Blog Archives

[Dark Souls] Final Day

I beat the final boss of Dark Souls on Saturday.

I’m so, so glad it’s all over.

According to my save file, I spent just shy of 58 hours playing Dark Souls. At no point during that duration did I ever really feel “comfortable.” That is presumably by design. Each new area has new enemies to encounter, bullshit traps to get Gotcha!’d, and just a general sense of subtle malice. If you make it far in exploration but then die, you respawn at a Bonfire and all enemies between you and your corpse respawn. If you make it far and find a new Bonfire, you have to make the choice to sit at it and respawn all enemies or continue onward but risk respawning much further away. None of the bosses had Bonfires near them, so you either had to run like crazy past guardian mobs or hack your way back and hope you could retrieve your corpse to make the otherwise lost souls worth it.

Oh and many Bonfires are just straight-up hidden, because fuck you.

Another fun aspect of the game was the simple fact that I never really found a weapon I liked, and this led me into wasting hours and hours farming for shit I never really ended up using. I used the Uchigatana for a large portion of the game, but it continued to get weaker to enemies over time. Eventually I got lucky with a Black Knight Sword (BKS) drop, which immediately became my go-to weapon for the mid-game. Unfortunately, I hated it the entire time. The Uchigatana moveset allowed for a quick strike to interrupt/kill charging enemies, and the power attack was a longish-range poke. Meanwhile the BKS had a slow regular swing, and a power poke attack that triggered after like 5 seconds of vulnerability. But, what the BKS offered was raw damage, and killing enemies in 1-2 attacks was much more useful overall than 4-5 attacks.

My final weapon ended up being the Gargoyle’s Halberd. It has good range, a relatively quick attack, and its attacks in general don’t cost much Stamina. The unfortunate aspect was the fact that I ended up leveling Strength all the way to 40 in an attempt to give all the dozens of other weapons – including the super heavy ones – a fair shake. Unfortunately, there is a point at which an unupgraded weapon is useless no matter how much baseline attack it brings, and thus you can fall into the trap (as I did) of farming and farming to upgrade weapons that you end up saying No Thanks to.

The combat system in general and most bosses specifically are full of outrageous jank, IMO. Having a shield up 24/7 is how I approached most of the game as I found dodge-rolling to almost be entirely useless. Everything I have read indicates you get i-frames by rolling, but those only seem to exist insofar as your character is at half-height during the roll and the attack may be directed higher. For example, if you dodge-roll backwards but the enemy is doing a poke, you get hit. If you dodge-roll right but the enemy is doing a side-swipe, you get hit. Sometimes you can dodge-roll between an enemy’s legs, but sometimes they shuffle two pixels to the left and you just roll into their feet. Sometimes you can just strafe out of the way of attacks, and other times the attacks will auto-swivel your way.

Perhaps this is all a “Git Gud” scenario. I mean, I beat the game, so… maybe not. In any case, I’m not sure “Git Gud” slaps as hard when we’re talking about QWOP-levels of jank.

Having said all of that, the world of Dark Souls was incredible. More specifically, the level design. You don’t get the sense of how interconnected each area is to one another at first, but by about midgame everything starts fitting together in extremely clever ways. You have probably seen a cave loop around back to its entrance a thousand times in other games, but Dark Souls has a degree of coherence that feels wholly unique. The game is also full of shortcuts that allows you to acquire powerful items much earlier in the game if you have the knowledge to do so. The average player is never going to be able to take advantage of that, but I appreciate the willingness of the developers to not throw up arbitrary barriers in a lot of places.

Overall, I am glad that I played Dark Souls even if it was not the most enjoyable experience. Seeing where things began (Demon Souls notwithstanding) gives you a greater appreciation for where things have gone in the meantime. Plus, it is an extremely boldly-designed game that took risks to stay true to the designers’ intentions, and I respect the moxie.

I do already own Dark Souls 2, but I think I’m going to take a break from the tension and play other things for a while. Perhaps something in which I don’t have to worry about instantly dying all the time.

[Dark Souls] Day 1

Killing the first boss on the first attempt was not that surprising. Technically, this was not my first rodeo.

Pictured: dying to trash mobs instead

Steam says I had two hours on Dark Souls (Prepare to Die Edition) with a Last Played of 2018. At that time, I was a tourist, sticking around just long enough to get the experience of being instantly killed on the ledge, or later after dodge-rolling off a cliff. That sort of experience was just not what I was looking for at the time. I then proceeded to play Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, Sundered, Hades, Salt & Sanctuary, and probably a dozen similar games over the next five years. So “coming back” to Dark Souls, everything clicked right away. Hell, it was surprising to learn that you had 5 Health potions to start – everyone else is so damn stingy.

Anyway, my character is Thief because getting a free Master Key sounded useful. I also chose the Witch’s Charm or whatever because that wasn’t a consumable and otherwise sounded like it could be useful somewhere.

A big part of the Dark Souls experience is exploration. However, when the very first body I looted contained 3 “Humanity,” I sighed and looked up some beginner tips. Do those disappear on death? (No). Is there a reason to use them now? (Technically no). Am I going to screw things up if I use them right away? (Technically no, but ill-advised). There are some things I am willing to learn via experience, such as boss attacks or where traps are. But obfuscated gameplay mechanics or Blind Choices are things I take a dim view on. Which… might be a problem with Dark Souls. Presumably.

Speaking of experience, I walked down some steps and got utterly mauled by the skeletons down there. They didn’t have levels over their heads, but when a single attack brings me to half-health and my attack deals 2% of their HP, I can take the hint. Was I frustrated? Nope. Fallout: New Vegas predates Dark Souls, and walking anywhere but south out of Goodsprings brings death and pain.

Plus, you know, a decade of Soulslike games.

Another learning opportunity was: Poison attacks hurt. For an absurdly long amount of time. Didn’t think much of the Poison meter when I was eating some Giant Rat attacks, but once it got full and started draining health, I started paying attention. Through literally three health potions. Noted, game.

Made it to the second Bonfire after clearing out some Hollow mobs in a new area. Resting/saving your game respawns all enemies, which is intended to create some Press-Your-Luck tension. Which it would… once I’m done farming this infinite pile of respawning Souls steps away from a Save Point. I’m going to assume that gaining five levels this way isn’t going to bite me in the ass later. While farming, I end up getting two “liquid” Humanity (as opposed to the “solid” items), which is a resource that goes away when you die. So, I spent one Humanity to turn into a Human, and then another to Kindle the Bonfire, which grants me more health potion uses for this area. Again, I’m assuming this won’t set me back permanently somehow.

And that was Day 1.

Time will tell how long I stick around farming in the immediate Bonfire area. “Until you get bored” is not a particularly healthy target, but it also feels silly to not make a few more circuits when you can gain levels within 5-10 minutes. Then again, the farm option would still be there if I just plow forward until hitting a brick wall. Hmm.

Let’s be real: I’m going to farm the shit out of this area, aren’t I?

Like Souls

In the past two weeks, I played a few hours of Blasphemous and Salt & Sanctuary. Both of these games are in the increasingly crowded 2D Soulslike genre, made famous by Dark Souls (or Demon Souls if wish). As I was farming some currency to level up a bunch of times in Salt & Sanctuary – and before remembering I had previously played the game for 10 hours a few years ago – I had a thought. I have played a lot of Soulslike games over the years… and not actually Dark Souls. That’s weird, right?

So, it’s happening.

Not certain whether I’m going to chronical this shit, or just give the occasional summaries. Not much oxygen left in the room between Elden Ring and decades of Youtube videos of people beating the entire Dark Souls trilogy without taking a single point of damage while using a DDR dance pad as their controller. That might be two separate videos. Whatever.

If you want to see me “Git Gud” or otherwise maintain my adequate levels of Gud, buckle up.

Impressions: Grounded, pt 2

While the first Impressions post for Grounded was a week ago, the reality is that I have been mainlining the game daily for the past three weeks. That first post was written based on my first dozen hours or so, but I ended up playing so much that I never got around to actually posting it. So here are my impressions about the game after some 50+ hours.

Grounded is good. Sometimes annoying. Definitely still Soulslike.

The game world continues to be a huge star of the show. Survival games sometimes have to make huge contortions to accommodate varied biomes – lava must coexist with snow and deep oceans and deserts all in the same map – but the way Grounded interweaves its own biomes is a masterclass in design. The backyard is a believable backyard. And yet going from the Grasslands to the canopy of the Hedge is a big transition. Or to the pond. Or in the sandbox, with it’s deadly Sizzle effect when you traverse the dunes without shade. These are different places, with different resources, and different challenges to overcome. And it all feels… coherent. Believable. Or at least, as believable as teenagers crafting crossbows out of grass vines and crow feathers can be.

Some aspects of the game have begun to provide friction. As you become stronger and explore further afield (ayard?), you… well, have further to go each time. Ziplines become a means of faster-ish travel, but they require a LOT of setup – constructing a vertical tower in the yard, carrying supplies to build destination anchors, and slaughtering dozens and dozens of spiders to turn their webs into silk to craft the zipline itself. Meanwhile, the only way to repair your Antlion Armor is to kill Antlions in the Sandbox, the best healing component must be farmed in the Pond, and you feel in your weary bones how much more time will get wasted with each unblocked attack you take while exploring the Upper Yard for the first time. It gets pretty exhausting, especially when you have to leave an area, inventory laden with loot, and know how much busywork is ahead of you before you can go back again.

Perhaps the better recourse would be to build multiple bases instead of one major hub. Problem with that is some of the more advanced crafting stations can’t really be moved easily. Plus, it’s arguable as to how much time you would really be saving building several bases.

In any case, I am decidedly approaching the endgame. Having achieved upgraded Tier 3 Armor and Weapons, I can say that most fights with bugs are less Soulslike than they were in the beginning. As in, I don’t have to Perfect Block every single attack in order to not die. The tradeoff, as explained earlier, is that you end up needing to farm up considerably more healing potions and items to repair your gear. Some of the bugs I am facing do indeed still pose an incredible threat even with all my gear, so don’t believe you can necessarily gear your way past everything. Plus, there are required boss fights in this game, including different Phases and novel attacks.

And this is kinda what gets me about Grounded. The setting, premise, and story do not match the gameplay. Teenagers from the 90s shrunken down and running around their backyard for flimsy story reasons leads you to believe this is a game that might appeal to younger players. On Normal difficulty, it most decidedly is not a game for younger players. Or older players that may be reflex-impaired. Every time I think I’m hot shit crushing bugs left and right, I take two unblocked hits and I’m sprinting away chugging healing potions. And this is in a game where I can hit Save after every encounter!

I have my frustrations with Grounded, but I’m still here mainlining this game for like 3+ hours every night. There isn’t anything special about the story, and yet I find myself eagerly traversing the yard to clear out the labs to get the next morsel of plot. Or, if I’m more honest, to unlock the next piece of gear and craft the latest weapons from the bones exoskeletons of my enemies. And all this feels fine to me, as there is a definitive conclusion on the other side. No “keep playing until you get bitter and jaded” purgatory here as with ARK or other survival games.

So, yeah. Grounded. Not the worst way to spend 50+ hours.

Impressions: Grounded

Grounded is a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids survival game from Obsidian, which recently graduated from Early Access. I played it for about a dozen hours during Early Access, but decided to wait until full release before diving in for real on Game Pass.

What I have discovered is… well, a fun albeit highly incongruent survival Soulslike.

To start out, the world of Grounded is amazing. You wake up in a small cave that opens out into a forest of grass and weeds that towers above you. Although there are giant juice boxes and other items to hammer home just how tiny you are, they are really unnecessary – everything about how you move around the yard, the distances involved, and of course the creatures keeps everything front and center.

Your first experiences with the yard fauna is usually benign. Aphids, Weevils, and Gnats are basically mobile food and resources. Red Worker Ants are curious about you, but only go hostile when you hit them. Same with the lumbering Lady Bug, although they will quickly one-shot you in the beginning when attacked. Mites are typically your first hostile mob, and they are only really dangerous when you’re distracted or get surrounded. But it doesn’t take a lot of exploring before you encounter the apex predators of the backyard: spiders. Orb Weavers relentlessly patrol their territory and Wolf Spiders are the terror of the night, ranging far and wide through the yard from dusk till dawn. Daylight does not offer much comfort once you journey further afield though, as you encounter Larva, Stinkbugs, Mosquitos, and more.

And this is where things go a little off the rails for me. Grounded has all the trappings of survival games, including a huge map where you can build bases just about anywhere, resources needing to be gathered, and so on. But what you are actually doing to progress at all is a series of escalating Souls-like melee encounters. I say “Souls-like” because everything revolves around performing Perfect Blocks against insect attacks, then counter-attacking. You can technically just regular block attacks (with a shield made out of Weevil meat), but you still take a significant amount of damage, can get debuffed, and eventually stunned depending on the frequency of attacks. Meanwhile, you completely block all damage even with a Pebble Axe from any enemy if you Right-Click your mouse at the correct time.

In games like ARK, there’s no Perfect Blocking a T-Rex bite. But, you can still take out a T-Rex through clever terrain and/or structure use. In Grounded, most enemies ignore most terrain that otherwise slow you down, e.g. grass stems. And even if you happen to engage from on top of something they cannot reach, your (early) ranged attacks with the bow don’t deal much damage. Indeed, since you cannot block while using the bow, the game seems to discourage any realistic use of it outside first-strike or fleeing bug scenarios. “What about flying bugs like Mosquitos?” Yeah, sure, try to get a few arrows in. But you will 100% die if you don’t perform Perfect Blocks with a regular melee weapon of some sort, even if you have the clunkiness of having to toggle between it and the bow.

The worst part, IMO, is how there isn’t much of an escape from the bug-based progression. I guess I cannot claim that it is impossible to complete the game without learning each bug’s song and dance, but it is a fact that several crafting stations require bug parts to be constructed. Again, in ARK the dinos are “soft” required because nobody has time to collect 10,000 Stone and Iron to build the goodies you want. In Grounded, you simply aren’t building a Drying Rack without Bombardier Beetle parts. I haven’t made it into any of the later Lab story areas yet, but there are plenty of bugs between me and where I think the front door is, so… yeah. Prepare to “git gud” or die trying.

(Or play on a lower difficulty, I guess.)

Overall, though? I’m still having fun. The first dozen or so hours had me running from everything more powerful than a Solider Ant, but I’m basically approaching Tier 2 equipment and a general level of confidence to take on most things. Had it not been for an Orb Weaver Jr joining the fight in defense of its momma, I would have taken one of those down already. Luckily, the game features both the default survival “fuck you” of dropping all your gear on death AND the ability to Save your game at any time. Which… is weird. I’m assuming you don’t get saves while playing Multiplayer and that’s the difference. In any case, saves won’t, er, save you from getting owned by spiders or whatever, but it at least affords you the opportunity to practice Perfect Block timing as many times as necessary to get the last bug part to craft a new Hammer or whatever.