Armour, which is heavy, but has much better defence than the Balder Armour I’m currently wearing. If everyone around here is dropping large Titanite shards I probably should have bought green Titanite instead, though I would only use that to make a fire weapon.
I slide down the ladder I’d seen before and walk across a wall to another tower. I find a knight with a bow, and he switches it out for a rapier when I get close. Another Hollowed adventurer. I kill him and pick up Ricard’s Rapier. This was some Undead prince who wandered the lands like an idiot. The weapon has good dexterity gain, and neat multiple attacks with heavy thrusts, but I think those animations are a bit much. Probably would be good against other human enemies, but if I can’t stagger a foe with the attacks then I’m just leaving myself open for retaliation. At the top of the tower are a couple of chests. Inside I find a Divine Blessing, which restores HP and undoes “irregularities,” whatever those are. In the other chest is a Rare Ring of Sacrifice. Is the game trying to tell me that I’m about to be cursed, or just that I’m about to die?
From up here I can see the last giant, the one who opened the gate when I rang the bells. I can’t see any way to get down to him, though.
In the empty tower near the boss I now find a summoning sign. It almost feels like cheating to not go in alone, but I call forth Iron Tarkus.
The huge Iron Golem walks toward us, heavy footsteps shaking the ground with each step. The fight is incredibly easy, and I think it would have been just as easy even without Tarkus around to help. The golem is big, sure, but it’s also very slow and has no chance of actually hitting me. We knock it over and I get to work with my spear. The golem dies and Tarkus disappears.
I get a Core of an Iron Golem, a Humanity, and 40000 Souls.
Was that really it? I must have missed the bulk of the fortress somehow, because I expected to die more than 3 times.
The way to Anor Londo is still blocked, the great gate having been covered with masses of immovable stone.
In the middle of the platform the Iron Golem had been standing on I see a small, yellow ring.
I step up to it and interact. A cutscene plays and a trio of flying creatures appear from the sky. Two of them grab me and follow the third, carrying me up and over the walls of Anor Londo.
Notes on Challenge
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
– Abraham Lincoln
The Drake Sword presents an interesting dilemma for me. Well, not actually for me, since I would never, ever use it, but for how closed-system RPGs are designed.
The Drake Sword itself is a little absurd. It has low stat requirements, does amazing damage (200 for a 1-handed weapon, even if it has no stat bonuses, is way better than anything I’ve seen so far), adds defence bonuses when equipped, and has a special property: when held with both hands the heavy attack sends out line of power toward a target, effectively giving the weapon a ranged attack. With the damage it does, it can also kill most any enemy around here with a single hit. I can see how it would be possible for a player who was forewarned to suicide rush the drake until they managed to knock its tail off, giving them a weapon of immense power very early in the game.
I cut the drake’s tail off even though I didn’t know what it would drop, and I would have cut it off anyway if I had known, just because I knew I could, but I would never use the Drake Sword.
You may have noticed that I never mention upgrading any of my armour, and I have only upgraded a few of my basic weapons otherwise, and half of that was just to see what would happen. I also don’t do any grinding and have an inventory full of Undead Souls that I don’t cash in, even though they must be enough to get a bunch of stat points, even now.
I have collected plenty of Titanite, and I even have vendors that will sell more to me. I could be carrying around +10 armour in every slot and a much better weapon, but I don’t.
Part of this is because I still haven’t settled; my haphazard stat allocation should tell that tale. Another part is that I’m not sure what my options will be, since I’m sitting on a number of boss Souls that are supposed to turn into special weapons, and I regularly find new armour to replace what I’m wearing, but that’s not much of a reason to not upgrade what I’ve already got.
The main reason is that I am keenly aware that I am playing within a closed system, and part of me is trying to resist becoming overpowered. I know I’ve done pretty much everything in the game in the wrong order, and that has only made things worse. First, because I sometimes went to areas after I should have, so I was stronger than I was meant to be. Second, because I went to areas earlier than I should have and I got through them anyway.
When I say that the game is a closed system what I mean is that all the challenge is already set, and probably not even randomized. Compare that to an open system, like, say, Diablo 2, where the challenge is randomized, and it’s always possible for it to be tweaked down the line.
Let’s say I assign every challenge in the game a rating which represents its difficulty compared to everything else in the game, and my power. Because Dark Souls is, at the end of the day, still a game about numbers and how those numbers influence mechanics, I don’t feel out of place giving the challenges set ratings.
So, I reach an area or a boss, and it has a rating of 200. To overcome this challenge I have to get my own rating higher than the rating of the challenge. My rating is based on two things: my stats and my skill. If I’m already over 200 just through stats, because of my gear or my level or whatever other power I’ve accumulated, then I don’t have to use any skill. This would be like when I go down to the Depths at level 45 with a bunch of gear from later in the game. The enemies down there die as soon as I look at them and have little chance of ever killing me. The opposite is also possible, as when I went to the Catacombs at the start of the game. There, my equipment was non-existent, and I had to make up for that deficiency with my skill.
Both of those scenarios are unintended, but at least one of them is interesting to me. Ideally, I would go through the game with an even ratio between my rating and the rating of the challenges presented, so that as I acquire better stats, so do my enemies, and I always have to use some skill to make up the difference. The problem with that is that I don’t know what the challenges will be until I’ve faced them, so I would still be risking overpowering myself.
The thing is, though, that I have been able to make up any difference so far by playing better, and I worry that if I acquire too much power I will further cut down on the need to play well. If I can get through the game with just my club or spear, why should I use a better weapon? If I can survive a hit and keep going with my current armour, why should I upgrade? In the end, the difference my stats make is only the difference in how many mistakes I am allowed before I lose.
When I fought Sif I wore the heaviest armour I could just so that I didn’t get killed in 1 hit. Even then, 2 hits would still get the job done, and I could still be killed outright if I wasn’t at full HP. I won that fight because I learned the patterns until I knew exactly when and how I could attack. It was not a matter of attrition, even: I used a few flask charges, but other than that I finished the fight as healthy as I was when I started.
The real issue is that I can always get stronger, through gear or through skill, but my enemies cannot. The hardest area and hardest boss will always be the same whether I go in with a +5 club and tattered robes or a +15 sword of destruction and armour of invulnerability. This allows such games to have a variable difficulty built in, which is good for reaching a wider audience.
(Example: rankings in the MegaMan Zero games, where the player is given a number of “navis,” which are powerups that they can use to make the game easier, but if they do so then the will get a lower rating when completing a level. In this way it is possible to brute force through any challenge, but also possible to beat the game without using any powerups. The player gets to decide how much difficulty they want to tackle on their own.)
The closed system challenge of games also greatly skews the reward schemes in them, especially when there is optional content. If I beat the hardest boss and receive the best weapon as a reward, then what? I have already done the only content that would require such power, so what am I supposed to do with it, besides make the rest of the game even easier? Why would I want to do that? But if I beat the hardest boss and don’t get the best reward, do I feel cheated? I personally don’t, but I imagine many others do, which is why most games are designed the way they are. I have been bothered by this dichotomy since the earliest days of Final Fantasy games, and through the years I feel myself holding back more and more. Maybe games haven’t really become that much easier, but it definitely feels like they have when I always have to pull my punches to make them interesting.
Now, I’m probably not even half way through Dark Souls, so maybe it will still surprise me. I hope it does, I hope it gives me a reason to upgrade everything I have just to keep my head above water. I look forward to something brutal and unknown, because when I crush it anyway I will know that my victory was actually deserved.