Mastering the Dark Souls series requires certain traits. Patience, perseverance, skill, dedication. Traits I do not possess. I tried to play the first two games, and after a few hours hit a brick wall. But I found the dark fantasy setting and world design so intriguing that I just had to venture into the murky depths of Dark Souls III. And I was surprised to discover that, with a little help, it wasn’t as hopeless a crusade as I expected.
The early stages are like walking through a dark room. You’re feeling around, bumping into things, stubbing your toe on furniture. But then you find the light switch. You learn each enemy’s attack pattern. You remember where ambushes and deadly traps are hiding. The area that seemed so dangerous and confusing suddenly feels familiar.
It takes me about three hours to get to this level of comfort with the High Wall of Lothric, the first place you visit after the tutorial areas. At first even the most basic enemies killed me, but now I can make it through the entire thing without a hit. The knights with red capes still cause me trouble occasionally, but the feeling of mastery is satisfying. Souls veterans may scoff at the pride I’m taking in this, but for someone as inept as me, it’s a real achievement.
I didn’t get here alone. I’ve been tweeting as I play, and people have been giving me advice. Someone tells me about an axe that scales to your strength, which has come in very handy—although it took me seven attempts to kill the mimic guarding it. Someone else says to focus on avoiding rather than causing damage, which turns out to be a fairly sage piece of advice. Greed is always my downfall in Souls games, going in for that extra hit rather than using my stamina to roll or guard.
Eventually it’s time to face my first real boss. It’s an enormous metal dog called Vordt of the Boreal Valley, and I stumble into its lair by accident without any healing items. Knowing I’ll never beat it in this state, I take some time to study its movements. I manage to get it down to half its health, but then it wipes me out. I return later with an upgraded axe, a full estus flask, and some additional souls poured into strength. It inflicts frostbite on me, which reduces my stamina regeneration, but I still manage to vanquish the beast.
I feel a surge of adrenaline as its body fades away, and for the first time I think I get why people go so crazy for this series. Beating the first boss might not seem like much to longtime players, but to me it feels like I’ve reached the peak of a mountain. When I face the inevitably more difficult next boss I’ll probably fall down the mountain again, but it’s nice up here for now. As I type this I’m itching to go back to Lothric and see what surprises the next area holds.
Dark Souls is hard. Only people who have dedicated enough time to get good at it say otherwise. But it’s a balanced difficulty rather than an arbitrary one. Bosses in The Division are hard, but only because they have incredibly deep pools of HP. Dark Souls bosses are hard because you have to watch, learn, and exploit their attacks. When you kill a boss in The Division you’re relieved it’s over; when you kill one in Dark Souls you’re elated. That’s the key difference. I don’t know how far I’ll get through the next area, but I’m glad I got a taste of the thrills that draw so many people to this series.