Tag Archives: difficulty

The Difficulties and Delights of Dark Souls

I’ve been getting into Dark Souls lately. I’ve been playing the Prepare to Die Edition of the first one by myself, and have been playing Dark Souls III with my bro-in-law. Both are excellent. Both are huge. Both are really hard.

What initially made me realise the difficulty of these games was actually coming back to Skyrim after playing Bloodborne which, let’s face it, is basically a Dark Souls game. After having difficulty battling mid-range monsters in Bloodborne, returning to Skyrim and accidentally becoming arch-mage of the Mages’ Guild really highlighted the differences between the difficulty gradients. It seems to me sometimes that Skyrim is so easy that it’s basically about collecting sweet loots. But Dark Souls is so hard that it rewards learning, and that’s really not something you can say about a game very often. The game rewards noticing the patterns that enemies take, and is brutal in its punishment when you don’t. And although I get really frustrated with having to re-play so much after dying so often, I do also really appreciate how much Dark Souls makes you work for your progress.

The one thing I don’t particularly enjoy is how far it is (geographically) between bonfires and boss fights. I don’t find it enjoyable having to fight my way back through 5+ minutes of enemies only to encounter certain death, 10+ times in a row. Grinding is one thing, but this isn’t grinding, it’s just walking. I’m sure there’s a good reason for it somewhere, and I deal with it just fine, it’s just not my preference in a game activity.

I find the use of music in Dark Souls interesting. My best guess at the moment (and I think I’m well under half way through) is that music is used a. at the Firelink Shrine, and b. at a place where you can join a covenant (which also includes the Firelink Shrine atm). But I’m far from sold on this theory. The Ash Lake area is one of these — the first in-game area I’d heard music after Firelink Shrine, and such grand music at that — and it’s huge compared to where you meet Quelaag’s Sister. I also like that when you’re entering Ash Lake the music only begins intermittently, when you’re looking directly at one of the shafts of light descending from the “sky”, and then when you’re on the beach the music becomes constant.

Oh! and also, music is used c. in boss fights. I realised this halfway through fighting Executioner Smough, several tens of hours into Dark Souls. After taking out Ornstein you can keep Smough behind a pillar to avoid damage and just take a swing every so often. This takes a while to get through, and I think eventually I calmed down to a point where the link between gameplay tension and musical tension broke. Which made me realise how much music I hadn’t been noticing. And that makes me think that the music for these boss fights must be near perfectly matched to the action. Very cool.

I also noticed that, while fighting Lautrec of Carim, that there’s another layer of ambient sound added in a musical sort of way (i.e. non-diegetic) — a very atmospheric kind of sound. Now, I’m a fellow who likes his single player games quite single-player-y, so I haven’t invaded any other players’ worlds, and I can’t rule out that this sound might just be the “you’re a phantom now” aural cue. I don’t know. But I’ll find out, because I’m planning a thesis chapter on exactly this kind of use of ambient sound.

Also, I really like that these games have such beautiful worlds. For a games with such dark themes they use light, space and colour very well. And grumble grumble falling off things but it is pretty amazing to have such a masterful use of vertical space in 3D video games.

Between the amazing worlds and the amazing challenge these games present, it’s easy to get lost in them. So far, I’m enjoying this a lot more than I thought I would.

Somewhat miraculously, I’ve also been getting a lot of thesis work done lately. The end appears both in sight and achievable, and that’s fantastic. There’s still a long way to go, but I’m liking how it’s coming together, and I’m starting to believe that it might actually be a worthwhile piece of research.

Hamlet, Spaceships and Shiny Things

I haven’t had much time for gaming lately, but here are some notes on some of the games I have been playing.

To Be or Not To Be

My wife and I have both been playing this adorable little choose-your-own-Shakespeare-adventure mobile game by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics) and developed by Australian company Tin Man Games. It’s brilliant. I must admit that I’m a Dinosaur Comics fan (though I’ve been trying to read through to current day for several years now) and I’ve noticed that it reads enough like DC and has enough DC in-jokes that I suspect people who haven’t read DC might not get what’s going on half the time. But it’s a refreshing take on Shakespeare and I like how they’ve implemented the music: simply, but responsively enough for the kind of game it is, and it’s really quite pretty.

EVE Online

I’ve jumped back in to EVE recently after a disheartened absence following my corp losing our POS in wormhole space. And now that I’m back in highsec I’m really paranoid. In w-space you get used to spamming the scanner to make sure you’re not about to be killed, and it’s not a habit that’s easy to let slip — nor is really the kind of habit that you should let slip, because in EVE, as in Game of Thrones, everybody is going to die all of the time. Except that in EVE, “everybody” is you. The relatively chilled highsec music doesn’t really allay any of those fears, and I’m a bit surprised at that. I may have been subconsciously expecting highsec to be like a warm fuzzy blanket after the cold emptiness of w-space. I guess losing a ship full of stuff in your first trek back in the game shatters that expectation. Oh well.

I think, also, that knowing that the whole CODE. thing happened while I was away from highsec makes me expect a whole lot more ganking than before. So far, I haven’t seen any (except for the aforementioned gank I experienced that was unrelated to CODE.), but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

Maybe now that VR is a thing and we’re all wearing headsets we can figure out a way to read brain activity to determine emotional state and adjust music accordingly. This would almost certainly be terribly annoying (particularly if you’re multitasking) but if you’re fully immersed and expecting to be ganked it could enhance the heck out of that paranoia.

Skyrim

As mentioned very briefly in an earlier post, I’ve finally got through Skyrim‘s main quest. Such dragons! And it’s such a beautiful game world. I really enjoyed Blackreach just for its unexpected vastness and the prettiness of all the shiny things. So many shiny things.

But Skyrim, much like Oblivion before it, is easy. Don’t get me wrong, I sort of like making my character near-invincible just by existing. My sneaking skills are top shelf, which is sort of weird for a battleaxe-wielding, heavily-armoured Nord. But quite aside from the fact that my character is a sneaky beefcake, the missions just don’t challenge. Over Christmas I watched my bro-in-law play Bloodborne quite a lot, and played it a little myself. Learning enemy moves, jumping out of the way in the nick of time and spending hours trying to beat one boss are par for the course. Then I came home, jumped in to Skyrim and accidentally became Archmage of the Mages’ Guild. A few quests and then suddenly the Archmage dies, all the mages avenge him, and they tell me that I’m Archmage… because the guy with the battleaxe is clearly the best mage. Never mind that he can only cast Apprentice level spells. A mere technicality.

But the game is pretty and the music is nice, both of which Skyrim a lovely place to explore. And those dragons are really quite good dragons.