A Dark Souls Addiction, And What a Journey.

I recently went back to Dark Souls 3 post-hiatus from the Souls series. After falling in love with Dark Souls 1 back in 2012 and exhausting myself with it last year, I played through Scholar of the First Sin for the first time for a fresh experience. Perhaps ‘pushed through’ is a more accurate phrase as the second game in the series fell flat for me in more ways than one and it took me a few months of on and off playing to finally dig deep and get to the ending, with the prospect of being able to play Dark Souls 3 afterwards as my reward. After all, it wouldn’t have felt right to just skip ahead to three and abandon two altogether. No, after DS1 I owed the series much more than that. So on I pushed, right to the disappointing final boss, with no idea how to refuse to reignite the first flame. Instead, my character took the throne as king, and I still don’t care to google how to change the ending.

My time with starting Dark Souls 3 came and went. I made it just past High Lord Wolnir before dropping out of the game entirely due to the sheer boredom I felt with the game. Something didn’t sit quite right with me when playing, and at the time I wasn’t sure what it was. I liked the fast paced combat, the controls were tight, the sound design was crisp, and boss fights were (mostly) innovative and fresh (with the Abyss Watchers being an infuriatingly high point). And I knew at the time I liked, even loved, all of these things, but I just couldn’t bring myself to play it for some reason. And thus, I dropped the game (and the series) entirely. That was back in April.

Fast forward past an unhealthy amount of League of Legends, The Last Of Us 2 release, and severe lack of soccer in quarantine life, and you arrive in an early July that saw me bored out of my mind. There’s only so many times you can run it down top, you know? Only so many hours you can listen to fans complain about a game they haven’t played. Only so many Sergio Busquets videos you can watch before you run out of patience for isolation. Frustrated and desperate for something new, I loaded up steam and scanned my games for something to play.

Just above 300 games, most of which I’ve never played through extensively. My eyes glossed over all the names before going exactly where I knew I was going before I even loaded the app up in the first place. Straight to the ‘Favorites’ tab. My controller had connected and I loaded up Dark Souls 1.

I decided I would make a new main account. A steady eddie; A 100%er that would take things slow, clear out all the areas one by one, and experience everything the game had to offer. I would play it just I had done the first time around. No speed runs, no rushing. Just taking my time.

In reality, I would do none of that. In fact, I would hardly play the game at all. After reaching Firelink shrine and parrying my first skeleton, I immediately had a thought strike into my head: “This isn’t very fast paced, I don’t like that.”

I just criticized Dark Souls. Am I high?

Yes, I did. And no, I don’t think I was.

Not only had I just criticize one of my favorite games of all time on something so core to its gameplay, but I did it with Dark Souls 3 in mind. I felt like I was cheating on my long-time significant other with an ex I hated. As I sat there, dumbfounded at my apparent and sudden distaste for slow and methodical combat, an epiphany struck my head.

My frustrations and disliking of Dark Souls 3 and even parts of Dark Souls 2 weren’t objective criticisms of their mechanics and flaws. They were objections made on the basis that the games themselves weren’t Dark Souls 1. I couldn’t have pinned down why I didn’t like the third game, and it was because I didn’t actually dislike it at all. I liked it a lot, actually. Hell, I even liked the second one (with some reservations). I just didn’t like them when comparing them to Dark Souls 1 because I wasn’t playing 2 and 3 with the intention of having a new experience. I was playing them with the intention of sitting them side-by-side to their predecessor.

It’s almost like trying a new ice cream while thinking about your already favorite flavor. The new ice cream is going to fall short 100% of the time, because no amount of deliciousness or innovation in ice cream tech is going to beat out your favorite ice cream’s comfort in your head. Its just not possible unless you leave what’s not being tasted out of mind.

Now imagine that, but in reverse. I preferred Dark Souls 1 over 3 (and still do), but was finding myself missing the third over the other. A strange n’ deranged change, but one I wasn’t going to ignore. I promptly started up DS3 and created a new account with the same intention as the account I had created moments before on DS1: become a Steady Eddie and play with the sole intention of beating the game in a controlled manner. No rushing through mobs, no resetting because I thought of a better build. Just play, and only play as though it was its own game and as though DS1 didn’t exist.

Immediately my experience had changed dramatically from my first attempt through the game. The pace was still just as fast, the controls just as tight, and the bosses just as memorable. Yet, my enjoyment was through the roof. I actually looked forward to clearing out each area I approached while exploring optional areas and scouring the landscape for resources and weapons.

All the way to High Lord Wolnir and beyond, with a little google help after Yhorm. The final boss, Prince Lothric and his brother, gave me a lot of trouble and made me appreciate the work that went into creating their move sets. It felt fresh and exciting as though it was its own game that I hadn’t played before. Imagine that.

The final final boss, The Soul of Cinder, felt a little more familiar. Like getting whooped by Lord Gwyn just as I had done when first playing DS1 in 2012, though it was clear this version of him was much, much harder to overcome. But it didn’t make a difference either way because I wasn’t in the market for Gwyn version no.2. I was in the market for whatever the game had to offer.

Its now July 21st and I’m finally starting a Dark Souls 2 rerun with the same intention as the DS3 run I had earlier this month. I’m only just past The Lost Sinner and I’m enjoying every second of it (With some reservations, once again. This game ain’t perfect). Hell, I might even try and figure out how to not reignite the flame this time around. And by figure out I mean use a tactical google search.

To be addicted to each Souls game individually is to know how to let go of past addictions and preferences. To open yourself up to new experiences and to recognize when you aren’t ready to do that. Its a skill that takes some Soul searching (sorry), and is a skill that can apply itself effectively in all facets of life; whether you’re experiencing a new art, a new person, or a new hobby. But much more than that, its a wisdom that can help you appreciate the positive and negative differences in each and every corner of life, and therefor learn to experience it all as it is. Not as individual snippets of life that act in a closed system, separate from one another. But as a linear expression of the world and the people who live here.

What one holds tightly to their chest will never be void of flaw, just as the things people try to fight and push away from their tunnel vision shall never be distilled to a pure evil without room for compassion. It is as it always was, and ever will be, because if things were any other way then things would, in fact, be different. Just as sure as the first flame reigniting, every piece of happiness and suffering will be repeated. Be ready to live without what you love, and prepare to live with what you now hate. Your very humanity depends on it.

“The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation. Things you think are separate and different are actually one and the same.” -Guru Pathik