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The Dark Souls Review Diary: Part 2
Read how we're getting on with Dark Souls in the run-up to review.
There are so many moments that define the Dark Souls experience. Moments of improbable triumph, of lucky escape, of superhuman skill; the times where you find a game-changing sword at the bottom of a chasm after running away from pustulous chimerae, or where you fell a boss with a dying blow, or where the enormous fossilized skeleton you've been skirting around suddenly comes to life and murders you.
Then there are the times you spend an hour and a half hiding behind a rock shooting arrows at a dragon.
Today, after twelve hours of very solid progress yesterday, I hit one of the brick walls that inevitably crop up when you're caught between bosses, unsure of where to go or how to progress. Bored of my well-worn stomping grounds in the Undead Parish, I decided to venture further afield into Dark Souls' open world, only to find that I'd become so comfortable in my old habits that the mere sight of new enemies was enough to throw me right off my game and get me killed within ten seconds. For hours. In all my joyful reminiscences on Demon's Souls, I had forgotten exactly how much of the game was spent achieving exactly nothing.
It's one these games' great strengths that even when you're making no tangible progress at all, you're passively acquiring the combat and survival skills that will eventually lead you further and further on. Dark Souls rarely feels like grinding; it feels like learning. Because this is an open-world game now, you can easily venture back to areas you've already conquered, and surprise and delight yourself with the ease and flair with which you're suddenly navigating sections that took you forever to conquer first time around.
That's what I ended up spending most of my day doing: retreading old ground to build up my confidence (and my soul level). It was at the entrance to the Undead Parish, standing at the other end of a bridge guarded by an eff-off enormous great dragon, that I had a sudden thought born more out of boredom than any wiser impulse. I thought: I bet this guy's not so hard. I reckon I could pick him off with a couple of hundred arrows.
Standing just out of range of his fiery exhalations, I fired arrow after arrow at his face, doing miniscule damage with each one. After about five minutes of this, he got pissed off with me and, to my horror, jumped down onto the actual bridge and stomped over to say hello. Terrified, I scampered back to an alcove further down, hiding from his thrashing attacks. I was trapped. All I could do was dart out and fire the odd arrow at him whenever there was a break in his raging.
About one hour and 300 arrows later, with the dragon about halfway towards death, I accidentally pressed the wrong button and stepped backwards off the bridge. So it goes.
People read this review diary, and they ask me "how in the hell is this game supposed to be fun?" Truth is, Dark Souls isn't fun, 95% of the time. It's the other 5% that you play for. Things are so incredibly difficult that even the tiniest victories bring you close to tears of joy and relief. Tonight, at the bottom of a fungal, lurid cavern filled with lots and lots of dangerous things that I'd managed to creep past, I found an incredibly useful new poison-resistant shield on the body of a less fortunate adventurer and could barely contain my excitement. If I could, I would have kissed it.
I'm going deeper underground, and I sense things are about to get serious. It might be a few days before the next instalment of this review diary, but I feel like I'm starting to hit my stride.