By Luke Summerhayes
Dark Souls is probably the most talked-about console game of the past five years, with good reason. I could make an interesting comparison to Captain Toad here, in the way that both games' beauty is in the intricately built words that can be perfectly visualised in the mind's eye. I could wax lyrical about the story told cleverly through world-building, the gorgeous artistic vision or the tuned, genius gameplay. I'm not going to do that because there are already a billion such articles on the internet.
Instead, I'm going to explain my own journey and the wonderful yet terrible white whale which Dark Souls has become for me.
I came to the game last year, a few months before the release of the sequel at the height of internet hysteria. I jumped in all guns blazing and beat my head against the metaphorical brick wall that is Lordran for about a week. Eventually, I felt I had to look online and see what other people recommended, but alas I was cursed in the Depths having rung neither bell and without the Drake Sword. The road ahead seemed insurmountable and going back to sort myself out didn't feel any more feasible. After 20 hours, I left the game behind and went onto other things.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, with Dark Souls 2 about to be released again on new machines, Bloodborne about to hit the PS4 and the crushing sense of inadequacy that comes with seeing other people complete Souls, I returned.
It was like an entirely different videogame. The Capra Demon and the Taurus Demon fell without me dying once. I grabbed the drake sword this time, which I'd missed before, fought my way down to Quelaag and rung the first bell. I went online again, discovered amusingly that I'd taken the more difficult route, and travelled back up to ring the other bell. I felt unstoppable, immortal. I was the king.
After tragically slaying Sif, the Great Grey Wolf, and exploring as much of the world as I felt comfortable, I entered Sen's Fortress. The castle's tricks and traps and enemies troubled me for a couple of evenings, but before long I fought my way through to Anor Londo. This was the beginning of the end to my second playthrough.
My first journey into the realm of gods, there were no enemies. I was slowly wondering through an empty, albeit beautiful world. As I approached the first lift, the game shuddered to a stop and I was forced to reset the console. I struggled on and eventually made my way to the entrance to Ornstein and Smough's chamber, sometimes finding the game freezing or taking a while to load but otherwise running effectively. Naturally, the executioner and his partner slaughtered me in seconds.
My game didn't reload. I rebooted my machine several times before it would let me have a crack at them again. As soon as they killed me, I was back in the same position. I was having to reset the game sometimes upwards of ten times to get to the boss. Now and then, the boss chamber wouldn't load and I'd be stood in an empty void, looking out at distant clouds and the grossly incandescent sun.
As time went on, and I had only a couple of actual cracks at some of the most frustrating boss enemies in the game, my Playstation became more and more unwilling to load this save file. Eventually, it simply stopped. I looked online and though I wasn't the only person to struggle with this problem, nobody had solved it. The only option I had was to start the game from scratch again. Again.
I can't do that right now. I've got a few other games to play then I'm finished with the PS3 generation. After that, I have a stack of Wii U and Xbox One games that is piling up and a younger brother who wants to borrow my Playstation to play Dragon Age and Shadow of the Colossus. That's without even mentioning my fitness, my social life, writing things, my career and my degree. I can't go back to Dark Souls again right now.
But Dark Souls gets under the skin. The world, the characters, the creatures, the music, those stunning vistas. As often as I dread wading through Blight Town again, I find myself desperately wanting to see more of Lordran. I don't want to be another hollow, another loser who has flung himself at Dark Souls and been found wanting. I need to go back, and I need to win.
One day I will, but for now, I think Dark Souls has won. And somehow that feels strangely fitting.