I bought Dark Souls 2 in a Steam Winter sale thinking it was Darksiders 2, a game I had seen a YouTuber briefly play around that time. I was 14, made a silly mistake, and ended up being thrown into the hardest action RPG I’d ever played. Once I stepped into Majula and saw several paths inviting me to get killed in new and unique ways, I freaked out a little. Heide’s Tower got me slammed back to the bonfire, the forest saw me ganked by a horde of undead foot soldiers, and diving into the pit early didn’t end well. Gravity is a bitch.
I put the game down for a few months until I was playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which was more my speed, even if I did get ranked Silver 1 at first. My friend introduced me to one of his friends while we were sitting in a lobby, a Londoner who had been itching to play Dark Souls with someone for yonks, but never had anyone willing. Later that week, my actual, true and proper Dark Souls 2 run began.
I sucked. There’s no two ways around it. He was walking me through getting to the second bonfire at the forest where I could find his soapstone so that I could summon him to help me fight the boss, but I kept dying to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. It took us hours just to beat the Last Giant and first Pursuer, and that was the easy bit. Regardless, he stuck with me, even if I was a complete bumbling idiot, and together we managed to claw our way through to the Four Lords, where he decided my build would benefit from an item you get by killing the big spider on NG+, meaning we fought it again after burning a bonfire aesthetic. It was even more difficult, took nearly a week, and I thought he was going to leave me in the dust to fend for myself, but we beat it together, yelling in excitement so loud my parents woke up.
I’ll always treasure that Dark Souls 2 run, even if we’ve since fallen out, because, while it was needlessly long, overly complicated, and unbelievably difficult, it sold me on Dark Souls like nothing else. There’s a comradery to helping each other out and pushing through the difficult smog together, with one able to lift the other up when it all feels impossible.
We played for nearly two months, maybe three, and finally toppling Nashandra and sitting on that throne was the most satisfying moment in any game I’ve ever played, all because of the journey. Alone, I gave up almost immediately, and if not for that co-op run, I’d never have played the first Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 3, Bloodborne, Sekiro, or Elden Ring. All of them are among my favourite games now.
The ‘git gud’ crowd tries to demean co-op as cheating, a lesser way to play since getting help isn’t the “true” Souls experience, but that’s a load of shit. Dark Souls, from the very beginning, is about strangers helping each other – Solaire says as much when we meet him on the balcony, and it’s what inspired the entire system.
Hidetaka Miyazaki was stuck on a road in his car during heavy snowfall, but a group of people passed by, stopped, and helped push his car out so he could continue on. He never saw those strangers again. My first time playing Souls 2 feels oddly familiar to that, as me and my friend met through Souls, beat the game together, drifted apart as we got older, and now we don’t talk at all. I don’t think we ever will, again. But, as Miyazaki looks back fondly on that night, I’ll look back fondly on that entire playthrough, and how we managed to persevere and grow close as friends regardless of the hours I spent dying to the easiest enemies in the game.
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