Gaping Dragon

The original Dark Souls was my least favorite game in the venerable Souls series by a pretty wide margin. The reasons are numerous, but in a nutshell I just wanted to be done with it by the time I got to Gwyn. I was so aggravated that I skipped the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, which is regarded by many as the high point of the entire series. Being as obsessively completionist as I am about these games, I have to go back and take care of it before Dark Souls 3’s final expansion is released. I turned to GameCritics’ resident Dark Souls apologist Mike Suskie for guidance and counsel. The latest portion of our correspondence is below, with more updates to come as I progress through the game. Enjoy!

Part 1

From: Mike Suskie


I don’t know if there was an exact point when the combat clicked for me, but playing through Dark Souls a second time, once I was familiar with the game’s surprises and knew I’d overcome everything once, kind of gave me the confidence boost I needed. I also never figured out how summoning worked on my first playthrough. I still have a policy beating bosses solo on my first go (a rule which, I believe, I’ve only broken for Sinh and that three-boss marathon at the end of Ashes of Ariandel), but knowing I can always fall back on summoning if I’m truly stuck gives me some peace of mind.

If you’re doing the NPC quests, I want to point out something I love about the first Dark Souls in comparison to the other entries, which is its relative lack of happy endings. There’s a dark, imposing tone to Lordran, a world that we’re led to believe is on its last breath, and following all of these colorful characters as your paths cross kind of illustrates that no one is safe from the entropic decay of this universe. By comparison, in Dark Souls II, pretty much all of the NPCs you bump into wind up moving to Majula, which turns into something of a safe haven by the end. There’s no urgency. The intense sensation of dread in the first Dark Souls is one of the reasons it’s my favorite. I guess I just like being miserable.

I see a lot of people complain about Capra Demon, though he’s weirdly never been much of a problem for me. I always immediately run up the stairs, which sort of funnels the dogs and makes them easy to deal with, and after that it’s quite a simple battle. My personal brick wall was actually the Bell Gargoyles – particularly the fact that another one shows up midway through the battle and the two start constantly spewing fire everywhere. The fight always seemed to ask way too much of players who were still finding their footing, though it’s possible to put that battle off until much later, after Quelaag is taken care of. That tidbit probably would have helped me on my first run.

Something I’d recommend, just to get a better appreciation for Lordran’s layout, is to download the Dark Souls Map Viewer. Someone collected all of the collision data from the game and assembled an interactive 3D map of the entire world. You can basically view and study the entire game from this app, and it’s kind of astounding how perfectly everything fits together geographically. They didn’t cheat. If, for example, you look at the giant tree that comprised the Great Hollow in the Firelink Shrine skybox, that really is where the Great Hollow is located in relation to where you’re standing.

Anyway, I wish you luck against the Gaping Dragon, which is my favorite monster design of the entire series. Killing that thing was a major confidence boost.

— Mike

From: Richard Naik

Hey Mike,

I realize that the majority of my correspondence so far has been complaining. I do genuinely want to have a pleasant time with this game, but right now I am at the absolute nadir of frustration that I was in during my first go-around. So I am currently in the Depths getting close to Gaping Dragon, and I was careful to avoid the Basilisk holes and their curse nonsense this time. I was exploring the lower areas near where the boss entrance is, and I was jumped by three rats who subsequently killed me. Fine, no big deal, I should have been paying more attention. However, as I am dying a Basilisk comes out of nowhere and curses me *during the death animation*. The most charitable way I can describe my reaction to this is KJLHFKJSNJA:”SLK{!*JASDFUIO(*DS. And such.

It was at this point that I made a deal with the dark side-I loaded up a modding program and gave myself one Purging Stone, nothing more. Curse gone, I got my souls back, and closed the game for the night. Gaping Dragon can wait until tomorrow when I’m in a better mood to appreciate it. I feel completely justified in cheating since the game screwed me over, and I will take that to a jury of my peers. Judge me if you must.

In more positive news, that map viewer is pretty impressive. It reminds me a lot of the Metroid Prime map (and I’m sure you got that as well) and I was actually surprised that I could pick out certain areas. I can instantly recognize Duke’s Archives, probably my favorite area in this game. World design is something this game definitely has going for it. You mentioned the Castlevania influence which is undoubtedly strong here, but how would you stack this map up against Bloodborne’s?

I’m keeping this one short since I need to get to bed and most of my time tonight was spent getting that mod to work anyway. Dark Magic takes some effort it seems.

— Richard

Credit: furiousrockets on DeviantArt

From: Mike Suskie

Hey Richard,

Yeah, as a Dark Souls 1 apologist, whenever the subject of curse comes up, my usual reaction is to just put my fingers in my ears and yell “LA LA LA.” I still wince whenever I run into Basilisks in the later games even though curse has been reduced to just a minor slap on the wrist now. Incidentally, you probably don’t need to be told this, but don’t go down the Great Hollow until you get the Lordvessel.

On the subject of Bloodborne’s map design – and this is good timing, because I just replayed that last week – what I appreciate most about Lordran is the “stacked” and interwoven nature of it. There’s a bit of that in Bloodborne, particularly in the early moments set in downtown Yharnam (which is a really intricately designed place), but I don’t think any of the other Souls quite hit the same high that Dark 1 did in this regard. Demon’s was just split up into static levels, and Dark 2 was kind of divided into “spokes” where the areas shared very little continuity (the most famous example being when you descend a windmill, take an elevator up and somehow wind up in a lava castle). Dark 3 recaptured it fairly well, as you can look off the cliff right after the Vordt battle and see pretty much the entire game, though that one loses points for being the most linear of the bunch.

But, obviously, this is strictly personal preference. I know Brad has specifically fired back on my issues with Dark 2’s geographical continuity as not a big deal, and I have to imagine you don’t mind, either.

— Mike

From: Richard Naik

Hey Mike,

Apologies for the time between replies, it’s been a crazy few days. I did finally get back to the game though and made a ton of progress.

First, the Gaping Dragon. Yeah, this thing is just the right mix of disgusting and majestic. It’s also a fairly easy fight, just a bit tedious since he has so many hit points and you really aren’t doing a lot of damage at this point in the game. That’s one major thing I’ve noticed about the bosses so far-after dealing with the aggressiveness of Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 bosses, these guys aren’t all that bad. Gaping Dragon in particular has very long periods where he will just sit still, which I suppose is appropriate considering how ungainly it must be for that thing to move around. I had to use Solaire again for the Bell Gargoyles, but other than that the bosses haven’t been too much of a problem.

So Blighttown. Oh, Blighttown. During my first run I labeled this as one of the worst levels to ever be created, and to be honest I still believe that. It’s confusing; the camera getting stuck on geometry in tight spaces is just awful, especially when it makes it hard to see ladders. Enemies also hilariously get stuck quite frequently, so even *they* don’t know how to get around. It’s also unfair; those toxic blowdart snipers are nearly invisible, and two hits gives you toxin even with the Poisonbite Ring. Unless the snipers give you really lucky item drops, toxin pretty much means death at the point in the game when you are told to come here. That’s another thing; the massive difficulty spike makes it feel like Blighttown was originally meant to be much later in the game, but I’ll talk more about that in a moment. Thankfully Queelag is a pretty easy boss. Like Gaping Dragon her patterns aren’t hard to figure out, she just doesn’t take much damage from you.

You weren’t lying about the impressive Blighttown skybox though, so there’s that at least.

At this point I decided to sequence break. On my first time through I did the Darkroot/New Londo path as the very last thing before heading to Gwyn, so I was way overleveled for both areas and blew right through them. I wanted to explore them properly this time, both for completion’s sake and because I know you access the DLC through Darkroot somewhere. So I was surprised to find that Darkroot was *still* very easy. Neither Moonlight Butterfly or Sif were much of a threat either. On top of that, the enemies drop a *lot* of anti-poison items, which got me wondering if you were originally intended to come here before Blighttown. The enemies are much stronger in Blighttown, and all the poison moss stuff would be a big help down there. I’ve never noticed any signposts that tell you to come to Darkroot at any point before the second bell, so maybe I just missed them? Or maybe it’s a reward for players that explore?

In fact, I wonder if my initial negative opinions about Dark Souls would have even formed had I done Darkroot before Blighttown. Darkroot prepares you for Blighttown with a lot of helpful items and beefs you up with a good amount of souls, so if that had happened maybe I would be a Dark Souls apologist too.

In any case, Darkroot is another area that really benefits from DSFix. On the PS3 this place looks like crap, but with proper lighting and textures it looks damn good. And Sif of course is still awesome-it speaks to the artistic range of the design team that they had the Gaping Dragon and a majestic wolf with a sword in its mouth in the same game.

New Londo is next, and from the looks of it this is another area that gets a massive boost from DSfix. Looking forward to the Four Kings as well.

— Richard

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