[Dark Souls] Day 5-??

This will probably be the last “Day” post about Dark Souls.

I am still playing and enjoying the game… to a slightly lesser degree than before. The first crack in the façade came from the Bonfire hidden behind an illusionary wall. Up to this point, I had considered Dark Souls to simply be amoral. I wasn’t even mad that I missed the Undead Merchant for 10 hours because the stairs to his location was hidden behind some boxes. But a Bonfire? That’s just cruel. Who the fuck even discovered that in the first place? Were people just randomly rolling around and bumped into it?

Speaking of incredulity, who figured out being able to head back to the Asylum? Or Snuggly? I expected to get some kind of prompt from Snuggly’s nest based on what I had read, but there was nothing. I didn’t even realize that you could just up and drop things on the ground. Engaging with this mechanic is not required for game completion, but it is one of those things I would have never figured out in a million years. In Metroidvanias like Hollow Knight and Ori, I do spend a little extra time attacking walls in case there are hidden areas, but Dark Souls is a bit too large for that to make sense.

If you’re wondering whether you can be attacked while speaking to a vendor, the answer is ‘Of course.’

The third crack came from the Stray Demon in the Asylum. Technically, this was the very first boss that I died to and was unable to retrieve my souls, but whatever. After struggling (read: dying) for quite some time, I finally had to look him up a bit. What was I missing? I knew to avoid being near the pillars as their destruction seemed to remove 95% of my HP. But his fire(?) AoE attack took 55% of my HP and seemed unavoidable, and applying Flash Sweat (reduce fire damage by 45%) did nothing. What was I missing? As it turns out: nothing. Being behind the Stray Demon is supposed to protect you from the AoE but the positioning is janky. Near the tail? Attack goes through his legs. Too far away from his legs? Attack mysteriously wraps around like a backdraft or something. The true answer is… you can block most of the damage with a shield. Ah. Just press L1 and this AoE fire-but-not-fire attack that wraps around everywhere just zoink, deals minimal damage.

Honestly, this wasn’t the first janky boss encounter either. During the Gaping Dragon fight, I was minding my business attacking his tail stump and one of his legs just up and one-shot me. But… I wasn’t near his leg. I started wondering how hitboxes work in this game, and how i-frames from rolling are pretty opaque mechanics-wise. Perhaps having your character change colors would not befit the nature of the game – like characters do when dodging in Metroidvanias – but it’s hard to feel satisfied with your actions as a result. Dodge-rolling always feels like a huge gamble, as sometimes it appears enemies will still turn to track you even when they are midair in the the middle of a jumping attack animation. Part of the “fairness” of Dark Souls comes from the notion that everyone is playing by the same rules. If you let an enemy get behind you, they will backstab you for a ton of damage, just like you can do to them. But more and more it’s becoming clear that some enemies (maybe all?) don’t get animation-locked as you certainly do in the middle of an attack.

I dunno. Dark Souls came out 12 year ago, got two sequels, and then Elden Ring became a wildly successful cultural touchstone (20m copies sold after 1 year). Nevermind how many ancillary games were created in the Soulslike genre in that time too. Clearly they got something right. And I still feel it in there, despite the fact that the game looks like it came out on the PS2 and is locked at 29 FPS.

I just wish it was a little more consistent. On the other hand, I am… kind of ignoring the several times the game trolls me with traps. Boulders, barrels, Basilisks. It does somehow feel like a very Dark Souls thing to do to suddenly say “Illusionary walls are a thing now, deal with it.” So maybe it is consistent.

Posted on February 24, 2023, in Dark Souls and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Yea, dark souls certainly is pretty janky, and the whole series trolls you with shit.
    The hidden wall mechanic is also pretty annoying. That said, if you play online you can see the messages other players left behind, which tend to rather clearly indicate hidden walls. Trolls still exist, but it is pretty minimal.

    One specific thing I find very interesting though, you get annoyed/angry at the bonfire/merchant being hidden. When is exploration fine. If you look at other games, people often complain exploration isnt rewarded enough. (eg: rewards are largely useless, it is just a consumable, there is nothing here,…) But when the rewards are very valuable (bonfire, merchant, permanent boosts) people complain about that too.
    What do you think the golden point is for exploration?


    • The “Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition” version I am playing has had online-play permanently disabled since last year’s exploit, and they aren’t bringing it back on. I have never had the opportunity to view the player messages and I guess I never will.

      When is exploration fine? That’s a legit question, for exactly the reasons you stated. I frequently groan any time I navigate under a waterfall and find a hollow space with nothing there. Why bother mapping the terrain that way? The waterfall with treasure behind is so much a trope that not having something there is a worse trope.

      For the most part, I feel Dark Souls rewards exploration absurdly well. There are defined, unique drops in specific locations. It was extremely rewarding to head down the perilous switchback of Darkroot Basin and finding the Grass Shield (after defeating the Black Knight guarding it).

      But earlier on as a new player without any specific direction, I was left with the thought that I had “lost on the character select screen” for having chose Thief. Where were the DEX weapons? I didn’t even really know that every mob has a chance to drop random stuff, but I farmed the Undead Burg for level-ups long enough to get several options. I used a Battle Axe to take down the Taurus Demon. By the time I got to the Blacksmith, I leveled up a Longsword to +5 because that was what I was working with. To then find out that there was a merchant down some stairs almost within sight of the Bonfire in that same area was almost a slap in the face. I could have been trying so many DEX weapon options and/or different weapons in general. And, you know, getting a regular bow – I had to shoot off the tale of the Fire Drake with a crossbow, by aiming random directions and then getting the timing down.

      As for Bonfires? Never appropriate, IMO, especially not behind an illusionary wall that had hitherto never been hinted at existing. I died several times to the Moonlight Butterfly and had to run back from the Blacksmith each time. Then run wasn’t too dangerous, but c’mon! Bonfires are anchor-points, the first places in new zones when you can begin to relax. That shouldn’t be a “reward” for exploring, unless it’s a bonus one closer to the boss or whatever.


  2. Took me a while to remember what Stray Demon’s fire attack was. It’s the thing where he slams his hammer down in front of him and makes a shockwave? I just run out and back in for that, but yeah the hitbox is larger than the graphic IIRC.

    Demon’s and Dark Souls treat bonfires differently than the rest of the series. The intent is that clearing up to the boss and fighting it was all part of the same segment rather than the boss being something that should be retried on its own. Of course everyone just runs past all the enemies so now the newer games have bonfires right next to bosses.

    Just to warn you, the darkroot garden bonfire is not the only hidden one. I always found the illusory wall mechanic kind of lame. Reminds me of Doom where you’d run against the wall “uh uh uh uh uh”.


    • Yeah, I just don’t understand the point of Illusionary walls. If we were talking more like 20 years ago, I would almost assume it was done to sell Prima Game Guides.

      Boxes blocking visual sight of some stairs is one thing – that is something I consider “hidden,” and that’s fine. But illusionary walls that look identical to all other walls, with no interaction points nearby? What’s the intention? To goad X number of fans to go banging their weapons across every polygon in the game? I guess the message system sort of rewards this cooperation.


  3. I think your description of the game as ‘amoral’ is a good one, and it’s what its fans have always craved, that very sandboxy, janky feeling. It’s the old story of the kind of gamer for whom the very idea of a designer somehow intelligently predicting what they might do and turning the dials that govern their experience is at best a necessary evil. They thrill to the lack of discernible fairness because it fits the fantasy of a real world without guardrails where any achievement is wholly owned by the rugged individual…

    Cool post series, at any rate. And the game’s not all bad. It’s definitely got an aesthetic, and the original PvP system, while brimming with glitches and exploits, was interesting, with the covenants and all, and remained so as the franchise went on. But it’s too long a drive for a short stay at the beach.


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