Jurassic World in Snapchat

Today I went to go and watch Jurassic World… on my own. That’s right, I went to the cinema alone, on a Monday evening, to watch a film about dinosaurs.

I thought about doing a write up but decided against that approach. I wasn’t really sure what was more depressing; me going to the cinema alone or the actual film, so I opted to do something a little different in order to cheer myself up. So yeah, below you can see the Frankenstein monster that is me doing a series of idiotic Snapchats which I then spliced together and put on the internet.

So here it is, my debut into video content. I hope you don’t think it’s totally shit.

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Fallout 4 – Now with dynamic shopping trollies

Fallout 4

So, unless you’ve been living in a vault for the last however many hours (see what I did there? Aren’t I smart? Pay attention to me, world!) you’ve probably heard that Fallout 4 has finally been announced. We all saw this coming months ago but don’t let that get in the way of your hype enjoyment. I’m not fully on board with Fallout 4 yet, I must admit but I am certainly open to the idea.

Personally, I wasn’t enamored with Fallout 3 – it was my first foray into the post-apocalyptic wasteland and, despite my enjoyment of that particular installment, there was something about it which didn’t quite click with me. Sure, it had some standout moments but, on the whole, it just felt clumsy and unwieldy. That said, it dug its hooks in deep enough for me to roll up my sleeves and dive head first into New Vegas, a title which positively stole my heart and left me bleeding out while awaiting the arrival of an ambulance.

New Vegas perfectly melded cowboy adventure with nuclear annihilation and, unlike Fallout 3, really sucked me into the world. The setting was so unique to me; the perfect juxtaposition of drab and dusty compared to the glitzy reality of New Vegas itself was just so enticing. I also really enjoyed hiding on a hill and blowing dudes heads off with a high powered sniper rifle. On top of all that, the DLC was pretty spectacular. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that Old World Blues deserves all of the positive praise it gets.

That said, I’m not here to talk about the previous installments of Fallout, I’m here to talk about Fallout 4. Now, feel free to call me petty, but I was really hoping for a better title than “Fallout 4”. It’s just so mundane and, in a world such as that of Fallout, it feels like a disservice to settle for a misleading number. We’re all thinking it, but why is the fifth installment (excluding Tactics) called Fallout 4? These numbers don’t add up, Bethesda.

Fallout New Vegas did an excellent job of conjuring up an image in your mind and, though it sounds somewhat ridiculous, it was one of the things which drew me back to the series. It has a sense of place; it is the natural conclusion to a city as decadent as its namesake. Thematically, it is just beautiful – the notion that Sin City stays true to its roots in the wake of nuclear annihilation is just too perfect.

Fallout 3 was set in Washington DC and yes, it painted the city with a macabre brush, depicting the former seat of power for one of the most powerful nations in this world, as a now decrepit ruin. Perhaps the greatest strength of Fallout is its ability to compare the former glory with the present despair. I am perfectly willing to accept that when the location is announced, I will be forced to back pedal.  However, if it transpires that the location is entirely fictional, I will be saddened that Bethesda missed a golden opportunity, and ignored one of the more powerful elements of the franchise.

Dynamic trolly jpeg

You may be wondering why all of my attempts to discuss Fallout 4 have so far been focused on its predecessors. That’s fair enough, but the trailer tells us very little. That’s not strictly a problem, but it gives us little to go on and thus everything must essentially be conjecture.

Of course, there are a few things we can garner from the announcement trailer: it’s got a dog, dynamic environment objects, and the protagonist may now be voice acted. These aspects aside, the trailer isn’t there to tell us about the game – that’s what the next five or six months of press releases are for.

Admittedly, I am still a little excited. I relish the opportunity to explore the world of Fallout once more but I fear that it will resemble its shallow brethren: Elder Scrolls IV & V. They weren’t necessarily bad games, but each felt a little lifeless and free of consequence. I want Fallout 4 to be as good as I know the series can be, but I’m not going to throw myself under the hype train just yet.

Kickin’ it Old School with Resident Evil 4

Back when I was 15, a friend of mine had Resident Evil 4 on Gamecube. I’d never played a Resident Evil title before, let alone a Gamecube and, quite frankly, I had no idea what on Earth was going on. I quickly found myself besieged by the malformed horde as I barred the doors and windows of the hut that was to be my tomb. Of course, I wasn’t aware of my fate until I picked up the shotgun and was promptly greeted with the sight of the chainsaw wielding Ganado. I clumsily grappled with the unfamiliar controller only to be mercilessly decapitated by the burlap sack clad maniac. The experience broke me but it didn’t take long for me to beg, borrow, and steal enough money to purchase my own copy on the PS2.

It was perhaps the longing for that sensation which led to me hesitantly loitering over RE4 in the PSN store one hungover Sunday. It was only a few weeks ago and, for some reason, I couldn’t fight the compulsion to relive the experience. In recent months I’ve had little time for games and I’ve found myself relishing the opportunity to try something new but, on this fateful Sunday, I was drawn back to my roots and I settled in rather quickly.

I fully expected to find the controls familiar as they had been 10 years ago; that I would quickly slide back into the old habit of deftly dispatching each enemy with a few carful shots aimed directly at the head. Of course, that was a younger me, a version of myself which played the game obsessively and completed it maybe four or five times within the span of a few weeks.

The older version of me, worn down by life, and made soft by the sensible control schemes of modern games was quickly thrown through the wringer upon re-entering the world of RE4. Within moments of picking up the game once more, I found myself wandering around, constantly opening and closing menus, getting stuck in doorways, and swiping at the dead air in between myself and my foe.

Yes, the most glaring flaw which hit me immediately was the control scheme. I don’t know if RE games are still anything like this but using the left analogue to move and aim is perhaps something we should be glad is gone. That said, it does add remarkably to the intense stress of enemy encounters. It leaves you unable to move and shoot simultaneously which makes you venerable, it limits your vision and, for the first few hours, put me in a panicked and desperate state. Whether or not such a result was intended, I can hardly say, but it’s certainly effective.

Which leads me on to the main theme of the game – stress. Yes, RE4 has its creeping dread moments where the atmosphere grows heavy with each step until you become desperate for the sweet release of death. However, I found myself primarily being overcome with stress. Each encounter is a frantic, pitched battle where you feel bogged down by low mobility and clunky control. It feels like the gaming equivalent of trying to sleep but instead making a mental list of everything you have to do tomorrow. You know full well that all will be forgotten by the time you wake up so you just lay there, trying desperately to commit it to memory as the persistent stress of simply being alive wraps its dark tendrils around your mind. But in a good way, naturally.

You want stressful? This is about as stressful as it gets

This is further intensified with the addition of Ashley for certain portions of the game. Ashley can, and will, be picked up and dragged away to her demise unless you protect her. It sounds like the sort of annoying escort quest nonsense that so often gets in the way of a fun gaming experience. Fortunately, for RE4, you can get her to spend most of the time hiding in a bin rather than being forced to tackle the shoddy AI.

When she’s not hiding, Ashely will often be completing some form of scripted task which bad AI will struggle to ruin. As a result, the escort dynamic rarely becomes a problem and more often becomes a boon. It is so rare for such a mechanic to be pulled off well but it works in RE4 and provides perhaps one of the few examples in gaming history where an escort quest is actually fun.

Naturally, Ashely isn’t thrust upon us as just a game mechanic, she rests at the centre of the plot. As you might expect, it’s best not to get too bogged down in the story of a Resident Evil game but it’s not all bad. It is, at worst, nonsense but at least it has a beginning, middle, and end, all of which tie together one way or another. One of the many gold stars that RE4 gets on its school report card is that it knows its story is gibberish and so is quite merciful as a result. It doesn’t try and bog you down with endless exposition about characters and organisations of which you know nothing about. No, to its credit, RE4 is relatively succinct.

However, that doesn’t mean the game isn’t going to have a little fun and, in strange turn up for the books, the narrative of RE4 is actually one of its strong points… sort of. I love the escalation of the story. It begins (relatively) simplistically: you’re Leon Kennedy and some nasty terrorists have done a bad thing and kidnapped the President of America’s daughter (Ashley, for those of you who weren’t paying attention), and you’ve been tasked in retrieving her. Naturally, logic alarm bells should be ringing when the President of the USA decided that the only thing required to solve this problem was a man with stupid hair whose only possessions amount to a gun, about 10 bullets, and knife. But, let’s not get wrapped up in that, shall we?

Even so, the progression of RE4 leaves little to be desired. It’s fairly obvious that the developers sat down, came up with a bunch of really awesome level ideas and then wandered over to the story department and scornfully threw what they had down on the desk whilst gloating “Have fun with this one folks.” The point I am desperately trying to make here is that each encounter follows on from the last in incredibly well-crafted manner. The story is their best efforts to justify the stark scene changes and, you know what? I am totally fine with that.

I enjoyed progressing from a version of rural Spain so misinformed that it wouldn’t look out of place in the twelfth century, to a big bad videogame castle, and on to an industrialised military base in what would appear to be the Atlantic Ocean. It works. From the peasants brandishing pitchforks, to the mouth breathing monstrosities which walk the eerie halls of an abandoned research facility; it works. The world of RE4 is littered with a wonderfully wide array of shambling beasts, comically dressed renaissance fair cosplayers, and big bastards with machine guns.

Oh, such fond memories…

There is something about RE4, the way in which each individual section is loosely tied together through flamboyant nonsense, which I find so damn appealing. It’s tense, stressful, and action packed. It is, as I am so reliably informed, the definitive Resident Evil game. I’ve had little to no experience with its predecessors or successors so take my view for what it is – the woefully under informed expressions of a man with little else to go on. But, I would like to also say this, RE4 is good. In a roundabout, backwards way, this is a good game. Its 10 years on and, while I will concede that nostalgia is one of my many weaknesses, there is more to RE4 than that. It’s a genuine classic and it deserves your attention.

Alright, what did I miss?

Over the last year or so I have fallen so far out of the loop when it comes to videogames that it feels like the loop has tightened to the point where it’s now more of an incomprehensible knot. What was once a kind and friendly face is now the twisted contortions of some unrecognisable and malformed beast. It’s weird, I don’t like it, and I want to change it. So that’s why I am going to go ahead and attempt untangle that loop and place myself at least within its vicinity rather than three towns over, underground, and dead.

The only thing I’ve had any real grasp on is E3 and all I can really say is that it’s coming. It was only today when I had the stark realisation that the shambling horror that is E3 was beginning to shuffle towards us, wielding its delightful selection of organic artisanal ice creams that quickly turn to ash in our mouths. Still though, it doesn’t hurt to at least get a tiny bit excited and have a little taste of the aforementioned ice cream… does it?

You’ve got to hand it to the videogame industry – even at it’s worst, it has the best press conferences. Much better than David Cameron standing around, being a tit. 

Anyway, moving swiftly on from tenuous analogies about loops and ice cream, I’d like to get to the crux of the matter. The purpose of this post is to try and articulate to myself, as much as anyone else, what has happened over the last year or so in videogames. So, in no particular order:

Oculus Rift:
So as it turns out, the Oculus Rift is still a thing but now it has some friendly competition in the form of the HTC Vive (the unholy love child of HTC and Valve), and Sony’s Project Morpheus which just sounds like black sheep/super villain of the crowd.

The world of VR headsets is just getting a little too weird for me at the moment, especially with the revelation that Facebook snatched up the Oculus Rift. I can only assume the purpose of this is to allow depressed drunkards such as myself to really get stuck in when it comes to Facebook stalking. If you’re lucky, it might allow you to walk around someone’s house in virtual reality and look in their fridge or something.

Gamergate:
Good lord. I look away for like five minutes and come back to find that someone has shat under the stairs and everyone is pointing fingers but, upon closer inspection, it transpires that perhaps no one has shat under the stairs. I tried and discover what exactly is going on RE the shit under the stairs, but everyone is so busy threatening to rape everyone else that I am no longer sure I even want to know. I’d like it if we could all stop trying ruin lives and be a little bit more adult about whatever it is that’s going on.

Dark Souls II:
Dark Souls II came out – some people liked it, some people didn’t; others were really pissed about the graphical downgrade, and others weren’t. What a diverse bunch we all are.

Personally, I wasn’t bowled over with it like I have been with previous Souls installments but it still deserves credit. Yes, it’s not mind blowing, but it certainly surpasses a lot of other games released last year. Really, its main flaw is that the original Dark Souls exists and so there was something out there to compare it with. Everyone thought Twilight Princess was shit too.

If you’re not sold on Dark Souls II and haven’t played the DLC, I couldn’t recommend it more. The devs really got into the swing of things with it and Crown of the Ivory King is just top notch. 

Bloodborne:
Bloodborne came out, I played it, and it was awesome. I’d rather avoid drawing too many comparisons to its Souls brethren, but there are some similarities and differences which I like and dislike about Bloodborrne. Over all, I feel it deserves to be considered mostly on its own merits though I shan’t deny the need for comparison. Hopefully I’ll get around to writing about it with some actual length at some point.

Flappy Bird:
It was a game about a bird, a flappy bird in fact. I held no ill will towards it but apparently lots (and lots) of people did. It was subsequently removed from the app store and the rumour mill had a merry old time speculating on why. A report from the BBC states that the creator removed it after users wrote to him detailing how it ruined their lives due to its addictive nature.

Of course, because our world is totally mental, this led to a Flappy Bird black market where smart phones with the game installed would sell for up to $1,280 (£843). It was then only a matter of time until the game was restored and is now totally free and available to anyone who wants it. What a roller-coaster ride.

Kinect Free Xbox:
Following the announcement of the Xbox One, there was a whole hoo-ha about the obligatory addition of Kinect and Microsoft found itself in a sticky situation following the backlash. It could just insist that Kinect was vital and you had to put up with it, or, it could make a u-turn and be hounded for not sticking to its guns.

Yes, I will admit that Microsoft put itself in that awkward position but I have to give credit where it is due on the eventual decision to take heed and provide the alternative. At the end of the day, it’s far from the worst thing Microsoft has done. If we’re able to forgive them for being complicit with Chinese censorship laws, perhaps we could go a little further and let that guff about some nonsense periphery slide?

Dragon Age: Inquisition:
I had a brief moment of respite around the release of DA:I and so enthusiastically went to purchase it. Unfortunately, at the time, I only had a PS3 and a PC, the latter of which makes audible screams whenever I even mention AAA and so I opted for the PS3 version instead. Perhaps not the best idea but at least it worked – it didn’t work all that well, but it did technically work. The PS3 version sure left a lot to be desired but I feel that the weird, shiny graphics, shonky animation, and loooooooooooooooooading times, are the least glaring flaws presented by the game. On the whole I liked it but whenever someone mentions DA:I I don’t get excited in the same way I do with Origins. The usual conversion tends to run something like this:

Me: So how are you getting on with it?
Friend: I’m at [insert literally any place or plot point here]
Me: Uuuuuuuuuugggghhhh… you still have so far to go.

In a nutshell, it’s a bloody slog.

Business as usual:
The big publishers carried on pumping out their major titles and the reception depended on where you looked. There were some surprises (both good and bad) and the machine kept on churning. We’ve got another Assassin’s Creed game, though this time with more hilarious bugs than before; some people enjoyed another installment of Call of Duty whilst others had similar sentiments towards Battlefield; titles that we going to “redefine” the genre turned out to be merely okay or, at best, pretty darn good; and we were surprised by a few games which we all thought were going to be shit.

Kickin’ it Old School with Might and Magic VII

Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor sits atop a pedestal in my mind which casts a shadow so perfect and voluptuous that no current generation title deserves to even stand in it. And so, with the announcement of Might and Magic X earlier this week, came the rush of nostalgia and an overwhelming desire to play the game that exemplified my formative years.

Might and Magic VII falls squarely into the “old school RPG” category. At the very start of the game you are presented with the party creation screen wherein you get to choose four party members from the four different races. Obviously, each race has different potential and is better suited to certain classes than others and so it’s important to try and construct a well-rounded team. This is one of the aspects I’ve always loved about the Might and Magic series; painstakingly building the perfect party as you deliberate over how much Endurance to take away from your Cleric while still maintaining the survivability of your party.

Look at that party creation menu and tell me it doesn’t turn you on. I dare you.

I spent roughly half an hour trying to synergise classes and optimise stats and I loved every second of it. Even though you are limited to a select number during party creation, there are 35 different combat, magic and utility skills for your characters to learn and master. Naturally, there are limitations on a character’s class and its ability to master certain skills. Despite this, the sheer number means that almost any party configuration will allow you overcome every challenge thrown your way.

Once I was satisfied with Team Hyper Fuck, I clicked start and the familiar cinematic greeted me for all of three seconds before it locked up and I was forced to skip it in order to continue.The premise for the tutorial island is that you are competing in a scavenger hunt to win the deeds to Castle Harmondale and its surrounding lands. The question of how good a job the tutorial is at acclimatising the uninitiated is, frankly, beyond my ability to answer. I instantly reverted to muscle memory as the ugly, jagged form of Emerald Island stared me in the face.

All I know is that there is an NPC who briefly joins your party and explains certain aspects of the game to you. I also know that you can turn off her dialogue which I do every time it pops up and pauses the game the first instance she opens up her informative little textbox to regale you with how a shop works. Even so, the island has all the basic amenities and, with some exploration, you’ll quickly pick up the basics. There are numerous outlets from which to learn skills, shop, and level-up. The island itself is a microcosm of the larger game world, clearly showing you a little of everything on offer later on.

Once you’ve traipsed around the island and found all of the items to win the scavenger hunt you are presented with the deeds to your new land and whisked away from the tutorial. After a clumsy morsel of exposition, you’re placed in front of your castle to begin an MTV Cribsesque tour around your new pad but, shock horror, you’ve been duped and the castle is not only decrepit but also infested with goblins and various other undesirables. So the game begins in earnest as you cleave a path through 2D character sprites to establish castle Harmondale and its lands as your rightful fiefdom by fixing up the place and gaining acceptance from the other kingdoms.

Team Hyper Fuck on an episode of Cribs

It’s a rather flimsy pretext to justify your adventure but one I really enjoy nonetheless. You’ll quickly forget about it as you realise that clearing the castle is no mean feat straight off the boat and so you’ll most likely take to exploring. The world of Might and Magic VII is composed of several reasonably large areas which you can travel to via coach, boat, magic or foot. Each area is littered with useful peasants and offers a handful of quests which range from menial delivering of letters to the kickass slaying of dragons.

In regards to quests, the minimal guidance you’re offered in the dialogue means you’ll spend many happy hours wondering through the large wilderness sections of each area. Of course, when I say “large” I do mean by 1999 standards so in reality they are kind of small. But, as the old saying goes, “size doesn’t matter” and in the case of Might and Magic VII, that statement has never rang truer as they are packed with stacks of loot, dungeons, trainers and wild, roaming mobs.

Most of the areas have several dungeons to offer and, as you advance, they become larger and loaded with ever more foreboding enemies. The progression of Might and Magic VII really couldn’t be any more standard; you earn experience, you level-up, you get better gear and move on to the next challenge. Character development really is everything and whether it was the ability to dual-wield swords or access to another tier of spells, I always relished the next level of skill mastery and the perks that came with it.

Seriously… look at all those damn dragons.

However, it is the peasants of Might and Magic that actually deserve your attention as they are genuinely one of the most interesting game mechanics I’ve seen in a while. Your party has two follower slots and, for a small fee, you can hire someone to follow you around and offer useful assistance. They will also take a small cut of your earnings which varies depending on what service they offer. In combat they cannot attack or be harmed by enemies but, depending on their profession, they provide you with a perk. Such perks include a better prices in shops, the ability to fix your gear or even cast a flying spell once per day. The reason they present such an interesting mechanic is because they are able to fill the gaps in your own characters skill set and help round out the party without impacting combat or being a liability.

Of course, Might and Magic VII was ahead of its time and it implemented the ever popular ‘arbitrary moral choice system’. There are a mere handful of choices to be made and only one is of any significance; the mid-game choice between Light and Dark. It’s so fleeting and ham-handed I couldn’t possibly bare any ill-will towards it and, in fairness, the decision you make opens up one of two new schools of magic as well as a different city; Celeste, which is essentially heaven, and the Pit which is equivalent to Hell.

Celeste is pretty pimpin’

Although the two cities are aesthetically different, there aren’t any real perks that come with choosing one over the other. The main difference comes with the schools of magic: Light magic is more defensively focused whereas Dark magic is just awesome and lets you nuke entire villages in a single spell. Oh, and the path of the Dark allows your Sorcerer to become a badass Lich so Dark is clearly the right choice.

That allows me to neatly segue onto the matter of class promotions which are one of my favourite aspects of the game. Each class can be promoted twice and with each promotion comes greater skill potential. The first level of promotion is available to you regardless of your alignment but the second promotion forks depending on which path you chose.

For example, the Druid can become an Arch Druid if you choose Light or Warlock if you choose Dark. Again, choosing Dark is clearly the better option here because you get a motherfucking dragon as a pet. Okay, it doesn’t really do much except buff your Elemental Magic damage and sit in the NPC assistant party window in the corner but still; it is way cooler than becoming an Arch Druid, a task which just involves finding some bones in a tunnel. Exiting stuff.

In all seriousness, the differences between Light and Dark promotions remain largely aesthetic but I don’t really mind. This game wants you to get into character and really play the role of a band of noble heroes or nefarious, power crazed nutters. The choice isn’t a matter of perks and drawbacks, it’s a matter of role playing and that is something I can really appreciate.

There is no greater catharsis than being ridiculously evil simply because the black and red game HUD dictates that you are. Might and Magic VII reminds me of a simpler time; it’s like being a child again, playing in the dirt with stick, making authentic sword fight noises and pretending that the nearby cow is actually a hideous Minotaur.

Liches – fuck yeah

I suppose what it really comes down to is whether a Might and Magic virgin would enjoy this game? I couldn’t possibly say. I can see so many things right about it; it has a rich expanded universe, old school RPG elements, a plethora of spells and skills, quests, dungeon crawling, a slew of awesome monsters to slay in a rather bizarre, yet weirdly effective, active time battle system, not to mention the worst example of early polygonal graphics to ever grace the world of videogames.

But I can also see why you could find it hard to become invested in this game 14 years after its initial release. The expanded universe can be impenetrable and alienating. The story doesn’t exactly grab you by the tits and take you on an emotional, well written or even particularly interesting roller-coaster ride. The battle system doesn’t amount to much more than mashing attack and setting your best spells to automatic and although there was certainly some potential with the combat, it really doesn’t evolve much beyond clicking on enemies while occasionally using a few wildly ineffectual healing spells.

Despite all that, nostalgia is the most powerful drug and I’m glad to see that it still works on me. I’ve lost count of how many times this game has dragged me back and, with each new foray into its world, I expect to leave with my rose tinted glasses cracked and bent beyond all recognition. I never do. Each new dive into the comforting waters merely solidifies my high opinion of this game; it’s got a depth I still can’t entirely fathom and there is always a little something new to learn. Each time I start a new adventure I have a little more nostalgia to draw upon and dammit, nostalgia is all I need

An ode to Dark Souls (Spoilers Ahoy!)

I was honestly surprised with how much I loved Demon’s Souls. Of course, in the cold light of current gen consoles, Demon Soul’s has aged rather poorly, especially when compared with the likes of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Even so, it was the first hit that got me hooked, and the cause of my now crippling addiction to the Soulsborne series. However, the bait that reeled me in was the difficulty, an aspect I now realise is not the be all and end all of From Software’s greatest achievement. To love Dark Souls for it’s difficulty alone is to love sitting down without realising the necessity of the chair.

From Software created a world with more depth and intrigue than any of its RPG counterparts through a clever use of minimalist plot which is fed piecemeal to the player through item descriptions, environments, and tangential dialogue. Dark Souls uses its simplicity to create a sense of mystery that gradually unfolds over the course of multiple playthroughs, tantalisingly exposing its secrets to you piece by piece like a scantily clad butler unwrapping tiny morsels of a tasty steak in your palatial estate. It’s grand, weird, and absolutely captivating.

The oppressive atmosphere coupled with a sparse population of friendly NPCs creates a sense of being so helplessly alone. You are whisked away from the decaying Undead Asylum and planted into the last remnant of a long dead civilization. What is perhaps most haunting about the world of Lordran is how it avoids the cliché of a society ruined by a cataclysmic disaster. No, the tale of Lordran is one of genuine tragedy; a world which slowly decayed centuries ago and abandoned by the gods, the denizens now little more than ghoulish husks left to fester as they die a thousand times over, until they eventually lose their minds and turn hollow.

 

The developers leave even you crying and alone, providing only the most basic instructions and quite happily letting you wander off in the wrong direction to a quick and unsightly death. These elements create the sense of crushing loneliness which Dark Souls revels in and utilizes to effectively craft an unforgettable atmosphere, one that will slip the surly bonds of the game and creep right into your subconscious mind as you are repeatedly scorched, poisoned, stabbed, hacked and crushed to a pulp. The melancholic atmosphere lies core of the game and, when coupled with the extreme difficulty, serves as foundations for the glorious construct that is Dark Souls. 

Isolation is the recurring theme in Dark Souls and no matter what, you will always be alone in Lordran. Yes you can touch the glowing white soapstone which offers a strange sense of warming comfort in the cold, bleak landscape, but any relationship you forge with another player will be fleeting as they rapidly fade from existence in the jubilant wake of victory. Dark Souls presents somewhat of a paradox in regards to the sense of loneliness; the ghosts of other players haunt the world, illustrating that you are, in fact, not alone and all across the world, other people are facing the same trials are you. However, this sense of empathy and cooperation is quickly sundered when YOxXDarkSwagSniper69AssassinXxLO invades your world to subsequently eviscerate you. It’s at the point, as “You Died” slowly melts onto the screen, you feel betrayed and alone once more.

Such successful manipulation of your emotions is derived from how From Software seamlessly merged the multiplayer and single player into one cohesive experience, preying on the inherent malevolence of mankind. As your character dies you go slowly insane along with them as you are both helped and betrayed by your fellow man. Do you trust the promise of “fat loot” scribbled on the floor in crayon and leap into the darkness? Or do you walk away and risk missing out on all the hot, steamy, treasure action? It wasn’t long until I began to instinctively distrust the glowing orange graffiti that litters Lordran but, every so often, my cynicism would fade and I’d instantly fall prey to the malignant whimsy of another player; the vicious cycle would beginning anew.

Even the friendly NPCs, like your fellow players, have motives and thought processes which only they can understand and, like you, they are destined to the same cruel fate of the undead. As a result, the NPCs of Dark Souls all straddle the boarder of lunatic and friend; the subtle nature of these character creates memorable personalities as their jovial asides or nihilistic retorts give you just enough to feel a weird sense of attachment. Some will provide you with services; others come lurching out of the darkness as a Black Phantom, only to reappear just outside the next boss door with a picnic basket and a letter of apology. For the most part, each has their own small story which all too often ends in tragedy.

The jolly and inept Siegmeyer of Catarina has a special place in my heart; his glimmering oblong presence is always a delight. He is an eternal paradox, appearing always one step ahead of you yet perpetually barred from progress by an insignificant obstacle. Be it his husky frame preventing him outrunning some boulders or his sheer lack of foresight leaving him stranded in Blighttown, Siegmeyer’s ineptitude gave me someone to empathise with as we blindly hammered our way through Sen’s Fortress and beyond. That is why I waved to him upon every chance encounter, why I rejoiced when he appeared at Firelink Shrine and why bowed to him as he faded from my world in Lost Izalith. His few minutes of screen time told me all I needed to know; Siegmeyer, the man, the legend, the onion (don’t tell him I said that).

The world of Lordran is labyrinthine, each new location offering a vista of the last or a foreboding preview of what is to come. Perhaps my favourite example of this is whilst en route to Gravelord Nito – you break free of the darkness which clings so closely, you look across the endless chasm shrouded by mist and view the giant, gnarled trees which protrude from the murky depths and it strikes you; the view before you is the perversely bleak yet strikingly beautiful Ash Lake, with its white sands and dark clean water, almost as foreboding as the Abyss itself.

Dark Souls has a continuity of locations unlike any game world I’ve seen; even in Skyrim, as you climb atop the tallest mountain for the most beautiful panorama, that is all you really see, a pleasant surrounding environment of minimal significance. You can’t look back and grin at the challenges you have overcome nor can you gulp down your fear at the sight of what you are soon to face. Lordran is a world that was constructed for its inhabitants, not you. You are merely a visitor to this land, your time spent here will be fleeting and eventually you will put down the controller and leave Lordran for good, but it was never there for you.

From the depths of Lost Izalith to the golden heights of Anor Londo, Lordran does not feel like a game world constructed to entertain you but rather a genuine world that was once vibrant with life. Each location feels like it could have once served a purpose other than providing a challenge for you, whether it is a simple parish town or a deadly gauntlet to keep the proletariat from dirtying up Lord Gwyn’s keep, every location in Dark Souls once served a purpose to its now putrid populace.

The sense that Lordran was once much more than just an obstacle is what gives such power to the even the most seemingly insignificant details. The flooding of New Londo is hardly referenced or talked about at any length within the game but you know it was flooded to contain the Darkwraiths and you know that thousands of people died but so what? We’ve seen stuff like this a thousand times in videogames. While the story of New Londo is the same as many others, it is the execution which makes it so effective.

The ruins themselves are bathed in a calming blue light which is quickly juxtaposed by the hollows in the final stages of insanity and the blood curdling howl of the red eyed Banshees, still clutching desperately to the remains of their drowned children. The descent into New Londo escalates in morbidity after you drain the lower levels and are greeted with the sight of bones piled meters high; it leaves the tragedy of New Londo staring you dead in the eyes as you trudge through the darkness and on towards the Abyss, the cause of all this subterranean misery.

 

All of the sorrow found within Lordran can be attributed to Gwyn, former Lord of Sunlight and now merely the Lord of Cinder, his fall being an allegory for the decline of his kingdom. The once shining realm now a crumbled wasteland, a realm he sacrificed himself to maintain; a futile gesture in the unforgiving world of Dark Souls. The Kiln of the First Flame, his prison and final resting place, the scorched and desolate ruins providing the perfect area for the solemn encounter. As you fade through the fog, the melancholy music seeps through the speakers, and Gwyn glides effortlessly towards you, his dingy cloths marred with the ash of his hubris.

The fight with Gwyn is a true test of your mettle. Eventually you’ll win, you’re the chosen undead after all, right? It’s your destiny to succeed Gwyn and link the fire once more, to perpetuate the dying age of Light rather than allowing it to subside and the age of Dark, the age of man, come to be. The more you play Dark Souls the more the futility of your actions becomes apparent. You’ve enkindled the flame before and you’ll do it again; you’ll perpetuate the doomed era and the curse of the undead will begin anew soon enough. What exactly are you trying to save? Lordran? Lordran is long dead and nothing you do can save it now. Darkstalker Kaathe tells you that “Lord Gwyn trembled at the dark. Clinging to his age of fire and, and in dire fear of humans, and the Dark Lord who would one day be born among them, Lord Gwyn resisted the course of nature.” Gwyn is now a mindless husk haunting the site of his failure and should you link the flame, this is the fate that awaits you.