Cooperative play in video games has never been something I've had much fun with. Sure I enjoyed reaching tenth prestige on the original Modern Warfare with a bunch of my friends (our clan was affectionately dubbed the QUIM) and I've slaughtered my fair share of Locust with some pals across the Gears of War series, but that’s about as far as I've let myself go into the realm of gaming with others. It’s not that I can’t understand the appeal of spending hours on a MOBA with a team of people or speed running levels on Left 4 Dead; it’s just that I enjoy solitary experiences a lot more.
Or at least I did until I played Dark Souls II.
I’m familiar enough with the ‘Souls’ series to understand its unique approach to multiplayer. I bumbled my way through most of Demon’s Souls and the first third of Dark Souls, enjoying the messages left by others and occasionally battling invaders that would pop into my game.
This was as far as my experience with the multiplayer went however, I never summoned anyone into my game besides Solaire during the gargoyle skirmish and I certainly never pulled a real human being into my game. Looking back now (I played Dark Souls about 18 months ago) I think this was down to a combination of me not really wanting to play with others and the fact that there wasn't that many people leaving summon signs around the many arenas of death and misery that make up the game.
With Dark Souls II I decided I had to get the game on release day not only because I was really excited to play the game but because I wanted to experience the cultural zeitgeist as everyone struggled to unravel the many secrets of Drangleic. This abundance of players all taking on the game at the same time has meant that there’s a tonne of helpful messages to be found ( still a bit of rolling trolling going on but what can you do?) as well as a bunch of summon signs littered around the ominous mist doors that signal the next boss encounter.
I’ll admit that for the first few hours of the game I was reluctant to take advantage of pulling someone else into my game so they could lend a hand. It went against my desire for the toughest and most ‘hard core’ Dark Souls experience I could and as I've explained I have no love for cooperative experiences. This reluctance meant that I battled my way through a number of areas and bosses, struggling as I’m sure most people do with the game, and was relatively happy with the experience I was having.
Until I hit The Pursuer. That floating scumbag was so tough my poor warrior just couldn't make a dent in his health bar. In a tale probably familiar with a lot of people that have played the game I struggled with this boss encounter for a while. So long in fact that I actually left the fight and explored other parts of the game, I went off into an entirely different area and actually managed to beat a number of bosses. However none of these successes mattered on iota when I went back to try and tackle the goddamn Pursuer again.
In the end I broke. I decided that before I lost every healing item and human effigy I had in my possession I would bite the bullet and pull someone else into my game. Engage in some of this “jolly cooperation” I had heard so much about before. So I cracked an effigy outside the boss arena and waited, initially enjoying the sight of my health bar going back to full size, and it wasn't long before those yellow marks of kindness appeared on the floor.
It took me two or three attempts to have a player join my game but eventually I was joined by a ghostly frame of a mage who’s PSN ID I unfortunately can’t remember, because if I could I’d thank him for being such a badass. Within three minutes of pulling the ghost mage from some distant part of the internet we had utterly destroyed the boss that had taken me probably around three hours in total to try and beat. As I grinned like a fool at my victory I turned to my ally who gracefully bowed and then disappeared.
It was such a fantastic experience that I felt compelled to make it my first post up here on Destructoid. We play and love video games for those special moments that you really can’t get with any other medium, and that sense of accomplishment and beating the boss I had been stuck on for so long was coupled with this awesome feeling of camaraderie with someone who I couldn't even properly communicate with. The lack of voice chat or any proper way to group up with other players in Dark Souls II, coupled with how hard the game can be makes the cooperative aspect of the game a unique and actually beneficial element of the game.
I guess the only other game I could compare the feeling to outside of the ‘Souls’ series would be Journey, a game where players have fantastic experiences together outside of normal “headset and clan tag” style multiplayer gaming. All helped in part by a strong sense of camaraderie and discovery with another human being that you have to develop your own special vocabulary with.
Since that first battle with The Pursuer I've pulled players into my world for assistance a bunch of times as I fight my way through Dark Souls II. Each time they've been amazingly helpful, made use of the in game gestures to play in what seems like a really polite and courteous way (I make a point of always saying thanks for the help with some gesture or another) and overall the feeling of “hey that was really cool what me and that other person just did” has added a warm glow of friendliness to an otherwise brutal and unforgiving game.
I wouldn't say that Dark Souls II has converted me into a full on cooperative gamer. I would still much rather play a single player game most of the time, but what it has done is make me way more open to the idea of trying out cooperative gameplay when it’s delivered in fresh and interesting ways. So instead of looking at a games co-op mode and immediately thinking “nope, not for me” I’m definitely going to at least be giving them more of a shot in the future.
Oh and if on the off chance that one of the many, many people who have helped me in Dark Souls II is reading this I would like to say thanks and I owe you all a beer. Except that one guy…you know who you are. read