Defenders of the Faith–Part 1: Harnessing the Power of the Sun

My first Dark Souls character was a magic-based one. The second was primarily a melee character, with some Pyromancy spells thrown in. For my third Dark Souls character, I decided to go with the Cleric class and make a pure Faith build, which meant I had my toughest playthrough ahead of me. That’s because from a spellcasting (or Miracle) standpoint, Faith magic is mostly defensive and supportive in nature. Healing spells, buffs, shield spells and utility spells make up most of the list. In fact, the only real offensive miracles for Faith builds come from joining particular covenants. Because I wanted to focus on my Faith stat and use spells as much as possible, I knew I had to join covenants.

As soon as I was able, I joined the Warriors of Sunlight covenant, for a couple of reasons. First off, Warriors of Sunlight are focused on helping other players through co-op, and the rewards of that covenant come from helping others successfully defeat bosses. I like that, as I prefer co-op as opposed to PvP in Dark Souls. Secondly, joining the Warriors of Sunlight gives you access to two offensive Miracles fairly early in the game: Lightning Spear and Great Lightning Spear. These are decent ranged attack spells and are very helpful early on.

In order to get Great Lightning Spear, you need to have successfully helped ten players in co-op. So, many of my early hours with this character were spent in co-op, which was really fun.

Two offensive spells wasn’t going to cut it, though, so I needed to get myself a decent weapon. Once again, Faith builds kind of get the short end of the stick, as there aren’t a lot of great weapons that scale well with the Faith stat. I settled on the claymore, as it has a good move set and is fun to wield. As soon as I could, I began upgrading my claymore through the Divine path. While faith weapons don’t scale as well as many other types in the game, it’s enough to give me a fighting chance in most boss encounters.

So, a good portion of my first 20+ hours with this character spent in co-op, and all of the souls I earned went to increasing my Faith stat and upgrading my claymore.

Next time around I’ll talk about how the Catacombs went from one of my least favorite areas in the game to one I love playing through with my Faith build.


Return to Demon’s Souls–Part 2: The More the Merrier

Probably the biggest difference in my current playthrough of Demon’s Souls as opposed to the original is my participation in the multiplayer aspects of the game. The first time I played Demon’s Souls, my multiplayer experiences were limited to being invaded by the occasional Black Phantom.

Having spent over 200 hours with Dark Souls (many of them in multiplayer) has really changed my approach to Demon’s Souls this time around, though. Because Demon’s Souls doesn’t have Humanity like Dark Souls, reviving to human form is a little more precious. You do find stones that will revive you to human form, but they’re nowhere near as abundant as Humanity is in Dark Souls. The most consistent way you revive in Demon’s Souls is by beating bosses.

One huge difference between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls is that in Demon’s Souls, if you have the necessary stone, you can revive at any time. In Dark Souls, you can only do this at bonfires. So, in Demon’s Souls, I can battle my way to just before the boss, and then revive and summon another player or two in. In Dark Souls, when I revive, I have to make it from the bonfire to the boss without dying, and if I’ve summoned in other players, they do as well. This is a huge tactical advantage the Demon’s Souls offers over Dark Souls, one of the handful of areas where the original is better than the sequel.

I’m about a third of the way through the game now, and I’ve summoned players in a handful of times, making boss fights much easier. What I’ve done a lot more though, is made myself available for summoning into others’ worlds.

What’s cool about the summoning in Demon’s Souls is that you actually rate the other player after you beat a boss. When someone looks at your summon sign later on, they see how many matches you’ve participated in, and what your rating is. So far, I haven’t seen anyone really abusing this by trolling people with low ratings, and the system is a great way to thank someone for coming in and helping you through a difficult part of the game.

Outside of summoning, I have had my share of invasions so far, and I’ve had some amazing battles. The other day I was invaded in the Shrine of Storms level (luckily I’d cleared out the steel skeletons before that happened), and the ensuing battle was about ten minutes long. We both switched back and forth between spells and weapons, each getting the other near death several times. I ended the battle with a well-timed roll and sword attack, finishing the invader right before they landed a blow that would have taken my last sliver of health. It’s these kind of battles that make the Souls series so memorable.

That brings up another big difference between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls–the ability for summoned or invading players to consistently heal themselves during co-op or PvP. In dark Souls, players have to use Humanity or miracles to heal when summoned or invading–Estus flasks don’t work. In Demon’s Souls, you can use the healing grasses to regenerate health as much as you want. This makes for longer PvP battles, as well as an increased chance that a summoned player will survive a level or boss encounter with you. It’s another area where I prefer Demon’s Souls over Dark Souls.

Next time I’ll be discussing some of my favorite locations in Demon’s Souls, especially the mind-flayer populated Tower of Latria.


Postcards from the Abyss–Part 6: Oh, Manus

Having made it through Oolacile Township and the Chasm of the Abyss, it was time for me and my two anonymous compatriots to face off against the big boss of the’ Artorias of the Abyss DLC–Manus, Father of the Abyss.

Manus is an absolute beast of a boss, and maybe the best boss fight of the entire Dark Souls game. As you enter his lair, a cut scene triggers that is creepy as heck, as you are grabbed by a giant ghostly hand and thrown down into his arena, where he slowly steps out of the shadows. He’s got one giant ghostly hand that he uses for long-range melee attacks, and he wields a staff in the other that he uses to rain dark magic down upon you with. For me, the first key to this battle was staying alive until my colleagues arrived, as there is a slight delay due to them having to go through the fog gate as well.

The battle begins with a lot of melee attacks, and the key for me was trying to stay out of range early, until I figured out the attack patterns. While the two other players distracted him, I was able to summon in Sif the wolf to aid us. Bringing Sif in is more of a novelty, as he doesn’t do a lot of damage and his main purpose is to distract Manus so you can attack.

I don’t have great ranged attacks, so I had to get in there with my Black Knight Great Axe and try to do some damage without getting caught in Manus’ sweep attacks. One of the players with me was a spellcaster, so they hung back and slung spells from afar while the other player and I whittled away at Manus’ health.

When his health dropped to about half, Manus changed tactics and started using magic primarily. One particularly nasty spell is Dark Rain, where he showers part of the arena with dark magic meteorites that are tough to dodge. luckily, I had gotten an artifact called the Silver Pendant earlier in Oolacile, which creates a temporary shield against dark magic. My strategy then became using the shield during magic attacks, and then running in to get a few hits in on Manus. My colleagues used pretty much the same strategy, and we eventually took Manus down. I was rewarded with 10 Humanity and 60,000 souls for the victory.

Overall, Manus is a blast to fight (if you have a friend or two along), and is easily one of the best bosses in the game. In fact, Artorias of the Abyss as a whole might be the best area in the entire Dark Souls game, which is high praise. It’s rare for DLC to live up to the quality of the main game, and even rarer for it to surpass the main game, but Artorias of the Abyss is some of the best add-on content I’ve ever played. if you’re a Dark Souls player, don’t hesitate to shell out the $15 for this content.

Side Note: There and Back Again
After spending so much time with Artorias of the Abyss, I was once again completely hooked on Dark Souls. I needed to finish the rest of the game with my character, and so I did.

After beating Manus, I went to New Londo Ruins, battling through the ghosts that inhabit the lace and then on down into The Abyss to take down The Four Kings. From there, it was back to the Duke’s Archives and the Crystal Cave to fight the white dragon Seath the Scaleless. From there, I trekked back to the Catacombs (via Firelink Shrine) and onto the Tomb of Giants to face Gravelord Nito. Finally, I traversed the Demon Ruins, taking down the Ceaseless Discharge and the Demon Firesage on my way to Lost Izaltih.

After defeating the Bed of Chaos, I had all of the Lord Souls I needed to unlock the patch to the final boss–Lord Gwynn. I took him down as well, finishing the game for the second time, and I immediately started on New Game+ with the same character.

As of right now, I have over 200 hours logged into Dark Souls. I just started a third character, a faith build this time, and I’ll be discussing that playthrough in a new series entitled Defenders of the Faith. Stay tuned!


Postcards from the Abyss–Part 5: Oolacile and Chasm of the Abyss

The primary boss of the Artorias of the Abyss DLC is arguably the best boss fight in the entire game. Before I could even face off against him, however, I had to get to him. And that was no easy journey.

One of the primary tenets of Dark Souls is that you will die–a lot. So, you want to make sure that each trek into an area has a purpose, so you’re not just wasting time. Scouting runs are common. There are also times when you know you will die in a certain area, but you’re trying to get a particular item, so it’s worth the suicide run. Items stay with you after you die, so running into certain death to grab that weapon you want is worth the extra time you’ll spend retreading through an area later.

The other reason to go on a suicide run is to unlock a shortcut that can be used later to bypass most of the level. That was my primary purpose in heading into the Oolacile Dungeon. I used up most of my Estus Flasks (healing) and a good bunch of pyromancy spells along the way to unlocking the shortcut, because I knew I wouldn’t be going on to fight the boss right afterward.

The enemies in Oolacile Township and in the dungeon are pretty tough, and also some of the more interesting in the game. The main grunts are called Bloatheads, twisted former citizens of Oolacile that have been warped into creatures with eye-filled heads and oversized arms. Their arm swipes can break your guard, so taking them one at a time is preferable. There are also Bloathead Sorcerers, who fire ranged attacks at you while the the others try to beat you to a pulp.

I fought through several pockets of the Bloatheads before coming to the shortcut area, which allows you to take an elevator down from a point right near the bonfire you spawn at. Once I’d done that, I had to fight through another half dozen Bloatheads and then face off against an enemy called the Chained Prisoner–a brute that carries a ball and chain, as well as the pole he was chained to. He uses sweep and charging attacks, so evasion and ranged attacks work best against him. I blasted away with fireballs while trying to stay out of his way (sometimes unsuccessfully), and I managed to take him down. From there, it was a short trip to another bonfire, and then the final part of the level, the Chasm of the Abyss.

Chasm of the Abyss, is a fantastic and challenging area. For one, it’s steeped in darkness. Visibility is limited, and the initial part of the level is crawling with Bloatheads. There are also a ton of ghostly creatures called Humanity Phantoms lurking throughout the level, and their touch drains life from you pretty quickly. They cannot be blocked, so I avoided the ones I could, and tried to dispatch the others quickly. They attack in groups though, so I died a couple of times just trying to get through them.

As is often the case, I made a few exploratory runs into the level, learning and dying along the way. When I thought that I had a pretty good understanding of the layout, I became human and summoned a couple of players into my game. Things started out great, as my two guardian angels started making short work of the Bloatheads and most of the Humanity Phantoms. We even rescued the soul of Sif, the Great Wolf, which then allows him to be summoned for the final boss battle. As we were doing so though, I got the message that I had been invaded. What followed was one of the most surprising deaths I’ve had in the game.

I kept waiting for the invader to appear, but he didn’t–until just the right moment. We had made it almost to the end of the level, and we had to descend a fallen pillar, balancing on the thin pathway to get down to the fog gate and the Manus fight. Out of nowhere, the invader snuck up behind me on the pathway and blasted me with a magic attack from behind, knocking me off the pillar and sending me to my death. I screamed and laughed the same time, as I was so close, yet that was such a great kill on his or her part.

Lucky for me, when I respawned at the bonfire, I was able to summon two other players into my game again, one of whom had just been with me when I got ambushed. We moved through the level pretty quickly and made it to the fog gate for the showdown with Manus, which I’ll talk about next time.


Postcards From the Abyss–Part 4: Here There Be Dragons (Well, Just One, Actually)

I cannot tell you how much I love the new Artorias of the Abyss DLC. All of the areas and bosses have been interesting, no more so than the final two bosses. I’m going to talk about them in order, but I actually fought them in reverse order.

Black Dragon Kalameet is a giant undead dragon that inhabits the valley between Royal Wood and Oolacile. In order to even fight him, I had to go interact with an NPC named Hawkeye Gough, one of the four Knights of Gywn, and a Greatarcher, a group who used to fight Dragons. When you interact with him, he helps you by wounding Kalameet with a great arrow so that he can’t fly. You then proceed down into the valley to fight him.

Having scoped out Kalameet, I knew I would need help with this battle. I actually let myself be summoned into others’ games a few times so I could face off against the dragon and hone my strategy. I’m a melee-based character with heavy armor, so evading isn’t my strong suit. I needed someone to keep the focus off of me so I could get close and do some real damage. So, I enlisted a couple of summoned characters to assist, and into battle we went. My preparation had paid off, as I knew Kalameet’s patterns when I faced him in my world. He has breath weapons that uses both in an arc, and in a concentrated blast by jumping up and firing directly below himself. He also uses head and tail swipes as his primary melee attacks. He also has a vicious telekinetic attack that results in you being susceptible to double damage for a time. I knew enough to avoid that one due to previous deaths at the hands of it.

The strategy was fairly simple–I needed the other players to distract Kalameet with ranged attacks so I could get in and use by Black Knight Greataxe. The great thing is, the other players knew this. Because there’s no voice chat in Dark Souls, you need to pay attention to what you can see from other characters. I chose to summon one character who was a spellcaster, and one who looked fast but used melee weapons. Since I’m slow but pack a lot of punch, they complimented my character well.

The battle played out according to plan. The spellcaster fired Soul Arrows and Soul Spears (magic missiles for you D&D fans), the other character dodged and struck, keeping the attention focused on him (or her), and I was able to land enough big shots to take the dragon down on the first attempt. We also managed to cut off its tail, and I was rewarded with an obsidian greatsword, a cool looking weapon that served as an alternative to my greataxe for awhile.

Kalameet is a really fun boss to fight, and I went back at least a dozen times to fight him with others before finishing my playthrough.

Next time I’ll recount my battle with the big bad of Artorias of the Abyss–Manus.


Postcards From the Abyss–Part 3: The Dark Knight (Artorias)

Holy cow, you guys. Soooo much has happened since the last time I posted. Remember how I said I’d spent 130 hours in Dark Souls? Make that 150 now. I have spent almost 20 hours with the new Artorias of the Abyss (minus a few for some side treks into the rest of Lordran), and I love everything about it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Last time I left off having just defeated an invader as I began my trek into the Royal Wood area. Scarecrows and Stone Guardians abound in Royal Wood, but you can avoid a good chunk of them if you’re not interested in treasure hunting. After making my way through the area, I finally arrived on the outskirts of Oolacile Township, a great hub that leads to a few different areas, kind of like the Undead Parish in Lordran. From there, you can travel down into a valley and fight a dragon, or move into the township proper by defeating Knight Artorias, which is the route I chose to take.

The story behind Knight Artorias is that he was a great hero who, along with his trusty wolf Sif, battled the forces of the Abyss, led by Manus, Father of the Abyss (more on him later) as they tried to rescue Princess Dusk of Oolacile. The task proved too much for the duo, and Artorias ended up sacrificing himself to protect Sif. He was corrupted by the Abyss, and his corrupted form is who you face as the second boss in the Artorias of the Abyss DLC.

And what a fight Artorias puts up. The first couple of times I tried to battle him myself, just to feel him out and guage his attacks. He wields a greatsword and has some attack patterns that are similar to Sif, where he spins in an arc with the blade. He throws an inky substance (the Abyss itself?) in an arc around him, and getting coated in it saps HP. Neither of those is what did me in, though. I actually got in some good licks, and thought I was managing his attacks well, when he dropped the hammer on me. Artorias can charge up his power, then leap into the air and perform either a spinning attack or a giant slash. The giant slash was the one I got caught in a few times, and it’s a killer.

After seeing the range of attacks Artorias had to offer, I summoned in an ally and we were able to take him down. The key alternating attacks so he was always distracted by one of us. There were times where he would roll right into the other one. Even with two of us, it was a tough battle, and a leaping attack almost took out my ally in one hit. We managed to survive, though, and I was able to press into Oolacile Township.

But I didn’t. Not right away, anyway.

After beating Artorias, I spent some time helping others through the battle as well. That’s the great thing about the way multiplayer works in Dark Souls. It’s like an unwritten code. There will be times in the game where you will need someone else’s help to get through a tough battle. And when you are able to summon someone into your game, it’s because they are making themselves available to be summoned. They are putting a symbol on on the ground and then waiting for someone to reach out. Sometimes you get summoned two minutes after you put your symbol down. Sometimes it’s ten minutes, or twenty, or forty, or more. That means there are times in Dark Souls when you are literally doing nothing other than waiting to see if someone needs your help.

How awesome is that? I like to think of it as being “on duty.” Whenever someone helps me through a tough boss fight, I make sure to come back to that area and see if other people need help. Sometimes I’ll grab a book and read for a couple of hours, leaving my summon sign out and my character waiting. I might only get three or four summons in that time, but that’s okay.

When I do get summoned, my character bows to the person that brought me there, and then we go to battle together. It’s a beautiful thing. There are many times when we fail, either because I died or the summoner did, and I am sent home to my world, likely never to see that other player again. But when we succeed? It’s a moment that I’ve never experienced in any other series of games.

The whole summoning aspect of multiplayer also functions as a way of grinding for souls to level up your character and gear. With my first few forays into Oolacile Township, and the Chasm of the Abyss below that area, it became clear I would need to level up some before completing those sections.

But more about that next time…


Postcards From the Abyss–Part 2: An Unfriendly Welcome

In the first thirty minutes of my time with the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, it already provided me with the best aspects off the Dark Souls experience.

Right off the bat–boss fight. As soon as I arrived in the new area, I ran into a fog gate, which means one of two things–either it’s your first time accessing a new area, or there’s a boss waiting for you. It was the latter, and what a boss to start with. A manticore called the Sanctuary Guardian pretty much destroyed me in my first encounter with it. A combination of charge attacks, lightning bolts and a vicious tail whip did me in. For my second attempt, I summoned in a couple of good samaritans and between the three of us, we took down the Guardian. I also got a sweet whip weapon for taking off the Guardian’s tale. Bowing to my anonymous friends, I soldiered forth as they returned to their home worlds.

After stopping to rest at the creepy but beautiful Oolacile Sanctuary, I crossed a bridge and entered the Royal Wood. I was immediately faced with a couple of Scarecrows, which i dispatched. I didn’t have long to pat myself on the back however, as I was then invaded by another player.

And such is the double-edged sword that is summoning in Dark Souls. You have to be in human form to summon allies into your game, which I did in order to defeat the Stone Guardian. But, walking around in human form also leaves you open to being invaded. It’s this type of risk-reward proposition that makes Dark Souls so exciting.

Anyway, back to the invader. He (or she) was a savvy player, and I almost fell into the trap he was setting. He used ranged crossbow attacks to bait me into chasing him farther into the Royal Wood. Not being familiar with the area, I didn’t realize there were giant Stone Guardians roaming that area, which he attempted to lead me into. I retreated just in time, and then a twenty-minute cat and mouse battle ensued. Seeing that I wouldn’t fall for the trap, my invader then poisoned me and tried to wait me out. I summoned an ally in, which he led into the Stone Guardians and an untimely death. I then drew him closer to me, where he still attacked via crossbow and tired to retreat whenever I got close.

At one point, I backed him into a corner and got a few good licks in, He then used Humanity to heal himself back up, and we started the dance all over again., He had actually worn me down to one Estus Flask (healing potion) left, when I finally defeated him with a couple of halberd strikes. It was a pretty epic battle, and a very rewarding victory.

All in the first half hour of my time with the new DLC.

Dark Souls, I love you.


Dark Souls II–Highly Anticipated Doesn’t Even Begin to Describe It

Say what you will about the Video Game Awards, we at least know we’ll get a few good trailers out of them each year. I’m always hoping to be surprised with a game that I can really excited about.

So about five seconds into the trailer in the player below, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, because I realized what it was.

Dark Souls II.

I’ve watched this trailer over 20 times now, and I notice something new about the world, the enemies (love those masks!), and possible hints at the story each time. I am one who’s prone to hyperbole, but I cannot remember being this excited for a game in a long time.

There are already articles out there full of wish lists, speculation, and some worry as well.

I think the biggest two concerns are that Miyazaki, the director of the first two games, will not be helming Dark Souls II, and there is some intent by the dev team to make the game more accessible to a wider audience. I’m choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt, as From Software is still developing the game, and I am confident they will figure out how to provide the brutal Souls experience to fans of the series, even if there are elements that make the game more accessible.

I am beyond excited for this game. Easily my most anticipated for next year.


Postcards From the Abyss–Part 1: Getting There is Half the Battle

I have spent over 130 hours in the world of Dark Souls so far–it’s arguably my favorite game this generation, and easily the one I’ve spent the most time with. Of that 130 hours, 100 of it was a full playthrough on my original character (a sorcerer who finished at level 71) and some New Game Plus, while about 30 hours of the overall total is on my second character (a melee/pyromancer build that is currently at level 56).

I didn’t know if I’d ever finish that second character’s playthrough, but there was something comforting about knowing I had a character currently adventuring in that world, that I could go back to whenever I wanted. As it turns out, I had left my second playthrough in the perfect place to jump into Artorias of the Abyss, the Dark Souls DLC expansion that was released in late October.

True to Dark Souls’ style of making you work for every single inch of progress, Artorias of the Abyss can’t even be accessed until you’re well into the game. There are conditions that must be met in order to even open the portal to the new content. They are:

  • Kill the Hydra in Darkroot Basin and rescue Dusk of Oolacile from the Crystal Golem (NOTE: You have to have befriended Dusk, or you’re out of luck until your next playthrough) 
  • Travel to the Duke’s Archives, where a new Crystal Golem now appears near the beginning of the level. Killing that Crystal Golem will reward you with a pendant. 
  • Take the pendant back to Darkroot Basin, where you first encountered Dusk, and there is a patch of black fog that serves as the portal to the new content.

So, just to recap, you can’t even get into the Duke’s Archives until you have acquired the Lordvessel, an artifact that allows you to warp between bonfires. That doesn’t happen until about 20 hours into a playthrough. And, if you didn’t befriend the NPC Dusk of Oolacile, you’re out of luck in terms of accessing the new content, and have to start another playthrough, meaning the new content is 20 hours away for you.

Such is Dark Souls, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I jumped back into my playthrough, I was in the bowels of the Catacombs, one of the more challenging areas in the game. I decided I would finish off that area before attacking the DLC, as I did not want to lose the progress I’d made and have to do it all over again later. The Catacombs also served as a perfect refresher course on the game’s mechanics, as Dark Souls requires precision and timing, and brutally punishes sloppy play.

Anyway, I defeated Pinwheel (the boss in the Catacombs), and warped back to Firelink Shrine. Once there, I had to place the Lordvessel on Firelink Altar, which opened up previously inaccessible areas, the most important of which is the Duke’s Archives.

Heading the the Archives, I had to battle through a few Sentinels and Armored Tusks to find the new Crystal Golem. After defeating him, I wapred back to Undead Parish, traveled down to Darkroot basin, and found the access point to the new content. It was a moment of relief, as i could not remember whether or not I had befriended Dusk of Oolacile.

Luckily, I did, and I was off to the Sanctuary Garden, which I’ll talk about in the next post. Needless to say, it did not greet me warmly.

I have written extensively about my experiences with both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls on my blog. If you want to check that stuff out, the Demon’s Souls posts start here, and the Dark Souls posts start here.