In the past week, I've taken some small strides forward in my attempt to save these eight different worlds.
My friend Senator Awesome was over, and he's a huge Dark Souls fan. After some prodding, he convinced me to pick it up again, and we ended up playing it for around four hours. Having him around was a big advantage; he knows the game really well, and helped me get out of Blight Town (the hellish area where the very ground is poison). Turns out that the guide, while definitely a wealth of knowledge, doesn't necessarily give the best advice on how to proceed through the game. Serves me right for sticking too stringently to a guide in a game like this.
Truth be told, I think I've been approaching the entire game incorrectly. Ever since it launched, I've been a supporter of its difficulty level and "Prepare to Die" slogan. Somewhere along the way, though, I allowed those aspects to twist the game in my mind. The consequences of dying - losing souls, getting reset to a bonfire, becoming hollow again - created a stress level that rendered the game unplayable; I would start, die once, and quit in frustration. The primary idea in Dark Souls isn't that the odds are impossible, but rather that each death is supposed to teach you a better way to proceed.
Armed with this new come-what-may attitude, I began wandering the world-map seeking out adventure and fame. Yes, that occasionally meant getting into situations that I couldn't get out of, or coming up against things that I had no business fighting. It also meant taking on two bosses and bringing them down without dying, opening numerous new areas, and even taking on a few PvP invaders (that didn't work out as well; they were power-levelled dicks).
When the next opportunity arose, I admittedly didn't keep playing Dark Souls, opting instead for Dragon's Dogma. The two share similarities in combat, overworld setup, and inventory management, but Dogma is a more structured game in terms of questing, and the pawn system means you're always playing with supporting NPCs. I played for several hours over the course of two days, finishing some side quests and progressing the main questline to the point where I've arrived at the main hub city.
I decided to forgo the main quest for a while and just journey through the countryside. This has afforded me the chance to realize that this game, while not as unforgiving as Dark Souls - you can save anywhere in Dogma and die with impunity - this game is definitely on the "difficult" side as compared to most open-world RPGs. Even the most banal of enemy types tend to travel in groups, and can quickly overwhelm your party. But the big challenges are the boss-class enemies just wandering the map, waiting for unsuspecting / arrogant adventurers to cross their path; these enemies take time and skill to bring down, and are nearly impervious until you figure out their weaknesses.
I was heading to investigate a thieves' hideout and search for a cursed book, but said thieves kicked the ever-loving griffin scat out of us several times over. I'll decide next time I pick it up if I'm going to try it again or just go level with some other quests. I might traverse some more Dark Souls if I can continue to see it as more of a game and less a torture mechanism. I've also got the Amalur itch; it's got a hell of an overworld, and the combat is arguably the best out of the eight.