rambling

Drangleic, Redux

With Elden Ring closer to release than ever before, my hype is through the damn roof. Probably through the stratosphere. I checked YouTube every day during the closed network test, and watched hours of footage with and without commentary, and I remembered why I love the Soulsbornekiro (lol, the term just gets bigger) community. People were getting genuinely excited about everything, on camera and/or microphone, and it was beautiful to behold. Memes and serious discussions have swirled from the Elden Ring void for months and months now. We’ve finally experienced some of the game with our own hands (for the lucky testers) and eyes (for the audience members like myself). Some folks believe that too much anticipation is anathema to eventual enjoyment, but I believe they’re wrong: after seeing new details of Elden Ring, I’m even more excited than I was before.

Jesus lord, there are still three months to go before release! I’m so excited and I want to feel the beauty of something, hell, anything FromSoft has made. Anything, I said? Strap your Faraam boots on and heft your blades, folks, ’cause I was so desperate for FromSoft content and so nostalgic for older days that I *gulp* downloaded Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin on Steam.

“Chris,” those of you who don’t play video games are saying, “what does that even mean?” Stay a while and I’ll tell you. Or don’t – I force no one to read and/or listen to my words. In the Souls community, there are a few generally accepted notions. One of these is this: Dark Souls II is the stepchild of the Souls family. Demon’s Souls released on the PS3 years ago and became a cult classic, then Dark Souls followed and garnered more mainstream popularity. Folks were playing and talking about that game, at least, until Skyrim released about a month later and distracted everyone for … way too long. Still, the reality is that Dark Souls followed the road that Demon’s Souls had paved, and that road would eventually lead FromSoft to acclaim, recognition, sales, and, sweet Jesus, rabid fanpersonhood (it’s a new term I just made up). However, a good foundation doesn’t guarantee smooth construction. Indeed, things can get weird during the building phase. FromSoft has built a fantastic repertoire, and a wonderful fanbase, but Dark Souls II tested all of us. I said in this very same paragraph that I’d tell you why. I suppose I should stop stalling and actually tell you why Dark Souls II is an invitation to debate.

The first Dark Souls is a masterpiece of game design: it features a seamless, interconnected world, challenging enemy AI, deep NPC questlines that span the entirety of the game, hilarious and fun (and possibly frustrating) multiplayer options, an engaging leveling system, more weapons and armor than you can shake a stick at … it’s fucking beautiful. Then, Dark Souls II released. And it offered more of the same. Not necessarily a bad thing, right? Well, it’s hard to describe, but … Dark Souls II always felt slapdash. Incomplete. Like something is missing. Many fans explain Dark Souls II away by saying it tried to recreate the magic of the first game without understanding why the first game was so magical. For years now, I’ve been one of these fans, saying that “Dark Souls II is a good game, it’s just not a good Souls game.”

I’ve had two friends tell me that Dark Souls II is underrated. That I judge it too harshly. Admittedly, I completed Dark Souls II back in the day. I was pulled in by its mysteries, because I love learning cool new things and experiencing interesting worlds. Despite flaws in some of its mechanics and design, Dark Souls II is compelling, and challenging.

So I’ve had my hardline stance shifted by my friends, and here’s the kicker: I never played the “definitive” version of Dark Souls II. What does this even mean? Well, in the age of DLC and game expansions, it means that Dark Souls II inevitably had new content added to it. And well, I never actually played that new content. Both of the people who told me that Dark Souls II is underrated specifically mentioned that “You have to play it with all the DLC.” And I had never done that. And I sit here, saying things like “Dark Souls II is meh” and “I prefer I and III.”

Earlier, I called the game “Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.” That is because this is the name of the game with all its expansions. As is the case with many older games, one may now buy a “definitive” or “complete” edition with all the DLC stuff added in from the start. So, in my excitement and eagerness to experience something FromSoft made, and to tide myself over until Elden Ring comes out, I bought Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.

I’m not too far into the game yet, but I’m having a ton of flashbacks. I’m remembering parts that pissed me off, but I’m also re-experiencing the parts that pulled me in. The slow unfolding of a mysterious origami creation – or maybe it’s more like the slow folding of a mysterious origami creation, as one doesn’t get the full idea until it’s all experienced and done. I’ve moved through the game a little differently this time around. Instead of opting for the “I’m new here, let me go through things in some kind of intended order” strategy, I’ve thrown myself willy-nilly at mid-game stuff because I want to use a specific weapon. So I rushed to that weapon, and now I’ve got it, and I’ll be a bit more relaxed from here on out. I haven’t seen any of the new content yet, and that’s fine – I’ll discover it naturally, I hope.

Some stuff is still frustrating: the combat feels so fucking janky, and hitboxes are strange. The NPCs and world are fantastic, until they’re not; draw distances and relative scope are not realized in any realistic sense, and as they say, the devil’s in the details. Upon close scrutiny, much of the world falls apart, and it’s non-sensical. But this is sort of the main thrust of Souls lore. Time is convoluted, and things are not necessarily in any order. If I embrace this mindset, the game is much more bearable.

Some of my favorite armor sets are in this game, and my favorite weapon type, twinblades, was introduced in Dark Souls II. Some of my least favorite bosses are in this game. Shit, most of my least favorite bosses are in this game, but that just means I’ll enjoy beating the shit out of them. This is also my first PC FromSoft experience, and it’s sort of preparing me for Elden Ring: I pre-purchased Elden Ring on Steam, and I’m hoping that years of PC development will pay off in a relatively bug-free launch come late February.

I could probably talk about Dark Souls II for days, and wax philosophical about its place in FromSoft’s game design timeline, and its place in the community … shit, I haven’t even touched on the fact that FromSoft’s “B team” made the game. But like, I honestly don’t think that’s important right now. What’s important is that Dark Souls II was a step on the road that eventually led here, to the Elden Ring hype train (carriage?), and I ride this vehicle willingly. I’m so excited for Elden Ring, and weirdly, I’m excited to experience Dark Souls II again, in its complete form. Happy days to you, folks, and make sure to do something you love today.

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