Apr 3 2014 4:30pm

Dark Souls II: To Castle Drangleic and Beyond

While playing and writing about Dark Souls II, I’ve been thinking a lot about a disagreement I had with a friend of mine who I was trying to get to play the game despite the fact that he had no interest in doing so. He said “I watched someone’s speedrun on Youtube, so I’ve got the gist.” Which... nope! The Souls series is about exploring and about problem solving. Watching someone who knows where everything is, how to fight all of the enemies, avoid all the traps and where to go next? That is the opposite of Dark Souls, I or II (or Demon Souls, for that matter).

I’ve been lost and rudderless for most of this game—in the best way—constantly seeking clues on where to go next. When I find out what to do, then I go in like a wrecking ball, as the bard said. Even then, it is a thinking person’s game; you can’t find your way through a level without looking in the nooks and crannies for treasure or secret doors, without figuring out the tactics to beat the enemies in it and the strategy needed to take out the boss. That is the game.

I’ve been using a few “exploits” in this playthrough, which is not normally my style. Or at least...most “exploits” are little more than finding oversights in game balance, essentially finding ways to break the game or make over-powered characters or not-technically-cheat using glitches. As a tabletop DM who kicked too many of those types out of his games when he was younger, I don’t really have a yen for “min-maxing” or finding ways around the games’ mechanics. I’m not saying they all are, though, and case in point: in Dark Souls II I’ve really taken a shine to using the Binoculars as a “scope” for my spellcasting. It doesn’t really add any more power, but it saves me from the pain in the neck that equipping a bow, putting my shield away, and sniping with arrows is. It just lets me shoot without locking on, which I really appreciate, especially when I’m just trying to lay down suppressing fire through a doorway or aggro an enemy without being noticed by his friend.

As for the other, well, I keep on the Ring of Life Protection all the time, and just pay the 3000 souls to repair it every time it breaks. Easy mode engaged. I sort of think of it like Havel’s Ring or Homing Soul Mass; the fact that it almost universally and naturally becomes the prime characteristic of a huge swath of builds hints to me that it is slightly over powered, but I mean, it doesn’t break the game or anything. It might make it easier but then, so does using a sword instead of your bare hands. It is right there in the game, and can’t be accidental. A “No Ring of Life Protection” rule of bragging rights seems inevitable, but then, since the Onebros—people who played Dark Souls without ever increasing their level—are such an integral part of the culture, I think self-regulation is something the community ought to be able to manage.


To Castle Drangleic I go! After killing all of the Big Bosses of the outer world that I could find, I was aimless, again. Maybe that is another downside of the horizontal layout, along with the loss of the interconnectivity being vertical gave Dark Souls. You know what else really destroys that feeling of unity in this game? Instantaneous warping from bonfire to bonfire, right at the beginning. I get it, with such a spread out game you want to be able to jump all the “grinding,” but I much preferred the unlockable shortcuts and cunning elevators of Dark Souls. I miss seeing the skyline of Anor Londo...and then later on realize I am climbing on the exact towers and rooftops that I saw on my approach. I will say that the layout does give Dark Souls II room to have greater diversity of vistas. The Dragon’s Aerie gave me the heebie-jeebies; I hate those Corrosive Zombies or whatever they are called but really it was being suspended in the sky that made the level so tense. I hate those zombies twice as much as any Bonewheel, though. Bonewheels just kill you; acid zombies ruin your armor and your rings, like a Rust Monster. Eventually I just stripped down naked and ran through there as fast as I could.

Still, I was lost. I’d killed everything, and all I could find were these locked King’s Door, which I clearly needed a MacGuffin to get past. But where was it? Eventually, with some hints from friends—Playground Rules, remember!—I returned to the roundabout in the misty woods, found the Shrine of Winter and... oh hey, the Mad Scientist’s laboratory, the Castle of Doctor Moreau! Hit up that place, and meet the madman imprisoned there. Lever: unpulled. I learned a thing or two from Lautrec. When I find a madman locked in a cage, I think twice about letting him out. So we talked and he asked me to assassinate people for him and I thought, “why not?” After all, how is that any different from what my main quest is? Some lady in green tells me to kill a demigod, and I go kill it. Same thing. There were a few I was able to skip—lucky them—and then, to Drangleic, and beyond. Into the dreams of sleeping giants, seeking a way to kill an invincible, mindless, undead god-king.

I’m exploring the higher level places now, and I’ve finally switched my look...except my signature beret and monocle. I think the Chaos Hood probably boosts my magic, and I’ve always said that the reason I wear the Wandering Merchant Hat is that it has a special power, and I can always just increase the weight on the rest of my body, so there was no point in switching. Well, now I guess there is a point, but I’m not going to, either out of sentimentality or sense of fashion. I’ve started wearing the Throne Defender Armor with Dark Gauntlets and Dark Leggings. I have no complaints about the scarcity of Twinkling Titanite; I had to burn Bonfire Ascetics and raid the nests of dragons to get enough to level everything up, but there was enough and I like having to scramble for my elite stuff. I want to feel like I’ve earned it.

With any luck, by next week I’ll have finished & started on the extra-hard New Game Plus. Tune in!

Mordicai Knode’s next character might be built around the idea of using the Disc Chime as shield & talisman for a Faith build. You can find more of his ranting on Twitter and Tumblr.

Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
I feel very strongly about my monocle & beret.
D. Bell
2. SchuylerH
@1: What is best in life? To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, to hear the lamentations of their women and to look stylish while doing it.

Anyway, I've just found that authorised versions of almost all of Clark Ashton Smith's stories are available on the website Eldritch Dark. Today is a good day...
Mordicai Knode
3. mordicai
2. SchuylerH

I really like the interplay of "what is best, statistically" with "what looks cool." That mechanics versus fashion angle, mmm, that's a sweet spot for me.

I can't, by the way, sing this game's praises enough as an old school Gygaxian dungeon crawl simulator.
4. Sukamadee
Awesome game. Still plucking around before moving to NG modes. Getting STR up to 75 so i can duel wield the demon hammers.
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
4. Sukamadee

I knew I could stick around Drangleic-- I haven't killed the Ancient Dragon, for instance, & there are always trophies to get...-- but I went ahead to NG+ anyhow. I am currently thinking about making a new character with a different build, too. I haven't made up my mind!
6. Gristleborn
Shrine of Winter is the biggest pain in my ass right now. Can you tackle Dragon's Aerie prior to Shrine of Winter (it sounds like it's the case based on your article)? I must have missed it. If so, I'm going to take a break from the Shrine and go back for the Aerie.

Seems like there are a couple of different pieces of headwear that increase item discovery (I'm rocking the Jester's Cap currently), but I'm wondering if the bonuses are different from item to item. I'm usually in constant farming mode (Jester's Cap, Prisoner's Tatters, Covetous Gold Serpent Ring +1, etc.) until I need to fight a boss or I'm *intentionally* looking for some PvP. For me the choice doesn't have anything at all to do with aesthetics (i.e. Fashion Souls); I just want the highest item discovery possible. My logic was that by finding the Jester's Cap much later in the game, it would have a better discovery bonus, but I suppose I could be wrong.
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
6. Gristleborn

I don't...think you can? Sorry, the chronology might be a little confusing because I wrote the post after I'd done a lot of things...I believe-- unless there is a shortcut like how you can skip The Depths entirely-- that you have to go through Drangleic to get to the Aerie. Did you find the first bonfire in the castle/shrine?

I beat the game, so now I'm tossing the Playground Rule out the window & looking stuff up...but I'm guessing that your question on the Jester vs. Merchant Cap isn't a suggestion that I look them up & tell you. It does, however, make me realize that my attachment to the beret & monocle is in large part sentiment/fashion. But you, especially since this is my first playthrough, & since drops are more confusing/complicated/limited in DSII vs. DSI, I think Item Discovery is crucial. It is Fashion Souls but the whole reason I put it on in the first place is to grind...
8. Gristleborn

First, congrats on beating the game (well, New Game). I did reach the bonfire within the shrine -- the one in the basement, and I'm now trying ascend from there I suppose. It took me a while to clear out the basement of all of the stone golems and other such jerks, and after that ordeal I was being stupid about jumping into the corrossive liquid in the floor above to search for treasure. I think I left off with my equipment being broken by the next few enemies I fought (due to the corrosion doing MOST of the work beforehand), and with that I had my final frustration for the evening and gave it a rest. By going in refreshed this weekend, I should hopefully fare better.
My question about the caps was more of a... ponderance I've been having over the past few days, and not necessarily a request for you or anyone else to do the dirty work of the research (but if you had happened to have knowledge off-hand... that would have been just dandy). Some of the stats in the game (including item discovery) do not seem entirely well researched yet. DS1 actually had item discovery bonus values in the equipment stats, but unfortunately DS2 did not follow in suit with this.

As for Fashion Souls, I'm actually starting to like the look of some of the lighter armor sets, AND I read that poise doesn't really have as much as an effect as it did in DS1, so I may need to respec with a soul vessel.
Mordicai Knode
9. mordicai
8. Gristleborn

Yeah, I didn't realize how super close I was to the endgame when I wrote this; I thought I had to kill the Ancient Dragon-- or well, maybe, but I thought Vendrick for sure-- & sort out the Hex stuff to unlock the black platform in the Castle. I knew there was a Big Bad at the Throne, because I fought her as a phantom but no idea how to get there. I'm still not entirely sure what I did to trigger the event.

As for the room, I still don't know how the doors unlock; I cleared it a couple of times before I finally got them all open, but maybe I was doing it wrong? Fun trap room, though. As for the acid, you'll note the "nude undead" picture above...that's EXACTLY when I took it, because my first instinct was to strip down before jumping in. & I was right!

I think the math on Poise was recently "cracked"-- I have steered clear of the subreddit because spoilers! & the Playground Rule can only be stretched so far-- but I spotted it there. It might be worth dropping a question there, then; I think a specific appeal to the community is a-okey, personally. My recent question: I miss the Balder Side Sword, is anything like it?

I'm still too chicken to mess with a respec. I don't know why. Fear of the new, which in real life isn't so cool but in Dark Souls is only sensible. Hey, do you know if 40 is the attribute cap, like DSI?
10. Gristleborn
I saw the same post on the DS2 subreddit regarding poise, which was why I mentioned it. It seemed that the conclusion of the findings was that poise isn't nearly as useful as it was in DS2. No matter how poised up you are and no matter what weapon is being swung at you, it seems that you can only take 2-3 hits before the stunlock.

I hear of a lot of people lamenting the lack of Balder Side Sword or equivalent... Funny enough, I never even caught on to the Balder Side Sword magnificence in DS1, so I guess I don't know what I was/am missing. I guess there is nothing to replace it in DS2.

By attribute cap, do you mean soft cap or hard cap? Looks like there is a 99 hard cap on all stats, but diminishing returns at different points along the way for each stat. All damage bonuses apparently max at 200, so it's been figured out that you don't get any returns past 40 for str/dex/int/fth. Vigor drops off in usefulness at 20 and again at 50, endurance at 20, vit at 29 and 49 and 70, and the rest... well just in case you want to see all of the info, I got it from the subreddit (there are no spoilers in the OP aside from the stat info):

I regret to say that I got stuck painting all weekend and got NO DS2 game time in. Life is hard.
Mordicai Knode
11. mordicai
10. Gristleborn

Yeah, I'm considering if my Giant's Ring +1 is worth a slot. Hm.

Some people have been saying Sun Sword or Drangliec Sword, both of which have good move sets but don't work so well with my build.

Soft cap, soft cap. I just am not sure where to dump my attribute points any more!

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