This is a judgement-free zone
The last few days have been agony for me. After it got out that it was possible to download the Japanese version of Dark Souls III with English subtitles and menus, seemingly every YouTuber and streamer in the world has made it their mission to race through the game as fast as possible. As a hopeless fanatic for Dark Souls, it’s been difficult to resist the temptation to take a little peek over the past week.
I don’t want to spoil Dark Souls III for myself. But also, I really want to spoil Dark Souls III for myself.
I made peace with spoilers years ago. It’s nearly impossible to see or play anything completely blind anymore. Marketing copy freely gives away key plot points, early leaks and builds make the rounds on the internet weeks in advance to every big release, and the reaction-based economy of YouTube means every detail and rumor is mined to exhaustion in the pursuit of views. Avoiding spoilers used to be a matter of simply not reading an article or telling your buddy to shut up. Now it feels like swimming upstream. You need to be on constant alert to avoid accidentally skimming over a sloppy tweet or reading a “SNAPE WAS FONTAINE AND ALSO DEAD ALL ALONG” troll post on a forum.
And honestly, that’s fine. It turns out spoilers generally don’t harm most people’s enjoyment of a movie or game. In fact, there are people that argue spoilers help people enjoy media more. I don’t know about that, but I know I’ll personally spoil the shit our of a game, especially if I’m on the fence about playing it. Often, this is just a way of saving time. If the details seem interesting enough that I’d like to see how they play out in motion, that can be a selling point. If they seem dull or predictable, that game will get pushed further down my “maybe someday” pile.
But Dark Souls is different.
My blind playthrough of the first Dark Souls is one of the most memorable, and personally important, experiences I’ve ever had with a video game. I know, I know, “another writer has a deep personal connection to Dark Souls, go figure,” but it’s true. Dark Souls is probably my favorite game of all time. It tapped into everything I love and desire most about games, the perfected promise Zelda II made to me so many years ago.
It offered me a strange and dangerous land to explore. Unimaginably savage beasts and towering bosses that seemed all but impossible at first blush. Mystery was the thick life blood of the game, running through everything from the story and world to the menu statistics and mechanics. For better-or-worse, a big part of playing Dark Souls is learning how to understand Dark Souls.
And I did it blind. While Demon Souls certainly had its champions heralding it as an unappreciated masterpiece, the Souls brand hadn’t yet reached the critical mass of lore videos, memes, and rabid, insatiable fandom it has now. It was easy to play Dark Souls blind in those first few weeks. In fact, comparing your progress to your friends (in a cagey and vague way) was one of the biggest thrills Lordran had to offer at the time.
But that was then. Now, Dark Souls has its own little cottage industry, a secondary economy of wiki authors, PvP sizzle-reel champions, and lore-masters. And I have less time to blindly wander around strange lands getting killed repeatedly by monsters and messing up my character stats with blind ignorance. Honestly, I ended up watching a lot of Bloodborne material before and while I was playing it, and it’s hard to say what effect it had on my enjoyment.
I really liked Bloodborne. It’s a fantastic game that I could lose myself in for hours. But, I didn’t love it like I did Dark Souls. The why and how of that is hard to say. It could just be that it’s hard to surprise someone a third time. Or you could blame it on the change of setting, or the more aggressive gameplay.
Or, maybe I did it to myself. I never connected with Yharnam the way I connected to Lordran because I didn’t have to, because I had an inkling of the right way to go through the game, how to build a strong character out of the gate. Did spoiling certain sections, or planning out a build before jumping in hurt the game? Would I have liked it more going in blind? Or would I have burned out and liked it even less?
I don’t know if spoilers hurt a person’s enjoyment of a game, or helps. I’m not going to argue the virtues of watching some YouTube videos or reading some item descriptions early, one way or another. All I know is that personally, I’m not going to take the chance on this one (even though a part of me really wants to).
How ’bout you? If you intend to play Dark Souls III, are you taking pains to go in blind? Are you sitting up every night watching Let’s Plays and streams, already planning your killer PvP invader build? Are you trying to take the middle way, maybe dipping your toes into some of the gameplay, but trying to keep the bosses and covenants a surprise?
What’s your Dark Souls spoiler strategy?