Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Dark Souls: A Dance With Drakes

Some of the locations in Dark Souls are full of wonderful architecture, huge sprawling ruins all interconnected and filled with nasty surprises. Undead Burg and Undead Parish are such locations, as is Firelink Shrine. These interlinking areas are full of twisty passages and interesting nooks and crannies, but they also have large, looming structures that seem almost within reach (and of course many of them do become reachable later in the game).

New Londo Ruins
That's why it's so disappointing to find those badly-made sections, such as Lower Undead Burg. It's almost like it's from a different game, or a bad fan-creation. A small, mostly linear section, few enemies and not much in the way of challenge. It contains a boss (Capra Demon), and scarce few other things. Thankfully after you've defeated the Capra Demon you only have to pass through it briefly to reach other areas.

Valley of Drakes
By contrast, a similarly small area is the Valley of Drakes. This area can be reached early with the Master Key, but I had to make my way through Darkroot Garden/Basin. This small area contains several Drakes and a mini-boss, and a few items. But the location is incredible, a bridge between two gigantic gates that tower over you. It feels imposing, and the danger of the drakes certainly adds to that.
A small bridge over a large chasm, and in the distance the gate to New Londo
One of those imposing gates is destroyed, a pile of rubble pours from where the door used to be. On the other side, New Londo sits, flooded and dark, filled with ghosts. I ventured there many times, drawn in by the flickering blue torches. Each time I got slightly further, but each time I fell to the spectral blades of my phantom foes.

This was as far as I got in New Londo, just around the corner are lots of ghosts.
My next challenge lay in The Depths, the classic sewer level, but not without both grandeur and frustrations. At first The Depths is merely just a series of tunnels, all browns and dull lighting, with rats and other diseased denizens in your path. It becomes something more as it opens up into larger chambers, a giant rat that first you see from safety through iron bars, and later a vast room with grand pillars. This final room is secured by a fog gate, and I dared not trespass.

Heading into The Depths
My fear in losing the souls I had accrued by traversing the fog turned into foolishness quickly thereafter. I found myself further deep in the Depths of the sewers, and spied some frog-like creatures in the distance. The first couple fell easily, so I pressed forward. The next room contained three in close proximity, and I fell into the trap.

A giant rat in the sewers
These monsters are Basilisks, and their curse kills quickly leaving a stone statue behind. My own health was halved by that attack, and my subsequent returns to recapture my souls only increased the error and frustration. Thankfully the game is not as vindictive as it used to be, earlier versions would stack the curse, cutting it in half again and again, and you could quickly be left with a terminally short health bar.
I also met this weirdo, a merchant in the sewers.
I decided to head to the New Londo Ruins after this defeat, as I heard there was a ring there that could counter curses, and while I was cursed I could attack the ghosts. I really enjoyed exploring that creepy, flooded city. It is a masterpiece of visual design, so many things hidden in far off corners and a real sense of dread as you progress through it. The dim light helps a lot, as does the quiet, sombre sound design.

Unfortunately the traps of the ghost placement are too much to bear, after finding a shortcut to get myself past a large amount of foes, I find yet another choke-point which leaves me hacked to pieces by ghosts who are able to attack through walls or from unassailable positions. I would have to return later.
I shall call you: "Sack Head", and then I shall kill you.
What little souls I managed to recover I invested in Pyromancy, from a nice chap I rescued from a barrel in the Depths. He was being kept by a gruesome fellow in a sack mask, for later consumption. I find Pyromancy to be of limited use at the moment, but perhaps it will be more useful later. Also recovered were another Fire Keeper Soul, which allowed me to upgrade my Estus to plus 2 (the previous one was from the Undead Parish). Finally, I managed to find a Large Ember, which allows the Blacksmith at Undead Parish to upgrade weapons past +5 and also to make Raw weapons (not sure they're worth it, it changes the stats of the weapon in some ways).

Darkroot garden, lots of green, deadly trees and Mothra up there hanging out by the ruins
My next port of call was to defeat the lightning-slinging demon beneath the Blacksmith, and head into Darkroot Garden. This was a lovely area, full of interesting bits, although I'm not a fan of the endless use of green. Some of the area is very bland, but there is a great forest near a boss area that is very atmospheric, which occasional ruins, secret passages and huge stone warriors. The boss itself is a Mothra-like thing, which shoots various magical attacks that are very difficult to block or dodge (the boss area is a narrow bridge). Needless to say, I died a couple of times here.

A handy bonfire behind a breakable wall, next to a locked door which I swore I took a picture of but somehow a lot of my screenshots have gone missing. I will see the magically locked door again, but not any time soon I think.
In another direction, you have Darkroot Basin. This leads to the Valley of Drakes (more on that later), but also leads towards what appeared to be a Hydra. I couldn't approach any further without being killed by it's attacks, but there were some crystal creatures that weren't too hard to kill if you got them on their own. There's also a tower here (locked), which I think leads back up to Undead Burg but unfortunately I don't have the key.

Mothra, on my second atttempt to kill it (my remains are in the distance).
In the forests I also found some Elite Knight Armour, which was a handy upgrade for my original Knight armour (still using the Gargoyle Helm though, and found another lizard bug thing, so I could upgrade it a bit more). So now I am kitted out with +3 Elite Knight Armour, the Drake Sword, a +2 longbow, a +3 crossbow, a +5 broadsword and a variety of other things that I'm holding onto for some reason.
Everyone in Dark Souls laughs like a maniac. This one sells poison arrows though, so she's okay with me.
Next time: I gather together all of my souls to buy over a hundred poison arrows. My task? to kill all of the Drakes in the Valley, very slowly. (I already attempted this once, and didn't have enough arrows, when I came back the drakes had respawned!). This route should bypass the Depths though, and see me get far closer to ringing that second bell.

The poison plan proceeds perfectly (until I run out of arrows)

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