Dark Souls – Gaping Dragon Defeated

In an unprecedented spurt of Dark Souls excellence, I defeated the Gaping Dragon in a single evening after just thirteen attempts! (I kept count this time.)

The Depths
The sewers of The Depths. There is a vendor through those bars at the end of the room, because this is obviously where you’d expect to find a merchant.

It took some time to find the beast. My Knight wandered around the maze-like sewers of The Depths for days, falling through cleverly-hidden holes in the floor, stabbing rats of all sizes, dodging the cursed basilisks’ breath. Not always successfully. I had never been cursed before, and I hope I’m never cursed again, because halving one’s health is not pleasant. I spent a whole evening tracking down a Purging Stone to get myself back to normal. (Of course, being frugal, I had to run all the way back to the top of the church to buy the cheaper one–and of course because this is Dark Souls, you have to kill everything in your path no matter where you go.)

I picked up a Crystal Greatsword from a vendor who inexplicably chose a sewer as the best locale to ply his trade. It was pricey but worth it–until I realized I had no way to repair it. Still, it held out until the boss was dead at least.

Compared to the Capra Demon, the Gaping Dragon was surprisingly easy. You wouldn’t think so from the size of the thing, though. The introductory cut scene for this monstrosity is truly terrifying. It’s like … oh a cute little snake this shouldn’t be so bad and OH GOD WHAT IS THAT RUN AWAY RUN AWAY.

Two things made this fight straightforward: Being able to move around in a big space, and the Gaping Dragon’s fairly predictable attack patterns. You want to stay away from his legs when he’s walking around because he’ll stun you each time a foot hits you, and if you hang around his hands he’ll pick you up and devour you for effectively a one-shot kill. Sometimes he’ll “charge” toward a wall, leaving big puffs of dust (or mist or whatever) and if you get underfoot it does a ton of damage, too. And he smacks the ground with his … head … maw … mouth-part-thingy … but I don’t think I was ever underneath it to see how much damage it did. Of course he has a nasty tail swipe as well. Oh, and he jumps up in the air to turn around if he can’t reach you with his mouth–if you don’t run away he’ll land on your head and do a lot of damage.

I found my shield fairly useless, so I used the Crystal Greatsword two-handed for extra damage. Basically my strategy was to run away from him until he charged a wall, then run in to wack him on the back thigh while he stood still. He sort of stuns himself when he hits the wall, giving you time to get in a good three swings. Then he jumps up into the air (usually) and that’s your cue to run away and repeat the process. Seven minutes later victory was achieved.

Of course, that strategy does not allow you to cut off his tail, so if you want the Dragon King Greataxe you’ll have to do something different. (I wouldn’t have been able to use it anyway.)

The Gaping Dragon drops the Blighttown Key, which leads to the next section. It took me an embarrassingly long time to find that door, but eventually I made my way into the next fresh hell of Dark Souls, the aptly-named Blighttown.

This post was for Blaugust Day 5.

Progression Report – July 2015

Blaugust Day 2

Dark Souls Elite Knight

July was a quiet gaming month for me. Work continues to be hectic, and I’ve also gotten it into my head that I might try to take a Microsoft exam so I spent a lot of time reading and studying.

It was around the end of July last year that I lost my job–not from anything I did, but from a contract changing hands to a different company. Fortunately nothing like that is going to happen this year. I’ve since resumed working on that project, but everything is different and more chaotic now as the ripple effects from the contract change continue to permeate everything and everybody.

But I digress. I spent by far the most time playing Dark Souls in July (51 hours), reaching level 40 on my Knight. I defeated the Taurus Demon and the Bell Garygoles, rang the first bell, then defeated the Capra Demon and the Gaping Dragon on my way toward the second bell. I’m currently mired in Blighttown.

The Witcher 3 took second place for the month (11 hours) as I finished off the story and put it away, probably for good. I didn’t complete all of the side stories, but since I’m now into Dark Souls I don’t see myself going back. It was a great RPG, as was The Witcher 2. (The Witcher 1 was… well, different.)

Farewell Witcher 3
Farewell Ciri and Geralt

In FFXIV, I puttered around for about 5 hours of questing, gaining a whopping one level to reach 53. I have to admit it’s pretty nice to be back in the leveling phase and not have to “worry” about endgame for a while. As you can tell I’m not the type to race to the endgame in MMOs so it’ll probably be a while before I get to 60. I’m enjoying logging in, running a handful of quests, and then logging out again.

The only other MMORPG I played was Skyforge for about 4 hours. I honestly don’t know what level I am. Does it even have levels? Anyway I’m playing the Cryomancer class. I don’t really love the class, but I don’t want to play a tank or healer.

Dark Souls – Capra Demon Defeated

Blaugust Day 1

Twelve days after defeating the Bell Gargoyles, I finally defeated the next boss in Dark Souls–the Capra Demon.

Capra Demon down

Bosses in games aren’t usually worthy of a blog post all to themselves, but when you spend so much time crafting and practicing a strategy for defeating one, it’s a really big deal. Such is the case with the Capra Demon, the fourth boss I’ve encountered in my Dark Souls saga. It seemed like a fitting tale to start off Blaugust.

The first time I walked through the white light to face this guy, I was dead in about five seconds (literally–I have the video). So began a journey of I-don’t-even-know-how-many steps to kill this Capra Demon. I have 24 recorded video files, many with multiple attempts, and I know I didn’t record every attempt. So I would guess at least 40 attempts before victory was achieved. (I should actually keep count for the next boss.) Very few of those attempts lasted more than twenty seconds.

Whereas the fight against the Bell Gargoyles took place atop a church roof with plenty of wide open space to run around in, the battle with the nasty dual-machete-wielding Capra Demon constrains you to a tiny little room. The camera constantly hides behind trees and bumps against walls so visual disorientation is at a maximum.

As if the demon himself wasn’t bad enough, there happen to be two undead attack dogs in there with him. The dogs are easy to kill by themselves, but they are an incredible pain to deal with at the same time that a gigantic demon is slugging away at you with massive machetes. You basically have to dispatch the dogs immediately to have any chance of fighting the Capra Demon. (I would say don’t bother trying this boss until your weapon can one-shot the dogs.) Be prepared to deal with the first dog running for your throat the second you enter the room, while simultaneously dodging the demon’s first massive (unblockable) strike. If you move into the room too far, the second dog will join the first.

For the final battle I equipped my Knight with his trusty Halberd +4, which is my favorite weapon so far (at least among the weapons that I can use effectively). Not only does it do a ton of damage (more than the Battle Axe +4) but it has a long reach to keep the monsters at bay. (And it is super fun to use two-handed.) For this particular attempt I was going to try something new: Sprint to the left toward the stairs in an attempt to get around the demon’s first attack. (Usually I just try to roll to the side.)

I entered, sprinted, and ran headlong into the first dog which stopped my run, and received a bite in the face. (The first dog comes running down the stairs, so I should have known that would happen.) But by pure luck I managed to roll just in time to avoid the demon’s first attack (even though I didn’t actually roll anywhere since I was already at the wall and the dog was in the way). Most other times I got nailed right away and have to start right from the beginning with a severe health deficit. So that was a great start to the fight.

Since the first dog was right in front of me and I had him targeted, I speared him and took him out. That improved my chances dramatically. Sometimes the dog will jump aside and you have to chase after him, and that usually spells doom for the fight. Unfortunately just as I speared the first dog, I saw the second dog lunging for me, and my friend the Capra Demon had started in on his series of four slashing attacks.

I took a nip from the second dog and one slash from Capra but luckily avoided the second. I circled around behind him, but I lost sight of the second dog. Even though things had started out well, I still didn’t think this attempt would go any differently and I would probably die soon. I figured the second dog would hit me in the back any moment and that would be the end of this boss fight. (I hadn’t planned on the second dog joining the first one so soon.) I tried a strong attack, which using the Halberd does a wide AoE-like backhand slash, hoping maybe I would catch the second dog in it even though I couldn’t see it. It was a desperation move, because Capra was already starting in on more slashes.

I missed everything with my backhand, and Capra nailed me with his first slash. Of course just then my target reticle switched to the second dog, which turned out to be stuck among the columns to the right of the door as you come in. Since I automatically turned to face the dog, it left my right flank exposed to Capra just in time for his second swing. It completely disoriented me. (I hate the target system in Dark Souls sometimes.) Dumb luck was with me again, however, and Capra delayed his attack long enough for me to switch my reticule back to him and get my shield up to block.

The frantic first twenty seconds of the fight were over and it was time to start taking control of the situation. With only a bit of health left, I backed up the stairs and drank a potion. It didn’t work. Capra wound up his big jump attack and hit me right after I finished drinking, putting me almost back where I started. I rolled off the stairs and that’s when I took advantage of something I’d noticed in my many previous attempts: Capra apparently can’t hit you with his big jump attack if you’re on the floor and he’s on the stairs. I drank another potion and topped off nearly to full health. I backed away toward the door, filled with confidence and ready to start taking the fight to him.

That’s when I remembered the second dog was still alive. He unstuck himself and jumped out of the corner, nipping me in the back. I stabbed him quickly. The dog hadn’t done much damage, but it distracted me enough to get me out of my rhythm. I failed to dodge one of Capra’s big two-handed attacks and lost half of my health. I thought this promising start would end in another frustrating death.

But I went on the defensive again and worked my way back up the stairs, waiting for my chance. Eventually I was able to roll off the stairs and drink a potion before Capra could get to me, and topped back up to full health. That’s when I knew I was going to win this fight. With no more dogs to worry about I could block and dodge every attack Capra threw at me, and I had practiced enough by then to recognize all of his patterns. I played it conservative and patient and waited for just the right moments to strike–after Capra’s left-hand machete swing there is enough time to stab without any risk.

And that was how I defeated the Capra Demon. With much practice and patience.

Once the Capra Demon is dead, you get a key to a door that takes you down into The Depths, a very repulsive sewer occupied by rats, slimes, and weird eyeball monsters (aka. basilisks). Presumably the second bell I need to ring awaits somewhere down there.

Dark Souls – Eat It, Bell Gargoyles

Almost exactly two years ago I first played Dark Souls on the PC, and a few days later I defeated the Taurus Demon, the second boss. Now I can finally say that I’ve defeated the third* boss: The Bell Gargoyles.

Seen here with newly-acquired Zweihander.
Knight with newly-acquired Zweihander.

After weeks of enjoying the crap out of the hard-difficulty combat in The Witcher 3**, I decided to install Dark Souls again. Two years later, thanks to a Steam beta and DSfix, Dark Souls runs a thousand times better on the PC than when I first played it, and using an Xbox controller works a lot better than a PS3 controller did. It’s really a gorgeous, atmospheric game.

Last time I played a Sorcerer, but this time I played a Knight. Thanks to my experience with The Witcher 3, and combined with the tougher Knight class, I had much less difficulty getting through to the Undead Parish than I did two years ago. Then I got to the Bell Gargoyles and remembered why I gave up there last time.

So my strategy for defeating the Bell Gargoyles was pretty simple: Keep doing it over and over and over again until I finally got lucky. By the end I could melee with one of those gargoyles all day long, but they always killed me by ganging up on me after the second joined the fight. On the last try, for whatever reason, the second gargoyle remained farther away. It breathed fire from a distance four times and almost entirely missed me each time, giving me the opportunity I needed to finish dispatching the first gargoyle. (I was wielding a Battle Axe +4 and a Hollow Soldier Shield +1 for the kill. The upgraded axe helped a lot.)

I don’t know exactly how many tries it took me, but I would estimate 35-40 tries over the course of three or four days (I can’t remember if I started Saturday or Sunday). You can see in the video that I had 16,166 souls built up from my last blood stain, and you get a minimum of 640 souls each time you travel from the spawn point to the boss, so that’s about 25 tries right there, and I could have easily lost another 10,000 souls from accidental deaths.

It feels like I’ve beaten the game, but in reality I’ve still only scratched the surface. This wiki page tells me there are twelve required bosses to defeat, and I’ve only done two on that list.

After defeating the Bell Gargoyles I went exploring some areas that I had never seen before. I fought my way past a nifty Prowling Demon (which was a challenging mini-boss but after the experience of dueling with the Bell Gargoyles for days I dispatched it on the first try) to get to the Darkroot Garden, where I sparred with some plant creatures for a while before heading back to a camp fire. Later I went back to the Firelink Shrine and tried going down to the The Catacombs but I did not enjoy dealing with the skeletons that never die. (On the way I picked up the awesome-looking Zweihander sword though.)

* I suppose the bosses aren’t really in any set order, but it was the third boss for me.

** Oh, I finished The Witcher 3, by the way. As always in open world games, once I finish the main story, I find I have zero desire to continue playing any of the side bits. Fortunately this time I put off finishing the main story for a long, long time so I could do a lot of the side bits first.

Taurus Demon Down

I finally defeated the second boss in Dark Souls. I say "finally" because I spent quite a lot of time wandering around dying in the Undead Burg, leveling up with the meager amounts of souls I could accumulate from the skeletons there, and gathering bits and pieces of gear. I feel like I know the stretch of the map between the campfire and the boss like the back of my hand now. Two skeletons, run across bridge, three skeletons, up stairs, three skeletons, up the tower, one skeleton sniper, down the stairs, two skeletons and a tough dude, then another skeleton comes running down, and then you’re going up the spiral stairs to the boss area.

I killed the boss on the second try, although I don’t think the first one counted and one could possibly argue that I didn’t technically "kill" him the second time either. On the first attempt, I zapped him with my bolts, ran past him, zapped him some more, then ran past him back toward the ladder, when I suddenly had the brilliant idea to run up the ladder and rain bolts on him from above. That’s when I discovered that the boss climbs up to the top of the tower and squashes you.

On the second try I stayed on the ground, kept my distance, and shot him with sorcerer bolts. I was down to the point where one more shot would have killed him as he was running toward me. I didn’t think I would have enough time to fire again so I decided to be safe and run past him again, and naturally I managed to dodge through a hole in the wall and fell to my death. I was about to blow a gasket when I saw that the boss for some reason jumped down after me and killed himself. A slightly unsatisfying kill, but nevertheless it earned me the loot and allowed me to reach the next campfire. Which, ironically, turned out to be the same campfire as the last one.

By the way, I am playing exclusively with a PS3 controller now.

Dark Souls on the PC

I watched some very amusing "Let’s Play" videos of two of the GWJ guys playing Dark Souls, and decided that I finally needed to get this "killer" game. By killer I mean it has a reputation of being mercilessly difficult. So I got the "Prepare to Die" PC version from Steam.

Okay. So yeah, it’s hard. But it’s not hard in the way you might think. It’s hard because the controls and camera management are impossibly obtuse for a PC game, at least initially. I’m used to playing with mouse-and-keyboard, but the mouse-and-keyboard controls for this game are just horrible. It doesn’t even hide the Windows pointer. So you really have no choice but to play with the keyboard only, where in addition to the normal WASD controls on the left, your right hand has WASD-style controls on the right side of the keyboard, which controls your camera view and target-lock. It’s a bit awkward, to say the least.

So of course you tend to die a lot – not because the first encounters are particularly hard, but because you can’t figure out which key or combination of keys to press to dodge, swing your sword, run, block, turn around, or whatever. The built-in hints are no help at all since they are all for the Xbox 360 controller.

And actually, the first boss is pretty hard. During the brief tutorial section while you’re learning which buttons to press, you run into a boss almost right away. At first you think, okay, well this guy looks tough, but even though he looks big and formidable, he’s probably one of those massive bosses with only a tiny health because if the game puts me here so soon, then I must be able to defeat him with my meager skills and equipment, right? Nope. He smashes you in one or two blows, and your fist punches do not even scratch his health bar. It turns out you’re supposed to run around him to a side door.

But then after you pick up a shield and weapon and go through a few more tips and tutorials, you end up facing that boss again. You might think you’d have a better chance to kill him, but no, not really. On the second try you at least have something besides bare fists, but basically you have to keep dodging him and plinking him with your ranged ability. At least, that’s what I did with my sorcerer. I can’t imagine surviving a melee encounter.

Since the keyboard-only controls are pretty awful, I decided to see if I could get a PS3 controller to work. I did – eventually, using a slightly dubious, ad-riddled driver thingy called MotioninJoy – but I’m not sure if it’s an improvement. Movement is much more intuitive, but I don’t know if the buttons make things any easier. I should probably just stick with the controller.

I’m not sure why I want to keep playing this game, other than the perverse challenge of it, and just to say that I did. It is a neat-looking game, and it does have a very old-school RPG feel to it.