Dark Souls 2 continues to beat Dave Cook's mind into a fine powder of despair, but he's soldiering on. Part two of his impressions-in-progress series takes him to The Lost Bastille and into the jaws of Sinner's Rise.
Note: this is part two of Dave's impressions piece-in-progress. At the time of writing he was at level 75 and over 16 hours into the game. Look:
In part one of my Dark Souls 2 journal I introduced players to the world of Drangleic, a depressing place where cursed humans go to try and save themselves from a terrible fate. They always fail of course, and end up turning Hollow. I swear on the crumbs between the keys I'm typing this on that the same won't happen to me goddamn it!
So my Knight class is currently level 75 and I'm over the 16-hour mark. That doesn't sound right does it? Put it this way; I was level 100 on the nose when I finished the first Dark Souls and that game took me 65 hours to finish. I wrote an article about the final boss battle against Gywn and my character's stats here, so it's clear there's a different pace going on in Dark Souls 2.
"My Knight class is currently level 75 and I'm over the 16-hour mark. It's clear there's a different pace going on in Dark Souls 2."
I think this has something to do with your character having more stat types, such as Adaptability which affects Poise, so it makes sense that here's more scope for levelling. This in no way makes the game easier, as I've only just killed the fourth boss, and as I mentioned in my last blog you can't just hit bonfires to respawn and grind souls constantly because enemies stop returning after you've killed them ten times. I actually checked this out; the enemies in the first areas of The Forest of Fallen Giants still haven't come back.
With few enemies left to farm I went to Dark Souls 2's third area The Lost Bastille, which is a moonlit castle with many ramparts, sheer cliffs and dungeons full of hidden dangers. It feels like Demon's Souls's Boletarian Palace by night, with a little bit of Undead Burg thrown in for depressing flavour. So off I went in search of new souls and places to go, only to realise that once you leave the first bonfire area there's no going back. You have to press on and defeat the next boss or use a Homeward Bone to travel back to Majula. That's sadistic.
It doesn't help that there are some areas in the Bastille where it's easy to get overrun by sword-wielding troops that cut through your stamina and Poise like a fierce Shoryuken through chocolate. I actually got myself locked in this irritating cycle of making my way slowly to the next boss, dying miserably, then having to respawn and try again. I was so afraid of losing my souls that I had to play it extra cautious. The boss - or I should clarify - bosses, were a total pain in my man-tits. They are more proof that From Software hasn't dumbed anything down.
They're called the Ruin Sentinels, and there's three of them. As you walk through the fog gate you'll land on an elevated platform where you're instantly set upon by the first of them, swinging its long battle hammer at you from a safe distance and whacking your stamina down to nothing. I managed to kill the first one by circling to the right, keeping my distance and unleashing one hit every chance I could. I thought I was safe up on the platform, but killing the first enemy will see the other two jump up to double-team you to death.
"I was so afraid of losing my souls that I had to play it extra cautious. From Software hasn't dumbed anything down"
You have to fall into the main chamber to take them both on, and that's when the pain really sets in. It doesn't help that they both carry shields either, but I accidentally found out a neat little trick to tip the fight slightly in your favour. Just simply run laps around the border of the area while keeping the bosses at a distance and eventually they'll get fed up and hurl their shield at you. Dodge it and the disc will stick into the wall, rendering both of the buggers defenceless. Remember; I said defenceless, not 'weak.'
From there I just kept running back and forward to trigger their swipes while refraining from attacking when they were too close to each other. You just can't take the risk. I eventually put the bastards down and jogged on to the next bonfire. It felt good. From there the map takes a split and that tense feeling from the first game started to come back. Which was right? Will I get murdered if I take option A or is option B more manageable? I could either go to the underground sewer network of Sinner's Rise, or ascend to Belfry Luna. I went with the bell-tower first and pretty quickly wanted to snap my DualShock in half.
Getting up the bell tower is easy enough, as all you have to fight are these little ghost midget things. I'm really no sure what they are, but you'll take damage from them even while blocking, because they're ghosts maybe? Who knows? Once at the top you can ring the tower bell and gain access to the next boss area, which is set on top of the church itself. It's here you'll fight a pair of stone gargoyles, and soon enough another, then another, and another, until you have six of the stone shits breathing down your neck. I died often and became insanely intimidated by the uneven fight.
This fight reminded me of the Four Kings from Dark Souls in that you need to be fast to avoid getting overrun; or so I thought. I was rocking the Drangleic armour set by this point and the best shield on offer at the Majula general store, so the gargoyle's halberd blows were barely denting my stamina. I also have a quick stamina recovery ring equipped that I probably couldn't have lived without. Oh, and an interesting point about magic rings; you can now wear two on each hang, instead of just two in total. You'll need them too.
"An interesting point about magic rings; you can now wear two on each hang, instead of just two in total. You'll need them."
I tried to do a 'Four Kings' and kill the first two gargoyles before their buddies entered the fight, but that was only getting me killed faster. I realised that they were actually pretty dumb, and if you manage to survive until all six are in the area they start to get a little confused and hang back doing flame attacks that you can easily avoid with a strafe or back-step. They swarm together, never really breaking from the pack to fight you, so the solution became clear; I had to stock up on Firebombs. The vendor at the second Forest of Fallen Giants bonfire sells them for 200 souls a pop. It was well worth it.
All I did after that point was keep my distance, watch them get confused and do damage to multiple gargoyles using Firebomb explosions. It took a while but I only needed about 40 of them. To be fair; I could have used my Soul Arrow magic or arrows themselves, but that particular spell requires Attunement stat levelling and Intelligence to wield, which was higher than it was in Dark Souls, so again, I think this is partly why it's initially faster to level up. One stat point now costs me 6,800-plus souls at level 75. The progression arc may have changed, but you still need to put time in to help your character grow.
So with those guys out of the way I decided to explore The Lost Bastille thoroughly before moving onward, and stumbled across a few interesting things, including a pirate ship. You can get to the vessel get by taking the giant cage lift underground from the Exile prison bonfire - the third one in the Bastille - but I couldn't do anything once down there. I figured the ship could take you to another part of Drangleic but it's actually a drop-off point from another area called No Man's Wharf - more on that in part three.
But right now there's no clues at all. I doubled back and entered another area called Sinner's Rise, which starts as a big tower in the Lost Bastille.
Instead of going up like Belfry Luna, you go down and end up in a dark stretch of water-logged sewers. It's dark and perilous down there thanks to big crawling-ogre-lizard things - I really can't describe them properly - and my first encounter with one of them almost killed me, so I'm guessing I'm not meant to go there just yet. But interestingly; I noticed an empty flame pedestal down there, which are used for lighting your torch, except it wasn't lit. After looking at it for a moment; something rather profound clicked.
There's a lit flame pedestal at the start of the game in Majula, while others littered around the world are extinguished. The idea is that you need to light a torch here then ferry the flame to the next pedestal, and then the others after that to keep the fire travelling with you. That's incredibly ingenious, because the torch goes out as soon as you switch to your shield. This means that trying to figure out a safe route to carry the flame to the next pedestal, while avoiding tough fights, becomes a puzzle in itself. No one told me how to do this; it just sort of occurred to me by observing my surroundings. Once you light a pedestal, they stay lit, so you don't have to worry about them going out. You can also light torches at bonfires, which is a small act of mercy.
From Software gets another pat on the back from me for that little nugget of game design. It really is clever. I managed to carry a flame from the start of the Lost Bastille to the bottom of Sinner's Rise by clearing out all of the enemies first and walking around a particular route, lighting pedestals as I went. This means that when I do encounter my first pitch-black area, fire should hopefully be close at hand. I also thought that using torches was instrumental in increasing a bonfire's intensity, but it doesn't work. I'm not sure how you do that yet.
"Trying to figure out a safe route to carry the flame to the next pedestal, while avoiding tough fights, becomes a puzzle in itself."
Additional Estus Flasks are gained by giving flask shards to the Majula Maiden, rather than the Dark Souls method of kindling, so I'm not quite sure what bonfire intensity does this time round. It may be part of tossing objects in the fire, but so far the game isn't letting me burn anything aside from bone powder, which makes each Estus use restore more health. I'll keep an eye on this one for subsequent blog post, but right now I'm about to press on with Belfry Luna, so I'll update you all with another entry once I get through it. There's also the little matter of the mute knight who keeps appearing in the world, just sitting there, saying nothing. What's his deal?
One thing I have noticed, and this is a slight criticism of Dark Souls 2's design, is that around this point; the space between one bonfire and the next starts to get quite small. I'll touch on this in part three a little more, as I've noticed the game's bosses have started coming thick and fast, with little room for mass exploration or levelling. For example, by the time I came back and wrote this paragraph I was level 103 and over 23 hours into the game. I've now defeated nine Demon bosses. Some areas, such as the Cathedral of Blue, only have one bonfire and a boss as far as I can tell. It all felt a bit, 'bitty.'
I like the quick chain of boss encounters, but I'm missing the feeling of exploration I encountered during the Forest of Fallen Giants and the The Lost Bastille. There's one area called No Man's Wharf that offers more exploration, but it's all getting a little 'one-track.' Then of course there's Dark Souls 2's equivalent of Blighttown - colourfully known as The Gutter - which is a total headache.
More on all of this in my next chapter. Stay tuned.
Disclosure: To assist in writing this article, Namco Bandai sent Dave a copy of Dark Souls 2 on PS3.