Last week I gave my initial Dark Souls II impressions in Part 1 of my Dark Souls II Diary after spending just one hour with the game. Now I’d like to welcome you to Part 2, where I’ll have a deeper look at the game now that I’ve spent some solid quality time with it. Please keep in mind that there will be numerous spoilers ahead, so continue reading at your own risk.
You might think that it’s strange that I’m only just doing a ‘first 10 hours’ post now—nine days after getting the game. The truth is, I’ve actually spent almost 40 hours with Dark Souls II in that time, but I simply haven’t been able to tear myself away from it long enough to write anything down. Originally I was planning to do a ‘first five hours’ diary entry but before I knew it, it was turning into 10 hours, 15, 20… well you get the picture. Since I won’t be able to fit 40 hours of my countless deaths and failures (and occasional victories) into one post, I’ll go back and split it into 10 hour chunks. So sit back as I discuss my first 10 hours with Dark Souls II
Needless to say, the fact that I’ve spent almost as much time playing Dark Souls II as I have at my full-time job this week, is testament to how much I love it. Squeezing so much gaming alongside work and various other commitments has been more than a little draining. Sleep has become that annoying thing that I have to do between 3 and 7am which only gets in the way of playing more Dark Souls. I honestly look and feel as hollow as my character in the game and could certainly do with a real life human effigy.
At the end of Part 1, I had more or less just watched the intro, created a character, and gone through the tutorial area before arriving at the hub town Majula. Over time I have come to love this area. In the dark, desolate, unforgiving world of Drangleic, Majula is a sunny paradise by comparison. In fact Majula reminds me a lot of Demon’s Souls where you had a hub world, a specific NPC to visit when you want to level up, and multiple branching paths. I’ve heard a few people complain about the need to return to Majula to level up, but I actually like performing this small chore. With all the tension and stress involved with a game like this, it is nice to have a chance to take a breath for a few moments.
The Forest of Fallen Giants
My first stop after Majula is the Forest of Fallen Giants. After facing the undead in the first area it all comes flooding back to me. I may have fumbled a bit with the controls during the first hour, but the skills and strategies I had honed in the previous two games are deeply etched into my being. It’s not long before I’m dodging arrows, anticipating ambushes and vanquishing foes again like I never left. It really is just like riding a bike—albeit a bike that wants you dead.
But Dark Souls II isn’t content to throw the same old tricks at you again. After climbing a ladder I see some more undead. “No problem”, I think as I take out the first zombie with two quick strikes of my sword. Soon however the rest of the mob aggressively swarm towards me. I retreat back to the ladder figuring I’ll sit there until they dissipate. My heart sinks as I notice the zombies are climbing down the ladder and attacking me from above. After narrowly escaping with my life I make a mental note that ladders are no longer safe. Nowhere is safe.
There are countless more nasty surprises in store waiting to shatter my foolish confidence. As I continue on I see a zombie with his back to me. Knowing that this seems too easy I anticipate an ambush, and the assumption is correct. Quite pleased with myself, I kill both enemies and proceed, only to get back-stabbed by another hidden zombie—an ambush within an ambush! I manage to survive with a sliver of health left, but it’s another close call and just a small warning of the deviousness I should expect on my journey. Dark Souls was often unforgiving, but Dark Souls II is on a whole other level when it comes to traps and general trickery. With every step you feel just moments away from meeting a gruesome end.
At one point I climb a ladder into a wide open area and stumble across an optional boss called The Pursuer. He does just what his name implies and closes the gap between us with incredible speed. I am utterly obliterated before I can get two hits in. I take the hint and decide to come back a bit later when I’m at a higher level. Instead I push on through the area until eventually reaching the main boss named the Last Giant. I really like the boss design and instantly feel incredibly intimidated. Apart from the Last Giant’s immense stature, his body is littered with swords and various other weapons as if to say ‘you aren’t the first to try, and you wont be the last’. Unfortunately I find the boss fight quite underwhelming, taking him down on my first try without even taking a hit. Maybe I had just been lucky with my rolls, but I was starting to worry that the difficulty level might have been seriously toned down. After all, the first boss in the original Dark Souls game—the Taurus Demon—must have crushed me 10 or 20 times before I finally tasted victory. It wouldn’t be too long however until I’d discover just how wrong I was for underestimating the difficulty of the bosses in Dark Souls II.
Following the battle with the Last Giant I level up a few times and equip some new, stronger gear which I also upgrade at the blacksmith. I’m ready to give the Pursuer another try. Within seconds of entering the fog gate the Pursuer strikes, shedding more than half of my hit points. Knowing that I’m likely to face death within a few more seconds, I take the opportunity to study the layout of the battlefield, as well as my opponents ‘tells’. Death is inevitable in Dark Souls II, but it needn’t be pointless as long as you are willing to learn from it. I dodge a few strikes while paying careful attention to the Pursuer’s attack patterns, but as expected I go down pretty quickly after impatiently trying to drink from an estus flask without waiting for a proper opportunity. Have I mentioned that using estus flasks feels much slower in this game? It’s probably just a few seconds, but when you have a 10 foot tall knight charging at you it feels like an eternity.
I try twice more, getting a little closer each time but ultimately failing before getting the Pursuer’s health below the halfway point. At this point I seriously consider doing something that I was hoping to avoid for as long as possible, summoning a phantom—a random human helper—to assist, but in the end I decide that it will be so much more rewarding to defeat the Pursuer myself. At this point I have died at least six or seven times since starting my playthrough and my characters appearance has become rather grim. You see, the sadistic folk at From Software have decided that each time you die, your character will become more ‘hollow’ or undead, and as a result you’ll come back with slightly less health each time. My maximum hit points are currently sitting at less than 75% so I reluctantly decide to use a rare human effigy item to return to my human state, giving me the best possible chance of victory. I also equip some life gems which regenerate health very slowly, but are much quicker to initiate than estus flasks. I figure that as long as I keep calm when timing my rolls I’ll have an advantage this way. Finally I equip a ring that allows my stamina to regenerate quicker so I can keep dodging for as long as possible without getting stuck. I tell myself that the Pursuer is about to get pursued and I enter the fog gate.
Upon entering I remember that I have a few seconds at the start of the battle before my enemy is ready. It might not be a very honorable act, but I fire a few of my strongest soul arrows at the Pursuer before he knows what hit him. I instantly have him down to 80% health—a great start. It’s the karate equivalent kicking a bowing opponent in the face but beggars can’t be choosers. The next few minutes are like a dream as I’m transported into ‘the zone’ where everything just flows perfectly and I’m dodging every attack. The battle almost feels easy. But then that famous Dark Souls adrenaline kicks in and I start panicking a bit. I lose focus and take a few hits. I’m on the back foot now, struggling just to keep my health up. I somehow regain my focus long enough to fire off a few good soul arrows. I know that I can destroy the Pursuer in one more hit, but my health is below halfway and I can’t take another hit either. Every part of me wants to fire a soul arrow but my enemy is within striking distance. The relatively slow cast time might not be enough to claim victory if he decided to counter strike. I wait for the Pursuer to telegraph an attack, I take a deep breath and roll to the side. Half expecting to have botched the timing, I look up to see I still have my health remaining! Though I have time for a soul arrow I run in and strike with my sword purely for the satisfaction. The Pursuer has been vanquished and I celebrate with much cheering and fist pumping, much to the dismay of my wife who was trying to focus on a Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze boss battle of her own on the Wii U gamepad.
Heides Tower of Flame
The next stop on my tour of Drangleic is Heides Tower of Flame. The area has a grand feel that reminds me of Anor Londo from Dark Souls, albeit in a somewhat run-down, decaying state. The enormous, slow knights here pack a mean punch, but are no match for my sorcerer’s ranged attacks. The knights yield a high amount of souls which I spend on leveling up even further back at Majula. For my character build, my main focus is on intelligence and attunement stats with just enough strength and dexterity to wield a decent longsword in my right hand for any close encounters. I forgo a shield in favor of my trusty staff and pyromancer flame in my left hand. My lightweight armor setup means I can quickly roll away from enemy attacks.
I get to a room with three of the aforementioned slow knights but I can draw them out one at a time to make short work of them. The room they were guarding forks off into two paths, so I decide to take the left route towards the Cathedral of Blue. If the feeling of déjà vu wasn’t already strong enough, I’d get another frightening reminder of Anor Londo inside. As I enter the cathedral I see a familiar, yet thoroughly unwelcome face. Instantly I seize up in terror as I recognize Dark Souls’ Dragonslayer Ornstein, from what I consider to be the hardest boss battle I’ve ever faced in a videogame. But quickly I realize that he is alone. Ornstein’s portly friend Smough is nowhere to be seen. Though hardly a walk in the park I manage to kill the Old Dragonslayer on my second attempt. For a newbie to the series, this would likely still be a challenging fight, but Ornstein’s attack patterns are etched into my nightmares. I quickly defeat him, collect the spoils of battle, save my progress at a bonfire, and head back to take the right hand path towards another boss, the Dragonrider.
Much like the knights that guard Heides Tower of Flame, the Dragonrider is big and fairly slow. I lose a couple of lives while learning his attack patterns, but take him down on the third attempt without a scratch. Soon however I’ll arrive at No-Mans Wharf where things start to take a dark turn.
After defeating the Dragonrider and making my way through a castle area filled with more knights, I soon arrive at a new bonfire that leads to No-Mans Wharf, a pirate cove hidden within a cave. While nothing compared to Dark Souls’ horrific Blighttown, there is a definite sense of desolation here that I’ve not yet felt in this game. No-Mans Wharf is really dark in most places so I equip a torch in my left hand and flick between sword and staff in my right. This turns out to be a wise decision as there are some truly hideous monsters hiding in the shadows which are too afraid of the light to approach me.
As I first enter No-Mans Wharf I’m almost killed by an axe to the back of my (thankfully armored) head from a sneaky zombie that was playing dead. I continue a bit further and a pirate zombie pops up on top of a roof and throws what looks like a bomb down at me. Instead of exploding it merely coats me with a dark liquid that I assume must be poison. But my health doesn’t take a hit and I can’t see any ill-effect so I charge ahead. An archer fires a flaming arrow at me and before it connects I instantly realize what the black liquid must be. The arrow ignites the oil and I explode into a fiery ball of death. I’ve got to hand it to the pirates of No-Mans Wharf, they really know how to give a guy a warm welcome.
Progress is slow here and I die a few more times. Eventually I make it inside a house full of the hideous light-fearing monsters I mentioned previously. I manage to clear the house and go upstairs where I discover a rare find—a merchant that is willing to buy my old junk! It’s a great chance to clean up my inventory and earn a few extra souls in the process. I notice a couple of chests at the back of the room and decide to loot those first for anything else to sell. I open the first one and a loaded crossbow pops out and fires a few arrows into my gut. Not only am I brutally killed but when I make my way back, the merchant has disappeared, never to return. It looks like I’m stuck with all of my old junk after all. It’s a devastating loss, but that’s what I love about the Souls games. Death always hurts, so there is this constant tension and adrenaline rush that you don’t get with most other games.
Eventually I make my way to a ghostly ship filled with pirate archers and swordsmen. On my first attempt I try to dodge one of their blades only to roll of the pier and into a watery grave. On my second attempt I defeat the ship’s crew and head below the deck to face the boss of the area, the Flexile Sentry.
This boss, which looks like two large zombie pirates trapped in the same pair of pants, would be almost comical if one wasn’t trying flatten me with a large club while the other attempts to to slash me into mince-meat with his twin blades. On my first try I get greedy and try to squeeze in two attacks after a roll. This is always a bad decision in Dark Souls II and on this occasion it was punishable by death. On my second try I’m more patient and use the pole in the center of the room to my advantage, circling around it to keep my foe on the opposite side whenever possible. With this strategy I could use ranged attacks for a fairly easy victory.
With no more reasons to stick around in such a gloomy locale, I head to the ship’s helm and navigate the ship towards a new, even gloomier area called The Lost Bastille. But that is a story for another time…
Dark Souls II is available now on PS3 and Xbox 360 with a PC version to be released on march 25. Stay tuned to LootChaser for more Dark Souls II Diary entries and our full upcoming review.