In contrast to when I played Demon’s Souls, after playing Dark Souls for about 15 hours I can proudly say that I’m making progress.  I’ve managed to defeat a few bosses, upgrade my character’s stats, and even explore scary new areas.  Does this mean that Dark Souls is easier than its predecessor?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question.  I think that I can identify two distinct reasons why I’m having a better go at Dark Souls than I ever did with Demon’s Souls.  The main reason for this, I think, is that I’ve made a better character with better-allocated skill points.  You see, in Demon’s Souls I made the mistake of choosing a character class that I would normally do well with””the knight, basically the equivalent of a “tank” class in MMOs.  You know what I mean by this””a character with heavy armor and weapons that is as slow as a snail and meant to wade right into combat and hack away at enemies.  The trouble with this is that Demon’s Souls“”and, by extension, Dark Souls“”isn’t set up to be played this way.  I don’t care if you’re wearing armor made out of dragon scales””the enemies in these games will absolutely destroy you if you try to take them on headfirst.  You have to be able to block their attacks with a good shield and, if that fails, evade out of the way of their attacks.

The trouble with the knight class is that all that heavy armor weighs them down to the point where they can’t effectively dodge out of the way.  I’ve seen the slow roll evade practiced by knights described as the “fatty roll,” which is a pretty good descriptor.  The fatty roll is so slow that it’s next to impossible to evade attacks.  This made getting anywhere in Demon’s Souls nearly impossible for me.

To counter this, I picked the default Warrior class for Dark Souls.  Supposedly, the best way for n00bs to start out is with a ranged character, preferably a magic user.  That way, you can avoid getting close to enemies.  However, staying away and peppering enemies with spells or arrows just isn’t the way I like to play RPGs.  Give me a big sword and shield and let me wade into the fray!  Picking the warrior class has allowed me to do just that, but I’m also agile enough to quickly roll out of harm’s way should I need a breather.

The other reason I’ve having an easier time with Dark Souls is that the bosses have been easier for me.  The first boss was really easy thanks to an effective trick””simply climb up onto a tower and use the new falling attack that does tons of damage on the Taurus Demon a few times and voila!  Easy victory.  The Moonlight Butterfly seemed tough at first, but once I figured out that I could hit it more effectively by two-handing my sword I made quick work of it.  It still wasn’t easy””one of its attacks hit me almost every time””but most of its attacks were easily dodged and the Moonlight Butterfly was completely defenseless at times.

That’s not to say that all enemies are easy.  The second boss encounter I faced””the Bell Gargoyles””was extremely challenging.  You see, at first there would be just one Gargoyle.  His attacks would do tremendous damage, but it was easy to roll of their way or block them and counterattack.  However, once the Gargoyle was down to about half health, another would fly in and start breathing fire that was impossible to block.  The fire was easy to avoid, true, but having to deal with it plus the other Gargoyle was almost unbearable.

This is the first Bell Gargoyle you fight. Another one enters the battle once you bring this one down to half health.

I spent hours trying to fruitlessly kill those darn Bell Gargoyles until I stumbled upon the weapon enhancement feature.  You see, Dark Souls doesn’t explain a lot of its systems (something I’ll get into more in-depth later).  I didn’t even know I could upgrade weapons at blacksmiths until I really dug into the menus.  For a fairly cheap amount of souls””the game’s currency””I could make my lowly sword into a powerful death-dealer.  All I needed to do was grind the enemies in the area for souls until I could upgrade it a few times.

Grinding didn’t take me long thanks to the abundance of enemies in the area.  Once I had enough souls to upgrade my sword to the point where I thought I was ready to tackle the Gargoyles””I upgraded my sword from doing 61 damage per swing to doing 106 damage per swing; a huge upgrade!””I made my way to the roof where the Gargoyles were. An epic fight ensued””it probably lasted a good 45 minutes””and it wasn’t easy.  One misstep could send me flying off the roof to my death or right into a Gargoyle’s flames, but my upgraded sword was tearing into their flesh with aplomb.  I had 10 Estus Flasks (healing potions) at the start of the fight thanks to a kindled bonfire, but I used them all in defeating the first Gargoyle.  After I defeated that one, it was down to a one-on-one fight between me””with half health and no Estus Flasks””and a Bell Gargoyle with about 25% health remaining.  I lured the Gargoyle into breathing fire””which causes it to stand in place for a long time””and went to work on his body with my upgraded sword.  I came very close to stepping off the edge at one point””what fun that would have been!””and I was sweating and could barely breathe, but I finally managed to kill it and ring the bell that signaled my victory.

The victory against the Bell Gargoyles gave me a sense of satisfaction that is completely unique to Dark Souls.  When I’d finally managed to defeat them and ring the bell after hours of getting my butt kicked, I felt like a gaming god.  Sure, blowing up a tank in Battlefield 3 or completing a sidequest in The Witcher 2 is rewarding, but Dark Souls’ boss fights are so tough that you feel unbeatable after defeating one.  Of course, this lasts for all of about 15 minutes, and then you run into a new area with enemies so tough that they beat you to a bloody pulp in mere seconds.

After beating three bosses, I ran into a guy that inducted me into a covenant (the benefits of being in this covenant aren’t entirely clear, I might add) and was then willing to sell me Miracles.  Miracles are spells that require a stat called Faith.  By spending 4,000 souls, I was able to buy a healing miracle that I hoped would help me out.  I leveled my Faith stat up to the required 12 and equipped the talisman necessary to cast miracles.  Instead of healing myself, however, I did nothing.  Huh?  I tried everything””equipping the talisman in my right hand, trying to select the healing spell in the menu””but nothing worked.  There is absolutely no mention in the manual or in the game itself of why this Miracle shouldn’t be working for me.  You see, Dark Souls is one of those games that make you figure out most of its systems””the tutorial teaches you very basic combat controls and nothing else.  If you don’t like experimenting and discovering how a game works on your own, Dark Souls is not the game for you.

So, that’s where I am now.  I’ve wasted a ton of souls buying a healing Miracle that I don’t know how to use and have come up against a brick wall in the form of the Capra Demon.  The Capra Demon is a boss in a new area called the Undead Burg.  The Undead Burg lies underneath the first area you explore and is filled with numerous quick-moving enemies that will make you bleed if you allow them to.  The Capra Demon seems like it’s not going to go down easily””stay tuned for journal entry #3 to see if I’ve managed to defeat the Capra Demon and make my way to a new area of Dark Souls.

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