Praise the Sun!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a part of the soundtrack, a gameplay mechanic, a line of dialogue, or anything else about the game that is particularly noteworthy and/or awesome.
This series will no doubt contain spoilers for the games being discussed, so keep that in mind if you plan on playing the game for the first time.
This entry is all about Dark Souls. Feel free to share some of your own favorite things about the game in the comments!
Dark Souls is home to one of my absolute favorite locations in video games, but I might not have even known it existed if I hadn’t looked up a guide. Deep in Blighttown, there’s an illusory wall hidden behind an unassuming treasure chest which leads to the inside of an enormous tree, an area known as the Great Hollow. I probably never would have found this secret entrance on my own, but I’m really glad I heard about it.
Carefully following the branches down the trunk of the tree, I eventually emerged out of an opening at the bottom. The discovery that followed was absolutely stunning. The Great Hollow led to an unexpectedly huge, open area called Ash Lake, which certainly doesn’t look like it belongs deep underground.
I found myself on a quiet island of sand, surrounded by murky waters and many more gigantic trees growing up into the air in the distance, much like the Great Hollow I had just exited. It was like I had just discovered the birthplace of the world. Though the area felt vast and secluded, I actually wasn’t alone. Ash Lake is inhabited by a few other living creatures, including some territorial shellfish, an angry Hydra, and the Everlasting Dragon, a peaceful, immortal being who grants travelers the power to transform into dragons themselves.
I don’t know what it was exactly, but something about Ash Lake really resonated with me. There’s this unimaginable peacefulness to the place, and everything about it feels so mysterious and magical. It’s a secret beach where I could go and just relax and think about life without being bothered by anything (well, other than the Hydra). I spent a really long time just wandering the sands, taking in every inch of the landscape and admiring everything around me, and it quickly became my favorite place to waste time.
I wish I had been able to discover Ash Lake on my own, without any prior knowledge of its existence, because that really would have been something. It would have been so exciting, like I had just uncovered the greatest secret of Dark Souls that no one else knew about, and Ash Lake was all mine. But alas, I was apparently not very observant during my first playthrough.
As far as difficult Dark Souls boss fights go, the fight against Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough is one of the best. The duo encapsulates two very different boss types: one small and agile, the other slow and powerful. Each of them would easily pose a threat on his own, but now they’re fighting together and must be defeated simultaneously. It’s one of the most taxing fights in the game, requiring players to keep track of both enemies at once and never let one of them out of sight, lest they sneak up from behind for a beat-down, all the while choosing the perfect opportunities to land any hits on the pair without being exposed to a counterattack.
And as if the fight weren’t hard enough already, once one of the duo is defeated, the other absorbs their fallen comrade’s powers and their health is fully restored. If Ornstein goes down first, Smough takes his ally’s lightning power to become slow, powerful, and electric. If Smough is the first to fall, Ornstein inherits his buddy’s size to become giant yet still as agile as before. It’s up to the player to decide which one they feel they can handle and try to kill the other one first.
I can’t even count the number of times I died to these guys, but eventually I developed a solid strategy for beating them solo. Personally, I always tried to take down Ornstein first, because Mega Ornstein is a bit too big and speedy for my liking. Mega Smough, on the other hand, is much easier to keep track of, and I found I could use the pillars to my advantage to keep him at a distance since he always seems to walk directly towards the player. Smough is not too bright, apparently. He’s definitely the brawn to Ornstein’s brains.
The harrowing adventures of the onion knight
A lot of people tend to think of Solaire as their trusted companion in the world of Dark Souls, but personally I always preferred Siegmeyer’s company. Siegmeyer of Catarina is a jolly, yet somewhat lazy knight wearing an odd set of armor with an onion-like appearance. He can often be found napping or meditating near an obstacle he is unable to overcome, and requires the player’s help to pass through.
Siegmeyer’s quest line basically involves getting him out of all sorts of predicaments as he goes off on his adventures. Eventually, the player will meet his daughter, Sieglinde, who shines a bit of light on her father’s personality, saying that he’s always going on adventures and getting himself into trouble, so she has to go looking for him to keep him safe.
Their quest line culminates in a rather sorrowful manner, ending in Ash Lake where Sieglinde stands near her father’s body. Sieglinde says he went hollow and she had no choice but to kill him. But evidently, this isn’t the first time this has happened, as she previously stated, “If he goes hollow, I’ll just have to kill him again.”
What a tragic existence, to have to constantly follow her father around as he slowly goes mad and then kill him before things get too troubling, and repeating the process all over again. My good friend Nic Rowen wrote a spectacular piece on this very moment from the game, where he compared Siegmeyer’s condition to Alzheimer’s, and now that theory is pretty much canon in my mind.
Off with his tail!
The one thing I miss about Dark Souls is the ability to acquire new weapons by chopping off the tails of my enemies. It was such a fun idea, but sadly it didn’t return in Dark Souls II or Bloodborne.
The “cut off its tail” strategy applied to many of the bosses in Dark Souls, provided they had a tail to attack. Once I discovered it was a running theme in the game, I made it a point to inspect every boss for a tail and made sure to cut it off before the fight was over. This made some fights a lot more intense, since I’d have to change up my usual strategy to move around behind the boss and try to lop off the tail without causing too much damage. I died many, many times to Seath the Scaleless, simply because I was so preoccupied with making him Seath the Tailless.
The tail weapons were all great additions to the player’s arsenal, so taking the time to obtain them was usually worth it. There’s the Drake Sword, of course, every new player’s saving grace which can easily be taken from the Hellkite Dragon, as well as the Dragon King Greataxe and Moonlight Greatsword taken from the Gaping Dragon and Seath, respectively. I also personally really liked the Gargoyle Tail Axe from the Bell Gargoyles, which I thought was one of the cooler looking weapons due to the way it bends when it swings around, even though it’s not that great stats-wise.
It’s even possible to cut off the tail of the Everlasting Dragon, the massive NPC found in Ash Lake. This will net the Dragon Greatsword, which basically looks like a huge hunk of stone roughly shaped like a sword. Don’t worry though, attacking the dragon won’t cause him to become aggressive since he is apparently immortal. Hope he can grow his tail back, at least!
Come out, come out, wherever you are
I was never very good at Dark Souls PvP, but I still really enjoyed playing with other people just because of how great the summoning and invasion systems are. But since combat wasn’t my forte, I started to try and find ways to mess with other players instead.
One of my favorite strategies for toying with invaders is by using the good old Chameleon spell. Chameleon disguises the player as an object from the environment, such as a vase or a statue, something that will most likely appear inconspicuous to the other player as long as it’s not moving around or sitting in an unusual spot.
It became like a fun little mini-game for me, trying to find the perfect hiding spots for my Chameleon-disguised body and seeing if any passing invaders would notice. Some players were very observant and were able to locate me right away and attack, while others spent forever wandering around the area, passing right by me several times before giving up and leaving or offering me the perfect opportunity to sneak up and surprise them. It was always really tense whenever an invader would move near me, as I sat there wondering if I was actually well hidden or not.
I saw a similar thing on YouTube where someone dressed up as an enemy knight and took their place, which is sort of like using the Chameleon spell only way more clever. I never tried this myself, but I really want to do it someday. Messing with invaders is just too much fun!
He ran into my knife… ten times
I’ve always liked the idea of permanence in the Dark Souls series. Attack an NPC enough and they’ll become angry and fight back, remaining aggressive for the rest of the game (unless the player seeks absolution). Kill an NPC, and they’ll be gone forever until the next playthrough. I learned this the hard way in Demon’s Souls, when I was practicing with my new weapons in the Nexus and managed to piss off the Crestfallen Warrior. This made me particularly careful of my actions around NPCs from then on, since I wouldn’t want to screw myself over by accidentally angering or killing someone important.
Killing NPCs can sometimes be useful, though. The Souls games tend to have at least one evil character who will go crazy and start killing off other important characters if left unchecked, so it’s sometimes a good idea to take someone out if they seem really shady. The NPCs often drop really great items too, so it’s worth it to kill them at least once during multiple playthroughs. Usually, I would wait until the end of my second playthrough before going around and killing every NPC for their souls and loot, and then start a new game to bring them all back again.
My first time through Dark Souls, I almost managed to keep everyone alive, aside from one small slip-up. When I found the hidden passage to the room housing Quelaag’s sister, I tried to enter only to be blocked by something in front of me that I couldn’t quite see. I looked down, noticed an Egg Carrier in my way (those creepy, egg-infested enemies that laze about and sometimes attack), FREAKED OUT, and quickly stabbed it to death without a second thought. I only realized it was actually an NPC afterwards, when I noticed the dialog at the bottom of the screen while he was dying. Umm… oops! Sorry, Eingyi! Maybe don’t get in someone’s way like that when you look so unsettling?
Living with regret
Every once in a while, the Souls games like to throw in an unexpectedly emotional boss fight to keep the player wondering about their own true motives. In Demon’s Souls, it was Maiden Astraea, and in Dark Souls we have Sif, the Great Grey Wolf.
Sif is a rather massive wolf with the unique ability to wield a huge greatsword with its mouth. Sif is not too shabby with the sword either, able to swing it around in large arcs and jump nimbly through the air while swinging downward. But aside from simply being an adorable, fuzzy wolf, the fight is not overly emotional at first.
That is until Sif takes too much damage and begins to lose steam, sadly limping across the battlefield, attacking much more slowly and deliberately, and even falling over due to the sheer exertion of swinging a gigantic sword around while injured. Dammit, Dark Souls! Why do you have to make me feel so bad about killing a boss? I really wanted nothing more than to spare Sif and let him live his wolfy life, but unfortunately there’s no way around it.
And of course, after the Artorias of the Abyss DLC was released, the fight with Sif somehow became even more unbearable. During the DLC campaign, the player can find Sif in the Abyss, where Artorias left the wolf protected under a barrier to prevent it from becoming corrupted. Sif can then be summoned to help during the fight against Manus.
If the player goes to fight Sif in the main game after completing the DLC area first and rescuing the wolf, the introduction cutscene will be noticeably different. Sif walks up to sniff the player, recognizing them from before when they fought together, and lets out a melancholy howl before taking up the greatsword with resignation. And then the player has to kill Sif and feel just completely awful doing it. Sorry, buddy…
Past Experience Points
Level 1: .01 – .20