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Dark Souls II: Of Pigs and Men

Dark Souls II (cover)Fans of fantasy are, more often than not, gamers. And when those two worlds meet, it can be a sublime experience. The Legend of Zelda, Baldur’s Gate, The Elder Scrolls series—all these games, and scores of others good and middling, combine two things we love: epic fantasy stories and video games that are, at their heart, fun to play. And while in our youth simplistic titles like the original Zelda and the first few Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest games can scratch that particular itch nicely, as we get older our tastes mature. We want less of the video game version of Eddings and more of the video game version of Lynch, Martin or Abercrombie. Enter Demon’s Souls. And then Dark Souls. And now Dark Souls II.

These are not games for the faint of heart. These aren’t games for children. Frankly, they’re not games for the casual gamer. I know this. And still I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared to die. Again. Dark Souls II was released in March. I had high hopes that I’d be able to sink hour upon hour into the game and progress a bit faster than I did with the first installment. I was a savvy veteran now, right? I knew what I was getting into? Wrong. From Software and Namco Bandai Games got me again. And I should’ve known better.

Let’s rewind a bit. Demon’s Souls was a sleeper hit in 2009 on the PS3. It is a fantasy fan’s dream. Swords, sorcery, knights, rogues, castles and crypts—all the tropes were there, but presented in a fresh new way. And the game was a throwback to the days when video games were hard. Think Ghosts ‘N Goblins hard. Death had consequences, and didn’t result in a simple respawn/try again. You had choices, and if you didn’t choose wisely the ramifications of your poor decision-making would be felt hours down the line. Much like the best fantasy novels, Demon’s Souls rewarded multiple play-throughs and offered something new every time.

Dark Souls II (gameplay 1)Fast-forward to 2011 and the release of Dark Souls, the “spiritual successor” to Demon’s Souls, on PS3 and Xbox 360. It took everything that was great about Demon’s Souls and amplified it. The gameplay and combat were impeccable. The scenery, level design and AI were—in a word—elegant. The lore of Lordran, Izalith and the various legends surrounding these desolate lands were revealed (or merely hinted at) through gameplay and in-game encounters, with the occasional cut-scene thrown in for good measure. An online community grew around the lore of the game, one that was as active and inquisitive as those that revolve around A Song of Ice and Fire or The Wheel of Time. And the difficulty was bruising. I spent 120 hours on my first play-through. As an adult, with children, that type of investment of time is almost unheard of. But I enjoyed every minute of the game (even the multiple instances where I walked away for a week or more in disgust). Without a doubt. Dark Souls is the greatest game I have ever played as an adult.

So when Dark Souls II was announced for a 2014 release, I was ecstatic. I still am. But I’m nowhere near finished. I’ve already walked away. Because the developers of Dark Souls II are sadistic. I knew this. But I wasn’t prepared. And it all comes down to the pigs. I’m probably 15-20 hours into the game as I type this, and I haven’t played in a month. I’ve beaten a boss character or two. I’ve scratched the surface of the rich fantasy world of Drangleic. I know a bit about where the story is going (I think) and how to get there (again, I think). I’ve taken some wrong turns that have resulted in battles I wasn’t prepared for. Most I’ve lost. A few I’ve won. I’m invested. But I want those pigs dead. And I can’t kill them. Dark Souls II (gameplay 2)In the first area of the game, one relatively bereft of enemies, there are three. little. pigs. And they are black-hearted, murderous bastards who cannot—at least as-of-yet—be killed. And that, my friends, is the beauty of Dark Souls II. I’m sure the pigs are a developer’s joke. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll be able to heroically smite these porcine pests with one quick swing of a greatsword. But right now, I fight them and I die. Unless I run away. From the three little pigs. To paraphrase the Iron Sheik, those three little pigs are the developers’ way of breaking your back, making you humble.

Do I need to beat the pigs? Absolutely not. At least I think not. Who knows? But I also didn’t need to know who killed Asmodean to enjoy the conclusion of The Wheel of Time. Does that mean I didn’t want to know? And want to know really bad? Again, absolutely not. Dark Souls II hooks you with the epic grandeur on display, and then trolls you with the three little pigs. It is as exhilarating as it is frustrating and I can’t wait to devote more time to it. If you love fantasy, sorcery, lore and legend: play it. If you love video games that require thought, difficulty and decision-making: play it. But prepare to die. If you can.

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar Natalie says:

    Three little pigs, a partially blown down house… it’s all starting to make sense.

    I finished Dark Souls 2 (not all bosses… yet) and my only advice- forget all you know about Dark Souls!! I discovered that when I tried to slide down the long tutorial ladder just like old times, but jumped off instead and fell to my doom.

  2. Zachary, you should try using a shield with good physical blocking (100% is ideal, but 90% will do), and the Fire Longsword. Roast those piggies good.

  3. Avatar Ru22004 says:

    Totally not trolling here, but really? The pigs? Lock on, soul arrow, or fireball, or bow and arrow, or block and attack with pretty much any weapon…. and they’re dead.

    But I get it. There’s something in the game like that for all of us. And then, when you finally triumph… Well, there’s no other feeling like it in video games now-a-days.

    • Avatar Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      I used the pigs a a nice example for the piece–I thought it was vastly more entertaining than the gulag of giant lumbering knights or my two accidental boss fights. I’m sure those pigs will be toast eventually. I just think they’re emblematic of how the game screws with you right from the outset. And it’s that kind of stuff that makes me love these games.

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