The enormous Asylum Demon blocking my path isn’t actually a terribly difficult boss – I just can’t fight him yet. The only weapon Dark Souls has felt like outfitting me with is a broken sword hilt. The best way through this fight is to run, and run I do – right into a little hallway off to the left, as the demon’s gigantic club comes sweeping around, smashing ancient pottery as I dive to safety.
But getting to the point of knowing you’re not supposed to actually fight the Asylum Demon is the first hard-learned lesson Dark Souls teaches: you are going to fail. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise – I mean, it’s right there on the back of the box.
The Northern Undead Asylum teaches you the basics of movement and combat in Dark Souls, but it’s a very surface-level scratch at the systems you’ll have to master. And “master” is the right word – the game forces you to reach a relatively high level of finesse by killing you repeatedly for failure to perform correctly.
As I learned on my first traipse through Undead Burg, the next hostile area you face after escaping the asylum on the wings of a giant raven, even the game’s “trifling” enemies can kill you well into the game if you’re not on your toes. Each time you die, you return to a bonfire, and all the enemies (save bosses) are back, right where they started. You learn, either by savvy pattern-recognition or, like me, through sheer force of repetition, where enemies are going to be. You learn how to handle them.
At some point, the fog breaks and you’re dashing through areas you could only creep through before – dodging each hit and trap before it strikes, and lancing enemies like an undead Errol Flynn. The training the game gives you, in fact, is so good that more than a year after I’d last set my controller down in shame, I was still able to quickly advance through a huge chunk of the content I’d taken 30 or so hours to complete the first time through.
I’m about to come up against one of the first huge repetition hurdles I faced my first time through: the Bell Tower Gargoyles. It’s been a fairly long slog to this point: countless undead soldiers milling around Undead Burg, the terrifying Taurus Demon, and the Armored Pig and the Baldur Knights that haunt Undead Parish. But because the Gargoyles killed me so many times the first time I played Dark Souls, I was able to handle each of these challenges with relative ease (not counting a misstep here and there on the way). But I was ready for a real fight stepping through the fog door to fight them again.
The gargoyles make an impressive entrance – they’re menacing statues posed around the top of a tower that houses the first Bell of Awakening, something I’ve heard typically-cryptic From Software clues about along the way. The tower is the highest point in Undead Parish, and the fight takes place on the roof of the church in the area. As I walk through the fog door, one of the gargoyles lurches to life, jumping down from the tower and menacing me with its 20-foot-long halberd and whipping armored tail.
That’s bad enough, and although it quickly becomes clear that my shield can deflect the damage from the beast’s polearm, when I’ve knocked out about half its health, another gargoyle joins the fray. This one breathes fire, and while circling out of the way of its attack, I tumble off the roof of the church to my death.
Beginning from the bonfire just outside the parish proper, near a helpful blacksmith named Andre, I reverse hollowing – meaning, I use a “humanity” I’ve picked up to change from undead back to human. In this form, I’ll be able to bring in some help, and I plan on summoning an NPC, Solaire, to possibly distract one of the gargoyles while I finish off the other. Instead, when I reach the door at the top of the church, there’s another player’s summon sign – someone named Vertigo. Together we head through the door for my second attempt at the beasties. It went like this:
(Apologies for the poor audio – the stream didn’t pick up the game sounds and my mic was overmodulated. Mea culpa.)
A couple things to note from the above encounter: Since the game sounds didn’t pick up, all you can really hear (apart from my heavy breathing) are the controller clicks, which happen quite a bit in advance of seeing an attack or other action happen in the game. This isn’t a de-syncing issue — the combat in Dark Souls requires you to decide upon and commit to whatever you’re about to do.
The other thing to note is how satisfied I sound after this (surprisingly brief) fight. Dark Souls does that to you.
Next, I’ll head to lower Undead Burg to face another demon, and then it’s on to the dark, slimy corridors of The Depths.