[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 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.
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.
Impression: Necromunda: Hired Gun
In a word: jank. But the good kind. Mostly.
Necromunda: Hired Gun (N:HC) is a run-n-gun, arena-based looter-shooter set in the Warhammer 40k universe. You play as a cybernetically-enhanced mercenary taking contract-killing jobs deep in the bowels of the eponymous Imperium hive world. And you also have a dog. And that dog can be cybernetically-enhanced.
The gameplay is… well, jank. Cool jank, but jank nonetheless. After about the first mission, your character unlocks a bevy of amazing movement capabilities. These abilities include double-jumps, wall running, power slides, and even a grappling hook. However, these maneuvers become downright required mechanically – several of the player upgrades include 50%+ dodge chance while wall running, for example, or even that your guns become more accurate and have aim-assist… while wall running. That said, the movement is not as tight as, say, Titanfall: when you power slide off a catwalk, your character instantly drops to the lower level in a sudden abandonment of physics.
Despite this focus on movement, the maps are not all that set up for you to take much advantage of these maneuvers, up to and including many instant-death zones for you to fall into. Sure, that makes the environments feel more real and dangerous. On the other hand… jank.
The gunplay is also not really that tight. There are several classic Warhammer 40k weapons available, but several of them are downright awful. Enemies have near-perfect aim and you will be taking constant damage, so the entire gunplay element requires you to be in close range to take advantage of DOOM-esque self-healing by rapid enemy takedowns. This makes longer-ranged engagements (and the corresponding guns) functionally impossible. So you end up being laser-focused on close-quarter weapons like shotguns and the like.
As mentioned previously, this is also a looter-shooter. You will acquire a lot of incrementally more powerful guns that you can customize with various mods and relics. You can also farm cash with side missions to assist with upgrading your cybernetics and special powers. For as many powers you have available, I did find it quite odd how limited you end up being with accessing them via hotkeys (there is 1 total). You can pause time to select from the full menu but that breaks the game flow a bit.
To be honest, the weird feeling of the world and overall game design snapped into place once I read the the developers of this game were the same as EyE: Divine Cybermancy from a decade ago. I don’t expect anyone to have ever played that but it was basically a radiant-quest Deus Ex meets Warhammer 40k meets… developer dreams exceeding their grasp. It wasn’t a great game, but it had a lot of ideas and they did their best to execute on them. Same thing here.
Ultimately, I do find Necromunda: Hired Gun serviceable in the “shoot people in the face” department. Boot it up, play a mission or two, and put it down. My copy came from a recent Humble Bundle that got discounted down to $6 instead of $12. If yours didn’t, well… maybe it’ll come to Game Pass.
After reading a half-dozen posts over at Inventory Full, I decided to see what the hell Chimeraland was all about.
After a few hours of playing… yeah, maybe I’m missing something, but this feels like some poor mobile port Asian jank.
The character creation process is pretty outrageous, if you’re into that. I think someone mentioned that there are 18 different species you can choose from, but on top of that you can use the age slider to play as literal children. Not just human children, but cow and sheep children. And that’s just the start! There are ridiculous sliders that let you change your ears and cheekbones into non-Euclidean shapes. Some serious Mario 64 title screen vibes.
All you need to know about the PC version of this game is that Full Screen is not yet implemented. I was today years old when I found out that “Full Screen” was a game setting that had to be built and not, you know, something that is a default state of being. The game is filled to the brim with UX jank like this. For example, not having any apparent way to increase turning speed. Or having the camera default to action-cam style, but having dozens of buttons that need clicked with the mouse. Finally realized that you need to press the [`] button to get a mouse cursor active, which is fine, but any attempt to unselect something puts you right back into action-cam mode.
The translation runs the gamut from poor to nonexistent. Hard to fault them on this front, considering that there are zero US/EU servers – the game prominently displays “SEA” on the launcher.
In principle, Chimeraland is doing some interesting things in the MMO space. The ability to build a house anywhere you please. Being able to capture and either ride or bring into battle any creature in the game world. Light survival elements. Seeing all your weapons on your back at once is cool.
Chimeraland is also objectively worse than any game that already does any one of these things. Hell, the whole time I was playing I kept asking myself why I wasn’t just playing ARK. Or Fallout 76. Or Guild Wars 2. While I was pondering, some players decided to fight a “grand” enemy outside my house. I joined in a bit, then kept eating ranged AoEs because the dash-move wouldn’t activate, and finally died. I respawned and got back in the mix, then the creature died, and… nothing. No idea whether I gained XP for that, or should have had a chance at loot, or whether my dying removed that chance. Felt like a big waste of time.
Which, incidentally, describes the rest of my game experience with Chimeraland.
I decided to start playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (BLPS), as one of the literal 124 games in my Epic library that I did not pay for. No, really, I just counted one-hundred and twenty-four. Minus one, as I did end up purchasing Outward way back in the day:
Anyway. Borderlands: Pre-Sequel!
…yeah, it sucks. I give myself about a 40% chance of uninstalling it the next time I play.
There are a lot of people who don’t, but I for one actually do appreciate the Borderlands writing style. The humor doesn’t always land, but there simply aren’t many people out there writing, well, out there. Most games have utterly boring dialog and take their generic plots very seriously. So when you have a game series that does the exact opposite, amusing things can happen.
That’s not the problem though. The problem is the gameplay.
Back in the day (Jesus Christ, 2013?!), I talked about getting burned out on Borderlands 2. At the time, I was talking about the absurdity that occurs when you get to the level cap and end up facing enemies with tens of millions of HP. Some of that is impacting me even at the beginning of BLPS, as I start wondering whether I am going to just plow through the story missions or play this “for real.” See, nothing you do matters in a Normal playthrough. And on the next playthrough, you have to plow through the story again until the level-cap, doing zero side-quests, lest the unique side-quest rewards roll stats at your non-level-cap level. Which would make them instantly useless.
The other part though, is just how the gameplay design doesn’t fit the design of the game. For example, for such a kinetic gunplay experience, Borderlands has these awkward moments of intense inventory management. Bosses and enemies can explode in a fountain of epic loot… and you have to meticulously look at each one to analyze its stats, see if you have enough inventory space to pick it up, and so on. BLPS takes this to a whole new level considering the game takes place on a low-gravity moon. Which means you can be in an intense firefight and killing enemies with jetpacks, only to watch in horror as potentially good loot goes flying off in all sorts of directions.
Speaking of low-gravity, BLPS adds the element of gliding and slamming as attacking maneuvers. Which is fine. But it really highlights the fact that there isn’t much that the game is asking you to do that is actually supported in the game. This isn’t a cover-based shooter, for example, but the game does expect you to take cover/crouch to avoid damage while waiting for your shields to recharge. Arial acrobatics and butt-stomps are nice and all, but good luck surviving long enough to do any damage as you are literally floating out in open vacuum. Most of the encounters I face are either trivial or overwhelmingly difficult, depending on the availability of cover and whether enemies are randomly equipped with shocking guns (which melts shields).
The above issues are not unique to BLPS, of course. In 2021 though, the standards to what nonsense I am willing to endure have been raised.
Finally, I just have to say there are extremely early parts of BLPS that is just frustratingly bad. Like when you just start playing the game and are facing multiple rooms full of hostiles before you get your very first shield. Was that a thing in BL2? I don’t remember. But there’s also an area after unlocking the first vehicle where you are expected to make a jump while boosting… and I fell into the pit like six times in a row. I was boosting, I was hitting the obvious ramp, and down in the pit I went. Almost uninstalled that night. The deaths were irrelevant – the percentage of wealth penalty is trivial at that level – but it indicated to me that either the game was going to be that janky, or that I no longer understood what the game was asking me to do.
So far, the answer seems to be “both.”
Impression: Kingdom Come: Deliverance
It has actually been a while since I first started playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance (KC:D), but in that time I have put in around 50 hours. I am not certain that I will put in any more time to complete the game, but figured I would go ahead and dedicate some virtual real estate to my experience.
In short, KC:D is for a very specific type of player. And I’m not it.
There are a lot of things to like about the game. Visually stunning. Novel setting and premise, insofar as it’s a no-magic, no-hero medieval adventure. Immersive without needing quotes – first-person perspective in which you can see your feet, helmets getting in the way, walking (or riding) through the muck and rain. Arbitrarily hardcore, even at the expense of fun… which some people enjoy.
Again, I’m not one of them. Or maybe I can be, but not entirely this particular flavor.
The best example is with the combat. You have probably encountered dozens of variations of “you start out as an illiterate blacksmith’s son with no combat experience, OF COURSE combat is hard at first!” I mean, yes and no. Yes in that you start off as a level 1 character with literally no skills or points to put them in until you get XP. No in that the combat system is still trash at max level, as you typically just perform the same moves you have been doing the whole time, except this time you have enough skill points for shit to matter. That’s about as realistic as World of Warcraft or literally any RPG ever made. Except here you are still stuck stabbing faces (lest you be unbeatably countered) while waiting for your opponents to attack (so you can unbeatably counter them).
Oh, and occasionally you will be surrounded by peasants and murdered because lock-on targeting jank. Which is “realistic,” I guess. About as realistic as clipping through a bush or under some stairs and attacking back with impunity.
Another vaunted feature is the whole “the world goes on without you” bit. Example: if someone asks you to meet them tomorrow at sunrise at the crossroads, they will simply go on without you if you don’t show. REALISM. Except… that doesn’t always happen. Some quests will wait for you for months, including Crossroads Boy before you talk to him. Which is handy when you unexpectedly get locked up in jail for in-game weeks after attacking sleeping bandits who were scripted to ambush you, but apparently count as innocent villagers when you pre-murder them.
Which, philosophically, well… huh. Morally though, I think I’d feel worse if the voice of god had not automatically whispered my witness-less deeds to every guard in the kingdom.
But, real talk, are you the type of player who is fine permanently failing quests you did not realize were timed? I’m not. Which means I had to do a lot of Googling on every upcoming quest to figure out when I was “allowed” to go explore the game and when I was locked on rails lest I run out the invisible clock. One of the biggest failings of the Witcher 3’s story (IMO) was a false sense of urgency with the primary quest, which made the overall impetus for action a joke. But Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s seemingly random adherence to the clock feels worse in practice.
Most RPGs do the false sense of urgency thing. But most RPGs don’t try to present themselves as some kind of immersive sim either. I don’t hold a Final Fantasy to the same sort of standard, even if the fate of the world is supposedly at stake.
At the end of all that, I still put in 50+ hours, so that’s saying something. I did not encounter TOO many bugs beyond some combat jank. I did lose probably around 4 total hours of progress to the asinine saving system, which involves you needing to manually drink some liqueur. There are mods to fix that (and other issues) but I could not be bothered to manually install them. Instead, I simply stole everything not bolted down from everyone I could to pay for my Quick Save addiction, which was still not good enough to prevent me from losing progress in dumb ways (e.g. peasant dog-piles).
If you’re looking for Skyrim 2.0, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not it. But it’s also not the worst thing in the world. Just go into it knowing a lot of systems are obtuse on purpose, and not always because it’s good game design.
Nevertheless, sometimes the novelty of brazzeness counts for more than you think.
Impressions: Conan: Exiles
Conan: Exiles (hereafter Conan) is basically ARK where the dinosaurs are people.
Not really… but kinda.
The first thing I want to say about Conan is that this is perhaps the first survival game I have played that has completely nailed the setting and tone. In a lot of these games, you are a faceless protagonist, or a random nobody who just suddenly is completely fine with butchering cannibals within minutes of regaining consciousness. In this game, you are a barbarian, in a barbarian land, doing some very barbaric things. And it fits.
In ARK, you tame dinosaurs by beating them unconscious with clubs, rocks, or narcotics. Then you… put food and more narcotics into their inventories. In Conan, you beat warriors/cooks/etc unconscious with a club. Then you… tie a rope to their legs and drag them along the ground back to your camp, and lash them to your Wheel of Pain, feeding them gruel or even human flesh, until their will to resist finally breaks and they join you. Crom would be pleased.
Like I said, it fits the theme and tone of the game. All of that is further reinforced by the demonic mobs, corruption of mad gods, and other sort of weirdness that permeates the land. It feels right.
Having said all that, there is a lot of jankiness all over the place. I’m not just talking about the typical survival game tropes like carrying 500+ stones in your loincloth inventory, or how your Thralls will sometimes unequip themselves of their weapons. I mean the very consistent outright bugs, like how attacks don’t register if you are fighting under a tent. Or the overall jarring inconsistencies in progression, like the ridiculous hoops you have to go through to complete the early-game Journal task of “skinning a creature with a knife” (literally a dozen+ steps). Or the general incongruent nature of a more “realistic” game in which you cannot simply loot the items that NPCs are wearing, or interact with any of the set pieces that dot the land.
I think that, more than anything, there is one thought that is draining most of my enthusiasm away from playing Conan: “Elder Scrolls Online did it better.” Can you slaughter a camp of people and drain the Unfulfilled Desires from their corpses to fuel your ritual offerings to Derketo in TESO? No. You can, however, interact with the world in a meaningful way, like… you know, sitting in a chair, opening a crate, stealing a bowl. Certainly the whole dungeon thing works a hell of a lot better when death does not send you back across the map, naked and alone.
For the record, my experiences in Conan have been from the viewpoint of someone playing it single-player on a local server. I ended up cranking up the resource gain to x4 rate, which is probably too high, but farming iron ore for days and days is just dumb. It was dumb in ARK too, but that was on purpose: you were meant to tame dinosaurs to make collecting resources more efficient. In Conan, it’s just mindless labor meant to create PvP opportunities in which someone jacks all your stuff.
We’ll see how long interest lasts. I tried my first dungeon the other day, and was slaughtered by the boss all the way at the end. Despite having admin powers and the ability to spawn all my equipment back on my body and teleport back to the area, there was a very tangible part of me that felt like that was an interest-terminating loss. I never felt deprived in ARK for not seeing the bosses there while playing single-player, but dungeons in Conan are more of a thing. Probably because there are less “things” in the world otherwise.