Taking Stock

Wed 02 March 2016 by psu

Dark Souls 3 comes out in a little more than a month, so of course I have been revisiting the Fromsoft oeuvre for the past few months of so. This is partly out of nostalgia and partly to reacquaint myself with the Souls (and Bloodborne) universe of horrors. As always, lots of spoilers here, including videos!

First I finally downloaded the Bloodborne DLC. I ran around, found the first boss, got wrecked in 45 seconds and then put the game away again. Later I found out how to summon help for the boss and did that. For the first time in my life I lost to a FromSoft boss with two NPC helpers. So I ganked the boss until I got lucky and beat it. And then I put the game away some more.

Since I had the PS4 on anyway, I restarted my run through Scholar of the First Sin, the remaster of Dark Souls 2 that appeared to mostly consist of planting extra fights with the Pursuer all over the place until you want to die. I worked through this, got to the end, got all the crowns out of the DLC and got the PVP item from Vendrick that keeps you human when you die.

Then I picked up the PVP again, and really sucked. After a few weeks of trying, I finally got back in the swing of things and could play at my normal clip where I win one or two for every three or four I lost.

Dark Souls 2 PVP is probably my favorite of all the Fromsoft games. The matchmaking is pretty solid and the adjustments they made to backstabs and parries balances the game a bit. On the one hand, a careful player can avoid most criticals (especially backstabs, more on parries in a bit) and win just with a bit of luck and knowing how to take the best advantage of her weapon's move set.

On the other hand, I did discover this time around that parrying in Dark Souls 2 is much easier than in Dark Souls 1, where I never PVP parried at all. It all started with this lucky parry:

This made me look into the mechanic with a bit more interest. I figured that like Dark Souls 1 the parry timing would be too hard to learn in PVP. But this turned out not to be the case. The secret to parrying is to observe that even though the weapons in the game have various attack animations and speeds, they all behave similarly under certain conditions like:

  1. Your opponent takes a big swing with an R1, and then immediately follows with another R1:

  2. Your opponent does a roll then an R1

  3. You take a swing slightly past your opponent, who then senses an opening and winds up for a big swing from behind you:

Each of these is a prime opportunity for a parry. The first scenario is something only suckers and noobs fall for. But the second two are actually pretty hard to avoid unless you are very disciplined. I am constantly getting parried in the third scenario because the possibility for the attack from behind is always just so juicy.

With some practice you can branch out from these obvious situations and start to predict the timing for most R1 attacks even if they are not a followup of some kind:

Also, unlike Dark Souls in Dark Souls 2 you can actually parry the tip of the weapon, so you can be off angle or far away from your opponent and still land the parry:

All of this was just too much fun, and kept me occupied for weeks.

At this point I figured it was time to at least try to finish off the Bloodborne DLC. I had made the mistake of taking my "better" character into NG+ the first time around, so if I wanted to go in with my favorite weapons I would have to play at the harder difficulty. Overall this was pretty terrible. The DLC bosses take the Bloodborne style of boss design and make every common aspect of the monsters more extreme. They are more random, more aggressive, do more violence to your view through the game camera and most of all, they all fucking scream even more while you fight them. Someone on this design team really really loves the screaming .WAV file that they recorded for the Vicar Amelia boss in the main game because they are using it over and over and over and over again in the DLC.

Once you can tune out that bullshit and get your internal rhythm back in tune with the Bloodborne combat system the DLC turns out to be not too bad. I even took my "weaker" skill-based character back through to get one of the better weapons in the game:

Notice the bellowing.

Then you use that weapon to kill the awful screaming final boss again:

Notice the screaming.

When I looked up from all of this a lot of preview activity for Dark Souls 3 had started up, and all the twitch and youtube streamers were starting nostalgia playthroughs of Dark Souls to get back in the mood. Eventually I realized that I must do the same thing.

I started a new guy on the PS3 and my hands immediately cramped up from the teeny tiny PS3 controller that used to be my favorite. Sheesh. Then it took me hours to kill the fucking gargoyles. Sad. The game also looked like it was rendered by an early 90s PC through a sock filter.

So I turned on the Xbox and started again, and things were better. I ran through the early game over the weekend and then got pretty much to the end by the next weekend. The highlights, as always were:

  1. Getting eaten by the dogs keeping the Capra Demon company, until finally getting a good roll of the dice and killing them both so you can fight the asshole in peace.

  2. Limping Sif.

  3. Making the Forest Guardian guys fall off that cliff.

  4. Parrying the Anor Londo Knights.

  5. Burning Seath and Nito to the ground with 4 fireballs each.

  6. Backstabbing Darkwraiths for titanite chunks.

  7. Chasing the Onion-bro all over creation, only to have him die at the end.

  8. Iron Tarkus.

  9. Making Ceaseless fall down into this hole.

  10. Manus and Artorias flying through the air.

By the end, I figured I'd see if I could finally parry Gwyn. While I managed to land a few awesome parries on his first flying swing, I could never do it consistently enough to make it a core part of how I win that fight. So I again gave up and chipped him to death to get to what is always the very very best part of playing Dark Souls: completely wrecking the first half of NG+. NG+ in Dark Souls does not scale the enemies by all that much compared to NG, but you usually enter it with fully upgraded end-game gear. This means you spend the almost the entire first half of NG+ (up until Anor Londo) one-shotting everything and generally running around like a God. To my surprise I even managed to melee the Four Kings to death. Generally this eludes me with the Four Kings, as it did in my NG run above, and I resort to burning them with pyromancy. That was the highlight of the run. Satisfied, I put my controller down and took stock.

Having played through some or all of the three games recently, I think my preferences still go like this:

For PVE:

  1. Dark Souls 1 by far.

  2. Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne are tied for second and third.

To me BB and DS2 explore different parts of the evolutionary space from Dark Souls. DS2 is a bit more forgiving and streamlines the various upgrade paths even more, this is good. BB opens up the combat system to be faster and more friendly to fighting crowds of enemies.

However, both lack that ineffable brain worm that I get with Dark Souls. I also think I like the weapons space in Dark Souls the best. The move sets feel more varied and more, for lack of a better term, connected than either DS2 or BB. While there are a few really cool weapons in both DS2 and BB, especially in the the BB DLC, neither game really reaches the level of the Dark Souls weapon collection for me. All of this can probably be chalked up to "first game love". But I feel like I can do a run of Dark Souls almost any time on a whim, but the other two games feel like a lot more work.

For PVP:

  1. Dark Souls 2, by far.

  2. Bloodborne and Dark Souls tied for second and third.

I find DS2 PVP to be much better at all levels. Dark Souls match-making was too glitchy and the combat system a little bit too exploitable (insta-backstabs!, wrecking people with high DPS R1 spam!, etc). DS2 is a bit slower, but criticals are better balanced with normal combat and most of the boring tactics are more easily punished.

Bloodborne PVP is up and down. I find it too frantic, so I have not played much. The fact that you to have a chance you have to farm weapons upgrades from the dungeons is also annoying.

At this point I would say that I've said everything I can possibly say about these games, and I will have no more to say in the future. But past experience indicates that this will not be true. So, I look forward to looking back on BB, DS1, 2 and 3 all over again when Dark Souls 4 comes out in 2018. Maybe by then I'll finally be able to parry Gwyn.

Category: Video Games