Saying goodbye to Dark Souls II (and the 360, for real)

This will be a quick-tangent post, because I’ve had nothing but weird nights of sleep all week and there’s apparently not enough coffee in the world.  [UPDATE:  There is plenty of coffee in the world, and I might’ve had too much, as it turns out.]


Yesterday’s post was about asking whether Dark Souls II would still be considered a fun game if everything about the game stayed the same but the difficulty was turned down a notch.  It wasn’t necessarily meant to be rhetorical, but as this blog has little reach and nobody comments here, it might’ve come off that way.  Still, I’d said that I intended to give it a second chance, and that I’d made a wee bit of progress, and that I intended to keep pushing on for a little bit – at least until Infamous Second Son became available to download.

Last night I popped the game in… and rage-quit about 15 minutes later, immediately sealing it up in the Gamefly envelope to prevent me from snapping the disc in half, and then, as I quietly seethed on the couch and engaged in some light retail therapy on the PS4 store*, I started to feel a little sad that it might very well have been the last new game I play on my Xbox360**.

There is clearly an audience for the sort of masochistic experience that Dark Souls II promises, and to them I say:  go have at it.  And to myself I say:  you are not one of them, stop falling for it.


*  There’s been a promotion on the PS store where if you spend $60, you get $10 in credit.  Being that I’m probably going to do a bit more digital downloading on the PS4 in the coming months, I figured it was worth investing in.  I wasn’t sure if my digital pre-order of Infamous counted or not, but in any event I was pissed off about Dark Souls and I had some extra cash, so I bought StriderRayman Legends, and Steamworld Dig.  I’d played the demo of Strider and liked it; I’d already played Rayman Legends on 360 and PC, but figured why not play it again; and I’d heard lots of great things about Steamworld Dig, and that brought me up past the $60 threshold.


**  I’ve already written my long goodbye to the Xbox 360, but at the time I was still somewhat invested in GTA V Online and making vague promises to see the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3.  Point being, I hadn’t yet disconnected either of the last-gen consoles, nor had I acquired a new one.  Now, though, I’m thoroughly invested in the PS4, and a quick glance of my Gamefly rental queue reveals zero 360 games on the list.  This makes me sad; I wish I’d given it a fonder farewell.  Again, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to fall madly in love with Dark Souls II, but I’d heard enough about it being more approachable for newcomers and so I didn’t expect to hate it so violently, so quickly.  So I guess South Park will go down as the last 360 game I finish.

I may have to start doing a feature where I revisit all the 360 games I still own, if only to say goodbye to them one last time before tucking them back in to their bookshelves.  (And it now occurs to me that, since we anticipate moving within the next year, it very well might be the last time those games are still within easy reach; our move to the suburbs might require my outdated games to hang out in boxes for a little while.)


This (poorly-written) tweet was inspired from a conversation I’d had earlier in the day with my buddy Gred.  We’d been talking about Dark Souls and Final Fantasy XIII and other such games where the overall impressions we’d been hearing were “It starts out slow, but after 12 or 13 hours it starts getting really good.”  And I just found it hilarious that gamers, as a whole, can freak out about Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes being beatable in 10 minutes, and also that Gone Home is only 2 hours long but costs $20; and yet we are also generally OK to waste a dozen hours of our life just to get to the good part of a game.

I’m really only posting this because I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Gred’s fantastic Dark Souls comment (in response to my impressions):

“…i’ve always had the impression that the difficulty was barring my access to ingenious game design, when, apparently, it was apparently just a fancier flappy bird.”


the first few hours: Dark Souls II

So I think I’ve established here that I am not the target audience for Dark Souls II.  I’ve never particularly enjoyed “difficult” games, irrespective of the perceived “fairness” of those games; and in the brief time I spent with the earlier games in this franchise, I was able to glean what the game was going to be like, and then know that it wasn’t for me.

That’s all well and good; not every game is meant for everybody.

Anyway, here’s a hypothetical question:  if Dark Souls II was a game of average difficulty, as opposed to notoriously unforgiving difficulty, but in every other respect was the exact same game – would anybody care?  Is the game’s difficulty and obscurity the actual appeal?

Because last night I did in fact give Dark Souls II a second chance.  I made it to the first town, and then to the first bonfire outside of town, and I killed things and got killed, and so while I acknowledge that I’ve seen but a tiny sliver of what the game has to offer, it also showed me plenty:

  • Utterly strange sound design, where (for example) walking through tall grass sounds like a very stiff whisk broom sweeping across ragged sandpaper
  • Ponderously dull voice acting.  This has been true in the limited time I’ve spent with the previous two games, so I guess it’s a franchise trademark, but still.  There are other ways of instilling gravitas in your dialogue besides asking your voice actors to slowly drone the words.
  • Striking visual design, to be sure, but marred by surprisingly bad visual fidelity.  I installed the game to the 360’s hard drive – usually that helps – but MAN, this game has moments of supreme ugliness and jank.  Definitely does not look like a late-era 360 game – there are plenty of games that look a lot better than this.  And considering how terrible the PC version of Dark Souls I looked, I’m not necessarily holding out hope that the PC version of this game looks remarkably better.
  • Unintuitive control schemes.  My very first death in Dark Souls II was from trying to jump and instead plummeting into a lake.  Jumping requires being in a “dashing” state (i.e., pressing B), and then clicking the left thumbstick.  In most games, jumping only requires one button press.  I get that this isn’t a platforming game, but considering how cheap some of my deaths have been (like accidentally falling off cliff-sides and such), having to perform such an awkward maneuver to achieve a simple action is a bit off-putting.

Essentially, without the unforgiving difficulty and the willful obscurity of your objectives, the game is kind of a mess, and probably wouldn’t be all that interesting.  So, then:  am I going to bother playing it for much longer?  Especially with Infamous and MGS arriving later this week?

weekend recap: slings and arrows and farts

It’s not an iron-clad rule, but I generally prefer to avoid prefacing my entries here with personal asides.  It’s just that as far as Monday mornings go, this one has been particularly stressful and exhausting and miserable, and as I write this it’s not even lunchtime.  Can’t really say much more than that, unfortunately; I’m writing this mostly as a way of finding some zen within the chaos.


Today’s must-read:  Russ Pitts on engaging with trolls.   This is, coincidentally enough, related to the link I posted a week or two ago which mocked that same troll.


I finished South Park: The Stick of Truth late Friday night.  It’s a hell of a game, regardless of the level of your South Park fandom.  As I said the other day, I’d hardly call myself a huge fan – it’s been years since I watched the show on a regular basis – but I’m a fan in my heart, and I consider the movie one of the funniest movies ever made.  I say this so that you understand that even if I didn’t catch every single reference, I didn’t have to in order to enjoy the experience.  This is about as perfect a South Park game as one could reasonably hope for; the game is wickedly funny, and yet also a tremendous amount of fun to play and engage with.  

I finished the game in a little over 12 hours; I did nearly every side quest I could find, I hit the level cap quite easily, and I never stopped enjoying myself.  

That being said, it’s the sort of game that I can’t really see myself playing ever again.  Unlike, say, Skyrim – which SPSoT takes certain inspirations from – this game is fairly linear, and while there’s a lot to explore there aren’t necessarily any rabbit holes to fall into that you can’t quickly back out of.  I suppose playing as a different class might yield some slightly different jokes, but the overall experience would still be more or less identical.  It’s rare that I’d call a great game a “rental”, but there it is.


Every once in a while I cross-post something here over at Kotaku’s TAY forum.  On a whim, I decided to cross-post the thing I wrote about political agendas and bad stomachs over there, and it got a pretty nice response and generated some healthy dialogue in the comments.

One of the comment threads – from someone who disagreed with my premise and said, in no uncertain terms, that they did NOT want to play any game with a political agenda, even if it was something they agreed with – caused me to eventually copy/paste from this excellent Believer interview with Harold Ramis, which I’d previously linked to on my tumblr.  I’m pasting the whole thing below, because it’s worth repeating.  (bolded text added for emphasis)

From The Believer:

BLVR: Rumor has it that you turned down the chance to direct Disney’s remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because you felt they weren’t interested in really exploring racism.

HR: The way they wanted to do it didn’t have a lot to do with the colossal amount of pain and violence that swirls around racial injustice. It would’ve been like an episode of The Jeffersons.What’s the point? But who knows, maybe that’s as much as most people want. I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “When I go to the movies, I don’t want to think.”

BLVR: Does that offend you as a filmmaker?

HR: It offends me as a human being. Why wouldn’t you want to think? What does that mean? Why not just shoot yourself in the fucking head? Or people’ll say that they don’t want to see any negative emotions. They don’t want to see unpleasantness. I did a comedy with Al Franken about his character Stuart Smalley, which was really about alcoholism and addiction and codependency. It had some painful stuff in it. When we showed it to focus groups, some of them actually said, “If I want to see a dysfunctional family, I’ll stay home.”

BLVR: Wow. I guess audiences just want more movies about stoned teenagers trying to find their cars.


I came this close to sending Dark Souls II back in the mail this morning.  I played for about 30 minutes on Saturday night; I died 3 times, and each of those deaths felt cheap.  I’m not necessarily a big fan of ultra-difficult games, but I’m willing to engage with them if there’s enough people who convince me to at least try them out, and the thing that nearly everybody says is that while these games are hard, they’re almost never unfair.  Well, my three deaths were absolutely unfair, and they pissed me off, and instead of feeling challenged I felt taken advantage of.  


Because my rental copy of Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes won’t arrive until Thursday at the earliest (and which I’m pretty “meh” about anyway), and because my digitally pre-ordered copy of Infamous Second Sons won’t be unlocked until Friday, I’m feeling like maybe I should try giving Dark Souls II one more shot, from scratch, and see if maybe I can dig a little deeper and try to get past what was pissing me off so much.  My hopes aren’t high, mind you; it’s just that I’ve got nothing else going on, game-wise, and so I might as well see if I can approach it from a slightly different angle.


On Political Agendas and Bad Stomachs

[Note:  This post may get a bit rambly.  I’m on some new medications and they make me a little drowsy/loopy.]

From my friend Caro’s Tumblr:

An example of obliviousness: on a recent piece I wrote for work in which I praised a game for the monumental act of simply portraying a relationship between women who aren’t presented as sex objects and who matter as individuals, in and of themselves and because of what they mean to each other and not just in relation to a male figure, one commenter said that games should be something we do to escape from such political agendas.

The subtle irony here is that the act of being willfully ignorant and keeping one’s mind closed is also an agenda, whether that person wants to admit it or not.  I haven’t actually played the Last of Us DLC that Caro is referencing, but my understanding of it is simply what Caro says it is – the player isn’t beaten over the head with this relationship, it simply is, and it’s entirely possible that the commenter might not even have noticed it until it was pointed out to them.  Or, alternately, now that it has been pointed out, the   commenter will refuse to play it on some bizarre “principle”, and thus a new cycle of willful ignorance will begin.

Moreover, the idea that games shouldn’t be about anything beyond shooting things is profoundly sad to me.  Frankly, one of the reasons why I’ve been sour on games lately is precisely because of the amount of virtual murder I have to commit in order to have the story play out.  I like to rag on Uncharted, another of Naughty Dog’s franchises, specifically because of all the murder I have to commit; and yet in Bravely Default, I’ve probably killed at least twice as many monsters as I did in Uncharted 3 and I’m only a third of the way through it.

TANGENT:  Speaking of which, I’ve more or less given up on Bravely Default.  I can’t remember if I mentioned that or not, but whatever.  My worst fear did in fact come to light; after clearing the map and awakening all 4 crystals, an unexplained event “reset” the game world and now I have to do the whole goddamned thing again, and I really don’t care to anymore.  I had fun enough the first time around, but I’ve got better things to do than retrace my footsteps.

TANGENT:  And speaking of giving up on things, I sent back Thief this morning, after finishing the insane asylum mission last night.  Insane asylums are as obvious a trope as anything in videogames, but it’s doubly bizarre here because for the first 90% of the mission, you’re the only person in the building.  The game actually does create a palpable atmosphere of dread, except there’s nothing chasing you, and nobody’s looking for you, and so the tension eventually fades.  But then, at the end, the game pulls a series of left turns that render the narrative – which was already pretty obscure at this point – completely incoherent and dumb.  And then, also, I picked up a series of thirteen (13!) side jobs, literally all at the same time, which says about as much as one can say about the game’s sense of pacing.

Getting back to the topic of agendas:  as a straight white male, most games are written with me as their targeted audience (or someone like me, but much younger).  Except:  I have certain anxieties and physical setbacks that are hardly ever shown in games, or movies, or books.  Remember at the top of this post, where I said I was on some new medications?  Right, well:  I don’t talk about this much, for reasons that will soon become obvious, but I’ve been suffering from IBS for the last 14 years or so.  In recent years I’ve taken great strides at getting better – I’ve made radical changes to my diet, I’m on a custom-designed (and very expensive) vitamin supplement regimen, I’ve started going to therapy, I’ve started taking anti-anxiety medication (and that took a lot of convincing, too).  And now I’m taking new medication specifically for my GI tract, and I’m hoping that’ll help further straighten things out.

The point of all this is that while I’ve certainly gotten better over the last few years, I’m still not yet out of the woods, and this specific ailment has been a source of personal embarrassment for years.  (As well you might imagine; I have not actually had any accidents, but I’ve felt like one is imminent nearly every morning commute for the last dozen years.)  I’ve missed any number of social obligations because of this, and I’ve been reluctant to travel long distances because of this, and I’m mostly just grateful that my wife hasn’t left me because of this.

What does this have to do with videogames and agendas?  Well, how many videogame characters can you think of that have anxiety disorders?  Or bad stomachs?  I can think of only one, and even then I can’t remember in which game – possibly MGS4, possibly Bayonetta – some small side character whose intense gastric distress is used as a point of bizarre comic relief.  It might’ve been funny for most 13-year-old boys (or people who think public diarrhea is hilarious), but for me it felt like a kick in the balls.

Now, I understand perfectly well why videogames and films don’t often feature characters like this – people with this sort of condition have a hard time leaving the house (and, in my case, can further complicate social anxiety issues and eventually lead to mild agoraphobia), and so it is hard to make a game starring someone who can’t go out and save the world.  And on the rare occasion when characters like this do show up in films and games, they are, more often than not, punchlines (or, worse, punching bags).  And this sort of thing does not really help to improve my outlook.  It might inspire me to get healthier, but it’s inspiration borne from shame.

This is a long way of saying that when, in South Park: The Stick of Truth, an enemy casts a spell on you in battle that causes you to shit your pants, well, my heart breaks a little bit.

TANGENT:  I am around 6 and a half hours into South Park (probably about mid-way through Day Two), and I like it quite a lot.  Even though I’m not the world’s most rabid South Park fan, I still appreciate the game’s sense of humor, but I’m just as appreciative of the actual game design.  I love how approachable the systems are; I love how deep the modification systems can go (and that you can re-modify new weapons without losing the old ones).  Hell, I kinda just love wandering around the town and seeing what there is to see, picking up random side quests for no reason other than they’re there, and that there’s usually a decent comedic payoff at the end.  I love that you can use the environment to end a random battle before it even starts.  I love the game’s commentary on the ridiculousness and overuse of audio logs and Nazi zombies.  I especially love that tacos are the game’s version of revive potions.

In other news, it’s true that the big game this week is Titanfall, but as you’ve probably guessed this is not the place for discussion about that game; I don’t own an Xbox One and I don’t care about multiplayer shooters, no matter how good they might be.

TANGENT:  I am kinda surprised at how many of my 360 friends own an Xbox One; I am also a little surprised that they stayed Xbox-centric and didn’t migrate to the PS4.  I’m still not sure what it’s going to take to get me to buy one, to be honest; and I might as well admit that at this point, if I had to buy more game hardware, I’m most likely to get a Vita.

But the other big game this week is Dark Souls II, which is arriving later this week, and which I feel compelled to at least try, if only so that even if I can’t necessarily participate in the larger conversation, I can at least understand the gist of it.  I’ve had brief, 30-minute tastes of the previous 2 games – enough to get the general idea, and enough to know that I’d probably not get very far given my current time constraints – and while I still am intimidated by it (and while I’m still under similar time constraints), I’m also still intensely curious about it, and at least want to give it the ol’ college try.  My understanding is that the game has been made a bit more approachable for people like me, while still being brutally difficult and opaque, and so I’m willing to try to meet it halfway.

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