Saturday, August 30, 2014

Crown of the Old Iron King: A brief reflection on the Dark Souls II DLC





WARNING: SEMI-SPOILERS INCLUDED! 

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with Dark Souls. If there were awesome action figures, I would buy them. Comic book? I would be interested. I am kicking around the idea of writing a book that takes place in the universe, but I would rather do it as official canon, supported by From Software. We essentially have a gothic, post-apocalyptic fantasy world with a ruined kingdom and the dreams of its departed king. 

The new DLC, Crown of the Old Iron King, seems like it’s stirring up a bit of controversy because a boss that was reused. I love the idea that Dark Souls is truly a community game; forums and blogs dedicated to the game have a huge influence on how people play it, and perceive it. I’ve read that some people are disenchanted with the DLC, and that’s okay. It’s their opinion. 

Comparing Demons Souls and Dark Souls I and II seems like a ridiculous idea to me; it feels like comparing the first three Super Mario games for Nintendo. The new DLC is comparable to the first Dark Souls game; part of the challenge in Dark Souls was surviving the trip to a boss room over and over again. Sometimes, I would get impatient, try to rush through, and die an embarrassing death. 

I can’t tell you how long I spent trying to kill the new Smelter Demon.

I also can’t tell you how many video games require you to kill on older boss near the end of the game. A lot of platform-action games give you a second chance to fight a boss you hated the first time; sometimes, the boss is more powerful, maybe even accompanied by other tough enemies. 

You have to have a whole new level of patience while playing Crown of the Old Iron King. The best strategy I could devise while fighting all three of the new bosses was simply to survive the fight as long as I could. Instead of trying to get in several whacks at a time, I relied on speed and my allies. We used a “taking turns” approach, where we would each go in for a few strikes, and then stand in front of it while one of my slammed an Estus Flask. 

So yeah, all three bosses of the new bosses were melee-style fighters. The game already features several corrupt spell-casters. I’ll never forget fighting one of the red phantoms at the bottom of a ladder; my fire-infused sword lit up large torches, which set the mood for the fight nicely. 

 I spent several hours playing the DLC. I had to wait forever for a human player to show up when I fought the boss. During my struggles, I met a very cool ally. My ally reached out to me after our first defeat against Sir Alonne, and we managed to hook up again. It was pretty awesome. There’s just something awesome about fighting these bosses with a partner and adhering to a sort of pattern without even communicating what that pattern is. I truly feel as if my character is nothing more than a phantom trapped in a hopeless multiverse that is fated to slide into the Abyss.  

I love it. The DLC is awesome. Playing it on NG+, and I keep remembering that this is EXTRA stuff. The game was already huge to begin with. For the most part, I think DLC is silly, an obvious cash-grab. But From Software has delivered an amazing experience. I wish that a new NPC might hang out like the Cresftallen Knight and have some cryptic and haunting lore to share, but I guess we have the former king of Drangleic for that.

Wouldn’t it be excellent for the next DLC to include more lore based on the Melfian Academy? I can’t recall if there’s a specific location in the game that used to be the academy; one of the classic tropes of swords and sorcery fiction is a sorcery school, or a vast, arcane fortress that protects the kingdom’s sorcerous secrets. 
One last, small observation.

I’m a huge Roberto Bolano fan. He is my literary hero, and he often made mention of something called THE ABYSS. Thomas Ligotti, who has been in the news lately because of the True Detective controversy, could have easily written King Vendrick’s poetic dialogue regarding THE DARK. Very interesting. 
Dark Souls II is a huge game. While some folks are breezing through the DLC in a couple hours, I am soaking it in. Loving every minute of it. The fight against Sir Alonne was very fun, and the sense of accomplishment I felt when I beat all three bosses was similar to the gratification I experienced after beating the bosses in Crown of the Sunken King. 

After I beat Sir Alonne, I felt like I could run the obstacle course on American Ninja Warrior. Because I’m awesome. Yeah. I just killed a video game monster. 

I could write at length about the philosophy of dread-fear that permeates these games. They are designed masterfully, in my opinion. Dark Souls II has been controversial simply because it’s NOT EXACTLY like the first game. For that, I am glad. If I wanted to play Dark Souls, I would play it. I own the game. People are buying the same recycled Call of Duty games over and over again, and people will always buy the sports games no matter how many minor adjustments might detract from the experience or enhance it. At the end of the day, a video game that entertains is successful.