“Git gud” has been the rallying cry of Soulsborne trolls for years. The insinuation of course is that to truly get Dark Souls, to complete the game and be accepted as part of the community, you need to play the game long enough to be decent at it. You need to suffer as players before you have, and earn your place in the esteemed halls of highly exclusive, uh… Reddit threads and Facebook groups. But the truth is that we don’t love Dark Souls, its predecessor Demon’s Souls or its spiritual successors Bloodborne and Sekiro because they’re sadistically hard. Nor will that be what we admire most about FromSoftware’s eagerly awaited new instalment Elden Ring when it drops this coming Friday. We play these games for entertainment, and the simple fact is that if we didn’t enjoy them, we wouldn’t be here, playing and replaying every entry in the series, dissecting the lore and discussing the games’ minutiae with fellow fans.
For the most part, the Soulsborne community knows this, too. Within these digital spaces in which fans of the games come together, you’re just as likely to find encouragement and support as you are mockery and scorn. In the right context, “git gud” is a term of encouragement. When I first played Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters DLC, I found myself stuck on a couple of the bosses (namely Ludwig, The Accursed and Laurence, The First Vicar) and with a burning desire to complete the game, I turned to Facebook groups for help. Turns out a hefty portion of the posts in there are players seeking guidance in some form, and helpful responses are often surprisingly rapid. Whilst many seemingly revel in protecting Souls as if it belongs to them just because they learnt how to parry Gwyn before you did, others are eager to share their knowledge and help their fellow gamers. In my case, I was met with responses in minutes, and almost felt bad having to turn people down as I received too many offers of help. The bosses in question were both down within the hour. I’ve since beaten them both again on my own, and that likely wouldn’t have happened without that first feeling of cooperative triumph.
Encountering players willing to drop what they’re doing to aid a complete stranger is no rare occurrence, either. It’s part of Soulsborne’s charm that it gives players the tools they need to either help or hinder others as they see fit, making its multiplayer as enigmatic and unpredictable as the offline worlds of Boletaria, Lordran, Drangleic, Lothric, Yharnam and, soon, the Lands Between. Invading is its own thrill and there are those who delight in so-called “ganking”, but without those who also choose to help where they can, the series would undoubtedly have nowhere near the fan base it does now.
On my first run-through of Dark Souls II: Scholar Of The First Sin, I found myself increasingly infuriated by Heide’s Tower Of Flame. I beat the area’s joke of a boss without much hassle at all, but found the Heide Knights, who in this version of the game arise from their slumber (once you beat the Dragonrider) to patrol the area alongside the hulking Old Knights, a little too much to handle (that is, until I got the hang of parrying). On one attempt to reach the Cathedral Of Blue, I made it almost the entire way before being invaded. My invader bested me easily. Then, moments later, the same player invaded me again, with the same result.
On my next attempt, I was about ready to quit the game entirely when the same player’s name popped up on screen yet again. Clearly there weren’t many people online at that moment. Soon after, having inevitably died to this player again, I received a message via Playstation Network – “do you need some help?”. Not a mocking smear, but a genuine offer of assistance. This player guided me through the area and beyond, helping me beat Old Dragonslayer and then reconnecting again in No-Man’s Wharf to help me through a second area. Without this player showing me the way, proving to me that everything in the game was surmountable, I’m not ashamed to say that I might have never touched the game again after that night.
Cases of direct help like this are common, too. Almost every Souls player I have spoken to has a similar anecdote. But even if they don’t, indirect help has proved invaluable to countless people. There probably isn’t a player out there who hasn’t used Google to help them on their way. Whether you’re summoning strangers to beat Orphan Of Kos, watching a video guide to find the way out of Sen’s Fortress or even just heading to wikis to see if the Estoc is worth investing your Titanite Shards in, you’re relying on the community. Someone had to walk so you can now run.
It’s extremely tough to experience Soulsborne without the input of others. Heck, even reading messages left by other players in the world, whether they’re encouraging you to roll off a cliff, warning you of an upcoming threat or making a crude joke about a corpse bent over a ledge, means your game has in some small way been shaped through other players. Some of the first people to play the original Dark Souls were the journalists who scored review copies, and they quickly discovered the importance of helping each other through Lordran, founding the infamous “Chain Of Pain” email thread.
And as much as there are those who would look down on new players for seeking guidance, I’m sure most people would agree that wanting some help is warranted. You wouldn’t judge a hiker when they confess to using trekking poles or yell at a student for studying before an exam, and Dark Souls feels like an exam that even the most dedicated student won’t ace. I’m not really sure anyone can claim to be an expert on the series. I still find that new players who I recommend the games to have some new insight or notice an environmental detail that I never picked up on, and I’ve seen it take self-professed veterans three or four tries to beat Iudex Gundyr on a new character. Unravelling the games’ bottomless mystery is a journey seemingly without end, and one that is yet to become tedious. Unravelling it together is the best chance we all have at finally understanding this peerless series. When you boot up Elden Ring, remember that the community has your back. And when you beat it, don’t sneer at those who haven’t – maybe give them a leg up, if you can.
Words: George Parr