The quest for the Dark Soul

A Wyvern. Must be a post about Dark Souls
Dark Souls. I talk about this game a lot. I enthuse about it at great length. I am a fan-boy. I am a Sunbro. I have invested many, many hours over several characters in this game. I have finished it with three of them, seeing both endings in the process. I have escorted two of my friends through the game's tricks and traps. I have slain dragons and Praised The Sun.

And I'm still not done with it.

Achievement Hunting

It's fair to say that I'm a bit of a completionist with this sort of thing. Well, that and Achievement Whore. According to my True Achievements profile, I've completed 25 games - 14 retail and 11 XBLA - gaining 100% of the achievements in each of them. Okay, King Kong's on there and that hardly counts, but Avatar is also conspicuous by its absence and I'm proud of that. Likewise Geometry Wars, Hexic and Just Cause 2 should point towards either my skill or bloodymindedness when it comes to the pursuit of the 100%.

Shortly after starting a new game up, I'll often check the achievement list and that will form an immediate impression of whether or not this game will be one of the ones that I'll be able to 100%. Some are pretty obvious - like Viva Pinata - or will merely require persistence and a number of playthroughs - hello Mass Effect.

There are also some that you look at and realise that you'll never be able to do it. In fact, the original Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter had some crazy achievements in there that actually prompted a review of the achievement approval section of the TCRs*.

At first glance, Dark Souls falls into this latter category. You play the game a bit and then look at the list of achievements and it reads like a list of Things You Will Never Be Able To Attain. It culminates in a single achievement entitled The Dark Soul - awarded for getting all of the other achievements. You also need to have discovered each of the 9 covenants, found every single Sorcery, Miracle and Pyromancy, own each of the Rare Weapons and have upgraded a weapon to the maximum in each of the 10 different upgrade paths.

Those last two require up to three separate playthroughs of the game, and yet there are some that are even harder since they require you to ensure a fairly complete playthrough, finishing off the various quest lines for the handful of NPCs you encounter. Bear in mind that this game doesn't hold your hand at any point and the lives of these NPCs are very much in your hand. One wrong move and they will cark it and that's you done for this playthrough.

Think of it like a permanent escort mission, except you're doing 3 of them at the same time.

Touching Distance

At the time of writing, I've discovered all of the Covenants and upgraded all but one of the weapons. I've collected all but two of each of the Miracles and Pyromancies and have started a character with the express aim of gaining all of the Sorceries. With Mike and Leanne, we've gone so far as to generate a spread sheet with everyone's progress on it so that we'll be able to co-ordinate our efforts when it comes to getting all of the rare weapons - specifically, what boss souls get turned into what weapons.

I only require 6 achievements to 100% this game.
Tells you everything you need to know
This makes me more excited than it probably should. But here's the thing - it feels like I've earned it. I've paid my dues with this game. That single, The Dark Soul achievement really feels like an actual achievement. It has taken skill, time and persistance.

The Future

Say I win that achievement. Dark Souls - 100%

What happens next?

Normally, any game I complete in such a fashion is immediately shelved. As I can make no further progress, there seems to be little point in playing the thing any more. This has happened many times in the past - Batman: Arkham Asylum, for example. I loved that game right up to the point where I completed it.

But I think this time it'll be different. I'm seriously considering the DLC even though I almost never purchase DLC - especially not DLC that doesn't come with extra achievements. Even Mass Effect, which I loved, didn't persuade me to go anywhere near the DLC.

So why is this game any different?

Jolly Co-Operation

He co-operates in a Jolly fashion
I think part of it has to come down to the multiplayer experience. Specifically, helping my friends through the game. It's kinda like Journey in that respect - I feel like I've got a big, white cloak and want to show people the way.

But here's a thing. I wonder how many people who have played Dark Souls have actually played the multiplayer?

The first time I played through the game, I did it entirely solo. Every boss encounter was done whilst Hollow and therefore on my own. Now that I've played it through a few times with friends and still struggled with some bosses, I'm amazed I got as far as I did that first time. Given how much more fun it is to play through with friends, why didn't I try it earlier?

I imagine the answer to that is similar to most people. Firstly, there's the resource requirement. You have to use up this pretty rare resource in order to progress your game in a multiplayer fashion. People like to hoard rare ammo - how many FPSs have you played where you've finished the game with enough rockets to destroy the Death Star because you were saving them for the next encounter when you might "really need them"?

Secondly, there's the fear. Fear of invasion and losing both rare ammo and soul currency. Opening yourself up in this way is quite terrifying - especially after the first time it happens and you get your arse handed to you in a bag by some low life in ridiculous armour wielding a halberd forged from the bones of his long-dead enemies.

Thirdly, there's the interface. We're talking Dwarf Fortress levels of obfuscation here. The game seems to actively prevent you from attempting multiplayer in a meaningful fashion. Even when it does allow you to connect to who you want, you're restricted to boss runs and any have to resort to other communication methods if there's more than two of you to get around the no-group-chat restriction they've imposed.

And yet it has something that transcends the clunky interface and baffling external constraints.

Everyone likes a winner

It has to be the payoff. Connecting is hard work. Battling enemies is hard work. Keeping the summoner alive is hard work. Defeating a boss is hard work** and it can take many, many attempts. It will make you suffer en route. Overcoming them to victory immediately leaves you with a desire for high-fives and celebration. If you happen to be alone, that's a bit of a let down, but if you're with a friend that has just helped you, that's perfect!

It also opens you up to the kind of non-scripted scenario that is only possible with human opponents. For example, Leanne and I were helping Mike ring the Undead Parish bell on his New Game+. The path was cleared to the boss fight when Mike decided to release*** Lautrec. Whilst he was doing this, some chap decided to invade his game. Once Lautrec was dealt with, we proceded towards the boss area and caught a glimpse of the invader lying in wait in the room ahead. Pausing outside to ready a Chaos Firestorm or two, the three of us burst into the room, wreathed in flame. The invader promptly filled his shorts and ran for it, using a separation crystal to return to his own realm.

Content vs Mechanics

Praise the sun. Praise it!
This leads me back to something I've said many times before. Mechanics trump content. Content gets consumed and is done with. Whilst it is being consumed, the user is having a great time, but once it's gone, there is nothing left. Consider content to be the fossil fuel of gameplay. You can keep digging up new sources of content, but ultimately, you're going to run out as it gets less and less worthwhile to produce.

Mechanics can keep you playing long after all content has been consumed, burning away with the fusion power of the sun. DLC notwithstanding, I have consumed all of the content that Dark Souls has to offer. Pretty soon I will stop gaining achievements for it. Yet I am still fairly sure I will continue to play. 

I have another friend who is just starting his journey in the world of Lordran and he may well need a shepherd to help him get through the game before Dark Souls 2 drops...

* side rant - Microsoft and Sony both have a list of Things That Your Game Must Do in order to pass certification on their consoles. Microsoft call their list Technical Certification Requirements (TCR) and Sony call theirs Technical Requirements Checklist (TRC). Both do exactly the same thing - ensure that the game meets certain standards. So why they couldn't agree on the same name for this process is anyone's guess...

** apart from Pinwheel - that guy's a wuss.

*** and subsequently kill.


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