Dark Souls II - title

I've been trying to get myself hyped up for Dark Souls III by playing through the Scholar of the First Sin edition of Dark Souls II. I made myself a knight character as well as a sorcerer character. I hadn't played as a dedicated caster in the original release, so I made the sorcerer my primary character for Scholar.

So I put myself through the misery of trying to farm the Lizard Staff for my sorcerer character. This staff is one of the three or four best staves in the game (for Int-based sorcerers), but it's extremely rare. It is only dropped by the two Hollow Black Mages that accompany the Executioner's Chariot in the Undead Purgatory. So it's only even possible to acquire in this one, specific location in the game, and once you beat the boss, the mages don't respawn. So it's even harder than trying to farm the Sea Bow or other such items, because you can't simply go back to the area later and farm the enemies.

To make matters worse, I didn't realize that this staff could be acquired here, so I made the mistake of killing the boss early in the game (before I had equipment to raise my item discovery rate). So the only way for me to acquire this staff now would be to warp to the Undead Purgatory bonfire, use a Bonfire Ascetic to respawn the boss, fight may way back through the Huntsman's Copse, and hope to get the rare drop. I had to fight harder versions of the Purgatory Executioners. It was tough, but doable. I was able to lure them out one at a time and easily dispatch them. It's only if they ganged up on me that I had problems. But then I also had to get past the Red Phantom Tower Knight (who now respawns because of the Bonfire Ascetic). I died several times trying to run past them all, as the Tower Knight's weapon tracking was pretty spot-on. Eventually, I resorted to spell-sniping him from just outside his pursuit range. It was cheap, but I wasn't here to fight, I was here to farm a staff.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - Lizard Staff
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - Sea Bow
The Lizard Staff and Sea Bow are among several items in Dark Souls II that are extremely rare drops.

Then I made it into the Executioner's Chariot boss fight, and I died. And then I died again. And again. This was getting tedious.

Bonfire Ascetics, Soul Memory, and grinding / farming in Dark Souls II

I hate grinding and farming in games. I really do. It's something that I really don't think games need to have anymore. It was something that worked fine when games were relatively short, and grinding or farming for obscure items and secrets was a challenge reserved for the most dedicated players. But Dark Souls II is already long enough without including grinding for hours for rare item drops. It's one thing to hide items behind secret bosses or particularly tough challenges, such that the item is a symbol for overcoming a challenge. It's a totally different thing to hide items behind random drops from enemies that appear literally in one spot in the entire game, and who despawn after beating them.

In Dark Souls II's case, there's even mechanical reasons why this sort of grinding or farming should not be in the game. And that reason is Soul Memory...

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Dark Souls III

Players of the Dark Souls III Network Beta have revealed some information from the parts of the game that have been playable. I was able to play the Dark Souls II open network beta a few years ago, but I missed the beta for III. So I haven't seen any of this information first-hand; I'm going off what I've read and seen from the internet. Anyway, according to the Dark Souls III wiki on fextralife, there are gravestones throughout the game that have epitaphs that provide some amount of game lore (similar to the lore notes from Bloodborne). One of these gravestones apparently says "Grave of a nameless retainer. Raised his sword for the Lord of Cinder". This is one of several references to the Lord of Cinder that are present in Dark Souls III.

Dark Souls III - gravestone epitaph

The following blog will speculate as to the identity of this "nameless retainer" and the Lord of Cinder mentioned in the Network Beta test. This is only an educated guess being made by a fan a month prior to the game's release, but it may contain significant possible spoilers for Dark Souls III. There will also be spoilers for the previous Dark Souls games. Read ahead at your own risk.

 ... 

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Bloodborne title

Well, it's finally time for me to buy a PS4. I avoided it for a year and a half because there weren't any games that I cared to play that weren't also available on PC or PS3. But, since Bloodborne is a PS4 exclusive, and I'm a huge Demon's Souls and Dark Souls fan, I had to cave and buy the new console in order to play this game. Luckily for me, this game is good enough to be a console-seller, and I don't regret my purchase one bit!

Bloodborne - praise the moon
Bloodborne is finally here! Praise the moon!

Soaking yourself in the blood of your prey

Mechanically, Bloodborne does not deviate significantly from its Souls predecessors. Most of the controls are the same, and the game was immediately comfortable for me, being that I'm an experienced Souls player.

But the way that the game is played deviates significantly from the previous games - much moreso than Dark Souls deviated from Demon's Souls. The three Souls games strongly favored defensive gameplay tactics and a more cautious, patient style of combat. Dark Souls II tried to encourage faster, more aggressive gameplay by further developing two-handed melee combat, but that only applied to specific character builds and was only moderately effective. Bloodborne enforces an aggressive model as practically the only viable one.

Bloodborne removes the comfort and security of a shield and replaces it with a steampunk gun. The gun's range is limited by the ability to acquire a target lock-on, and there's no manual aim that I'm aware of, so you can't sit back and snipe enemies from a safe distance. Some of the functionality of the shield does carry-over to the gun though. For example, shooting an enemy as they attempt to attack you will stun them, and you can follow-up the "parry" with a critical "visceral attack". But since this is a gun and not a shield, you can perform this parry at range, which opens up some new tactical possibilities.

Bloodborne - rifle spear hunter
Bloodborne adds guns to the familiar Demon/Dark Souls formula, but still encourages aggressive, in-your-face combat.

And since you don't have a shield, you're going to take a lot more direct hits than you would in the previous games. In order to offset this, you can regain some of your lost HP by attacking an opponent immediately after taking damage and infusing yourself with their blood. Literally. There is a lot of blood in this game, and it will stick to your character and soak you from head to toe if you survive long enough.

These features strongly encourage more active and technical play, since you're more likely to survive by counter-attacking than by running away and hiding. You can't get away with just holding up your shield and tanking through levels with the basic 3 or 4-hit sword combos. You need to learn the more advanced maneuvers and techniques that the game offers, and you need to use them. This keeps the player in the thick of the action and the pace of the game on overdrive. It also adds a lot of apprehension, since you can't run around the level with a shield up in case an enemy jumps out at you. You constantly feel exposed and vulnerable. These changes don't necessarily make the game "better" than the Souls games, but they do encourage and reward better play. Both models are valid and fun, but Bloodborne does get the adrenaline pumping in ways that Dark Souls just couldn't [outside of PvP]. In fact, after playing Bloodborne, you may go back to Dark Souls (or Demon's Souls) and find that you're suddenly better at those games too!

Devil May Cry
Similarities to Devil May Cry abound.

In fact, Bloodborne's combination of guns, swords, trenchcoats, gothic horror, and brutal difficulty remind me a lot of the first and third Devil May Cry. While Devil May Cry encouraged melee combat by rewarding "style" points that converted directly to currency to pay for character upgrades, Bloodborne forces you into melee by making it a way to keep yourself alive! So it's more fundamental. It's doesn't get quite as fast and fantastical as Devil May Cry because the character doesn't have all of Dante's powers, and you have to deal with ammo restrictions. You can only carry a finite amount of bullets, so you can't go over-the-top with your gun or stay too far away from the action...

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Demon's Souls - title

With a new generation of consoles coming into their own, the lifespan of the PS3 and XBox360 is rapidly coming to an end. It's not quite as monumental as the end of the PS2's lifecycle, which is arguably the single best gaming console ever made! With the PS3 and XBox360, our console games started to have consistent online functionality, and with online functionality comes a sad side-effect: a game's life-span is finite. I can always go back and play my favorite PS2 games (like Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Ace Combat 4, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Gran Turismo 3, and Devil May Cry) and have pretty much the same experience that I had the first time I played. But I won't be able to do that with some of my favorite PS3 games, because some of them have online features that won't remain active forever.

favorite PS2 games
As long as my PS2 is functional, I can always go back and re-play my favorite PS2 games.

PC gamers have been dealing with this problem since the dawn of the internet, but they have work-arounds. PC Games can be modded to support direct TCP / IP connections in order for their online communities to stay online. Hypothetically, you could keep your favorite MMO alive for yourself and your circle of friends in this fashion. But with console games, there are much more significant technical hurdles to overcome, and when the producer shuts down the servers, that is basically the end of that game.

And that is exactly what is going to happen some day with my favorite PS3-exclusive: Demon's Souls.

Every console has its defining games - those games that are reasons for owning the consoles. The original PlayStation had Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, the Nintendo 64 had Goldeneye, the Dreamcast had Shenmue and Soul Calibur, the XBox had Halo, GameCube had Resident Evil 4 and Eternal Darkness, the PS2 had Shadow of the Colossus. For me, Demon's Souls is that game for the PS3: the game that makes owning a PS3 worthwhile.

Demon's Souls is a game that completely redefined the way that I think about gaming. My ideas about how a player can interact with a game world and with other players were completely turned on their head with this game. So I want to take a moment to pay tribute to this masterpiece of interactive art with a full review while its servers are still up and running. And maybe - just maybe - I can sell a copy or two to some new players.

Deep and addictive hack 'n' slash action

The gameplay is based on a simple control configuration in which weapons are mapped to the left and right hand and controlled with the left and right shoulder buttons (respectively). The design is reminiscent of a simplified version of FROM's other major game franchise: the mech-combat sim Armored Core. Weapons equipped in the right hand have a basic attack and a heavy attack, and weapons or shields in the left hand have a block and heavy attack (sorry, lefties, no left-handed characters for you!). These basic controls are very simple, and any player can start hacking and blocking away as soon as they pick up the controller. But more advanced controls and variations in weapon functionality make this seemingly-simple combat system very deep.

Each weapon class has different movesets, ranging from the slashing of a sword to the thrusting of a spear, to smashing of a giant hammer. And shields (and some off-hand weapons) have an advanced parry feature that allows you to stun and counter an attacking foe to land a critical hit. You can also attack while running or out of dodges in order to keep a foe guessing. Mastering these various features takes a little bit of time, but it is immensely rewarding when you finally have the skills to go toe to toe with a giant, butcher-knife wielding skeleton with confidence. But don't get overconfident, because this game will punish you for every mistake!

Demon's Souls - Vanguard rematch
With patience and practice, you'll soon stand confidently before the Vanguard that killed you in the tutorial.

If you die, you lose all your accumulated souls (i.e. "experience"), and must restart the level from the beginning! But there is a shining glimmer of hope: you have one chance to reach the spot where you died in order to recover your lost souls. If you get there...

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As part of my review for this game's DLC (Artorias of the Abyss), I have decided to re-evaluate the score (using the new scoring system). My opinions about this game have changed a bit over the past couple years (in a positive way), and so I am including an updated score and several pieces of hindsight commentary to explain where my original criticisms may have been flawed or unjustified. Locations that include hindsight commentary have been notated in the Table of Contents.

Dark Souls banner

If you had asked me in the middle of 2011 what my favorite games on the PS3 were, three of the games that I would have named would have been: Uncharted 2, Demon’s Souls, and Batman: Arkham Asylum. All three of these games received sequels or follow-ups in the fall of 2011, so it was a pretty exciting holiday season for me in terms of gaming. Batman: Arkham City and Uncharted 3 were both very good games, but didn’t quite live up to my (possibly unjustifiably) high expectations. Sadly, Dark Souls ended up suffering a similar fate Dark Souls disappointed me with its initial impressions, but in the years since, has proven itself to be almost every bit as good (although not as elegant in its gameplay) as Demon's Souls.

Dark Souls box art

This review of Dark Souls is (like many of my reviews) considerably late. This is due to several factors:

  1. I wanted to try to finish the game’s story and play through large chunks with several different character classes before coming to a final verdict.
  2. I wanted to see what kind of post-release support the game received.
  3. I wanted to have several opportunities to engage in PvP encounters.

I still haven’t beaten the game (as of the time of original publication) with any characters (hey, it’s a hard game and pretty long!), but I did play with multiple characters and get my ass kicked in enough PvP encounters that I finally feel that I can give an honest and complete appraisal of the game. Even if it is six months after release…

But hey! A PC port is likely due out soon, so maybe people considering the PC version will still find this review useful!

Table of Contents:

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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