I’ve been playing a LOT of Dark Souls games recently, so obviously my brain worms want to talk about them. Dark Souls has been a unique experience for me even among the other games in the series.
A highlight I want to point out is my experience playing through Anor Londo, quite possibly the most notorious area in the game.
What makes Anor Londo stand out from the rest of the game is how it elevates the difficulty.
The game acknowledges that, for the player to have made it this far, they’ve worked up the skills required for the game and the drive to see it to the end.
To even get here, the player would have had to make it through places like Blighttown, the other contender for most notorious area, so the developers know that the player takes this game seriously.
This results in a level that really tests the player in both skill and endurance. Incredibly tight terrain that you have to traverse and new enemies that really test you on different skills and knowledge you’ve built up over the game lead to a very punishing level.
One especially notable bit in the level is when you’re forced to fight three enemies on very narrow rafters, meaning a single slip-up results in death. They throw daggers that do a decent chunk of damage and are incredibly hard to avoid given the lack of space to work with.
After this, you’d think the worst would be over with, but that’s only the beginning; almost immediately after, you have to walk on incredibly narrow passageways to scale a castle while two powerful archers rain arrows on you.
They do tons of damage and have a lot of pushbacks if shielded, so your best bet is to run, but given how precarious this is, it’s best to simply pray.
Once you cross these and finally get into the castle, the game eases up a bit on this frustration.
The enemies you encounter after this certainly pack a punch, more than ever before, in fact, but they’re pretty easy to manage by trying to stay on their backside and attacking them there.
Once you get this down, the rest of the level becomes much easier, relatively speaking, until you get to the boss.
If Anor Londo isn’t one of the most notorious levels in Dark Souls for the moments mentioned above, it’s because of this boss, or rather, bosses.
Ornstein and Smough are probably the first bosses that come to mind when discussing the most difficult ones in games.
Having to fight both a speedy lancer with great range and a slower but absurdly powerful giant wielding a hammer is sure to test basically everything you’ve learned up to this point. They cover for each other’s weaknesses, meaning the player has VERY little room for error and they must stay at their A -game throughout.
What I’m trying to get at is that playing through Anor Londo is a CHORE.
It’s not fun, and it’ll surely take many tries to make meaningful progress. Simply put, I hated playing through it.
And I love this area for that.
Something you should hopefully know about my tastes in games by now is that I’m more than okay for a game to not really be traditionally fun as long as it’s making that sacrifice to prioritize something meaningful.
One of my favourite games ever is Pathologic, so it should be very clear that I value the lasting experience of a game just as much if not more than fun or satisfaction in the moment.
So while Anor Londo was more than frustrating in the moment, I can only really love it looking back.
With all this said, why is it that I love it for being so intolerable in the moment?
To be able to love such an upsetting experience must mean it was like that for a good reason. In Anor Londo’s case, it’s because it allowed me to properly realize just how much this world doesn’t want me in it.
Dark Souls is about a dying world, and someone who tries everything to save it.
To really drive that home, of course the game would need a level like this: one that shows the reality of how earnestly hard fighting to save a dying world would be.
While the game hasn’t been shy about being hard and making any progress feel like a momentous occasion, Anor Londo is when it steps it up even further. To get to this area is to tell the game that you want to fight to save this world, so the game responds with this level to see if that’s truly the case. This is what makes beating it so fulfilling. It’s like telling the developers flat out “this world is worth fighting for”.
And for a game to pull that off is worth noting.