I had all but given up on Dark Souls. My main character, a level 35 Wanderer by the suitably middle-ages-y sounding name of Beatrice, had hit a rut. Already, I was thinking, “Okay, Dark Souls, enough is enough. You win.”
I had zero souls, zero humanity, and every time I tried to face the Capra Demon, it was a veritable shit-show. I hadn’t even attempted the Gargoyles yet. Admittedly, I’d made numerous, amateur-level mistakes along the way: I’d never really learned how to block, let alone parry. Not to mention the fact that I, stupidly, wasted an extremely rare item: instead of getting a permanent increase to the efficacy of my health potions, I opted to cash-out for a measly couple of hundred souls.
It seemed as though all hope was lost. I was this close to trading in the game completely. Instead, I decided to create a new character in order to co-op with two of my friends, the wonderful Henry McMunn (@FailboatSkipper) and Jeremy Hillier (@Jurburr). They were both much further along with their main characters than I was. Yet when the idea of starting new co-op characters was suggested, I jumped at the opportunity.
Thus, Justine, my level 52 Bandit, was born. Like always, it took me a few tries to clear the tutorial level. But once the co-op started, man, it didn’t stop. I never intended for Justine to reach a higher level than my main character. It just sort of happened.
We were fighting the Gargoyles, two of the early bosses. Jeremy and I were in Henry’s world, having already beaten the bosses in our respective worlds. The first two times, I just sort of hung back, healing my co-op partners and letting them deal the damage. But this time I felt confident enough to try to fight them myself.
I was taking heavy hits and very nearly died, when Henry suggested I’d best keep my shield up. To me, this was a foreign concept, yet something that is so vitally essential to succeeding at a game like Dark Souls. In one co-op sitting, with their help, I beat more bosses than I had playing solo over the course of weeks.
When Justine hit level 35, where poor Beatrice is still stagnating to this day, I noted to my co-op partners that it took me literally half the time (in terms of hours played) to reach the same level. I can only attribute this to one thing: Dark Souls is best played cooperatively.
The ability to watch my co-op partners in game has been immensely helpful. I’ve been able to study their strategy and their play-style, which has vastly improved my own skill level. Learning is, after all, largely based on observation.
And this learning has served me well, especially when playing solo. For example, I was fighting the massive Hydra, a boss whom I decided to take out on my own. Needless to say, I was terrified: here I was, a character who’d gotten this far namely because of co-op, completely alone. I listened to my friends’ advice: “Keep your shield up,” “dodge roll out of the way” etc., but this is only a fraction of what Dark Souls co-op has given me.
Ultimately, there is something supremely comforting about playing a game like Dark Souls with other people (hardcore mode be damned!). All that which is insurmountable seems slightly more feasible when in the company of others. And for once in a multiplayer game, rather than hurling asinine insults at one another, there is a beautiful sense of camaraderie, of genuine support and knowledge sharing. Here, people were actually encouraging me.
During the aforementioned solo-Hydra battle, I kept saying things like “No, there’s no way I can do this by myself. He’s massive.” Yet Henry and Jeremy kept on reassuring me every step of the way, after every near-victory and death, repeating the mantra: “You’ve got this.” Under their tutelage, I believed I actually could do it. And eventually I did.