Monday, October 10, 2011

Here I Go Again

Over the last week, I wound down a two-year endeavor in playing and completing Demon's Souls. I deemed it my game of the year for 2009 only maybe about a third of the way in. Various things conspired and transpired to keep me from hunkering down and getting serious about playing the game until just recently. Partly it was due to the looming release of the successor Dark Souls, but above all else, it was just that it's time had come.

Much has been said, and I'm afraid overstated, of Demon's Souls famous difficulty. The truth of the matter as experienced players will usually say, is that the game is not so much difficult as that it requires a very considered, careful, and precise approach on the part of the player, as well as a willingness to make mistakes and the persistence to learn from them rather than give up in frustration. Demon's Souls was no more difficult than Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on Knight difficulty, or any given Halo game on Legendary. It has the potential to be, absolutely, but the true genius of the game is in just how many options it gives the player to choose from in overcoming its challenges.

There is the brute force approach; play and replay the problem section over and over until you find the best way through, or understand the enemy's attack patterns so thoroughly that you can dance right through it. There is the ability to change tactics; try one of the other dozen weapons, tools, or spells at your disposal to defeat the enemy. There is the reinforcements approach; summon a blue phantom or two to help you take down a tough boss or problematic section of a level. There is the grinding approach; farm souls and level up enough that you laugh and shrug off blows that would take half of your HP away, previously. Finally, for the truly cunning and remorseless, cheat; many bosses and tough enemies are easy to exploit with the right combination of equipment or just the right positioning.

Most challenging games, like the aforementioned Castlevania and Halo, offer one or two of these options at best. Demon's Souls gives the player more than enough tools to take care of the business at hand. What gives the game somewhat of an overblown reputation for being frustrating are the facts that death means respawning at the beginning of a level (gasp!), and the possible loss of all experience (souls) accrued and unspent during the last life. It is possible to play for a couple of hours and come away with a feeling of not having made any progress to speak of. That is because progress in Demon's Souls is not measured a percentage displayed in the corner of a map screen or any such thing. Skill at this game is a real skill, and intangible. It is not easily observed or measured, like so many modern games have conditioned us to expect.

Demon's Souls is, in some ways, a throwback to the days of the NES when games were genuinely, unrepentantly difficult, and many even lacked a method of saving your game for the next time you powered on the console. And it's great. It's a very unique game in this day and age, with a remarkably singular vision, amazing, inspired art direction, and a combat system that is very tactile and weighty. I have no doubt that this was the most remarkable and memorable game released in 2009, for my money.

So, here, a day after finally finishing off Demon's Souls, I am just about to embark on another journey sure to be long in completion, this game's successor, Dark Souls. I played a Wanderer in Demon's Souls, and focused on building my dexterity, using curved swords almost entirely. For Dark Souls, I'm leaning more toward a heavily armored Knight, and wielding a one-handed weapon with a shield.  We'll see how that works out...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Going Back

Never until recently have I been able to return to a game midway through without feeling like I needed to restart the whole thing to get back into the swing of it. Maybe it's just that I don't have time to restart every game these days, and at the same time I can rarely make myself play a game to completion at the exclusion of playing other games. I used to do that. Back in the SNES and PSX and even PS2 days I used to have a laser like focus to get through whatever game it was I was playing at the time. I might divert to play a fighter or racer or something, but as far as narrative single-player structured games went, I was monogamous. The NES days though, were more like today, with many different games to choose from, and little reason to hunker down and concentrate on any particular one. That was on a much smaller scale, though. Where now I have somewhere around 200 games at my disposal, back in the day it was maybe 10, max.

But in those freewheeling days of the 90's and early 00's, if I got halfway through a game only to be distracted by something else, I would usually be restarting that game when I got back around to it. I don't feel that compulsion so much, anymore. I did with Titan Quest, recently, but that was also due to the fact that I'd put 8 hours into a character build I was into at the time, but didn't feel like playing on restart. My most recent Titan Quest character is a very straight forward dual-wielding melee type, engineered that way specifically so that I can easily return to the game after a long absence and pick up right where I'd left off. Fallout 2 and Nehrim are two other RPGs I'm in the middle of, and feel like I could jump back in pretty much anytime and not be lost, or at least not anymore lost than I was when I last played them. I couldn't even tell you what sort of character build I have going in Nehrim, but I tend toward the simple melee in games where the choice is between that, magic-focused, and rogue-ish characters.

Case in point, I finally replaced my PS3 yesterday and have returned to playing Demon's Souls once again. When I started this game almost 2 years ago, I began as a Wanderer, which is basically an agility-focused melee class with an affinity for curved swords like falchions and katana. Lots of dodging and quick stirkes, which suits the way I'm used to playing action games. I've been playing this game in fits and starts ever since beginning, but I always come back comfortable with where my character development left off. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to carry over my save to my new PS3, and that I would have to start over with a new character. I was thinking I might go with a little bit of a beefier tankish class. Luckily that wasn't necessary.

I cleared 3-1 last night on my first time through the level. The mindflayers went down in two slices of my Uchigatana +4. I'm at soul level 58 now, and I've cleared 1-1, 1-2, all of world 2, 3-1, 4-1, and 5-1. I had been focusing on 4-2, but reapers and black skeletons get me most of the time, the gold skeletons don't do it first. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to push to the end this time, or pick up Dark Souls right away and start in on that, instead. Best to finish Demon's first, I guess. I probably won't be doing a new game+ on it though, when I can move onto whatever improvements are there in Dark Souls. With a lot of tough game still ahead of me though, it's really hard to say what I'll end up doing.

I finally finished another game I started about 2 years ago--Dawn of War II. I was only 5-6 hours from the end when I'd left off last time. I've been on a big 40K kick lately, and I also just started reading the Horus Heresy. 40K is pretty cool. Dawn of War II was also pretty cool. The single player game was kind of a proof of concept, with a lot of reusing the same maps and same basic mission types, but the way the game plays is pretty unique and a lot of fun. It's somewhere between Diablo and Starcraft. It's almost like controlling a whole team of LOL or DOTA heroes and taking on hordes of enemies as you make your way from point to point and usually either defend a location or fight a boss monster. Plus, there is loot and experience for each of your squads (you have 6 by the end of the game, 4 of which deploy at any one time). If it sounds addictive, it is.

I hear Chaos Rising is even better, with more varied mission types and additional RPG elements concerning how pure or corrupt your squads become based on your deeds and wargear. I'd like to start that game soon, but I should probably work on finishing off some of this other stuff that I'm halfway through!