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Clearing My Gaming Slate for Bloodborne

I usually have three or four games that I’m playing at any given time, seeing as I play on pretty much every platform out there. But there are certain releases that I know will be taking a huge commitment of my time, so I try to clean out my gaming slate before I start them. Dragon Age: Inquisition was one of those games, but that was just a warmup for the game that comes out tomorrow–Bloodborne.

I will be writing, talking and making videos about Bloodborne for the next several months, so I’m not going to talk too much about the game itself here, except to say it’s my most anticipated of the year by a country mile. I’ve put at least 400 hours into the Souls series of games, and I expect I’ll put no less than 100-150 into Bloodborne. That kind of time commitment–especially when I don’t have a ton f time to game–requires sacrifices to made.

I won’t be picking up Borderlands: The Handsome Collection tomorrow, as I know I won’t have time for it (but Nick’s grabbing it, so expect to see some videos here and on the YouTube page). I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition, Dying Light and The Order: 1886. The only other game I have going right now is Battlefield: Hardline, and that will be mainly for multiplayer with my Xbox friends over the next couple months.

But the end of March and all of April will be about one game–Bloodborne. And I can’t wait to dive in. Expect a ton of let’s plays, highlight videos and blog posts about the game over the next several weeks.

What was the last game you cleared out your gaming slate for? What’s coming up that you need to make room for?

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E3 2014: What I’m Most Excited About (Part 2)–Bloodborne

The other day I talked about the new Crackdown as the first of my top three E3 announcements. The next one on my list came from Sony’s E3 presentation, and it’s the thing I’m most excited about coming out of E3.

Sony finally revealed “Project Beast” at E3 2014, and it wasn’t the Demon’s Souls successor that some were thinking developer From Software was working on. Project Beast is actually Bloodborne, a very Lovecraftian-looking, gothic horror game that is definitely inspired by Demon’s Souls, but not beholden to it. Check out the trailer:

Now, that trailer doesn’t show any gameplay, but we have seen this leaked footage from the game in action, with a nice breakdown by YouTube user VaatiVidya:

Between the world and creature design, Bloodborne certainly has the markings of a From Software game. But watching the main character wielding a shotgun also says this is a pretty stark departure from what we know the Souls series to be. it was further confirmed that there are no shields in Bloodborne, so the emphasis is clearly on having more dynamic, fast-paced combat.

I know some may disappointed that Bloodborne isn’t more of a direct Demon’s Souls sequel, but I could not be more excited. As a horror fan, the world design is right up my alley. And as a fan of the Souls games, I’m still playing Dark Souls 2 and we know we’ll get more in that series moving forward. Having a sister series begin with Bloodborne would be awesome, and the game looks to be offering something that you can’t get in the current Souls games.

I am VERY excited about this one.

‘Return to the Nexus’ Community Event Starts Today at 4PM EST

YouTube user Peeve Peeverson has set up a pretty cool community event leading up to tonight’s late night server test of Dark Souls 2. At 4PM EST, he’s inviting Demon’s Souls players to come back to the game and start a new playthrough. The event is called Return to the Nexus, and he put together a cool video to promote it. Check it out:

Peeve will be live streaming some of his playthrough over on Twitch TV at http://www.twitch.tv/peeve.

I’ll be jumping in and starting a fresh playthrough, as I will take any excuse I can get to keep playing either of the Souls games.

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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.

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Return to Demon’s Souls–Part 1: A Rude Awakening

My love affair with Dark Souls is well documented her on Co-Op Critics, but I spent a great deal of time with its predecessor Demon’s Souls as well. So, when Demon’s Souls became free for PlayStation Plus members at the beginning of April, I decided to return to the game for a new character and a new playthrough.

Back when I originally completed demon’s Souls my first character was not very well defined. I hadn’t done a lot of research going in, so instead of having a build in mind, I just kind of built a “Jack of All Trades” type character. That worked okay in terms of beating the game the first time around, but as soon as I stepped into New Game+, my lack of specialization really started to become a weakness.

For this new playthrough, I’m focusing on spellcasting, primarily magic, with a few miracles for healing thrown in. I started with the Royal class, as the Soul Arrow spell (basically Magic Missile) is very useful when you’re at low levels. In terms of physical combat, I’m really trying to focus on dodging and parrying, so I’ll be wearing little to no armor, and sticking with my rapier, or a similar weapon.

After creating my character, I jumped into the tutorial and then fought was is essentially the tutorial boss, Vanguard. The fight is designed to kill you, as that is the means through which you travel to the Nexus, the home base of Demon’s Souls. You can allegedly defeat Vanguard, but it’s damn near impossible, and I didn’t last more than a few moments before getting squashed.

That encounter was a great wake up call to the differences between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls (and there are many). I had been spoiled in my 200+ hours of Dark Souls, especially by the checkpoint system. While there are definitely shortcuts you unlock as you make your way through levels, in general, you have a lot more ground to make up in Demon’s Souls when you die than you do in Dark Souls. On the combat front, the lack of “poise” in Demon’s Souls means you get stunlocked with a lot more frequency. Overall, Demon’s Souls just seems much less forgiving to me than Dark Souls.

There are a lot of things I like better about Demon’s Souls, though. The story is much more coherent than in Dark Souls, and the world of Demon’s Souls feels more alive to me than Dark Souls does. The enemies are more interesting, from the number of actual human beings you see, to the Mind Flayers in the Tower of Latria–there’s so many cool enemies in Demon’s Souls. Some of the boss battles are really memorable as well. One of my favorites is the Tower Knight which I’ll talk about in another post), because it takes place on multiple levels and features a few different elements.

All in all, I’m excited to be jumping back into Demon’s Souls, and I’ll be posting a few more times about this playthrough. That doesn’t mean I’ll be neglecting Dark Souls, however. Between these two games, I may not have time to play anything else.

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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…

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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.