Before I begin, I’d like to note that I play the game on the Playstation 3 console, which uses the Playstation Network.
Dark Souls, the rage-inducing sequel to the equally infuriating Demon’s Souls, released last year on October 4th. As I walk through the lonesome world, an eerie calm has come over the landscape. The environment seems to be breathing its last few breaths, with only some of the more perseverant players sticking around. The occasional new guy will make his name known, but as I am sure we are all aware, Dark Souls is not for everyone. This game is a total exploitation of players’ frustrations, but that is exactly why I love it.
I played through Demon’s Souls in one monstrous blast. It was tough, there’s no doubt about that. Dark Souls was an entirely different animal. It threw me around mentally, made me throw my controller around physically and never once offered an apology. Part of this was probably due to the fact that I was stubborn and avoided the use of cooperative play throughout my first time through, but I felt that attacking the game with people who had more than likely already beaten the game or knew its secrets was almost like cheating: for those of you conquered the Anor Londo archers alone, I salute you.
We’ve come to this crossroads, Dark Souls and I. On one hand, I could keep playing and enjoy the game for what it is, but a huge part of it has now started to slip down the wayside. This is the online portion of the game, a monument of achievement and innovation, which has gone largely underappreciated. Messages from other players once fluttered over the ground, changing as I trekked across the desolated lands of Dark Souls. Now, the only remaining messages are those that were highly-rated when the game was experiencing its peak activity. It has stagnated, and I am scared because of that.
There are still a small number of PvPers left in the game, who now congregate from levels 120-140 in high-traffic areas so they can continue improving their skills and keep the scene alive. They are veritable samurai, dedicating their free time to perfecting an art, found in the form of player VS player combat in Dark Souls. With that said, they are also driving others out of the game, or prompting them to stay in “hollowed” form, where one cannot invade others’ worlds nor be invaded – which is the accepted form of battle in Dark Souls. It is an interesting predicament, and there isn’t any good answer for it.
I look back at my time with the game, with my first play through at the forefront of my thoughts. I came to the stunning realization that I was part of the problem. I avoided other players for nearly seventy hours, unless I was making a concerted effort at retaining my “humanity,” which is the opposite of being hollowed. Though my reasons may have been different than others – I revel at the chance to cross swords with another player – I wasn’t contributing in the least. I realize a donation of one’s time and sanity shouldn’t be a prerequisite to playing a video game. However, at this stage in the process, it’s becoming something worth noting.
Much like the players I spoke of, I have now been dabbling in the PvP side of things. I noticed that there is a very small, tight-knit community of players, and I would often battle with the same person three or four times in a row (Supposedly logging in and out of the game sets you up on a different server with new opponents, but I found no such luck.) It’s something of a niche society, where those who remain are just waiting for the end. This is a sad fact, because I’ve become a part of it, and so goes the story of most players who actually make it through the game. For many, defeating Lord Gwyn is the end of the road, a one-way stop where the game is doomed to meet the bargain bin, or a dusty demise inside of some cardboard box.
Finally, the cooperative play has already been seriously affected by the slow decline in player activity, but it’s alive: that’s what counts. Unlike PvP, you can find cooperative play at any level. I feel like this is the one route we have left to a better Dark Souls. The stars have aligned in such a way that the upcoming downloadable content, “Artorias of the Abyss,” will be hitting virtual shelves on October 24th (for consoles.) This is an opportunity for the community of Dark Souls to reach that almost perfect time when the game’s online component was so fiercely acknowledged by critic and player alike.
While this DLC already released on the PC version of Dark Souls, I feel that the results of that release were somewhat dampened. The game came out on PC after the console releases were published, so it’s safe to assume that the community will see a larger return in players when consoles get their due. No one is really sure why Namco decided to take this plan for business, but hopefully the DLC will prove fruitful enough that they continue to support the game – be it through more content or simply a strong upkeep of the game’s servers; the servers for Demon’s Souls are still alive and well, even if they are a ghost town!
The story of Dark Souls is a sad one, and requires the player to put thought into deciphering what some things mean, otherwise known as a “minimalistic” plot. I feel that the game’s slow decline into inactivity could very well be considered an epitaph to the game’s story. We as players have to decide whether or not to rekindle the flame, or walk away. I’ll leave this piece on that note, and hope that what I’ve said here might bring you back to the world of Dark Souls – if only for a little while.