Five Tips For People New To Dark Souls

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Dark Souls Remastered is upon us, and while I won’t pick it up until it’s a tenner, I’m sure many of you have, or are at least thinking of doing so. Of course if you were to ask me whether or not you should buy it, I’d tell you to but 3 instead, because it’s the best one to start with. But for those of you who either own DSR already or are determined to buy it, and in either case are new to the series, I have some tips to ease things along.

1.  Shields and the usage thereof

When I first played Dark Souls, I relied on a shield/one-handed weapon combo. I did so until playing Bloodborne, which opened my eyes to how dull the turtle playstyle really is. Now a lot of people will tell you that turtleing is the best way to play Dark Souls, and it seems to be generally considered the way to play it, but that’s really not the case. Dodge rolling with a two-handed weapon is the way I play every Souls game now, and while it might not work for you it’s worth trying out. Take some time in the Undead Burg to try both styles, get used to how long dodging takes, how much stamina blocking with a shield uses, how much compared to dodging, that sort of thing. Obviously play the way that suits you best, but don’t think you have to use a shield. If you do favour rolling, keep an eye on your armour weight limit. Speaking of which…

2. Stamina and Weight Limit

The stat that increases your stamina bar when you put upgrade points into it also increases the amount, in weight, of armour you can wear. Wear too much and you run slower, take much longer to roll (or if it’s heavy enough, can’t roll at all), and use more stamina when attacking. Stamina is vital, as it governs almost every physical action you perform in the game, and being able to move freely in heavy, more protective armour is incredibly useful, especially if 1) you’re a melee character and 2) you take up the dodging style I talked about in my first point. There’s hidden armour about halfway through the game that will see you through to the end no problem, but it’s really heavy, so invest in endurance points early.

3. About that boss

Okay so this one is a bit spoilery if you want to go in blind. At the very least it outlines enemies, weapons and a boss found in the game, and so if you don’t want to know about any of that, skip down to point 4.

Still with me? Okay, so Ornstein and Smough in Anor Londo are where I originally quit the game. A two-on-one (unless you summon, which brings its own problems) fight, where one boss powers up upon the other’s demise, it’s absolute bullshit and I hate it. But that said, I do have a way to make it easier. Once you get past the archers and down to the bonfire where Solaire is hanging out, almost every enemy is a silver knight, who give a lot of souls upon death, drop powerful weapons, and are quite straightforward to beat if you get the parry timing down (if not just use whatever method you kill everything else with, if you’re in Anor Londo it’s clearly working just fine). Do a loop of the area killing silver knights until they drop a weapon; silver knight straight sword works best for me, but any of them will do. Be wary of the strength and dexterity requirements for each weapon though; if you want to use this plan then you might want to look up the weapons on the Dark Souls wiki. Anyway once you’ve got the weapon you can get to the giant blacksmith (down a big stair case on the left side of the main hall, with the O and S fog gate in front of you) who sells the materials required to upgrade silver knight weapons, which you can buy and then upgrade with all the souls dropped by the knights themselves. Go in with a fully upgraded silver knight weapon and at least one summon (I use Solaire because I play offline), and Fat Man and Little Boy pose much less of a threat. They’re the gate to the whole second half of the game, where all the interesting stuff is, so you’ll want to kill these two however you can. Speaking of which (again)…

4. Don’t be ashamed to use a guide

Fairly self explanatory, this. There’s a lot of cool stuff you can easily miss, and you need all the help you can get. It’s a famously hard game, a lot of stuff goes unsaid, don’t needlessly struggle. 

5. Git Gud

Ignore people who say this, they’ve overcome the game’s difficulty and want to make themselves feel good by putting down someone who is in the very same position they once were. It’s annoying, unhelpful and anyone who says this unironically is a twat. Anyway Dark Souls isn’t the perfect, flawless, “Every death is your fault” masterpiece people say it is. The game can be immensely cheap, unfair, and irritating on top of famously being bastard hard. That whole “Prepare to die” shtick isn’t just a marketing gimmick, it’s good advice: prepare to be frustrated, prepare for the game to not play by the rules, and prepared to spend a lot of time not getting very far. The only way to improve at Dark Souls’ core gameplay is to persevere.

Anyway those are five things I feel everyone playing the original Dark Souls for the first time should know. If you get through it all and enjoy the game, I fully recommend continuing with the series and its spiritual successor Bloodborne, all of which are vastly superior. For now, all the best and don’t you dare go hollow.

By James Lambert



Doki Doki Literature Club Review

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Please note that the best way to experience this game is completely blind, and the following review will contain massive spoilers

Okay, so, here we go (deep breath)

By now you’ve probably heard of Doki Doki Literature Club, in particular that its appearance of a cutesy dating sim visual novel is a facade for something far darker. The game opens with content warnings about children and those who are “easily disturbed”, as well as a one-off, specific one about people suffering from depression and anxiety. Despite being one of those people I paid it little heed, though I did consider it weirdly specific. It’s there for a damn good reason, as it turns out, because Doki Doki Literature Club is a frankly brutal psychological horror game with an uncomfortably intimate view of depression, obsessive behaviour, self-harm, anxiety and suicide. I know, a game with *that* visual style and a name like Doki Doki Literature Club doesn’t sound like the most harrowing game I’ve played in some time, but it is. As someone with the mental illnesses depicted in the game, as well as a tendency to get attached to videogame characters, this one wasn’t a fun time for me, but it served its purpose admirably and I can’t deny it’s an effective experience. I realise as I write this that this is sounding less like a review and more like me just venting, but it is mental health awareness week, and I need to talk about this game.

The framing device is you, a player-named, male high school student joining the titular Literature Club, made up of four other members: your childhood friend and neighbour Sayori, a feisty younger girl called Natsuki, a more reserved, eloquent girl called Yuri, and Monika, the club’s president. There’s a lot of conversing, the occasional choice and, once per in-game day, you write a poem; selecting twenty words you think will most appeal to either Sayori, Natsuki or Yuri. It actually starts fairly innocuously, only taking a turn when Sayori reveals her severe depression to the player, he clearly has no idea how to properly deal with it and after either becoming a couple or staying close friends, she hangs herself, something I still haven’t fully gotten over hours later. Fun aside: that was the second time I thought to myself “Don’t be dead, don’t be dead, don’t be dead” during the game. First time the game showed mercy. Second time it punched me in the gut. Anyway it’s at that point that the game violently shifts, and reveals its true nature as a sort of Undertale-esque, fourth wall breaking nightmare, in which a self-aware Monika puts the other girls through the wringer, dialling up their issues in order to make them seem less desirable and thus open the way for her to romance the player, something the game won’t allow in its normal state. It’s grim, horrible psychological horror, with a lot of fake-glitching interface screw and generally running amok with expectation and how the player actually interacts with the game: the section dedicated to poor Yuri is a particular stand-out. The only problem really is that unlike the other girls Natsuki has only fleeting moments in the spotlight, and while the game makes the most of those small bursts, I would have liked to see her get more of a look-in. Instead she’s more of a supporting character, key to everything else that’s going on but never at the forefront. Although, given what happened to the other girls it’s probably for the best. Two out of three is bad enough.

Look I’m not going to lie, this was a rough one. This wasn’t much of a review, but I had to write something about it, just to get it out of my system. As a horror game it’s fantastic, harrowing and genuinely horrible, its meta fourth wall breaking is used effectively and doesn’t get out of hand, and its approach to mental illness is good, even going so far as to offer actual advice about how to interact with depressed friends. It’s brutal, smart, original, upsetting and I’m glad I played it. I’m just not sure if I ever want to play it again.

By James Lambert

God of War Review

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Let me just start by saying how much I love that this isn’t a reboot. As soon as I saw that E3 footage back in 2016 my main takeaway was “That looks pretty cool, I hope it’s the same Kratos, moving on to a different mythology having destroyed the Greek one”, and that is the case here. Despite the naming convention this is the same Kratos, older but immortal and still ripped living in Midgard with his new family, having spent the previous God of War games slaughtering a who’s who of Greek Mythology. After his wife Faye dies Kratos must honour her last wish: to cremate her and carry her ashes to the highest peak in the nine realms, a journey embarked upon with his son Atreus, with whom Kratos’ relationship is distant and lacking affection. It’s that central relationship that keeps God of War going, and is its greatest asset: Kratos is gruff and stern, but never cruel, mean or even particularly rude to Atreus. Jokes abound on the internet about Kratos mostly referring to his Son as “Boy”, and he’s not exactly chatty or openly affectionate, but he clearly loves Atreus, and the writing, as well as the performances by Christoper Judge and Sunny Suljic sell the crap out of it. Atreus is sassy and clearly grieving his lost Mother, but is friendly, inquisitive and, crucially for a child, never annoying. Kratos is very different to his previous incarnations, but smartly the game uses those instalments to inform much of his hang-ups and mental state here. Put simply, Kratos realises what a complete monstrous arsehole he was in previous games and he hates it. He is now a weary, tired man; slower to use violence and willing to put up with a whole lot more sass, his younger self brutally murdered people for less. He’s desperate to keep his Son from going down the same path, but unsure of how to do so in any way other than just never telling Atreus anything about what he did. The story has some genuinely touching, moving scenes between the two, with them both growing, shifting and learning from each other as it goes along. Not that it’s all serious though, Kratos gets to be funny now and then in a very deadpan way, and combining him with cheerier, more talkative characters Atreus and Mimir (the revived severed head dangling from Kratos’ belt in the trailers) is a great dynamic.

Whereas previous games in the series followed a largely linear structure with occasional scripted backtracking, this new instalment is full-open world, though it’s a measured, contained open world, and it’s to enable a whole lot of Metroidvania shenanigans. Midgard, realm of humans and such, provides the hub area, specifically the Lake of Nine, peppered with shores full of hidden areas, chests and enemy encounters, access to which often requiring items and techniques unlocked throughout the main story. Taking this a step further is access to some of the other Norse realms, and the obligatory side missions and optional bosses. Items found in the world can be taken to Dwarven blacksmith brothers Brok and Sindri to make armour and upgrade Kratos’ new weapon: the “Leviathan” axe. Pretty much everything Kratos and Atreus use can be upgraded, both generally for increased damage, or in line with more specific stats. Unlike previous games the camera is now permanently over Kratos’ shoulder, making combat a hectic, intimate affair, but he has a lot of options. Leviathan, a collapse-able shield on his arm, surprisingly effective hand-to-hand combat and of course Atreus, who is a far greater asset in combat than one would expect. His moves are absurdly cheap and worth investing in, as he can be the difference between life and death, particularly when dealing with certain enemies. Puzzles make a comeback, this time forgoing block pushing in favour of manipulating environment items and freezing things in place by throwing Leviathan, as well as having Atreus read runes and complete riddles. Throwing Leviathan is an attack, too, and it’s immensely satisfying. Even more so is the ability to recall it at any time, from any distance, potentially hitting enemies on the way back. Enemy design is weirdly sparse, for better and worse. Worse is the recurring sub-boss of a large troll armed with a club it rests on one shoulder. You fight one early on, then they keeping popping up in different colours and with unique names, one of them is even the gatekeeper on the way into Helheim. They almost seem to be thrown in just to give you something big to fight sometimes, and once you know how to deal with them they become little more than a speed bump. For the better is the game’s recurring boss fight and main antagonist Baldur, here re-imagined as a sort of super-strong, perma-shirtless meth head who literally can’t feel anything, to the point where it’s driven him all but insane. He’s been sent by Odin who, in this universe is a complete monster, as is Thor: the two of them doing everything they can to make life miserable for everyone who isn’t them. Odin thinks you might be a threat, at some point in the distant future, maybe? You get got. Be anywhere near Thor, or exist in the same general area as him? You get got. This a crapsack world even by God of War’s standards: these gods have been awful for a long time, and the game sets the stage for them to all come looking for a piece in the sequel.

God of War had run out of steam: with the initial trilogy wrapped up and the prequel games failing to capture the same magic the series needed a drastic shake-up, if it continued at all. Now this wasn’t what I expected but it’s one of those “I never knew I wanted this but I do” situations: gambling on a game where the human equivalent of a spinning saw blade on legs who refuses to take responsibility for his actions does just that, undergoes a complete personality shift and is now a stern but loving Father, undergoing an epic journey with his Son to scatter his wife’s ashes, peppered with pained introspection and reflection on his past actions has, against the odds, payed off in a huge way. I love this Kratos, I love Atreus, and I love this new God of War. I don’t believe it’s the generation defining masterpiece others have called it, but it’s an excellent game I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this new path leads.

By James Lambert