Dark Souls III

The best strategies for defeating bosses in the Souls games typically involves staying as close as you possibly can to the boss, circling around to their backside, stabbing them in the butt, and rolling under their attacks when necessary. A few bosses in the series will break this convention and force the player to have to find different ways of defeating them. Dark Souls III has one particular boss that makes this go-to strategy almost completely futile. If you're able to circle-strafe around the feet of the King of the Storm boss in Archdragon Peak and then still beat it, then I am impressed.

Dark Souls III - The King of the Storm
The Nameless King and his storm drake require a different strategy than the typical Dark Souls boss.

Why you should keep your distance

The King of the Storm is one of the rare bosses in the series that actually requires the player to keep your distance from the boss and avoid getting in too close. There are actually quite a few reasons for this, but there are two that stand out as making this boss particularly frustrating for any player who tethers themselves to the boss's feet. The first is that you'll end up forcing yourself into battle with the most ever-present of Souls games' most formidable foes: the camera. Locking onto the enemy is impossible when directly below him, and so you won't be able to see any of what he is doing. He also moves very quickly and can cover a lot of space, so you'll end up spending a lot of time having to micro-manage the camera as you try to manually keep it focused on the dragon.

The second reason is that the dragon has a potent defense against this sort of strategy: its fire breath. If you hang around under the dragon's belly, it won't wait too long before flying up into the air and unleashing an area of effect fire breath attack that can often mean certain death if you get caught in it. Even a health bar that stretches most of the way across the screen can be more than halved simply by being hit with this attack. But that isn't the worst of it. The attack will also knock the player prone, but the fire spray also persists long enough that it can frequently trigger a second hit once you stand up. This second hit will almost certainly kill you.

Dark Souls III - flying fire breath
Getting caught in this flying fire breath attack means almost certain death.

These two reasons should be enough to keep you out from under the dragon, but there are other reasons why keeping your distance is the better option....

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Dark Souls title

Even though the player character in Dark Souls can be in a "hollow" state, the player never truly goes hollow. At least, not in the sense that NPCs and enemies have gone hollow.

According to Dark Souls' mythology, the undead are condemned to repeatedly wander Lordran in search of a cure, being unable to permanently die. But for virtually all such undead, this quest is futile. An undead can temporarily stave off hallowing by absorbing souls or infusing themselves with the humanity of someone else. Eventually, an undead dies one too many times, or is worn down by the daily grind of collecting souls, and loses the will to go on -- or is simply unable to continue collecting souls and humanity. When this happens, that undead becomes hollow, loses his sanity and free will, and continues to wander the world as a mindless zombie attacking any un-hollowed that it encounters on sight.

It is unknown how many "Chosen Undead" are brought to Lordran or the Undead Asyulm, but the Crestfallen Warrior at Firelink tells us that many have come before you. Is it possible that all hollows in Lordran were at some point "Chosen Undead", tasked by Frampt to retrieve the Lordvessel and re-kindle the dying flame?

Probably not.

A great deal of the hollows that you encounter in the game were likely former residents of Lordran, and there was no need to select a "Chosen Undead" until Gwyn's power faded to a "cinder", and the fire began to die. This presumably took a very long time - a whole "age".

Dark Souls - crestfallen warrior
The Crestfallen Warrior informs us that we are not the first "chosen undead",
and suspects that we won't be the last either.

Avoiding hollowness with purpose

Many undead adventurers wandered into Lordran (or were abducted and taken there), and they struggle to hold onto their precious humanity for as long as possible, fighting for their lives in the fear that they, too will go hollow. Some, like the Crestfallen Warrior, resign themselves to the inevitability of hollowness, and find a sense of purpose in warning other new arrivals that they, too, are doomed. Others pursue some seemingly impossible goal or objective in the hopes that the journey will provide them with the sense of purpose necessary to avoid (or at least delay) hollowing. And yet others have taken up crafts or vocations such as blacksmithing, vending, or guarding something in order to keep them focused and avoid hollowing (and to exchange goods or services for the very souls that they need to stave off the hollowing). Keeping such a goal may help keep an undead partially lucid, but they also seem to begin to forget everything else, and only the knowledge of their quest or craft remains. Perhaps, the undead guarding various areas of the game were, at one point, tasked with protecting that place (or something within that place), but have long since lost their mind, and only that compulsion to defend has remained.

Going on "one final quest" seems to provide adventurers with enough focus to hold back hollowing.

But hollowing isn't just a thematic element reserved for non-player characters; hollowing is also a mechanic in the game that affects the player. Whenever the player character dies, you are reborn at the last bonfire in a hollowed state, unable to summon help from allies until you restore your humanity through the consumption of someone else's humanity. In Dark Souls II, hollowing further handicaps the player by cummulatively reducing your total health each time you die, and only restoring your humanity can refill your health meter. In both these cases, the player is not truly hollow; you are only in a state of partial hollowing.

It's unclear whether non-player characters are able to die and restore their humanity, or if deaths contribute to an irreversible progression towards hollowness. There are, after all, apparently hollowed NPCs such as the undead merchant in the Undead Burg and blacksmith Lenigrast in Majula who are sane enough to have kept their shops open. The presence of NPC summon signs hints at the possibility that they, too, are capable of restoring their own humanity through the same mechanisms that you can, but the game itself justifies this with ambiguous appeals to "time distortion" and hypothetical parallel realities that obfuscates the matter - particularly where Solaire and Lautrec are concerned.

Dark Souls - summoned NPC
Summoned NPCs may recover humanity as you do, or they're from another time or dimension, or both.

Solaire's dialogue refers to "heroes centuries old phasing in and out.". Solaire may be using the words "world" and "time" interchangeably. This seems to be the game's justification for how summoning works: you may be literally summoning someone from a bygone era into your own time period. Anytime, you are summoned to someone else's world, you are also being transported to another time (past or future, depending on whether or not you finish the game). Solaire and Lautrec seem to somehow come from another time or dimension, but other characters definitely seem to exist within your world and time: Andre, the Crestfallen Warrior, Rhea and her companions, Big Hat Logan and his apprentice, and so on are all undead who have seen many other "Chosen Undead" come to Lordran seeking their destiny.

In any case, it's not until an undead "gives up" that the hollowing process becomes complete. What do we mean by "giving up"? For an NPC, it means that they gave up on life and went hollow, and the player typically ends up putting them down. For the player, it means that you stop playing the game. As long as you continue to play the game, then your character will continue to hold onto a sliver of humanity and maintain his or her sanity for a little while longer. When you put down your controller for the last time, you have condemned your character avatar to finally succumbing to hollowness, whether you recognize it or not...

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Dark Souls title
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 1, 2016:
The release of Dark Souls III has finally answered this question. That game has rendered the speculation below completely moot and invalid. However, this post will remain preserved for posterity.

There is considerable debate within the Dark Souls fan base regarding whether or not Knight Solaire of Astora may be the forgotten son of Lord Gwyn, and the God of War. The game contains many references to a forgotten God of War, who was the son of Lord Gwyn, the God of Sunlight. The primary source for this is the item description for the Ring of the Sun's Firstborn:

Dark Souls - Ring of the Sun's Firstborn
"Lord Gwyn's firstborn, who inherited the
sunlight, once wore this ancient ring.
Boosts the strength of miracles.
 
Lord Gwyn's firstborn was a god of war,
but his foolishness led to a loss of the
annals, and rescinding of his deific status.
Today, even his name is not known.
"

The game doesn't specify what the God of War did to be stripped from the annals, but the blunder cost him dearly. As a punishment, Gwyn and the other gods rescinded the God of War's diefic status and expelled him from Anor Londo.

But it didn't end there. Based on the content of the game itself, it appears that the gods also removed all references to him. This included removing or destroying any statues depicting him and redacting his name from records. Both his name and face are lost to history, as is his fate. Was he cast out of Anor Londo? Was he made mortal? Was he cast out of the world, entirely?

Dark Souls - Anor Londo missing statue Dark Souls - smashed Sunlight Altar
The gods made an effort to eradicate all records and traces of the God of War.
Statues of him were removed or destroyed all throughout Anor Londo and Lordran.

If the Warriors of Sunlight covenant (lead by the God of War) existed prior to the God of War's expulsion from Anor Londo, then it would also stand to reason that the gods disbanded the covenant. It's highly unlikely that gods would have permitted the covenant to continue to function, since its followers would be able to continue to teach of the existence of the God of War. These followers would likely have been forced to renounce the covenant or become an underground cult. The fact that the covenant still exists and has followers is likely due to the waning influence of the gods after Gwyn left to link the flames and the gods were forced to abandon Anor Londo.

The Sunlight Medal does offer one clue as to the fate of the God of War and his covenant. It suggests that the forgotten god still lives, and still watches over his followers:

Dark Souls - Sunlight Medal
"This faintly warm medal engraved with the
symbol of the Sun, is the ultimate honor,
awarded to those who summon the Warrior
of Sunlight and complete a goal.
 
The symbol represents Lord Gwyn's firstborn,
who lost his deity status and was expunged
from the annals. But the old God of War
still watches closely over his warriors.
"

In any case, we meet one NPC Warrior of Sunlight during the game: Solaire of Astora.

Solaire doesn't reveal much about himself. He is a Warrior of the Sunlight who has a strong reverence for the sun itself. In fact, he is on a possibly futile attempt to obtain his own "sun"...

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This review was originally published 06/16/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

God of War III

I was expecting an epic masterpiece for the conclusion to Kratos’s vengeance, but instead I got a merely passable sequel.

The first two God of War games on the PS2 were epic action adventures that gave players an amazing sense of scale and grandeur. The action was fast and fluid, and the platforming mostly worked. The games were also insanely difficult, but never to the point where you felt you wanted to throw the controller down in disgust (well, except for the log-tight-roping in Hades in the first game).

God of War III promised bigger, better, more. After all, how could fighting off the minions of the gods on the backs of immense Titans as they climb up the side of Mt. Olympus on your way to a final confrontation with Zeus himself possibly go wrong? Well, unfortunately, we’ll never know. The game’s previews promised that amazing premise, implying that a majority of the game would be these breathtaking action sequences and combat on the backs of the Titans. But instead, this is only about the first half an hour’s worth of gameplay. Then it’s back to the traditional God of War gameplay that you’re used to. This wouldn’t be bad, if not for the fact that the game doesn’t execute itself quite as well as the previous games.

God of War III cover art

Other reviews are celebrating the game’s sense of scale and scope, but I found that it wasn’t nearly as expansive as the previous games. Most of the game has you going back and forth between Hades and the top of Mt. Olympus. You’d think that’s a pretty big ascent, but it’s not. You fly straight up the middle of the mountain (or fall down it) several times, and other instances of travel from top to bottom or vice versa are done via teleportation portals. So while it’s convenient, it fails to mimic the first two games’ feelings of epic trekking through exotic locales.

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A few weeks ago, I started reading about some new ad campaign that Sony was planning called "Long Live Play". I was kind of disappointed to hear that Sony would be taking a new approach to its advertising, as I actually really enjoyed some of the early Kevin Butler ads. Today, I saw the first advertisement in this new campaign, and it blew me away in terms of creativity and execution!

The full ad is shown below:

While a "love letter" to the gamer in the form of a TV commercial doesn't make up for losing tens of millions of people's Credit Card information, reminding people of why they love to game is a great first step towards bringing back our business. The advertisement above features many of the most beloved characters in the PlayStation 3 library giving heartfelt thanks to the efforts of one valiant gamer for bringing their stories to life and helping them through their greatest perils.

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