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Dark Souls 2 journal #4: spiders, windmills and a lot of lava

Dark Souls 2 continues to punch Dave Cook around the head with its Cestus +10, but that hasn't stopped him from continuing his play-through journal for your sadistic pleasure. He's really far now.

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(This is the fourth chapter in Dave’s ongoing Dark Souls 2 impressions journal, in which he plays the game from start to finish. This update follows his progress up to level 127, and over 38 hours into the campaign)

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Last Saturday at around 10pm I sat down to play some more of Dark Souls 2 after being distracted by my inFamous, Metal Gear Solid, and BioShock Infinite DLC write-ups, to name just a few. There were to be no more interruptions, just me, Dranglaeic and a shitload of death. Whisky on the rocks in one hand and PS3 pad in the other, I battled my way through many bosses and new areas, confident in my ever evolving ass-kicking potential.

Then I looked at my watch and realise it was 4am.

Now; you may think that doing this job comes with many late night gaming sessions, but that's honestly not the case. Regardless, I had played the game for some six hours straight without actually realising it, and while I felt appalled at myself, it was something I hadn't done for a very long time. It was all productive too. This journal entry covers that entire six hour session and another evening's play.

Here's what went down.

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Scorpioness Najka & the Doors of Pharros

I closed part three of my journal just before my encounter with Scorpioness Najka, a half scorpion-half woman monstrosity whose bark was definitely worse than her bite. Her boss area is completely filled with sand and while her pincer and ranged magic attacks were pretty easy to dodge, she'd occasionally burrow under the sand and jump back up to the surface, slicing a huge section of my health off each time. Running at full pelt and rolling at the right time saw me emerge unscathed once I got the timing down, and before long I was able to cut her down for good.

”It’s times like this I wish Will Smith would kick down my door with that mind-erasing dildo from Men in Black in his hand, before using it to wipe clean my past experience of the series.”

As with all 'Souls' boss fights; defeating Najka was a matter of memorising attack patterns and figuring out the best time to attack, dodge and and block. What I noticed across the contents of this journal edition was that those patterns are becoming much easier to identify, and as I feared in part three; the game seems to be getting really easy now. I'll discuss why I feel this way as the article goes, so bear with me while I explain. I also appreciate that as with all games in this series; what's true for me may not be true for you.

I think part of this uneven difficulty curve was - once again - the fact that I sort-of knew what I was getting in to at the start. If you read my articles often on VG247, you'll know that I finished both Dark Souls and Demon's Souls for the first time last year. All those tricks and stat considerations - such as levelling up your stamina gauge adequately to increase blocking - are still burned into my mind and I've stuck to them religiously here.

It's times like this I wish Will Smith would kick down my door with that mind-erasing dildo from Men in Black in his hand, before using it to wipe clean my past experience of the series. All but two of the bosses I encountered in this part of the journal were defeated on the first try, and were really easy to read. The same goes for normal enemies, which can be tricked into leaving themselves vulnerable by coaxing them into attacking, before springing an assault of your own from a safe angle or distance. It's more of a scientific formula now than ever before.

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I can't take a picture of Najka as she's dead, so here's me using the 'Praise the Sun' emote in her lair.

Anyway; beyond Najka's domain lay the Doors of Pharros, a strange cavernous place littered with Pharros Lockstone switches. Seriously, there's absolutely loads of them and I get the feeling that you won't be able to unlock them all in just one playthrough - hello NG+! - and it's not quite clear what each of them does. The strangest aspect of this place was that while the initial enemies will attack you on sight, those further into the area will not. I ran circles around a group of large elephant warriors for ages, while lashing out at them to find that my sword had to effect. "Hmm... " I thought. Hmm indeed.

”What I’m hearing from players is that while you get red, flaming Great Souls in your inventory for killing The Rotten and The Lost Sinner, you don’t have to keep them to access Drangleic Castle.”

So of course I got cocky, which is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in any 'Souls' game. I'm guessing maybe about seven hours after I first encountered the passive elephant guys, I returned to this area to find the merchant Gavlan, who eventually stops moving around and takes permanent residence near the area's first bonfire.

After entering a cave to the right of the bonfire, I realised that the enemies inside were suddenly taking notice of me, and that an AI Black Phantom had just invaded in the same room. I panicked and went to run back to find a fog gate blocking my way before being stabbed to death from behind.

Mother. Fucker.

I respawned and decided to leave that area for a while, turning my attention to completing the fist half of the quest first. While this isn't made clear at the start of Dark Souls 2, I later discovered that your real first goal is to collect four Old Lord Souls from The Lost Sinner, The Rotten, The Duke's Dear Freja and The Old King. Once you have them all you will be granted access to Drangleic Castle, and on reflection the whole process is a bit like slaying bosses in the first game to acquire Lord Souls, before entering the Kiln of the First Flame. It's not exactly spelled out for you, but then again, ambiguity is big part of the series.

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"Gavlan make deal. Gavlan have trouble speak in proper sentence."

I killed the Lost Sinner in part two of my journal, and I had already been beaten a few times by The Rotten in the Black Gulch during part three, but now I felt ready to take him on. For your reference, the Black Gulch sits beyond The Gutter, an area that resembles Blighttown from Dark Souls and The Valley of Defilement from Demon's Souls. Check out my speed run video guide to learn how to get through it without a headache.

Luckily, my stamina and poise were massively increased so The Rotten's big cleaver swipes were no match for my guard. It also helped that I had successfully forged my Twin Dragon Shield up to +10 by this point too. Needless to say; the process of levelling up armour and weapons is much easier than it was in the first game, without those long treks back and forth between the Anor Londo and Darkroot Garden blacksmiths while farming Titanite. There's none of that crap here, just easy-access crafting in Majula or the Lost Bastille.

Anyway, by keeping my distance and smacking the Rotten with Soul Arrows, I was able to mix up long range hits with melee blows at close range to whittle him down to death. You really need to be aware of the flaming patches on the ground however, as they'll sap your health rapidly. The boss's cooldown after doing his big attacks is also quite big, so I found that dodge rolling to the side at the last moment gave me time to dish out a fair few hits before taking time to recover. Either way, he fell to my blade and I earned my second Old Lord Soul. Two to go.

Interestingly; what I'm hearing from players is that while you get red, flaming Great Souls in your inventory for killing The Rotten and The Lost Sinner, you don't have to keep them to access Drangleic Castle. For example. I later managed to fell The Duke's Dear Freja - a hulking great spider below Brightstone Cove Tseldora - and her soul in my inventory looks like a regular boss soul. She dropped the actual Old Lord Soul on the ground, and after picking it up it was nowhere to be found in my inventory. You can see how this could be confusing.

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Take a right after the second Shaded Wood bonfire to reach this particular King's Door. It leads to the Shrine of Winter.

Apparently, you just have to kill these four bosses to enter the castle and pick up their Old Lord Souls, rather than presenting the normal boss souls in your inventory at the King's door. You can also kill three of the bosses and have 1 million souls in your posession to open the door instead. Either way, I'm too scared to trade their plain boss souls in for gear for now, just in case I actually do need them.

I'll keep an eye on that one once I finally get into the castle, but for now, let's move on to tracking and slaying Freja.

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Freja and the Duke
Passing through the Doors of Pharros area with its weird passive elephant dudes, I emerged in an abandoned army camp that sat on the fringe of another area called Brightstone Cove Tseldora. This was another fairly simple region that shouldn't give seasoned players too much hassle, but like anything in this game, just remember that complacency often leads to death. The Hollow grunts and undead pigs in this area were a piece It wasn't a bad place for a quick soul top-up if - like me - the Covetous Silver Serpent Ring is permanently fixed in your load-out. It's the one that grants bonus souls per kill.

There are two things I should point out here however. The first is that this area's initial bonfire is hidden inside a tent, which can be easy to miss if you're not listening out for its familiar, soothing sound. Also, you'll have to walk down a slope to reach the area's mid-boss and about halfway down you'll see an item hanging by the cliff edge. I made the mistake of going over to pick it up, only to be crushed by a rolling boulder that fell from above. The trick is to make the Hollow push his rock before you grab the item, or you'll feel really silly like I did. Nugget.

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Here are the boulders. Now you won't make the same mistake I did.

Further down the hill I found another fog gate that housed a mid-boss called Prowling Magus and Congregation. It's a weird one in that you don't get a boss soul for slaying the mage and his undead minions, but you do get a big dose of souls for your trouble. I found that Magus was made easier by taking down his healers first, then his minions, which left only me and him in the room. The chances of dying were slim. Beyond this trivial fight, I marched on to an elevated path above a swirling vortex of sand. I didn't want to know what would happen if I fell in, so I refrained from sprinting or jumping around like a lunatic.

The area is full of mages who hurl slow-moving soul arrows around, but again, I was able to dodge them with relative ease. You can probably see a pattern forming here. At the bottom of the sandy valley I stumbled across a room filled with genuinely creepy stone dolls. This is the home of NPC vendor Weaponsmith Ornifex, an equally as creepy half woman-half bird beast who speaks very strangely. She won't appear at first however, as I had to rescue her from a locked cell in the Shaded Woods. The door is unlocked using the Fang Key, which I managed to get by curing and then killing a petrified Lion Warrior in the area.

I spent a while levelling up in the lower levels of Tseldora, particularly an area leading to Freja's lair that consists of a thin walkway flanked by spiked rocks. I found that I could run into the room at the end of the path and double-back to tease a pack of small spiders across. They get confused easily and nine times out of ten they fell onto the spikes and start taking damage per second. I just sat back and watched them die one by one while taking out stragglers. It's sneaky but I found it helped generate a few more souls.

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You guys are stupid...

Beyond the spider room sat a huge drop covered in webby walkways. My Knight's feet stuck to the makeshift paths, which prevented me from running at full speed. I was half-expecting to be punished by much-faster enemies as some kind of sadistic ploy, but was met with more small spiders instead. Thankfully, I was able to cut through them in one or two blows by this point, and I got the feeling that they were merely there to chip away at your health before the Freja boss fight.

Freja herself is quite massive, and can really smash you up with her pincer attacks and body blows. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I saw her, as I was crossing my fingers that Queelag or some kind of spiritual version of her resided beyond the fog gate. That would have been cool. To help my chances I summoned the phantom of Boyd the Ashen Knight using a sign at the back of the previous room. Unlike other summons, you don't have to defeat this guy as a black phantom first, you just need to be in human form. He really helped me out, and I defeated Freja first time.

I essentially kept a safe distance and used up all my Soul Arrows before attacking Freja's sides, while taking time to retreat whenever she prepared her heavy pincer smash. Her moves are blatantly sign-posted, so there's plenty of time to retreat. After defeating Freja, I was granted access to what could be the smallest named area in 'Souls' history, called Lord's Private Chamber. It's a study room that houses a guy called Vengarl that I slaughtered with just one hit. It felt a bit tragic actually, as it looked like he was in there researching a cure to turn Freja back into a human.

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Uh, there's no bathroom in here.

My guilt evaporated quickly as I picked up Vengarl's armour set that - at the time of writing - is still weak compared to my Drangleic Armour+10, Gyrm Warrior Helm+2, Alonne Knight Leggings+1 and my Drangleic Gloves+5. However, if I manage to get a stockpile of Twinkling Titanite I should be able to boost Vangarl's set beyond what I have now. Right now I'm still working on that particular goal. Maybe I'll have managed it in part five of this journal. I can only hope.

Next; I took a jaunt to the Dark Souls 2 beta area Huntsman's Copse.

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Death and Windmills

You may remember that I published a write up on the full Huntsman's Copse area back when I covered the Dark Souls 2 beta, so I'll go through this one quickly. What I didn't realise at the time was that there were actually two bosses in the beta trial. Looking back now I have absolutely no idea how I missed the bridge to Undead Purgatory, which is the big circular coliseum you'll see on your left as you enter the Copse itself. As I figured it out I found bits of Dark Souls 2 egg dribbling down my face like a chump.

I liked the aesthetics of the Copse, with its undead vibe and ghostly veneer, and there's one particular section on the way to the Undead Purgatory area that's filled with bandaged warriors who will waste you unless you hang back and tease them out one by one. That aside; this is another area where I felt largely unchallenged, but that's basically because of my time with the beta and my then-ridiculous stats. I also had eight Estus Flasks per bonfire visits too, as I had given the Majula Maiden plenty of shards along the way. I was starting to fear I had buggered the experience for myself.

But after defeating the Skeleton Lord boss - hide behind the pillars - and the Executioner Chariot - don't fight it head on, make your way around the path and flip the level to make it crash - I was ready to move on to Harvest Valley. I liked this area because it started to ramp up the challenge and because of it feels like a slight throwback to the Stonefang Tunnel area of Demon's Souls. It sits below a constantly spinning windmill that produces poison rivers that flow through the area, and creates gas-filled trenches that will make you toxic if you linger.

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As much as the poison is rotting my insides right now, I can't deny that view.

Even with poison resistance of 89 I still found myself going toxic while trying to fight big ogres up close. I found out the hard way that I should have been taking them out at range with my bow. I also took a trip back to the Doors of Pharros to buy a stack of Poison Moss off Gavlan for 1,500 a pop. They're not cheap, but trust me, you should have some in reserve just in case. Poison aside this place is relatively straight forward if you keep moving.

The problem was that the ogres are capable of hurling dark magic that will drain a huge slice of your health on impact. As a small act of mercy, I found that because the blasts travel slowly I could roll around them and chip away at the beasts before strafing to repeat the process. It was another area that will destroy you if you get too cocky however, which is also true of the next location; Earthen Peak. This spinning hub of gears and sneaky tricks is where I started to feel the sweet sting of duress once more.

First of all; I walked all over the ground floor boss, simply called Covetous Demon, who is essentially a Jabba the Hutt rip-off. He was possibly the easiest boss I had fought since The Last Giant. I just moved out of the way of his slow belly flops, guarded his lethargic swipes and moved away to replenish my stamina when needed. He's a bit of a joke to be honest, without Princess Leia in a gold bikini to compensate. You'd have more trouble fighting a toddler, but why you'd want to do that is beyond me.

Thankfully; while the basic grunts inside the windmill were easily defeated, they will inflict bleed damage even when you block, so make sure you have a high bleed resistance or, failing that, be sure to keep your block up most of the time. These enemies hid around corners and drop down from the ceiling like ninjas and can also hit you from unseen spots with throwing knives. I had to move quite slowly here just to avoid being ganged up on, and there was also one area with a thin walkway and a bigger knight standing at the end.

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No, why don't YOU come over HERE?

I knew this series well enough to know that as soon as I walked over to fight the guy that some sort of trick was going to trigger. Keen to avoid tempting fate, I lured him over to me using arrows instead, and I took him out before sprinting over the precarious path. Sure enough; more of those ninja guys started lobbing knives as I ran. As it happened, I was right to be wary. Moving up one floor I noticed that I was standing right behind the windmills spinning blades.

I didn't really pay much notice to them as I lit a new bonfire then proceeded on to the next boss Mytha, The Baneful Queen. She's basically a headless, snake lady who slithers around a pool of poison. The gunk is everywhere, so you'll be afflicted with toxin after just a few seconds each time. The problem is that in the time it takes to eat a clump of Poison Moss she'll already have killed you with a few swipes off her staff. All joking aside, she was the hardest boss I had encountered since The Lost Sinner. If the poison wasn't there she'd have been a cakewalk. Luckily for me, there's totally a way to drain it away.

It only clicked when I placed Pharros Lockstone into a recess to find that poison started weeping from the inlet's eyes. I figured there must have been some way to get rid of the fluid in Mytha's chamber, so off I went exploring every inch of the area for clues. When I returned to the windmill's spinning blades a prompt came up asking me to burn them, so after grabbing a flaming torch from a nearby bonfire I set them ablaze. Slowly but surely the windmill's mechanism ground to a halt as the wood burned and all poison in the area drained away.

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Stand here with a burning torch to set the windmill on fire.

All that was left was to turn human, summon Jester Thomas and sit back and watch as he slaughtered Mytha with his ludicrously-sized fireballs. It was over in moments. Breathing a sigh of relief, and aware it was now getting quite late on a 'school night' (we're now beyond my epic 4am session by this point), I walked through to the next area, and the last before my fourth and final Great Soul; the Iron Keep. It's a big castle swimming in lava, and as you may have guessed already, it's pretty hard.

But the next chapter in my tale of pain and death will have to wait for another week friends, as I'm now off to see what suffering lies within the keep's walls. Stay tuned for part five, coming soon.

Disclosure: To assist in writing this article, Namco Bandai sent Dave a copy of Dark Souls 2 on PS3.

About the Author

Dave Cook avatar

Dave Cook

Contributor

Living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Writing a game called Jettison and a book called Seventh Circle. Loves spicy food.

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