I have been stuck on the same level of Dark Souls for the last one and a half years.
It is embarrassingly early on in the game; I think it’s the second bonfire you reach after the tutorial ends. It is called “Undead Berg,” which is a terrible name for the place although undead live (unlive?) there so I guess it is at the very least accurate. It is mossy. Much of it is green. There is a castle within it which I have spent the last year and a half traversing every single time I load up the game.
Here is the progression of the Undead Berg level:
– Upon leaving the safety of your bonfire, you walk out onto a drawbridge where a skeleton shoots you in the chest while his friend runs up some stairs and tries to kill you. He is followed by two of his identical friends. In the distance, two skeletons with spears stand, but I have never successfully killed both of them so I don’t know what they’re guarding.
– While this is happening, three skeletons stood on top of a wooden platform try to set you on fire. To escape them, you run into a small room which contains three further skeletons, where you will often die. It is a good place to practice rolling out of the way of things, or into things, as I commonly do.
– Respite – a house! There is nothing in the house save a skeleton that means to do you harm and, in the pantry, another skeleton that you cannot see who generally hits you in the head with an axe. Normally you keep things like mustard or onions in the pantry, but when in Rome I guess.
– You meet three more skeletons, one of which throws firebombs at you whilst the others attack you. This is the least fun. I don’t know why they seem to think that this is an acceptable and fun challenge for the second level of the game.
– After putting out the fire, you are immediately presented with three more firebomb-throwing skeletons, all of whom apparently have a limitless fucking supply of the things whilst your pockets top out at around two. If you stand back, they set you on fire. If you run in, they set you and themselves on fire. It’s win-win. You can try to attract their attention and wait until they climb down a ladder then cut off their legs, but this seems dishonourable.
– The next part of the level is my favourite because there is a tower with a circular staircase, and at the top of the tower is a skeleton archer, and his first shot always arcs harmlessly over your head. I always open with a light attack and then power through into a strong, killing him, and roll away back down the stairs. It is a brief second of control in a world not built for my enjoyment.
– Next up there are three skeletons with shields, one of whom has a spear, and spears hold a sort of terrifying reverence for me because I’ve got one but can’t use it because I’m not strong enough. He’s almost a mini-boss. I fight them on some stairs. Sometimes they hurt me and I have to run back up the spiral staircase to drink a healing potion and I think, gosh, how emergent of me.
– Finally, there is a staircase with a single skeleton on it who never fucking fails to hit me at least once because by this point in the level I am beginning to get cocky and think that I don’t have to hang back from every fight, and I am invariably wrong, and then a tower and then the boss.
– The boss is a Taurus Demon. Even though I have fought it around thirty times I have no clear idea what it looks like because I am always either a) running away from it or b) far too close to it as it kills me with a giant hammer. Or its legs. Sometimes it just walks into me and I die.
You are supposed to climb a tower to kill it, see, by leaping off the top of the tower and hitting it in the head. And yet. And yet. I have only ever been able to erode half of its health. Merely getting to it is a ten minute process that I barely survive. I hate the Taurus Demon. I hate it. It is a Bad Thing. I have never sworn at anything more than the Taurus Demon.
Fuck the Taurus Demon.
I am not bad at games, or at least, I didn’t think I was. I thought I knew how to play them. Apparently I was dramatically and hilariously incorrect. I keep getting the feeling that there’s some option somewhere in the Dark Souls menu that I’ve accidentally switched to Double-Hard Bastard mode, but I haven’t. It’s on normal. I have been on the same level for a year and a half.
It’s like some kind of joke, but it’s not. I am the joke and Dark Souls is laughing at me. I want to play the rest of the game. The rest of the game sounds fascinating. I want to find items other than the same fucking helmet I’ve already found eighteen times and fight enemies other than the same three skeletons, but I’m not allowed.
There used to be a Black Knight, somewhere on the level, I think. I have a Black Knight Sword in my inventory, which suggests I killed him, but I can’t use the sword anyway as it’s too heavy so it’s largely academic.
A year and a half. Look at these things that have happened since I started playing Dark Souls:
– Lost my job at FHM
– Built a career as a freelance journalist
– Got my first cover feature, first exclusive interview, first big review for a mainstream games mag
– Run livegames at Bristol IGFest, for 20th Century Fox, at the Science Museum
– Completed at least twenty other games
– Moved 10,000 miles away to live on the other side of the world
– Finally written an article for PC Gamer
– And many more!
All that and I am still level one. One and a half years and the only signs of progression is that my weapons are beginning to wear down. I am still playing this game. I have not traded it away, largely on account that I am riddled with shame that I cannot even defeat the first boss.
(I imagine that Dark Souls players, proper ones, will tell me it’s not actually even a boss and anyway he can be easily defeated with a magical sword you can get by spinning on your head and whistling Dixie three times in the starting area and WHO KNOWS THESE THINGS)
I haven’t given up. I keep going back, perhaps because I forget just how much I swear at the Taurus Demon and how whenever I try a new tactic against the skeletons I am simultaneously burned and stabbed to death. Maybe it’s because, I think to myself despite everything, that it’s good. Maybe it’s a good game. Maybe you like the challenge. It feels treacherous. A week, maybe, sure. A month, perhaps.
But to still play something after a year and a half of no new content other than the same skeletons, the same catching fire, the same Taurus Demon; there’s got to be something incredibly wrong with me. Or something incredibly right with the game. God knows which.