Enduring Dark Souls’ “Return to Lordran” Day

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Dark Souls isn’t a game I ever thought I’d attempt to beat. My lack of free time means I don’t easily stomach frustration, and the Souls series’ brutal reputation basically kept me away for good. But after getting a taste for Bloodborne, I eventually consumed Demon’s Souls and, well, here I am. Dark Souls was the inevitable next step.

By fortunate coincidence, “Return to Lordran” day was scheduled for October 4. This annual event was initiated by the Dark Souls community as a way to rekindle the game’s online experience following the success of Global Restart Day earlier this year. Dark Souls has remained enduringly popular over the years, attracting a dedicated following that continues to discover new aspects of the game to this day. Many gamers consider Dark Souls to be one of the best games of all time. The game’s age, however, means that online participation has slowly dwindled over time, taking away a significant part of its experience. “Return to Lordran” was the community’s answer to that problem, bringing together veterans and newbies alike to relive the magic of launch day.

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Now that I’ve finally played the Souls games, I do understand what makes them so appealing. They’re certainly as tough as folks make them out to be, but along with that comes a deep sense of achievement once you’ve finally mastered them. After you’ve learned how to play them effectively, you can essentially cruise through a lot of the game as you level your character along the way. By the time you reach the end, you’re shocked by how powerful your character has become and how easily you can overcome obstacles you once considered impossible.

The last time I actually did touch Dark Souls, it was on my XBox 360 using a borrowed copy from my brother. I’ll freely admit that I couldn’t even make it past the tutorial, and I gave up after returning to the first bonfire following twenty or so gruesome deaths. This time around I finally made it to the game’s iconic nexus, Firelink Shrine, which was filled to the brim with the phantoms of other players. Co-op and invasions were going at full tilt, and it felt good to be a part of something that I had missed during my college years.

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Since “Return to Lordran” day was only yesterday, I obviously didn’t get far enough to warrant a full review. I’m literally at the bonfire right before the Undead Parish, cursing that unforgiving warthog that seems to guard the next checkpoint. I can, however, share some of my observations about the game (and the series as a whole) works:

  1. Souls gameplay is based on repetition. Each time you die and replay a level, you get just a little bit farther because you know what to expect and can adjust your strategy accordingly. The enemies actually get very easy once you know how to beat them. There are also an endless amount of tricks and ploys you can discover to easily bypass otherwise unforgiving areas. By doing this, the game tries to endow you with a sense of discovery that feels rewarding.
  2. The first time you run through a level, you’re usually doing so very cautiously, checking your corners and anticipating ambushes. You need to maintain that sense of awareness on every run, no matter how many times you die. Impatience is your enemy. It leads to sloppy technique and makes you forget things from your previous runs (“Shit, I forgot that dude was waiting there!”). Because of this, taking a break and coming back later for fresh run is sometimes your best bet.
  3. There are no wrong ways to play Dark Souls, only ineffective strategies. There’s a ton of analysis that goes into character builds and armor combos that I have yet to wrap my head around. Frankly, I’m still content to simply be beating these games.

That’s just scratching the surface with the amount that of thought that goes into these games, however. That’s the reason why people have stayed with these games for so long. Dark Souls III cooperative is already underway with Andrew, so I’ll eventually bridge that gap with Dark Souls II. Sometime’s it’s cloying playing sequels back to back, though, so that may be a ways down the road.

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To be fair, I wasn’t just joining up yesterday for the chance at co-op or invasions (I rarely do either, actually). Really it was a chance to play a game I wanted to try out surrounded by like-minded people. As I’ve discussed with friends on Facebook, we don’t really pine for these digital worlds so much as we crave the bonds we form with the people we are playing them with.

To me, a game is not just a mere pastime – it’s a prop around which we have fun with others. Playing old titles is a hobby I obviously I enjoy, but when you’re slogging through a troublesome title from 1993, it’s nice to have someone there to discuss it with. Video games are a time and a place. And as someone who wanted to try out Dark Souls, there couldn’t have been a better opportunity to do that then “Return to Lordran” day.

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