Dark Souls is a game built with incredible mechanics and immersed in a difficulty that punishes players in all the right ways. Playing the game for the first time can be an exercise in frustration and discovery as you discover that the game only gets easier as you get better.
After pouring hundreds of hours into the title I forgot what those first discoveries were like. So I found a gamer completely unfamiliar with Dark Souls and did what any responsible Darkwraith would do — I watched her play for an hour and noted all the perils she encountered along the way, completely devoid of advice or support of any kind.
Subject Name: LC
Gaming Experience: Grew up with the PlayStation 1, played through numerous Mega Man titles.
Favorite Games: Mega Man Legends, Journey
Currently Playing: Rayman Origins
The experiment began on a potentially disastrous note as the subject took the Xbox 360 controller into her hands.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever used a 360 controller before,” she said.
After a quick inventory to feel out the controller the subject jumped into the character select screen. After a few tense moments of scrolling through the classes a new thief of average build was created. While selecting the starting gift the subject scrolled over the pendant item several times, reading the description “a simple pendant with no effect” out loud.
“Is that really all the pendant does?” she asked.
If she only knew.
I did my best to hold back a chuckle and motioned her forward to pick a gift. She settled for the three Divine Blessings after additional consideration.
Without a word spoken during the intro the newly freed undead sprang to action from the jail cell. The first zombies went down smoothly as the subject took to the new controller and the new game fairly quickly.
Though she ran by the bonfire in the courtyard before the Asylum Demon she managed to run into the side door before she even saw him approach. Definitely better than I expected.
Suddenly her hand glowed and the Divine Blessing count in her inventory dropped to two.
“What did I just do?” She asked.
That’s more like it.
After having a small scuffle with an archer and figuring out the virtues of a shield the subject neared everyone’s favorite asylum staircase. The subject mentioned feeling like there was a trap somewhere before having her intuition confirmed by a boulder to the face. She met and agreed to listen to the mysterious dying knight and moved back to the courtyard.
Not too bad for about 15 minutes in.
For some reason the subject was terrified of the open field and took several minutes to tepidly approach the bonfire, obviously a little jostled from her post-boulder experience.
The subject then decided to inspect the now-locked door leading to the Asylum Demon several times before finally giving up and showing signs of despair.
“Locked by some contraption?” she asked. “What is this contraption? What is locking this fucking door? I keep hearing footsteps and shit.”
The mood suddenly lifted as the conversation shifted to the first internet memes. Both the subject, the researcher and a guest were soon singing the Hamster Dance song in a near perfect harmony before being cut short at the knight encounter on the asylum’s second floor. It did not go smoothly.
First Death – 13:57
On the second pass the subject was already showing true Dark Souls strategy, pulling the weaker undead one at a time and fighting behind a wall to avoid the nearby archer. The subject entered the nearby fog gate and stared wide-eyed at the Asylum Demon below.
She did not move. Well, until the Asylum Demon jumped up and demolished both her and the platform she was standing upon.
“God dammit I wasn’t ready,” the subject said with an audible sigh.
Second Death – 21:54
On the third ascent the subject decided to try her luck against the knight in the small room again.
Third Death – 23:17
Upon revival the subject asked how long it had been. Upon receiving her answer of about 20 minutes the only reply was “really?”
The Asylum Demon soon stood in front of the subject, recoiling from the newly learned and executed downward attack. The subject made valiant efforts to defeat the boss but soon found herself on the business end of a rather nasty club.
Fourth Death – 26:55
We were now at the point where the settings screen opened. Changes were made to invert both the x and y-cameras.
A third attempt at the Asylum Demon proved fruitful as the combination of developed skills coalesced with the improved control scheme.
While on the way out of the asylum the subject found a bloodstain and activated it. She asked what the “ghost” in front of her was so I informed her about the basics of the multiplayer mechanics while the crow delivered her to Firelink Shrine.
About 30 minutes remained as the soothing melody of the shrine began to play. The subject approached the fire and found herself at the level up screen.
“Oh god,” she said. “How many points do I have?”
Avoiding the pitfall of leveling resistance she opted to level vitality twice. A pretty solid move, I must say.
“You know I’m glad I’m doing this,” the subject said, strangely optimistic. “I’ve never sat down and tried this game despite hearing so much about it.”
The subject soon found herself enjoying the weirdly charming voice acting of the Crestfallen Warrior, noting that it was interesting how clearly the audio shifted speakers when the camera turned.
Before long the subject found her way to the graveyard, as so many other unfortunate souls often do. After making the acquaintance of a few skeletons the subject decided discretion was the better part of valor and ran back to the bonfire. One skeleton fell off a ledge but the other chased her all the way to the bonfire before slowly backing away.
She turned her back to the skeleton and approached the bonfire.
“So bonfires reset the spawns righ—oh what the fuck,” the subject said as the retreating skeleton found courage and stabbed her to death in the back.
Fifth Death – 44:33
“Alright, not going that way,” the subject said, apparently learning the lesson quicker than many I’ve seen on various Dark Souls forums.
The action soon moved to the “correct” path, the aqueduct leading up into the Undead Burg. Apparently feeling emboldened by her murder at the hands of the skeleton the subject rolled bravely into the midst of the undead.
Rolled into a firebomb, more accurately. And then into a stab in the chest. After a brisk retreat the subject deftly analyzed the situation.
“That was a mistake,” she said.
As the subject fought her way to the Burg she was greeted by her first official multiplayer orange soapstone message.
“Good luck,” the stone cryptically read.
“Oh god, that’s not good,” the subject said.
The subject made excellent progress through the beginning section of the Burg, getting scared by the Hellkite Wyvern and actually predicting some ambushes. Unfortunately bravery got the best of her and she rolled into the middle of a group of Hollow Soldiers, getting introduced to a group stab session and dying almost in sight of the bonfire.
Sixth Death – 57:59
“Oh no,” the subject said after seeing her souls drop from 2,000 to zero.
With so little time remaining the subject declared the experiment over, leaving her character to go hollow in the Firelink Shrine and be another unfulfilled prophecy.
The subject’s final mood was relatively cheerful. She noted that her last death was caused by bravado, stating that she thought she could have taken the soldiers but adding she didn’t see the archer in the distance. Overall the subject enjoyed the experience and looked forward to completing the game at some point in the future.
Edit: The Undead Burg was improperly titled the Undead Parish and an error of omission with the thief’s starting equipment were both corrected.