My Life as a Sunbro
I completely avoided true multiplayer in Demon's Souls, but adored the online elements anyway. There was a fantastic feeling of shared struggle whenever I caught a glimpse of another player's ghostly form. As a solo adventurer the limited interaction actually emphasised the sense of loneliness. Our worlds were linked and we were pursuing the same goals, but there was a wide gap between us. We couldn't communicate directly, but I learnt lessons from their spilled blood and found safe places, shortcuts, and hidden treasure thanks to their scrawled messages.
No community is perfect, and I couldn't completely trust other players. There certainly were misleading messages tempting me to fall to my death. But on balance Demon's Souls players were more helpful than harmful.
Dark Souls, at least in my experience, has a darker community. This shift is probably to be expected from a "hardcore" series growing in popularity, but there are also design differences that make me feel less connected. Player ghosts are rarer, and you're more likely to encounter others around the safety of the bonfires than in the heat of battle. The lack of communication felt natural while preoccupied with our own survival, but around the bonfire it seems heartless. This is a place of triumph or recuperation, not struggle.
I found myself sizing up other players around the fire, trying to gauge their skill and playstyle from gear choices. These weren't distant allies any more, they were potential foes.
In Dark Souls player messages are more unreliable, both in terms of basic mechanics and content. Misleading messages are common. Useful information is either absent or repeated ten times, thanks to the change from dedicated servers to variable peer-to-peer connections.
The limited vocabulary might actually have made the messages more unfriendly this time around. It certainly made them more predictable — full of the same unoriginal jokes about Gwynevere's "amazing chest".
There seems to be more arsehattery, though it could also be that I'm becoming more cynical. My sense of the in-game Souls community was, after all, mostly projected. Regardless of how tangible the differences are, online Dark Souls feels different.
There were a few possible responses to this situation. I could ignore messages left by other players, switch to offline mode, or invade other players' worlds and seek my revenge.
Instead, I joined the Warriors of Sunlight, a covenant devoted to assisting other players. I spent quite a bit of time to helping other player's defeat bosses, and deepening my connection to the sunlight.
This doesn't make sense, and not just because I find real-life sunlight genuinely unpleasant. Dark Souls co-op is pretty fucking annoying, honestly. Even in the popular spots it involves a lot of waiting around for a summon. I read books and cleaned my lounge room, that's quality play time right there. After all the trouble there is very little reward, and I've already established I don't owe this community anything. So why do it?
I could try and make grand claims about being the community I wanted to find, but it wouldn't be true. I'm not really that nice.
Have I mentioned lately how much I hate paladins and knights? Chivalry bugs me because it so often comes garnished with a large dollop of superiority. But wasn't that exactly what I was doing whenever I scrawled my soul sign on the ground? It's important that it was always up to the host player to initiate the summon: they had to ask for my help. I was part of a support network I was far too proud to ever call on myself.
Being a Warrior of Sunlight is its own challenge. It was difficult to meet the requirements to join when I went through it, though this has since been relaxed substantially. Playing as a summoned phantom is slightly trickier than playing in your own world because you can't use healing flasks. Healing spells are an option, but they aren't accessible to every player and can be impractical in combat. The host will heal you a bit when they chug a flask, but not all players know this so you can't rely on it being used strategically. Ideally you just have to be good enough not to need the host for anything.
That I could do. I rolled under the Gaping Dragon's stamping foot, determined to show how neatly I could evade it. I'm far from the most skilled Souls player but I stuck to fights I knew well and threw myself into them.
The factions in Dark Souls are interesting from a lore perspective, but they're also some of the most sketchy, seemingly unfinished elements of the game. What does it mean to worship the sun in the kingdom of Lordran?
The only Warrior of Sunlight we meet is clearly insane — or at least accustomed to being perceived that way. He's our only strong reference point for what the covenant is about. Solaire is surprised we don't just back away slowly the moment he admits his quest to find his own sun (whatever that means). He's happy to offer help, but his full motivations are unclear. Talking seems to make him uncomfortable. He makes a joke of us, suggesting we must be attracted to him. There's nothing concrete to be gained from his erratic dialogue.
I did latch onto one thing Solaire said. He seems genuinely enraptured while looking up at the sun, declaring, "If only I cold be so grossly incandescent!".
As a phantom I became grossly incandescent. A flashy, golden eyesore set against a dank backdrop. Admire me.
It's probably for the best Dark Souls co-op was impractical to persist with for too long. I'm better on my own, or more humble at least. I'm not sure I wanted to find a sun or worship a sun, more like I tried to be a sun in some kind of ultimate mockery of my own roleplaying tendencies. I like to use characters to explore difficult and problematic aspects of life and humanity.
It's difficult not to think of other players as the victims in my little stage show. One sent me a thank you note, which made me smile but was also a kind of sad. This isn't really co-operation — at best it's charity.