Dark Souls came out in 2011, but VG247’s Dave Cook only just finished it last month. Was the journey worth it? “Hell yes”, he says.
It’s over. I finally did it.
Completing Dark Souls has got to be one of my most proudest moments as a gamer and for the first time in years I actually feel like I earned victory, instead of having it dispensed through obligation.
This is not a case of simply coasting through a game’s plot or funnelling your way along corridors to see some end credits. Dark Souls is an endurance test from the word go and while it seems intimidating at several junctures you just have to keep reminding yourself that each of the game’s challenges – however seemingly impossible – were made to be beaten.
I’d forgotten this golden rule after giving up on the game last year. By that point I had just passed Sen’s Fortress and I was getting read to battle my way to Ornstein & Smough. I had heard many intimidating horror stories about these guys before, and the fact that my VG247 work was really piling up caused me to file my Dark Souls disc away. I vowed to return again one day.
To be quite honest, I think 2012’s pre-Xmas rush of games nearly crippled me in terms of workload and I was still playing them to write articles over the holiday break. That’s usually my quiet time, where I return to old games I’m yet to finish, but I decided to batter through XCOM: Enemy Unknown instead. Dark Souls had to wait a bit longer.
Then Dead Space 3 and BioShock: Infinite happened to name a few and finally, once the new releases started to wane I dug out Dark Souls and got spanked by Ornstein & Smough again, and again, and again, and again. Back went my disc into filing.
I wrote about how I eventually killed the duo here, and the short version is that I consulted the Wiki community and spent some 20 more hours grinding and upgrading my gear. My friends and the gaming community were a great help and I started to really appreciate the level of kinship both Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls bring out in people. It’s a fan-base that’s eager to help each other no matter what.
I turned 30 this month and as part of my birthday spoils I got myself this Ornstein & Smough tattoo. Seriously; I can’t think of a completion milestone this decade that has impacted me in such a way. The game made me work so hard for that victory and I’ll never forget it. Literally.
From that point onward I set about slaughtering the Four Kings down in the New Londo Ruins, and I laughed to myself when I remembered the time I went down there from the starting point at Firelink Shrine and how those ghosts murdered me in a matter of seconds. I steam-rolled the bastards when I returned, and it felt great.
Through the Four Kings up to The Bed of Chaos I think I grew a tad too dependent on the Wiki guide, so I decided to tackle Seath the Scaleless, Gravelord Nito and Lord Gwyn on my own. My massive grind to destroy Ornstein & Smough really did put me in great stead for the challenge but I was still killed whenever I did something foolish or without strategy.
I was still being pulverised by those sodding Minor Capra Demons at level 90+ and don’t even get me started on those giant dinosaur leg-things in the lava river. The point is that you can grind Dark Souls all you want yet you’ll still be killed if you’re a nugget and try to act too cocky. It truly does show that the game’s biggest enemy is your own lack of discipline.
You’ve probably heard me say that before but it still fascinates me how even the hardest of warriors can be cut down to size if they’re arrogant or ill-informed. It’s never, ever the game’s fault, and that smacks of intelligent, rational game design from people who understand how to craft a gratifying experience.
With all four of the Lord Souls tossed into the Lordvessel, I decided to go on one last levelling-up tour of the world to gather more souls and to check out anything I might have missed. There was something almost touching about sprinting through the Undead Burg again, chopping enemies to death in just one hit.
To think that those grunts killed me repeatedly almost two years ago felt strange, but it truly was a measure of how much time and effort I’d ploughed into the bloody thing. I ran through Blighttown for shits and giggles and came through after downing only one Estus Flask. At first attempt I had trouble stepping ten paces into the area before getting poisoned.
That last tour really summed up for me my character’s development, and my own growth as a Dark Souls player. By the end I was able to back-stab each invading Black Phantom with surgical precision, defeat most regular foes without fear of death and sprint through traps and packs of foes to avoid confrontation entirely.
But then came Lord Gwyn. I realised after the first few deaths that I should have focused on my Endurance stat more than Vitality, because he kept on breaking my guard after about four swipes of his flame sword. After grinding the Black Knights in the Kiln for a while I eventually got one of their shields to reduce Gwyn’s chip damage.
I then walked up to Gwyn’s fog gate for the last time, cast Flash Sweat, rocked my Lightning Spear+5 and stepped through that dreadful white light.
I get asked this question a lot whenever I write about Dark Souls, so here’s my final load-out in full:
- Soul Level: 100
- Right Hand: Queelag’s Furysword+4 / Lightning Spear+5
- Left Hand: Black Knight Shield+3 / Pyromancy Flame+10
- Armour: Black Iron Set – Helm+2 / Armour+5 / Gauntlets+1 / Leggings+2
- Rings: Ring of Steel Protection / Flame Stoneplate Ring
- Vitality: 37
- Attunement: 16
- Endurance: 33 ( I know, should have been waaaay higher!)
- Strength: 36
- Dexterity: 23
- Resistance: 11
- Intelligence: 14
- Faith: 12
During the battle I teased Gwyn into doing his big jump attack and rolled under it, which gave me a window for a few swipes before retreating behind pillars to drink an Estus Flask or re-cast Flash Sweat. The battle lasted ages and all the while that quiet, melancholy piano song twinkled along in the background. It’s a sombre encounter and a truly beautiful piece of game design that begs to be experienced.
After striking the last blow I viewed the ending and then started my first New Game+ to a feeling of elation, reward and relief. I’ve now started to play Demon’s Souls again armed with everything I’ve learned from this experience and as a result I’m fighting smarter, harder and more efficiently than my first weak attempt.
Completing Dark Souls was a proper test of patience, determination and skill that I almost gave up on several times. But now I can finally say “I did it!”
One last time; let’s get some discussion going about your own personal journey through Dark Souls. I want to hear about your toughest trials, your best strategies, your maddest encounters and more. I want to hear from you.