It Wageth On

Joe Biden’s massive surge into a near-decisive victory on Super Tuesday is a sign of the times, bright and fell for us in the spring or summer of life. The stranglehold of old lower-case-c conservatives around our politics remains strong, and they’ll not release it until Death comes reaving. With it, they’ll do whatever they can to meet their priorities, the chief being soothing their own anxieties, between which and ours yawns an unbridgeable chasm. In this endless war for a better world, they are now and forever allies, never friends. Amen.

The climate collapses. Siberia melts. Australia is scarred. Moscow and New York just had their warmest winters, California among its driest. Pestilence rides again with a just-forged scythe, honed to eviscerate the fraying fabric of our patchwork, racist healthcare system that has suddenly found socialized medicine quite reasonable and not at all communist. Of course, the work will lean towards the aged and white, the affluent and advantaged, Floridian retirees in their hideous walled gardens, quarantined from Zeit & Zeitgeist, while the young, the brown, and the poor will be left to toil and twist for themselves in the wind, their agony dissipating into the Void, or (with luck) becoming a joule or two of economic heat for a yacht or McMansion. But wait: the data points to this plague strongly favoring them in its harvest while sparing us. Finally some justice, perhaps. I, one of those narcissistic Millennials I’ve heard so much about, will do my civic duty, but shed no tears for any general havoc among older demographics. If that’s what it takes to bring you a twinge of fear and helplessness, to feel what we and so many others are now old friends with, to put the shoe on the other foot for a little while, to remind you of what you truly are and what you’ve forgotten with such conspicuous glee: amen. War is hell, and all’s fair in’t.

Over here in Blueland, we started this primary with the most diverse cast in history. Hundreds of burnt millions later (get it?), before us stands a bowl of familiar pale gruel. Wow. That was all worth it, wasn’t it? The dozen debates, the viral moments—remember when Kamala Harris clawed Biden’s mumbling eyes out for his centrist racism on national television? She’s now being floated as his VP according to some!—, a year spent wolfing down hot dogs across Iowan plains? Why bother? Bring back the smoke-filled rooms and save us the circus. In its most desperate hour, the Party Decided it needed Joe Biden after all to beat Sa—I mean, Trump. Yes, that’s it. Unfurl the banners. See how they read in bright, bold letters: we have to beat Trump. Not understand Trumpism, still less what made and allowed it, still least the growing titans stirring in the world below, shifting the ground beneath our feet. Indeed, what business of ours are they? We’ll not see them, let alone fight them, these vague threats on a distant horizon. As much as Death takes, it grants, and to us? A final privilege.

“There’s no substantive difference between the two parties” remains a blatant falsehood, but the grain of truth at its core is much larger than I thought. With Biden and (mainly) co. at the helm, focus will shift back to the sensibilities of his generation. Take any issue—healthcare, housing, taxes, welfare, the economic contract—the priority will be on defense and preservation, not expansion or improvement. Conservatism. There is no emergency, no real challenges looming over the ORDO SECLORVM, no climate catastrophe worth tangible sacrifice. What separates the two parties is the allocation of leftover resources to those outside the gardens: the Republicans a miserly pittance, the Democrats a respectable tithe. A sizable difference in substance, one that does help many, many people, but meager in spirit. The reliable haves, however defined, are the priority, the rest an afterthought. I see now what they mean.

This battle is lost. My advice is to stop caring, to save your strength and spit. Don’t follow the rest of the primary or the general election. Do your duty and vote Democrat in November, but do not spend your time agonizing over stakes or margins beyond that. Whatever activism you find appealing ought to be focused on the state or local level, where individuals and ideals have much more power. The national level requires a machine and operating, like Sanders has, in its presence. The moment it realized he could actually win, it moved. He cannot win now, even if he somehow recovered a lead over Biden. What’s left is the sound of Joe and the fury of Bernie. Conserve yours. Nurse and shelter it in these looming years of famine. Remember who sowed its seeds.

This is the lesson: Boomers don’t care about us, have no reason to care, and have far more power to resist being made to care than we can hope to muster. Microsoft Word yet baffles them after thirty years of our tutelage. They cannot be taught to heed much greater things that directly implicate them and their stewardship. They will not listen, nor is any revolution coming, not yet, and not in the guise you crave. Sanders has succeeded twice in decisively winning the youth vote, but not in expanding it. There are too many systemic barriers to that. Youth have to spend their youth getting their lives in order, while the American political system caters to older, established members of society with lots of time and clout on their hands. In this place, they’ve the mastery. 

To salt the wound, Biden still sucks. He failed upward in a classic manner. He did nothing to earn his new position. The party pulled off an impressive comeback for one of their own without considering the cost, or the properties of the actual values they were inputting into the equation. Biden is a terrible candidate who hadn’t even won a primary until a week ago, after my lifetime of trying. He needed all the help and luck he could get too. The man has no pitch besides “Frontrunner,” which leans hard on “REMEMBER OBAMA?!!!” He is a counterpart to Trump, not an answer or antithesis, an embrace of the selfsame nihilistic creed: the candidate doesn’t matter, their values or vision don’t matter, nothing matters. What matters is winning, gaining power. In this brave new age, the best way to do that is to appeal to the feelings and fears of the old (a return to normalcy, amity in politics, bipartisan cooperation, deliberation), not those silly feelings and fears of the young (calamitous climate change, the ballooning inequality of wealth and opportunity, racism and bigotry). This sad truism shall remain true until the scythe reaps enough of them out.

Here’s a bitter bow to wrap up the pill: even if Biden wins, even in a landslide, he and his host have no desire to understand the world that is and is becoming, no reason to alter their course in its looming wake, no impetus to care about its residents, and no vision to meet that challenge should they, by some weird serendipity, overcome the former three. They live in a bubble, a glass dome suspended in the 60s and 70s, when they were young. Through this pleasant, pleasing lens they will govern, biding their time, idling, fiddling while Rome and MVNDVS burn, as if they’ll live forever. They’re not wrong:  life and death are two sides of the same coin, infinite in their own ways. Maybe this agitation will work. Maybe it won’t. It’s their problem, not ours. War is hell.

Our priority is to survive and prepare for the future they’re abandoning. The best revenge is a life well lived. Go forth and meme. Improve your station. Foster hobbies. Find friends and keep them. Exercise. Play video games, draw, write, live, love. Claw forth and build a foundation for yourself in the fight against the true enemies that wait in the dark. These are more edifying than internet cheerleading and investing yourself in idols. The kids are all right. They understand that our politics are out of their hands, that there’s nothing they can do until they are rooted and established themselves, so they turn to higher things, those that girdle and transcend life’s foibles: the enjoyment of its pleasures and kindness towards others. In this, based on my own experience and so many of my peers, I have endless faith and hope. We are a great people, gentler and nobler, standing far above these powers that yet be. Their vanquishing shall be deafening.

In the political arena, even in this terrible defeat that will reverberate for years and years, there is a victory: Sanders’ critique is proven correct. The parties exist first and foremost for their own sake, and good causes and passions must be subsumed to this while bad ones play by different rules. The progressive pressure of the past three years has evaporated, slain with purpose, and already come the calls for unity for the sake of victory in this round. If that’s true, then it too is a transaction, something that goes both ways. For those of us youngins lucky enough to be in safe enough positions to engage in politics, it ought be only as necessary for the true cause, to force history to spring back towards its long arc. No allegiance to a banner is necessary, nor desirable.

The old have taken the reins, so let them feel the fatigue of holding them. Let them fight among each other. Let them angst and squirm and tremble. Let them fret over small things and bumps in the road: shifting the frontlines of Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, efficiency percentages, funding for more highways and roads for automobiles into further-flung subdivisions. Meanwhile, beat the drum about climate change and the American dream. Scream in protest. Remind them of the sins they are committing, aiding, abetting, and abiding. Let spite sharpen spite. Set before them, again and again, the simplest and most bitter of truths they’re desperate to deny: they have failed us; they could have done better.

Oh yes, they know. “OK, Boomer.” “How dare you!” Observe the ire such little words have ignited. If there’s one thing the human brain excels more at than rejecting information that clashes with its core beliefs, it’s noticing such information, a perfect cradle for cognitive dissonance. They have drawn a line, their pending corpses as material. It’s tempting to think their malice is invincible, that you cannot defeat someone ready to drag another down into flames just for the kicks, but it is not so. All it takes is a mustard seed of doubt, planted in good, tempestuous soil, waiting for some small, quiet hour—minute, second, moment—to sprout and bloom. Age has a funny way of eroding the mightiest delusions. Some will escape that erosion, as most cells in the body escape a victorious pathogen. No matter. We’ll take some of that final privilege back, so that they might go to their graves with even a kernel of doubt planted in their hearts, pilfered of the satisfaction of their smug certitude in their beloved advantage. That “fuck you, I’ve got mine” might be ruined a little, and ruined in total. 

Good and truth are more powerful than any evil or lie. The only reason we think it tilts the other way is we’ve been taught—and teach ourselves—that the latter is exempt, the magic exception to Things Fall Apart. It is a passing thing, their shadow. Yes, others will come, and we’ll bring ours with us. Some caution that “they’ll die out” is something they’ve heard for a long time. I’m sorry to respond that this time is different. We have never seen this kind of stark political and ideological polarization based on age. Not only is their order far diminished from the last time in the cycle, there’s strong evidence it’s failing—spectacularly—to reproduce. Loops are both strong and brittle. They need break only once. Ishamael’s Wager is sound. 

Take heart. One day, soon, they will lie in the dirt, and upon that dirt we shall stand, smiling upon the epitaph, trophies in hand, a better world won, with all the time to spit.

The Game Must End

I seem to be among the few souls satisfied by Game of Throne’s final dumpster fire, which is less dumpster or fire than it seems. I’ve had no high hopes for the franchise’s conclusion ever since I read A Dance With Dragons and realized this was all going nowhere fast. Part of me wants to be baffled by how so many did, but that would be lying. Long have I beat this drum of doom. Now the day is here, this very day, in fact.

Before we continue, full disclosure and honesty: I am a Tolkien fan. Yes, a great part of my grudge with George R. R. Martin (GRRM) and GoT has been me being butt-hurt about how much LotR and Tolkien’s legacy gets dumped on vis-a-vis the former. “The American Tolkien”? I’ve been on a self-gratifying rant against that moniker for a decade, which informs much of my sentiment in this matter. Ironically, Tolkien too had trouble finishing his own works—the Lord of the Rings took about a decade of dithering to finish—but the key difference is that John suffered in private silence until he could produce a finished product, while George has leveraged his struggle in broad daylight, painting a picture of himself that was never going to stand the test of time. He’s cast himself as a ruthless scribe who’ll kill your puppy because that’s “realistic” or “unexpected,” a painstaking realist who pays close attention to logistics and time and something. This is a fire any writer knows not to play with. It’s irresponsible, unprofessional spin. He’s gotten away with it for far too long. What goes up must come down.

Nevertheless, to be fair to George, the “bad” season at hand is not all his fault, nor is he a hack. No matter what I say, no matter what stupid slice of my mind I’d like to indulge, the man is perhaps the most successful author ever. His characters are on everyone’s lips. His Song has been rightfully celebrated as one of the last few common cultural strands we enjoy in this polarized world. In terms of success and scale of influence alone, if not baseline quality of writing, he easily matches Tolkien. This I do not gainsay.

Instead, what irks me now is this attempt at damage control over something that neither needs it nor deserves it, with everyone, from George to D&D (the GoT show-runners) subtly pointing fingers, walking back earlier statements, and just plain lying about the roles they’ve played in this. To the first, the main problem with the last two, probably three, seasons of GoT has been pacing, and with it, characterization, which is indeed a betrayal of the show’s roots. Its earlier seasons were defined by its plodding pace and quieter moments filled with characters talking, getting us to like them through that talking. It was restrained. Now everything is compressed to hell for no better reason other than “we didn’t feel like taking our time.” Alas, things do take time, and Time does not suffer fools.

Still, it’s way too easy to take this mistake of execution and conflate it with a mistake of essence, which brings us to the divide tearing a once proud fandom apart. Take away all the shoddiness of bad scheduling and the core of the plot, the essence of what happens, the points on the outline and the beats they’ve aimed to hit—those all remain well and good, fitting neatly into the Song’s long tack. The Night King and the Walkers are Walking MacGuffins on page and screen. It’s only fitting they would come to a MacGuffin-y end. Dany’s turn to insanity has been set up from the very first book. You might be mad it went there, but you can’t deny it was a pretty straight shot. If you have earnest grievances with what’s been happening, not how, then I’m sad to be the bearer of bad news. Alas, the books won’t save you either. This is your supper. It’s Martin’s vision, albeit squeezed and dehydrated through a studio, but he signed that deal with his own arm and led it every step of the way.

Before we continue, let’s agree: D&D own all the blame in the world for the extent of the pacing problem. They had the luxury and leisure to choose whatever amount of time and resources they’d’ve liked to close this sucker out. They chose poorly. Nobody put a gun to their heads and told them they had to wrap up everything in 13 episodes. On the contrary, plenty extended the offer of more time. Nah, they wanted to do other things, which, uh, no. It doesn’t work like that: you don’t get to shirk from the obligations you sign up for. You made your fame and fortune on GoT. It’s only right and professional that you give it a proper send-off.

Continuing on, the sad fact that there was Everything To Wrap Up rests on the lone shoulders of George. He sowed the seeds of this fire long ago. Those who’ve been keeping careful eyes on his progress have known how troubled his handling of ASoIaF has been. As someone who’s taking a stab at writing books, I know very well how some parts of the piece write themselves, while others are a chore and a slog in the best of moods. Martin, like every author, has his preferences. He has a knack and love for historiography, that granularity of lists, names, details, heraldry, attention to (certain) details, that make his heart sing. But people age, the neurons adapt, time passes, and lo, chores that were once easy become monkeys on your back that won’t ever get off. It’s way more fun to plant seeds and watch them bloom than bring in the harvest. It even seems kinder: letting things grow, not cutting them down, yet in truth, unrestricted growth leads to choking and death. Pruning is just as necessary to health and prosperity in any sphere. In realizing how poorly we’ve exercised our will over the generations, we tend to overemphasize the catastrophe of will and ignore the catastrophe of chaos, even though catastrophe is catastrophe no matter its seed. Here, Martin has planted an overgrown garden of characters, plots, places, and names while procrastinating about that pruning. As of the last book, there remain more winding, disconnected plotlines than ever festered in the worst of Dorneville with less relative time to resolve them. I have no idea how you’re going to snip off Zombie Catelyn (wait, what?), the Dornish Cul-De-Sac, the Euron and Victarion (who?) Cruises, the Aegon (who too?) Invasion, the Littlefinger Loitering, the High Sparrow Session, the Jon Snow Resurrection (yep, still in the wings), the Flayman Chronicles, the Arya Training Montage (yep, still in progress), the big Meereen battle (still hasn’t happened after two books of setup) and bring things to a close within two books. Not without breaking a few omelettes, at least. There were (never counting the one-offs, of course) eight point-of-view characters in the first book, each with a relatively even amount of narrative. In the fifth, there were twice that number, but Jon, Tyrion, and Dany took up the lion’s share with the other baker’s dozen spread out like thin butter. There isn’t enough time to give them all their due. Some are redundant, easily pared down or dispensed with, but a reckoning there must be for any of this to move on.

Now, a Reckoning we have. Characters get cut, die like flies, or tossed out of the script like bad Halloween candy, begging the question: what did you expect? What were you expecting, really? Something unexpected? What would that look like? There’s only so many battles and scheming and routine treachery and shock and surprise you can take before it becomes provincial and boring. Chasing the phantom of “unpredictability” paints you into a different predictable corner, not above it. The flat circle remains flat and circular. People age, the neurons adapt. It’s been ten years. Cersei has always been the evil, ruthless, short-sighted wanna-be queen who’s been absurdly successful. Jon has always been a bland, expressionless idiot Chosen One who’s been absurdly successful (he got resurrected, for Christ’s sake). Daenerys has always been an absurdly successful semi-mad queen with no idea what’s she’s doing. Bran was always going to be the Three-Eyed Raven. Arya was always going to stab important people improbably. You see, Westeros? The tropes didn’t ruin you. The tropes were inside you all along. 

The Reckoning is putting GoT’s reputation in its proper place, and with it, Martin’s. That place isn’t a trash heap, but it’s not Valhalla either. Any author worth their salt knows damn well you can’t just kill off characters willy-nilly. They know better not to go out on that limb lest it break off while you’re dancing on it. Martin has. He’s done it guns blazing, because he, like a human, thought he could handle the risk when the time came. Now the limb’s cracking. That temptation to spin it as somehow being different, to kinda wash your hands of it just enough to get off the hook, is very strong, well-nigh irresistible.

The Reckoning is taking you to task for not keeping yourself in check. This is the advantage of maturity in consumption: when the bill comes due, you can afford it. The message behind Ned Stark’s death wasn’t “life is cruel” or “the good guys don’t win,” but “being a good guy itself isn’t enough to win.” Even that falls into the realm of “dying mentor figure sparks the Action.” Likewise, where its plot could have gone was always very predictable. There were only a handful of roads to follow, each fraught with charges of “ugh, obvious.” If Dany somehow defied all the odds and ruled wisely, wouldn’t that strike you as canned and contrived? Or what if Tyrion died without any resolution to his loose ends? Were the dragons were going to come through unscathed? …well, no otherwise there wouldn’t be much tension in the final arc. She’d just steamroll everyone, hmm. Did you think there wouldn’t be a Zombie Dragon? …well, it’s pretty obvious, but all the pieces were there and it’s a straightforward way to raise the stakes, huh. Did you think Dany was gonna waltz up to the Iron Throne and suddenly become a Good Queen with zero problems? …err, wait, she had that depressing vision of the Iron Throne with the ash and she didn’t get to reach it and, yikes, she does tend to make weird angry faces and over(re)act a lot…oh. Whatever the choice, someone will braid it into a rope to hang you with. Think about what that says about fandom.

So you’ll forgive me if I savor, just a little, not too much, how people, after enjoying their delusion for years, have turned on their baby in murder. “Why does GoT keep trying to surprise me? I CAN’T BE SURPRISED ANYMORE. EVERYONE’S SO HORRIBLE AND DUMB AND I’M OVER IT.” Hmm, well, maybe it was never that horrible, and maybe being horrible isn’t inherently noteworthy. How many of Shakespeare’s characters die horribly? Is that why people love them? Maybe. Or maybe “realism” isn’t what we’re looking for in stories, but something a bit more human and useful than “life is shitty.” Life is more complicated than that. We humans are capable enough that we’re right to expect more from each other. This uncomfortable truth is why GoT is failing to rise above its own essence. Martin’s critique of fantasy, that ruling is hard, life is cruel, virtue isn’t enough, etc., has always been insufficient, trite in its own way. “He ruled wisely” isn’t a dilemma he’s managed to solve because his take is still steeped in and wedded to a contradictory fascination with byzantine schemes, backstabbing, betrayal, awfulness, and the voyeuristic thrills that come with them. The Game is the point. The Wheel isn’t meant to be broken, not really. There are no people in Westeros questioning why hereditary monarchy or autocracy is flawed and inevitably leads to Mad Kings and Queens, that even the best kings suck because you’re still basing power and authority on random chance and Survival of the Fittest, that Ned Stark, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen end up looking rather the same to the common peasant. We can do better than the Game, both as individuals and as systems. It’s not enough to be “honest” in one direction. What saves Tolkien’s works is a lack of such pretense. The Lord of the Rings is an unabashed fairy tale, celebrating fantastical things, but reaching deeper and truer into our core through that. Game of Thrones is trying to have it both ways: take the fancy trappings of the fairy tale to get people on board, but still be edgy and “real” enough to be “taken seriously.” Which means, in the end, we can’t take it seriously at all.

The irony of fandom is that it’s so wrapped up in being smarter than stories, analyzing them, picking them apart, theorizing about them and bickering about those theories (the Protagonist Is Related to Someone Unexpected?!!), constantly hanging lanterns on “unlikely” things and demanding creators hang more of them on their own works, whatever the cost, that it’s ended up being too dumb for stories. The basic concepts of contrivance, theater, and the cute silliness of a narrative are unacceptable. Somebody has to comment on how silly it is. We can’t be children anymore. We have to be adults, very smart adults. Turns out that sucks, like we always knew. Most of Martin’s characters have survived, otherwise how else would you have a show? And most of those characters have done really stupid and baffling things from the beginning. Did you remember how Cersei started all this for…some reason? Remember how she constantly proclaimed her only concern was her three children, but then she killed Her Last Boy because zpzocbhapoihdproaksjds right after blowing up the Westerosi Vatican…right after that Vatican publicly humiliated her …and then people crowned her Queen instead of just storming the Red Keep and ripping her, one of the most despised figures in Westeros, apart, because apparently nobody in King’s Landing can put two and two together? Wait, this is a story? It has plot-holes? It’s been playing fast and loose with time and consistency forever? Why didn’t anybody tell me?

This is not LOST. This is not two suits making things up as they go along, or a sleazy auteur playing cutesy with a Mystery Box. No, there was a vision, an end-goal. The Original Screw-up, the only one that ever mattered, was in getting there. Martin set the stage for ridiculous expectations. D&D tripped off it. And yet, despite all that, this season is fine. Episode 2 was fantastic, easily on par with the series’ other great moments. Episode 3 was gripping and satisfying. Episode 4 was really stupid. (Ed Sheeran took up like ten minutes of gratuitous screen-time once, remember?) Episode 5 was abrupt and odd and filled with tons of people dying in horrible ways. That all sounds like GoT, doesn’t it? Things are turning out…pretty okay, and for a series that was always pretty okay, rough around the edges and trapped between competing mediums, treading a lot of familiar paths well but lying about it, enhanced and hampered by its production values, uplifted and leashed by its plot and actors, that’s hardly the worst end. You’re not mad at GoT. You’re mad the high is over, that you’re coming down to earth again.

Welcome back. When GoT ends tonight, however it ends tonight, think a bit more about these things. Develop your tastes, refine them, and remember why you loved this series so much in the first place. Don’t rewrite history yet again because it’s uncomfortable. Look at it in the eye this time. The moments that resonated with you will stay that way…if you let them. If you admit this is all pretend, that if anyone is to blame for being disappointed with the ending of a soap-opera of Swords, Boobs, and Dragons, it’s you. Not Martin, not D&D, but you. They have their own things to answer for. Take out the log in your own eye first. See clearer.

The show will go on, one way or another. But the Game…

Dark Souls: The Final Verdict

The Dark Souls trilogy is utter nonsense, a polished turd in From Software’s Great Crown of Fraud. I have hated every From Software game I have ever tried. This time I got roped into Dark Souls 3 by a friend, who assured me that the game’s design has improved and been sufficiently streamlined to be tolerable. I am afraid this was a mistaken evaluation. The game is only slightly better than the last FS game I experienced, Dark Souls 1, which I played for ten hours until I realized what manipulative little shits these developers were, wasting my time, intellect, and effort with a soul-draining pallid color schema, an obnoxious, gluttonous fetish for grotesque necromantic aesthetics and monstrous parodies of European castles, and a game paradigm so Frankensteinian in its precise manipulation of human psychology. Abuse, punishment, reward denial, and an indoctrinated community of adorers who slurp every splash of urine that spews from this putrid fountain. I hate it with every fiber of my smoldering soul.

Oh look, it’s a swamp filled with poisonous enemies that have been mutilated by some mystical disfiguring contagion. Oh look, they all went to the same fencing school, all possessed of the same bizarre, awkward, unconvincing, insulting timing, as if they’d tested their swings hundreds of thousands of times against a particular humanoid with the exact same movement parameters. Oh look, that lumbering skeleton whose face twitches with indescribable torment and strains with its atrophied muscles just to lift its comical ax above its head also has the presence of mind to pause mid-swing for 0.3 seconds to catch a dodging enemy off guard. Oh look, I’m fighting a knight with slightly different armor. Oh look, no matter how good my gear is or how experienced I’ve become, they can all still two- or three-shot me. Oh look, there’s a quadruped monster who screams a bunch. Oh look, there’s a biped monster who screams a lot. Oh look, I’ve done all of this shit before. Why am I still doing this?

I have spent 120+ hours playing Dark Souls 3 over the past few weeks. It’s still hard to explain that previous sentence to myself. The best parts have been cooping with my friend, simply because coop puts the game on a more even playing field where every mistake is not punished to absurdity and the mere presence of another target disrupts the entire fragile paradigm, giving a poor player time to, dare I say it, recover from the normal vagaries of reality and the intended vagaries of this nightmarish holodeck. The worst parts have been the dull chore of finding out whatever arbitrary bullshit UNDEAD SKELETON #2187 has been programmed to do, learning how to vary your timing against its awkward timing over the course of an hour, maybe, and then repeating a sufficiently balanced sequence of button presses until the thing’s HP bar reaches zero. Lather, rinse, repeat until you want to break your controller.

The few bright spots in solo mode have been stumbling across bosses that minimize the bullshit and test your ability to fence and dance and time your shit in a way that doesn’t feel condescending. The Abyss Watchers, the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, Pontiff Sulyahn, the Lothric Princes, to name some. They’ve all been quite wonderful to fight, and they’re all connected by a common thread: there’s some lore behind their characters you can feel and experience as you duel them one-on-one on open field with no other mobs, adds, or ridiculous filler features to waste your time. Everything and everyone else sucks. Vordt is a barking frostdog. Treeballs is a test to see how well you can handle the game’s awful camera. High Lord Wolnir, a imposing behemoth of a skeleton trying to crawl his way out of the Abyss and whose single hand could crush you with ease, is just a check to see if you’ve ever played a video game ever. Hit the shiny things on his body a few times. Watch him die.

But no, what broke the straw’s camel back for me wasn’t even the gimmicky boss fights. No, it was the trash, as in the trash mobs between the bosses. Specifically one sequence in the last DLC, the Ringed City, in which I had to face off 20-30 mobs of the following types:

  • Frail undead peons in ragged robes who scream at you a lot and jump down and ambush you.
  • Shielded undead knights with glowing red eyes who do stupid amounts of damage.
  • Hulking giant undead knights who do stupid amounts of damage.
  • Frail undead caster peons in ragged robes who scream at you a lot and jump down and ambush you.

Wow, nice creativity, From Software. Working for you must be easier than EA’s Madden division. What skulking undead aberration should we put here in this next hallway? Eh, take this model of Undead Slave #2187, tint their clothes a little purpler, change their move-set a bit, and spam-populate the place. Done. Next. It’s amazing we’re not on Dark Souls XV by now, that From Software isn’t a giant assembly line with bored artists pumping these games out every four months. Why? What’s the obstacle? What’s the excuse? Everyone loves these games for some inexplicable reason. They make insane amounts of money. What’s the problem, From Software? Is that too shameless?

But what made me finally flip solo mode off for good was one of those caster mobs put on a secluded ledge behind the staircase of a descending spiral chamber, a ledge that served no purpose whatsoever and no one would ever build, a ledge that can only be accessed by jumping down onto a chandelier from a precarious rafter, then jumping onto the purposeless ledge, but since this is From Software’s majestic engine of wonder that won’t let you fall off any ledge until you’re either ten meters or ten millimeters from it, there’s a high probability that you’ll just miss the chandelier ledge and fall to your death. Oh, and you can’t ignore this caster mob because he can somehow see/hear you from fifty feet away and can cast through walls. I tested this. I tried ignoring him and found him casting on me through a dozen meters of pure stone while I’m fighting Mob Type #3 from the above list. HOW CHALLENGING.

Then I look up a guide and find out the next bonfire is still at least five minutes away. Oh, these developers are still manipulative little shits and I’m wasting my time. Bye, Lothric. Link your own damn fire, you hack frauds.