It's been a long time since I've done this, but I have my limits! While playing Demon's Souls over the weekend, a player forced me to turn off my PlayStation 3. Screw off, Potato Marshal!
"Screw off" is the polite way of putting it. "Fuck you" is what I actually want to say.
In preparation for Bloodborne, I've been sprinting through Demon's Souls as fast as possible. Dark Souls was my entry way into the series, and I'd been kicking around the idea of going backwards. It's the only Souls game I haven't played all the way through, and before Bloodborne enters my PlayStation 4, I'd like to have a holistic understanding of the series that preceded it.
Here's the thing. Since I streamed my Dark Souls playthrough and people dug it, I wanted to do the same thing with Demon's Souls. Streaming, however, opens you up to stream sniping.
Stream sniping is when people keep track of what you're doing via the stream and try to mess with you. In Souls, it's possible to "invade" another person's game while they're human. You become human after defeating a boss or using an item. The advantage of being human is that you have way more health, but crucially, it opens you up to player invasions. There's nothing wrong with this—it's part of the way Souls games are designed, and I knew it could happen.
What I didn't account for, however, was the persistence of a player named Potato Marshal.
My first encounter with Potato Marshall happened a few weeks ago. I'd heard rumblings about this player from a former colleague of mine at Giant Bomb, but brushed aside his warnings. How bad could it be? Worst case scenario, I'd get killed and have to play through a few areas again. If you're playing a Souls game, this is nothing new. Dying and repetition is part of life.
It turns out Potato Marshall had a few tricks up his sleeve.
There's a weapon in Demon's Souls called the scraping spear, and it's described this way:
A long spear with countless thorns on the tip.
It was forged from the Soul of the Demon "Phalanx."
It scrapes away at an opponent's equipment and lowers its durability.
The last bit is really important. This is not a weapon someone uses to defeat the towering monstrosities at the heart of Demon's Souls, this is a weapon equipped for the explicit purpose of trolling other players. You might not kill them, but you'll break all their equipment.
When Potato Marshall hopped into my game, I quickly learned what the scraping spear does.
Everything on my character was now busted, and it was going to cost precious souls to repair. But since I died pretty close to a checkpoint and recently accumulated a bunch of 'em, it wasn't that big of a deal. A few minutes later, I was back at it, making my way deeper into the game.
Like clockwork, whenever I'd return to human form, Potato Marshal wasn't far behind. While he refused to pipe up in the Twitch chat room, he'd send me messages after our encounters. All of this, he told me, was because I decided to play the game as a royal. Remember when I wrote about how I was apparently playing Demon's Souls the "wrong way?" as a magic user? Mmm.
A few Potato Marshal cycles in , I purposely started killing myself whenever he invaded. Poof! Though fighting other users is part of playing Souls, you also don't have to put up with it. Throwing yourself off the nearest cliff is an easy way to remove anyone from your game.
That said, I refused to play the game offline because I wanted to encounter other players, and several times throughout my playthrough, I've had tense one-one-one battles with folks. I've yet to win a single battle against an invader, but it's thrilling to go back-and-forth with a human in a game otherwise designed to have you butting up against extremely powerful AI enemies.
The end of Demon's Souls third world features a queen at the top of the horrific and seemingly endless Tower of Latria. Rather than a regular boss encounter, another player from the world is pulled in. It's an incredibly cool moment, as the game takes advantage of its passive multiplayer to provide a wholly unique boss. The possibilities are endless! If you die, a new player will be summoned, meaning none of your old techniques will apply to the fight again. It's so great.
As the summoning cut scene played out, it dawned upon me that Potato Marshal might appear again. Sure enough, the game played the invasion message. Potato Marshal was waiting for me.
In a previous fight, Potato Marshal conceded his scraping spear was a dick move, and we battled on more reasonable terms. I figured this would carry over, but I was wrong. Not only was he prepared to drag out the spear, he'd brought a brand-new toy with him: the soulsucker spell.
What does soulsucker do to another player? It de-levels you, one suck at a time. Gaining a level in Demon's Souls doesn't happen all that often, especially once you're deep into the game. Losing a level is a terrifying prospect. In this case, I'd lost several levels before realizing what was really happening. Potato Marshal was knocking me to the ground, forcing my character into a lengthy animation, knocking me down another level, and starting the process over again.
Worse still, Potato Marshal refused to kill me. He wanted me to suffer over and over. Each one of his attacks would take off a bit of my health, but not enough to end the fight. If I stuck around much longer, it's possible I'd be losing significant amounts of leveling progress all at once.
Everything that's happening is possible because the developers allowed it to happen. Nothing Potato Marshal was doing constitutes cheating. Exploitative? Definitely. Against the spirit of the rules? Maybe. It certainly wasn't fun.
There's no option to quit, either. You stick around and fight, risking equipment and levels in the process, or turn off the PS3 and hope your save file isn't corrupted. I decided to turn it off.
I feel zero regret over pulling the plug, but it's also a testament to the way From Software designed the Souls games. Players have power.
I disconnected my PS3 from the Internet, and fought the boss again. Rather than an exciting duel against another player, it was a boring NPC. But I slayed the demon, and moved to the next world. Potato Marshal couldn't stop me this time, but like Jason Voorhees, he'll be back.
If you'd like to watch my playthrough, here's the first episode and a link to the entire playlist.