I never did play Demon Souls... even though I normally love WRPG styled games. I heard it was difficult, as in brutally difficult and when I want to have my ass kicked, I generally load up an online multiplayer FPS game like MAG, or Battlefield 3 or Black Ops 2. I usually play WRPG games for relaxation... to take in the environment and to feel pretty empowered and invincible as I hack n' slash my way through copious critters. I saw Dark Souls on sale over Christmas for only $9.99 and at that price I decided to give it a go.
Ouch! The game is indeed brutal. I'm also finding that it's very much a gamer's game. There isn't much plot, your character can be male or female (I'm playing as a female) and even the gameplay is fairly straight forward. However, the game very much reminds me a lot of older games. There is no map, so there is lots of memorizing of enemy spawns and routes to various save points (the campfires). Leave the save point, take out archer skeletons, take out 4 skeletons in the room, go straight and down the stairs, go up the ladder, run really fast through the area with the big ass dragon and into the stairway on the right, go down the stairs and down the ladder... and dammit! I'm back where I started. It's not just a matter of memorizing routes and where the enemies are, when you finally do find a big ass boss, there is a matter of then observing and memorizing how they do battle, because often this is the only way to beat them... learning their patterns through observation and death. This type of mental mapping exercise takes me back to games like Zork where I often had to make notes and little maps or where I was and how to get back to an earlier objective. I'm now 22 years older than when I first played Zork though, and unfortunately my magical mind mapping powers seem to be missing! I opened a new shortcut and was passing some iron bars when movement caught my eye.. and my immediate reaction was "kill it!". Well, it turned out to be that nice lady vendor who sold me poison arrows and now she doesn't like me. In fact, whenever I pass by, she calls me nasty names and she refuses to sell me anything, let alone those nice poison arrows. I did what any good gamer would do nowadays and hit the internet to see if there is any way to get her to like me again.
Well... apparently I need a whole shitload of souls to take to Oswald who will absolve me of my sin and let the nice raggedy sewer lady sell me my poison arrows again. Seemingly, the best way to get those souls is to farm the Darkroot Garden by using an apparently well known tactic of running past all the enemies in the area and drawing them to a ledge where most of them fall off to their deaths and give you a pretty good soul count each time. However, to use this farming tactic, I need to open a door that costs another 20,000 souls... so I can use an earlier farming tactic of letting the big ass dragon kill the skeletons on the bridge and getting their souls (though I'm still determined to kill that dragon at some point! I keep trying, but he heals himself and I can't get the hang of melee battle with him... the foot stomp is a one hit kill!)
So I farmed the big red ass dragon until I had my 20,000 souls... opened the door... and then farmed the crap out of Darkroot Garden to get enough souls to absolve my sin - all so I can get some poison arrows. Only a gamer would do this. The mindless repetition of grinding...all to get some shiny bauble (or poison flying bauble). Now I know that grinding and farming is often regarded as a poor game mechanic... a way of artificially extending gameplay or worst, almost a way to "cheat" to make the game easier... but there's also an addictive and soothing quality to it. I have to admit that I have a secret fondness for grinding. I often tend to over-level myself in RPG games in order to make the game a little easier - going back to that personal preference for single player games to provide me with relaxation. Farming is simply a variation on grinding... more often done to acquire a product or money rather than simply ranking up, but farming or grinding... the repetition alone I find to be very relaxing. I then went on to Blighttown... and promptly went back to farming Darkroot Garden again to get enough souls to buy the Poisonbite ring from Oswald. I seem to die pretty quickly from poison and I hate having to rush through areas rather than spending my time exploring every nook and cranny.
I find I'm really enjoying the game though I've been soloing it and I guess at some point I'll have to try the online (in order to get more sunlight medals and the upgraded lightning spell... cause that thing rocks!). I hate dealing with invaders though. The first time someone showed up in my game, I quickly went to the gestures screen to greet them with a bow and say "hi". He stabbed me mid-bow and killed me.... probably while thinking what a nOOb I was! LOL! I was initially quite angry... but then laughed when I realized the job of invaders is apparently to kill the invadee... and I made it really, really easy for him!
I don't know if I'm quite ready for Blighttown yet... I may go back and run through some earlier areas to make sure I didn't miss anything... and yes, to farm or grind. Sometimes I just want to relax and it's therapeutic to deal with the familiar. Sometimes funny incidents take place that make it all worthwhile. I love the slow, huge stone knights in Darkroot garden and until I got the hang of dodging and backstabbing them, they often killed me.. so I sometimes go back there to hone my skills. This huge stone knight in a lower part of the garden suddenly jumped backward to avoid my sword thrust... and he jumped right off a cliff, killing himself. I have to admit that I laughed my ass off!
I've taken a bit of a break from Dark Souls though, and have been trying out the Defiance beta. It's an FPS/MMO hybrid and plays somewhat like Borderlands... but the grinding! OMG, the grinding! I've become very addicted to this pretty average game in a very short period of time and find I can easily spend hours and hours just doing Arkfall events which are somewhat similar in their repetition patterns, but also relaxing because yeah... farming for dollars. At this point in the beta we don't even get much of a reward for the Arkfall events, but it's the grinding that I find addictive, and gauging by the number of other people chasing Arkfall events, I'm definitely not the only one that enjoys a little farming.
So yeah... just call me Farmer Elsa! (and provided they fix the voice chat in the PS3 version of Defiance, I'll probably pick it up... so if you feel like doing a little Arkfall farming, hit me up!)
EDIT: and I'll fully admit when I'm wrong... the game does have story, it just doesn't hold your hand to tell it. Read this blog if you haven't already... it's absolutely awesome: