Category Archives: The Souls Series

Dark Souls 3 + Invasions = New Controller

angry-gamerOk, I’m not usually one of those types of gamers that rage and rant about silly things like this, but recently I’ve been playing a lot of Dark Souls 3 and enough is enough. I just had to chime in about this topic. Remember, I’m not insulting anyone here or trying to tarnish the Souls name. I’m just bringing up an issue that I have with Dark Souls 3. There is no need to take offense, here. This is just one man’s opinion.

A Bit of Background

I have been a BIG fan of the Souls franchise from the very beginning. I have put so many hours into each successive title, that I have lost count of my total play time. By my best estimate, I have probably put in upwards of 700 hours across the entire series, but that is only an estimate. With that much time in both the solo and co-op modes, I feel as though I have paid my dues and I can legitimately complain about this issue. My main (and so far, only) point of contention here, is with the co-op/PvP/Invasion system that has been a hallmark of the entire series. This is where I start to complain.

Of course, Dark Souls 3 is a fun game; challenging and vexing, but ultimately rewarding. The stunning visuals, the beautiful music, the rich world, and the beautifully convoluted storytelling make this game one to keep and eye on. It is pretty obvious that Dark Souls 3 takes a few points from Bloodborne, but that is not a problem. Bloodborne was a fantastic game! For me, it had an almost perfect balance of speed and agility, with a great co-op and single player experience. The world was eerily dark and foreboding, plus, I was rarely invaded and that was fine by me. These two titles are so similar in speed, music, ambiance and visuals, players will feel right at home in either world. So, after that glowing comparison what on earth could make me angry about Dark Souls 3? Well, let’s find out…..

Rant Time

What the hell is up with the invasions in Dark Souls 3? I am so sick and tired of being invaded! One after another, after another. Sometimes two at the same time! All I want to do is summon my friends and play through an area, but instead of having my buddies come into the game, I get a host of trolling try-hards, looking to kill me and gain rewards! I absolutely hate invasions!

Now, there are only a few outcomes to these types of situations….either the invader kills me, the environment kills me or I kill the invader. Seems simple right? Well, keep in mind that what usually happens is while I’m fighting the first invading phantom, I’m suddenly invaded by another one. Now it’s two against one and I’m already lagging. I’m basically dead. I could try and run back to the bonfire and pull some helpful phantoms, but depending on where I might be in that level, that can be suicide. It is a hopeless and frustrating situation!

You may wonder why I care? Well, because this has NEVER happened to me in ANY of the other Souls games. Usually, I would go through a level, relatively unscathed, discover secrets, fight bosses and have ample opportunity to summon friends for a cooperatively amazing time. Not in Dark Souls 3, oh no! Instead, I have to put up with a host of connection errors that makes summoning friendly phantoms take forever and while I’m waiting I have to contend with multiple invasions. And my God, if I have used the Dried Finger item, it becomes a terrifying madhouse of bloodthirsty invaders. It is ridiculous! What is even worse is that this cycle can go on and on and on, in almost every area of the game. If you are kindled and lingering by a bonfire, you can expect invasions. It drives me nuts! The levels of frustration that I have experienced in Dark Souls 3 pales in comparison to any of the other games, but not in a good way.

Even if I didn’t intend on summoning my friends, I feel like the frequency of invasions impedes the natural progression of the game. It is already very difficult to get anywhere in a level, try adding an almost nonstop flow of Black Phantoms. One step forward, two steps back!

YES, I know invasions are the name of the game in the Souls series and if I don’t like it, I should just play in the offline mode. Well, that is what I did, in fact I stopped playing the game altogether. I got burned out. You might say Dark Souls 3 simply broke me. It also highlighted the futility of the whole endeavor. Why should I beat my head against the wall, trying desperately to progress in a punishingly difficult game, when I repeatedly loose progress, due to invading phantoms? I decided that I shouldn’t. I’m done with online…..

Will I ever play this game again? Maybe, but it won’t be anytime soon and it will NOT be in online mode. I really wish that FROM Software would stop making online invasions such an integral part of this series. Let’s say I wanted to be invaded, I should be able to choose that as an option. If I just want to game with my friends, I should be able to turn off player invasions. Look at Bloodborne, if you didn’t want to hassle with invasions, just kill the Sinister Bell Women. With her dead you never had to worry about invasions in that area. I loved that option! It allowed me to focus on really enjoying the world, the environments and the co-op interactions. I desperately wish that that it was an option in Dark Souls 3. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have broken another controller and I wouldn’t have quit the game entierly.

~GB

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Getting Ready for Souls

DARKSOUL_facebook_miniSouls Anyone?

OH MAN, OH MAN, OH MAN! Finally Dark Souls 3 will hit shelves tomorrow (or tonight for all you digital edition and Game Stop pre-order people) and I am very, VERY excited to get into this game. I can’t wait to craft a new character, tryout the new weapon arts and explore this dark and foreboding world of Dark Souls 3. Having pre-ordered the digital edition, I can hardly wait for 9pm tonight when I can start to immerse myself in the chaos and brutality of DkS3. Long live the Souls series!

Now, yes, it is true…. I have been rather quiet on the topic of DkS3. Trust me, that has not been an easy thing to do. Even though I am a HUGE Souls fan, I have been purposely staying away from the majority of DkS3 news. This is mainly so I don’t spoil anything for myself. I want to go into DkS3 with a clean, fresh slate. I truly want all of my reactions and explorations to be raw and unfiltered. I want to be surprised by DkS3.

But, just because I’ve kept a low profile, that doesn’t mean that I have been living under a rock for these past few months. I HAVE heard about a few things that I am excited to see in DkS3.  For example, the news of the new weapon arts system sounds very interesting. It has the potential to make weapon combos more interesting with lots of added variety. I would love to run with a viable sword and dagger build or maybe an Estoc and rapier. There are a lot of weapons to choose from and it will be so much fun trying different ones out.

I have heard that Magic has been revamped. Gone is the standalone Hex line of  spells. This time around they have been merged into both the Magic and Miracle spell trees. This sounds a lot more like Demon’s Souls and I have heard that spells have unlimited uses. We will have to see how that pans out, if it is true.

Also, it appears to me that game play in DkS3 is faster and more focused on agility rather than the slow, more deliberate motions we saw in the previous Souls games, especially DkS2. From the little that I have allowed myself to watch, the game’s speed looks like a cross between Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne with a touch of DkS tossed in. I really like the sound of all of that.

My plan for the game is simple, play DkS3 with an open mind, explore every corner of the world and try to read as much of the lore as I can. I want to get a good idea of what this world is all about and how the prequels fit into the overall story arch. After I have the hang of the game, the controls and the new weapon arts system, I want to go for that sweet, sweet Platinum Trophy. I’ve  earned all of the other Platinums, why not this one too?

Also, I want to experience co-op. It was co-op that made me a fan of the previous games and I hope that it will hold up here as well. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good solo adventure too, but I really enjoy playing with friends. In fact, I plan on teaming up with a few friends and streaming parts of our initial playthough. If all goes according to plan, our fearless leader mjm180wr should post it on our joint YouTube channel the 3GB. It won’t be much, but it should be fun.

Overall, I’m pretty jazzed for this new entry into the Souls lineup. Of course, I have my worries such as is co-op going to work well like it did in Demon’s Souls? Is PvP going to be as annoying, frustrating and jarring as it has been in the past titles? Is this game going to stress cooperation or will it be more of a solo experience? Will there be excessive lag? How easily will I be able to call on friends for help? I don’t know, but I’m holding back any final judgments until AFTER I have some hours under my belt. Either way, it should be an interesting experience and I’ll post something more substantial at a later time.

Now, let’s play some Souls!

~GB

Dark Souls 2: To Live and Die in Drangleic

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Recently, I have been playing Dark Souls 2 for the PS3 and I will admit, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself. Even though I’ve struggled a bit and have only just last night, finished the main game, I thought I would take this opportunity to give you all, my most recent thoughts and opinions on this latest entry into the Souls series. Keep in mind, even though I have been an ardent fan of From Software games, since the mid 90’s (see my King’s Field Retrospective for a bit more info on that series) it doesn’t mean that I will blindly give this game a free pass.  So, let’s take a look at Dark Souls 2 and explore my thoughts on this new world of Drangleic.

A Brief History of the Souls Series

Before we get started on Dark Souls 2, let’s take a brief look at the history of the Souls games. Don’t worry, I’ll try and make this quick as I can.

demons_souls

The Souls series began with Demon’s Souls, published in 2009 and released in Japan, the United States and Europe. As a PS3 exclusive game, it was labeled as the “spiritual successor” to the King’s Field series, which had been released some fifteen years earlier, for the PSX. Released in the U.S. by Atlus, the game gradually gathered a strong cult following, made up of dedicated, hardcore, challenge seeking gamers.

From the control scheme and game mechanics, to the games brutal difficulty, Demon’s Souls laid the ground work for what we now know as a Souls game. It also re-energized the From Software brand, propelling them out of obscurity. I spent hours and hours on this game, exploring the world, learning spells and fighting along side my fellow PSN friends. That was one of the key reasons why I liked Demon’s Souls so much, it had a fantastic multiplayer setup, combining a thrilling system of co-op PvE and intense PvP. It was like nothing I had ever played before. It was absolutely fantastic.

468px-Dark-souls-logo-tops-mainDark Souls

Similar in design, play style and visuals to that of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls was said to be its spiritual successor(From Software really likes to use that term ‘spiritual successor’, don’t they?) It was released for both the PS3 and the XBOX 360 in 2011 and finally for the PC in 2012.  This time it was Namco Bandai, who took the publishing reigns, releasing the game in both the United States and Europe, while From Software handled the Japanese release.

Dark Souls built upon the success of it’s predecessor, keeping alive the Demon’s Souls style of brutal game play, while adding a few new game elements into the mix. Now, depending on your play style, not all of these changes were seen as a good thing, for example Namco Bandai decided not to use a dedicated server and instead went with a Peer to Peer type player connection. If you wanted to play with a particular friend, it was very difficult to accomplish this with 100% accuracy and many players found that annoying. On the plus side, this method allowed you to play with anyone from around the world, but many of my friends had no interest playing with random players.

dark-souls-II-logoNow on with Dark Souls II….

Dark Souls II was released on  March 11, 2014, for both the PS3 and the XBOX 360. While it has been stated that this game is NOT a direct sequel to Dark Souls, there are obvious connections spread throughout the game, linking both these storylines together. Of course, the entire story has yet to be fully flushed out by the online community, but they have made huge steps in that direction.

So far, this game plays very much like the other games in the Souls series. The graphics are slightly improved and the storyline seems to be far more cryptic, but all of the core elements that made the Souls franchise, are still intact. What are those core elements you ask? Well let’s take a look…

Gameplay Difficulty

So far, all of the Souls games have been brutally difficult and extremely challenging. They don’t pull any punches or coddle the player in any way. They force you to focus and to think about each move you make. Diving headfirst into a fight and not being aware of your surroundings WILL get the player killed. Being rash is not a good mindset to have with any Souls game. Remember, in these games, everything wants you dead and your enemies are willing to sneak up on you, overwhelm you, shoot you from a distance, set you on fire, push you off of ledges, drown you, eat you, poison you… the list can go on and on.

Yes, Dark Souls II is punishing and unforgiving, but that isn’t a detriment to the franchise.  The game wouldn’t be a Souls game if it wasn’t difficult. That might sound strange, but it is true. In fact, most of the fans that I know, crave its brutal nature and the challenge and frustration that these games bring. It has become a staple of the series and a major selling point.

Of course, since these games are very difficult, you are far more prone to killing off your character and losing progress. We fans have come to expect this facet from a Souls game, but it can be a rude awaking for the more casual gamer.

With that being said, death in Dark Souls II doesn’t feel empty or meaningless, like in some games. As long as you are paying attention, each and every death teaches you a valuable lesson. To illustrate this, what follows is a small list of ideas that I have personally discovered, while playing the Souls series and DkS2:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Don’t assume anything.
  • Never think that you are safe from death, even in the early parts of the game.
  • If an enemy looks like it can kill you, it probably will.
  • If an enemy looks like a pushover, he’s probably going to kill you.
  • Never be rash.
  • Never drain all of your stamina, if you can help it.
  • Take your time. Never try and rush through an area or try and speed things up.
  • If you get stuck, try thinking out of the box, try new approaches.
  • And never, EVER carry large amounts of souls on your person. Especially if you are going into an uncharted area or new boss room.

I’ve learned all of those things (and much, much more), just by playing the game, by trying new things, testing my limits, exploring my surroundings and watching others play. The game didn’t hold my hand. It didn’t coddle me. It tossed me into the fray, into the cold and unforgiving world. Sink or swim, it is all up to the player. I love that; being left up to my own devices, going at my own pace and doing things my way. It is quite empowering!

Storyline

I have always found it fascinating how FROM Software can tell us a story, without really telling us anything. Sure we might be given the bare minimum of basic world information, but everything else, the rest of the puzzle is discovered entirely through lore, item descriptions, dialogue and visuals. Players aren’t generally given much more than basic world information,  but that is just enough to get you to want more. Players tend to discover and stumble upon the story, rather than be slapped in the face with it.

If you doubt the extensiveness of FROM Software’s storyline in DkS2, just look at all the work the online communities have done. They have collaboratively pieced together an epic and fascinating story, connecting plot lines and story points across the entire game.  Also, they have done all of this with only the smallest bits and pieces of lore, spread throughout and around the new Kingdom of Drangleic. That is pretty impressive.

Personalizing and Identifying with Your Character

The Souls games have always had a great, fully customizable character creation system that allows the player to chose and adjust a host of features. You can tweak almost everything about your person: gender, body type, hair style, hair color, eye shape, cheek shape, check color, skin color…. If you can name it, you can probably adjust it. It is as in-depth and as powerful as you could ever want.

Now, if you are anything like me, you might spend far to much time on this part of the game. Don’t feel bad, the last time I built a character, I spent almost an hour playing with different settings. Why did I spend so much time on her? Simply put, I like to feel connected to my character. I feel more in tune with an avatar that I have painstakingly created, then I ever do with those average, generic, stock creations. It keeps me rooted in the game and get’s me invested in my choices. Since I never want anything bad to befall my character, I find that I am more careful and deliberate with my actions. That means less deaths and more fun. Maybe that’s just me, but either way I usually have fun with the whole process.

white-sign-soapstone Online / Co-op Play

Like the other entries in the Sous series, DkS2 has a very in-depth system of online play.  For me, its main appeal is co-op PvE, but there is a strong sense of competitive PvP as well. Starting with Demon’s Souls, the Souls series has had some of the most heart pounding multiplayer that I have ever experienced. If you have never played it, let me try and give you an idea of what it is like.

Imagine this, you are going about your business, killing monsters and exploring the dark corners of the world, when out of no where, you are invaded by another player. This is called a Black Phantom. He is there for one reason, and one reason only….to kill you! What do you do? Do you run? Do you fight? Do you hide and hope he won’t find you? What do you do?

Then you see him. A ghostly figure, shrouded in a red and black mist. He is looking for a fight and you have no choice but to defend yourself.

bp-satsuki-large-rearBeing jarred out of your quiet, solo experience is one thing, but to have another player, violently hunt you for sport, is a totally different story. An invasion always got my heart pounding.

DkS1 had a very similar feel to that of Demon’s Souls , but with a greater emphasis placed on online interactions. They instituted the idea of player covenants, added different types of invading phantoms and gave PvP players a variety of ways to battle other PvP’ers. They also made an attempt to legitimize invasions, by creating a covenant reward system that added a reason for these types of interactions.

Covenants were designed to enhance and add depth to the online invasion system, but I’m not sure how well it really worked. It did introduce some very interesting ideas, but the system was not as easy to utilize, as it should have been. I ended up hardly participating in multiplayer for Dark Souls 1, due mainly to the very limiting P2P server set up, that Namco Bandai had instituted. Plus with the increase in lag and connection instability, multiplayer became just plain frustrating.

In Dark Souls 2, multiplayer is back in full force and it has taken a lot of the ideas from Dark Souls 1 and placed an even greater emphasis on elements like PvP, covenants and dueling. Fortunately, with Namco’s decision to utilize dedicated, region based servers, multiplayer actually works! Summonings have been greatly increased, invasions are more frequent and there are even a number of items to increase the ease of joining your friends! There seems to have been a great attempt by the publisher and developer to appeal to as many types of players as they can, giving everyone something that they can enjoy about the game’s multiplayer system.

Overall Thoughts

Over all, I’m pleased with FROM’s latest entry into the Souls game and I plan on playing this one, for a long time. That is not to say that this game isn’t without some minor issues. For example, the auto-target system is very twitchy, sometimes jumping from enemy to enemy, at the worst possible time. Camera angles will sometimes move erratically, disorientating the player. Some bosses seem to have inconsistent AOE attacks, that end up dealing damage to the player, at unexpected times. Controller input can sometimes lag slightly, causing you to panic-press the same button and end up swinging or rolling, WAY more than you intended. But, despite these issues, the game is very well done and it is a lot of fun to play. If you haven’t played it or were still on the fence about it’s worth, I would recommend giving this one a shot. Now, if you will excuse me, I have souls to collect….

I’ll see you in Drangleic.

~GB