"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
- Friedrich Nietzsche
For those of you who just got here, there's a part one that you may want to check out prior to delving into the rest of this article. As always, spoilers and bad language can be found. Proceed with caution. Okay? Okay.
What do you do when you've done it all? What do you do when you've beaten one of the most unforgiving experiences known to gaming kind? You go back to the beginning, prepared to prove that flesh trumps binary.
"People either get addicted to trying out new builds and beating the game (PvE) over and over, or they become a Darkwraith and pledge to make the game as hard as it is for everyone else as it was for them. It's as if beating this game gives you the same motivation the the games bosses have; you want to kill anyone who is trying to beat Dark Souls." jpflagg remarks.
A good example would be those affiliated with the Gravelord Servant Covenant. Considered by many to be even more antagonistic than the Darkwraiths, Gravelords seem to live exclusively for a solitary purpose: to hurt.
"This will curse the world of three random other players online with "Gravelord Black Phantoms", extra enemies that aren't normally there that also have double HP and double damage output, and glow red. If you get killed by one of these extra enemies, there is actually no benefit to the Gravelord Servant at all. He remains back in his/her own world, waiting around for PvP. He/she gets nothing out of harming you, and doesn't actually get to see the effect of their actions. It's random, anonymous trolling." retrogameaudio explains.
Though heavily populated by those happy to simply exacerbate an already difficult game, Dark Souls isn't without its vigilantes. A redditor by the name of OnyxBlade tells a story of how his sister, new to the game, found herself courting the advances of 'Dickwraith', a colloquial term for a member of the Darkwraith Covenant who is not above dishonesty. It was a death sentence. The moment she engaged in combat, she would be destroyed.
"It became apparent very quickly that she was done for. However, as she was running, the SunBro (one of the most altruistic covenants, and one made for co-op) she summoned came in. Lo and behold, he was also a low level character with high level gear, come back to help innocent new players from this exact situation. He then proceeded to completely wreck the Dickwraith, who clearly was not skilled in PvP, and only preyed on new players. The SunBro even let her have last hit by parrying the Dickwraith and then letting her attack while he was stunned. After the phantom was defeated, the Sunbro then dropped maximum quantities of upgrade materials for her (which could be obtained on her end through hours of farming), and easily defeated the boss."
"The best part of this whole experience was when he messaged her afterward saying 'Sorry about that asshole, he's been invading low levels all day, and I've just been roaming around, trying to be summoned to kill the jerk'." OnyxBlade finishes.
Not everyone enjoys waiting with bated breath for an opportunity to invade another's game or playing squire to a neonate. In January 2013, a number of people, including Redditors mojie55 and jwilliam108, began putting the DarkSoulsPvP subreddit together in an attempt to provide a unified front for events.
"The thing about Dark Souls is, it was not designed with competitive PvP in mind. Every had a different opinion on what was fair and what was not. So we put it to a vote and banned a few spells, techniques etc. Some didn't think we banned enough and others thought we banned too much, but we got the majority of interested PvPers."
Since then, 14 different tournaments spanning all three gaming systems (Dark Souls is available on the PC, the Xbox 360 and the PS3) have been held. The events cross the boundaries of Reddit as well; mojie55 makes mention of Reddit vs GameFaqs tournaments where the eight of the best from each site come together in a battle to the bitter end.
"We have been recording everything in Google Docs, assigning Ranking points and keeping records of everybody's winning record." Mojie55 says. "Communication is key, I message about 30-50 times a day on PSN and Reddit keeping everyone in contact, I am sure /u/kanavkaul and /u/jwilliams108 do the same. Busy stuff, but I love it."
The fight themselves are far more structured compared to what is commonly practiced in 'Fight Clubs' or the casual Invasions that are part and parcel of the experience. "We usually have a host summon two red phantoms and they fight each other on a best of 3/5/7/9 series depending on what round they are in. It's different than random invasions were you never know if its a new player or a dueler. It's different than fight clubs cause they tend to drift towards casual fights towards the end of the night. With competitive PvP you know your opponent will be setup to his strengths and will be trying to win."
Asides from officiated contests and random brawling, Dark Souls also plays host to some rather innovative PvP events.
Redditor TehWut brings up a few more infamous examples: "Last year, a huge group of Darkwraiths created what was known as the 'Blighttown Ball'. All of them dressed up as naked barbarians wielding huge weapons, and invaded an area known as Blighttown. This area is extremely difficult, and not popular for multiplayer. But with this event however, this area was teeming with an extremely high concentration of invaders, making this already difficult area all the more infuriating. It was great fun for all involved, and this happens quite a bit. We have, for example, Invaded Sens Fortress (difficult death trap of a level) following a theme, as we could only use ranged weapons to attack them from afar. You could, for instance, knock the players off bridges this way, making the sense of mass invasions that much sweeter."
Obviously, the insidious 4chan is no stranger to such festivities either; 'Piggu' knight is their contribution to the community. There's even an instructional, obscenity-laced guide for those interested in building their own bacon-based knight.
"This knight build was also used in the PvP event "Pork Roast" where cooks (guys wielding huge butcher knives) faced off against an army of piggus in an area known as the Painted World." TehWut adds.
The most curious thing about Dark Souls, perhaps, is the proliferation of roleplaying. As it stands, there is traditionally a divide between those who roleplay and those who stand for the more 'hardcore' aspects of the game - the latter, by and large, tend to wrinkle their noses at though more invested in the lore. However, that seems largely absent in the Dark Souls community.
"'Roleplays' sound like one of those community-specific terms.." I begin cautiously.
"Roleplaying means pretty much what it means in tabletop context. You make a character in the context of a personality and story, rather than a pile of numbers. More specifically it can refer to "cosplay" where you're roleplaying someone from the game like Solaire, so you dress up as Solaire and act as Solaire (the character) ought." SolEiji, one of the many inundating me with information, replies.
Because of the limited means of interaction, Dark Souls roleplayers are required to be creative. GrundleSnatcher, who possesses a low-level DarkWrait, treats his character like a boss encounter. He sets rules for himself: only slow walking, no dodging, no healing. "Basically, I had to behave like a boss would and make it so the person I was invading had a solid chance to win of they watched my movements and patterns. If they did get my health down low enough to the point wear I could take one more hit I would back off and drop a powerful weapon as a reward. They after they picked it up I would resume the fight but now I go all out trying to win as a last stand kind of thing. More often then not I lost at that point but that was the whole point of the fight. Losing was still fun because it was creating a unique experience for the other player."
Others take a more passive approach. Redditor jorgamun says many commonly imitate in-game NPCs. "I have several of these that I've done personally - including Xanthous King Jeremiah, Dark Sun Gwyndolin, Lautrec of Carim, Domhnal of Zena, and Siegmeyer of Catarina. Then you have other roleplays that base themselves on a concept within the game and go with it, often using a matching armor set and weapon. I have a few of these, such as a Darkwraith (Dark Set + Dark Sword + Dark Hands) and Egg-Head Pyromancer."
"Then you have roleplays where rather than copying a character concept from the game, you create the concept and then model a character around that. I have a few of these as well, including a ninja (Shadow Set + Chameleon + Chaos Bandit Knife+5 + Poison Throwing Knives + Black Fog), an SL1 (more of a challenge run - essentially completing the game without leveling your character), a no-healer, a claw-wielder, etc."
Good sportsmanship isn't universal.
With so much of the game working against its players, it's really no surprise that hackers are a common nuisance here. Due to their presence, player ladders, for example, are now disregarded, victim to bloated numbers and other mischief.
"Here are two kinds of 'hackers' in this game. There's the one that just wants to avoid the grind of going through the game again, and then there's the ones that make the community angry by freezing their health bar, giving themselves infinite stamina, and so on - stuff that ruins the game for other players entirely." Leeeroyyy grouses.
Locked healthbars. Overpowered weapons. Ruined save files. Modified characters capable of murdering much-needed NPCs. Hackers that can reduce another's statistics without reducing their level, a problem that few are willing to endure.
"This basically ruined the character completely without cheating to recover its stats, which most players won't want to deal with. With proper countermeasures, hackers are mainly just an annoyance now, rather than game-breakers of before, but it's been a hell of a ride getting here (I've lost a character I put much effort into to one)."
At the end of the day, the disruptive influences that exist within Dark Souls seem nominal, at best. We are talking, after all, about a game that utilizes death as a tactic. What the community has accomplished thus far is impressive. The Internet bristles with guides for the new player. Personalities such as VaatiVidya and SunlightMaggot have produced expansive guides to lore and short stories. Others dive into more oblique material, investigating online interaction and level ranges for PvP and Co-op interaction. A man known as SansViedotcom provided translations to Japanese Dark Souls videos. When the PC Edition, a shoddy port compared to its console cousins, was released, it was not the company which came to a hasty rescue but a modder.
Since then, others have come up with other fixes and modifications, including one that reveals a giantess's gargantuan mammary glands. Leet_name, who has contributed tremendously to the mods for Dark Souls, provides a list of 'must-haves':
"DSfix is a MUST. It greatly improves the port in several ways. With the DSfix installed, the port becomes superior to both console versions (No FPS drops in certain zones and superior graphics). DSVFIX is a mod that prevents some hacks that would permanently drain you characters stats. Sadly, hacking in the PC version is more common than the console versions of the game. Another must have mod if you don't own a controller is Dark Souls Mouse Fix. This mod greatly improves the Mouse and Keyboard controls of the game (which are terrible without the fix). It is still recommended to use a controller over Mouse and Keyboard. You can get it here. Last but not least, Dark Souls Connectivity Fix! This mod greatly improves the co-op experience if you want to play with a friend. For Dark Souls Connectivity Fix to take effect both you and your friend need to have the fix installed!"
With Dark Souls II veering ever closer, it's likely that those still lingering within its predecessor's bleak world will finally pack their swords and leave for darker pastures. Nonetheless, there's little doubt that the tensile nature of the community will persist; Dark Souls II will be, if anything, an even more brutal run.
Why is the Dark Souls community so strong?
Because. Dark Souls.
P.S: r/Darksouls? You rock.