Friday, October 21, 2011

Dark Souls Playthrough--Part 4 (Adventures in the Undead Parish)

I didn't get much of a breather after beating the Taurus Demon, because right around the corner, a giant red dragon named Hellkite was blocking the bridge I had to cross. After being roasted to a crisp the first time I tried to cross, I scoped out the area a little better. I ended up running into an NPC--a knight named Solaire, a sun-worshipper that represents one of the factions you can join in the game (more on that later). After talking to him, I went back up to try and cross the bridge again. The trick to getting through the area is to dive into the stairwell that is about halfway across the walkway on the right. It leads to an area that takes you under the bridge, so you can avoid the dragon altogether. There’s also a shortcut you can unlock that takes you back to a central part of the level, which came in handy later on.

As I made my way under the bridge, I could hear the dragon bellowing and see it’s tail swinging above. Having read about a cool weapon I could get here, I took out my bow and repeatedly shot the dragon’s tail. After about thirty arrows, the tail actually fell off, and I was rewarded with a powerful weapon called the Drake Sword. Early on in the game, this weapon proved to be a lifesaver, due to the high damage it delivers. I would need that, as the rest of the Undead Parish is pretty brutal.

Rounding the corner, I came to a series of open air staircases that led up to the parish itself. Guarding the stairs were a bunch of soldiers and a gigantic armored boar. The soldiers were easy enough to dispatch, but the boar charges for huge damage, so I had to lead it into a bonfire a few times to take it out.

Before heading into the parish itself, I went and found the nearest bonfire to save at. There is also a blacksmith near the checkpoint, so I was able to have my equipment repaired before heading back out. Then it was on to the parish.

The parish is tough all the way through. Coming through the side entrance, I immediately caught the attention of a giant, mace-wielding black night. One crushing blow from his mace knocked off about three quarters of my health, so I died a few times before finally figuring out his patterns. Luckily, he is one of the few enemies that don’t respawn when you save a a checkpoint, so I went back and healed up before going back in.

After quietly avoiding some undead knights on the first floor, I made my way upstairs and was forced to confront an undead knight at the top of the staircase. After felling him, I walked into an absolute beatdown. A mage was standing amidst a group of undead, and he cast a spell that sent them into a frenzy. The swarmed me, and I was overrun before I knew what hit me.  I had to start back at the bonfire and fight my way up there again, where I lured the mage out and killed him before confronting the horde.  The secret to defeating the frenzied undead was to keep them bottlenecked in the hallway so they couldn’t overwhelm me. After finishing them off, I was ready to head up to the rooftop to fight the bosses--the Bell Gargoyles. I’ll get into that next time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dark Souls Playthrough--Part 3 (The Undead Burg)

After beating the first boss and getting into the main hub (Firelink Shrine) of Dark Souls, the game starts to open up. You can choose to enter into different areas, although the game gives you some guidance on where to start. I was following the strategy guide’s suggested route through the game, as it’s brutally difficult enough without going through the hardest areas first.

After resting at a bonfire (the game’s version of checkpoints), I headed up the side of a cliff into the Undead Burg. As the name implies, this place was teeming with zombies and skeleton warriors, each more than capable of killing me with a couple of strikes. Immediately I was reminded of one of the golden rules of Dark Souls--always have your shield ready. Enemies love to ambush you from around corners, and some of their attacks are more easily blocked than dodged. No matter what class you play, you should have enough points in the appropriate stats to wield a shield effectively. Blocking and attacking are both tied to Stamina, which is a limited resource that needs to recharge after a certain number of actions. My first several encounters led to me dedicating more points to my Endurance score to increase Stamina, as I was frequently having my guard broken due to running out.

My initial strategy of using ranged attacks to soften enemies and then finishing them with melee was met with mixed results. In Demon’s Souls, most enemies would not stop and heal themselves during an encounter. In Dark Souls, it happens all the time. It was frustrating to use a few of my finite number of spells to do some initial damage, only to have an enemy be back at full health by the time I closed then gap for melee. So, I had to adjust my strategy. Instead of sniping from afar, I had to lure enemies toward me, use a quick ranged attack, and then close on them before they healed. This lead to more close encounters than I would have liked, and more deaths early on. Whereas I relied heavily on ranged attacks in the first game, I had found so far that mid- to close-range was where most of my encounters were happening in Dark Souls. Making things more dangerous was the fact that enemies often appeared in groups, and it wasn’t as easy to lure them out one at a time as in the previous game.

A few hours into the Undead Parish, I squared off against the next boss--the Taurus Demon. He’s a giant minotaur that literally vaults over a tower onto a castle walkway to face you. Taking what I learned from my first boss encounter, I climbed up one of the towers and dropped down on him for extra damage a few times, then sealed the deal with ranged spells. Of course, it took me four tries to beat him, and I spent about four hours overall getting through that section of the game. My most notable death of this section--one time I had the Taurus Demon down to almost no hit points, when I rolled to avoid an attack and plummeted thousands of feet to my death off the side of the walkway. It took me a half hour just to get back to that boss fight.

Such is Dark Souls.

Taurus Demon defeated, I pressed further on into the Undead Parish...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

NYCC Was a Blast

This week I went down to New York for the mammoth New York Comic Con. My good friend Vin Ferrante put Matt and I up for a few days and let us operate out of his booth at the show. We scored over 25 interviews for the podcast, which will be posted in the coming months. We also saw a lot of old friends and made some new ones.  Some of the people I interviewed:

Kim Harrison, NY Times bestselling author of The Hollows series;

Dan Abnett, one half of the Abnett and Lanning writing duo that have done amazing things with the Marvel Cosmic U, Heroes for Hire and many more projects over the past few years;

Mike Norton, artist extraordinaire and creator of Battlepug;

Jason May, creator of Rob Bot and co-host of Cartridgecade, and;

The aforementioned Vin Ferrante, creator of Witch Hunter.

We had a blast at the show and we posted a ton of pics over on the Secret Identity Facebook page. There will also been plenty of stories up on in the next few weeks about everything we saw and heard.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dark Souls Playthrough--Part 2 (The Undead Asylum)

Having finally settled on a starting character, I was ready to begin my Dark Souls experience. The opening cut scene was fairly confusing, but from what I gathered, you start off in an asylum for the undead. You are unlike the other undead however, as you’re not a mindless, shambling zombie. The first area of the game features you fighting your way out of the asylum and battling your first boss, a sort of jailor demon who watches over the asylum. That’s when I knew that dark souls was going to live up to the hype. In the first game, you ran into a boss right away who killed you, sending you to the main hub of the game--you weren’t expected to be successful against him. In Dark Souls, you have to complete a proper boss fight before you can even access the hub area of the game.

So, after a few crushing defeats at the hands of the demon, I figured out you could do extra damage by dropping down on top of him for a critical hit. That made the fight go a lot easier, and I finished him off with ranged spells after the initial attack. Needless to say, my decision to start as a Sorcerer paid off.

I probably spent about 1.5-2 hours in that initial area, after which I went to the starting hub for the rest of the game. In that time Dark Souls confirmed that it wasn’t going to make anything easy for me.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dark Souls Playthrough--Part 1 (Getting Started)

Dark Souls is not a game that I could do justice with a typical review. So, I decided that I'll be chronicling my journey through the game in a series of posts here on the blog.

My love for the incredibly difficult RPG Demon’s Souls is well-documented. I have also been telling everyone I’ve come across the past several months how much I could not wait to get my hands on the sequel Dark Souls, that arrived in stores this week.

On launch day I happily went to my local GameStop and picked up my beautiful collector’s edition of Dark Souls, as well as the mammoth 400-page strategy guide that Future Press put out. This time, I wanted to be prepared as I headed into a grueling but rewarding 50+ hour experience.

A funny thing happened as I got ready to start Dark Souls, however. I hesitated.  I couldn’t decide what class I wanted to start with, and I kept perusing the strategy guide, hoping for a level of insight that wasn’t there. As it got later that night, and the window of time I could have spent playing closed, I realized something--

I was actually scared to start playing.

Not actually scared mind you, but anxious. Knowing what I knew after having played Demon’s Souls, I found myself obsessing over how to start the game. Should I go magic or melee-based? What character has better starting equipment? Should I do a better job of building a character that can handle player versus player situations?

All of these questions were still swimming around in my head the next morning, and I spent the day mulling over my strategy. By the time I got home from work that night, settled the kids in bed, and saw my wife off to the gym I finally put the game in and created my character.

I decided to go with the Sorcerer class, because in addition to being able to cast ranged magic spells, the class is decent with a blade and is pretty mobile. In Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls, class really is just a starting point, as you can level up your stats to access all magic and weapons no matter what class you start at. My reasoning for picking Sorcerer was because the class starts with a ranged spell called Soul Arrow, and my play style from Demon’s Souls was to soften enemies up at range and then finish them off when they get close.  As I would find out later though, some of my strategies from Demon’s Souls would need to be tweaked in order to be successful in Dark Souls.

Tune in tomorrow for a recap of my first couple hours with the game.