Unless you’re a diehard superfan of From Software’s Souls series, there’s a fact you may not know which will nevertheless blow your mind: come September, 2016, the original Dark Souls will be five years old, having been released on September 22, 2011. The game, which is technically a spiritual successor to the 2009 PlayStation 3 title Demon’s Souls, has since spawned two sequels and a spiritual spin-off, the horror-themed Bloodborne. With everyone and their mother (rightly) lavishing praise on the recently released Dark Souls III, I figured it was about time to revisit the trilogy’s humble beginnings, and boy was I in for one heck of a homecoming.
A Journey Of A Thousand Steps
It took me roughly two years to finish my first playthrough of Dark Souls, mainly because I would play for a bit, decide I was “done” after reaching a certain milestone (such as making it to the Depths or defeating the Blighttown boss Quelaag), and then feel the urge to start playing it again a few weeks later.
The game’s infamously steep difficulty curve flew in the face of my normal gaming habits (as a point of reference, I tend to play games on the easiest difficulty setting), but I couldn’t help but be drawn in by its unique world, combat mechanics, and mystery enshrouded story. Finally beating the game after so long felt great, but after I saw the credits roll for the first time, I soon realized that I had only begun to scratch the surface of the game’s near infinite mysteries.
Fortunately, New Game+ was ready to welcome me with open arms, whether I wanted it to or not.
Upping The Ante
As in most other games, Dark Souls’ New Game+ mode allows the player to start from the beginning while retaining much of the character progress they made during their first playthrough such as levels earned, items found, and souls (Dark Souls’ main form of currency) gathered.
To help balance out the player’s undisrupted power, enemies in New Game+ have their damage and health buffed slightly, though they also drop more souls when killed, a mercy I was honestly not expecting after I triumphed over the game’s initial Asylum Demon boss for the second time in my Dark Souls career.
I’ll admit that I got through most of my initial run of Dark Souls with the help of a strategy guide, but now that I had already seen the game through to its end, I was determined to approach New Game+ in a less rigid manner, exploring the game with nothing by my wits and my vague two-year-old recollections to guide me. Since I had spent a great deal of time in my initial run farming souls and building my character’s level up fairly high, my initial hours in New Game+ wound up being surprisingly (though not completely) painless.
Before I realized it, I had already rung the first of two bells you have to ring throughout the course of the game, a task which took me upwards of 20 hours in my initial run, and yet which I had accomplished in New Game+ in a mere three hours of play.
Of course, as the game was likely hoping I would, I let my overconfidence go to my head. I gallantly strode into the Undead Parish expecting to make quick work of the area’s enemies before once more heading downwards into the Depths and Blighttown beyond. Dark Souls was quick to remind me that, while it had deigned to allow me the opportunity of starting over with my newfound power, I was still very much an unwanted visitor in the world of Lordran.
After getting walloped by a Black Knight, parried and backstabbed by a Hollow Thief, and downright thrashed by the local Capra Demon boss, I quickly learned that my high character level and enhanced equipment didn’t mean squat to the New Game+-buffed enemies, they were perfectly happy to punish me for my arrogance.
A Return Trip Worth Taking
My time revisiting Dark Souls in New Game+ has had no shortage of revelations, both new and painfully familiar. I still hate the Depths with a passion (those giant rats creep me the hell out), farming crafting resources is still a pain in the butt, and finally taking down a boss after several failed attempts and much loud cursing (apologies to my roommates) still feels great.
Being free from the pressure of having to actually beat the game is liberating to a degree, but it’s also terrifying, since now there’s no excuse for me to not take my time and uncover as many of Dark Souls’ dangerous secrets as I can. I also still haven’t played the extra content added in via the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, and I just know I won’t feel truly whole until I conquer the DLC’s new challenges as well.
Despite my normal distaste for brutally difficult games, I will say that I have become a true believer of the Souls series. My venture into Dark Souls’ New Game+ mode is the first time I have willfully chosen to explore a Souls game beyond my initial playthrough, but, despite the hardships I have been forced to revisit, I’m already raring to give Dark Souls III another shot, or to try Bloodborne for the first time. It may have taken me two years and some change to finally embrace my inner Dark Souls fan, but now that they dam’s been broken, I’m more than ready to let myself get caught up in the river of excitement, for better or worse.