Wed
Apr 9 2014 1:00pm

Dark Souls II: To Sit Upon the Throne of Want

My travels through Dark Souls II have come to an end... and a beginning, but before we dive in to that, let me spin my mythos theories. In Dark Souls, the final “big bosses” are the keepers of the Lord Souls, the divinities of the game like Gravelord Nito, a shambling horror of hundreds of skeletons or the Witch of Izalith, the mother of witches consumed by fire and chaos. Actually, you fight the Bed of Chaos, not the Witch of Izalith; the witch was destroyed, or transformed, and her Lord Soul birthed demons into the world. Similarly, Gwyn, the emperor of sun and lightning, split off pieces of his Lord Soul, giving it to kings and knights, making them into demigods which, of course, you have to fight.

DSII on the other hand starts with four big enemies you need to kill, but those four have a lot of links to the other game’s four. I don’t think they are the exact same—instead, I think they are other creatures who seized the Lord Souls, after the hero of the last game collected them. The pile of zombie bodies that is the Rot is something made or corrupted by Nito’s soul; the Old Iron King is the keeper of Gwyn’s soul, twisted beyond recognition into a balrog-thing; the Duke’s Dear Freya—a giant spider—is the scaleless dragon Seath’s familiar, perhaps? And, lastly, the bug inside The Lost Sinner’s mask may actually be the Witch of Izalith, and the bug inside the Bed of Chaos in DSI was maybe her, too.

Anyway, when I say my travels have come to a new beginning, I mean “New Game Plus.” See, Dark Souls I and II are all about being trapped in cycles of death and rebirth, starting the core mechanic of the game: dying in-game is dying: not video game logic where you start over from your last save, but the in-game logic of you being cursed with Undeath. Then of course, there is the plot of the first game: the primal Fire is guttering out, the age of castles and kings and gods is over, has been over for centuries, but the god-emperor Gwyn has done everything in his power to extend the dwindling half-life... until you get there. To rekindle the Age of Fire, starting the cycle anew, or to chose to be the Dark Lord, bringing about the Age of Dark. Is King Vendrick the “ur-PC” who chose the Age of Fire? Nashandra, the Queen, seems clearly to be a sliver of Manus, a Humanity sprite, that grew bigger and bigger, yes? The Giants, of course, come from the broken arch in Demon’s Souls...

In Dark Souls II, the choice between Fire and Darkness is hidden, the Throne of Want like a Schrödinger’s Box obscuring it from view, even from the player. Once you beat the game? You start all over again, but this time it’s harder. That’s what New Game Plus (NG+) is, and DSII shines here. Dark Souls got “harder” the way most video games get harder: by just giving the enemies more hit points and making them do more damage. It works, sure, but Dark Souls II is much more involved and elegant, because while yes, the monsters get “harder,” there are also new critters, more enemies and more aggressive opponents. And new rewards for killing them, as well. You might be surprised by how much a boss fight changes when the boss gets a couple of minions. Remember how hard I had it with the Royal Rat Authority just because he had minions that would poison me? Well, he’s not the only one, anymore...

A new game also means that I finally changed my look. Wandering Merchant Hat, I’ll rep your beret and monocle forever, the same way that the Balder Side Sword from DSI will always have a place in my heart, but now that I’m in my NG+, I think I have to celebrate it with a fashion show. Straid’s headpiece, the Black Hood, has a sweet little cowl. Pair that up with my Throne Defender armor’s fluttery cape, and I cut a very dashing profile. I AM THE NIGHT. I use Dark Gauntlets and Dark Leggings and even they give a very “you know under the theatrical cape Batman has experimental military grade body armor on” look to the outfit. I mean, okay, really I look Hourman, if you are a JSA aficionado. Another big perk? When I’m an Heir of Sunlight, a Sunbro, and I’m summoned as a golden Phantom? The whole thing looks really... Apollonian.

All of this talk about armor combinations, to me, just points to one of the reasons of the game’s replay value: customization matters. A character who focuses on light armor and dual wielding greatswords plays very differently from a tank with a greatshield and ultra-heavy armor, who plays differently from a magic user, or a faith build, or any combination of any number of builds. That layer is further complicated by magic items, but since the game has a good degree of balance it isn’t a question of “did you do the ’right’ thing to optimize your build.” Explore your options, find what suits you, and you ought to be okay. The best advice I can give any player is: pick the weapon you use based on it’s move set. You can play with the stats and bonuses from there.

Comparing Dark Souls II to Dark Souls on quality is a sucker’s game. Dark Souls is a game that instantly became my favorite of this generation of console games, for one thing; for another, comparing a sequel to the flagship of a franchise of course doesn’t work out. Bringing Demon’s Souls into the picture helps provide perspective, but here is my confession: I never finished Demon’s Souls. I got it last winter, along with Dark Souls, and after beating Dark Souls I thought I’d give it a spin, but I never finished it. I just ended up back in Dark Souls, beating NG+, and then Dark Souls II came out.

Still, I played it enough to see how much it influenced Dark Souls II; while Dark Souls is the source of the lion’s share of references, the mechanics of Demon’s Souls—leveling up via a mysterious lady back at home base, instant warping either via arch or bonfire, for instance—loom overhead as well. The interface, too; I personally prefer the brutalist user interface of the first Dark Souls over the filagreed bars and menus of DSII but that’s a very minor and subjective thing. What I’m getting at is...well, I don’t think Dark Souls II is better than Dark Souls, but I think that is a wild thing to expect; I do, however, think it is better than Demon’s Souls. More importantly, I think it is a good game, period.

The best news about Dark Souls II is not sexy, not a headline grabber, but bodes well in the long term: the math is better. Not across the board (the mechanics of Poise need fiddled with, I think) and not always conceptually (you should get Humanity back for helping to kill a boss), but overall the skeleton of the game seems to be improving. There’s no junk stat, like Resistance, and the derived bonuses from the various attributes make them all enticing. And Adaptability, the replacement for Resistance that increases your response speed along with defenses and Poise, is maybe my favorite one, or up there with Int and Vitality, anyhow. Splitting out Stamina and Equip Load is another piece of smart game design—and ultimately, that is the triumph of Dark Souls II. It shows the Souls games on an upward trend, and hints that the future of the franchise is more great games.


Mordicai Knode thinks the first DLC will start at those doors in Heide’s Tower that don’t go anywhere. You can find him on Tumblr and Twitter.

23 comments
Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
I forgot I had a Trident Dance clip in here & I am dying.
Bridget McGovern
2. BMcGovern
Yikes. That might be the greatest jig ever...? It's like a weaponized version of the Ron Swanson dance.
Scott Silver
4. hihosilver28
Mordicai, you really should finish Demon's Souls. Granted, I've been playing the Souls games the instant they've come out (well, not technically true. I picked up Demon's two months after release), but it all holds up well. I still have very fond memories of Demon's even though I would probably give the edge to Dark Souls just because of the interconnectivity of the world. I can still run through damn near every area of Demon's Souls in my head because I played it so much. I loved the dark and light mechanics of the game and how that opened up new areas and enemies as well as made the game more difficult or easier. Anyways...it's worth your time to finish the game.

I just got my first of the Great Souls in DSII. I beat the Lost Sinner. Tried doing it solo, and got probably halfway through her health bar, but I had to get help. Got through the Shaded Woods right now (man, that was intense), though I may choose to do No-Man's Wharf before finishing the Shaded Ruins.
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
2. BMcGovern

Yeah, the Channeler Trident Dance is a Dark Souls classic; one of the most annoying rare weapons to get, because there are very few of them, but the sign of a fairly hardcore player. The real magic requires scattering Prism Stones & Jolly Cooperation...

Mordicai Knode
6. mordicai
4. hihosilver28

Yeah, I'm sure I'll return to it, but sparkly new DSII pushed it out. The Sinner was also my first great soul; people act like she's the hardest thing out there but we-- I summoned too, but then, I like summoning so I do it a lot, I try to stay low level but summon a lot-- busted her up pretty good. I'm leery of her in NG+ though...
Scott Silver
7. hihosilver28
She's tough, no doubt, but if I had been a little more patient and timed things better with a better shield, I could have beat her solo. I enjoy summoning too, but I prefer to do it on my own, if I can. Feels more like a challenge that way, so that I don't have someone else to take the attention off the boss from me.

What covenants have you used/liked? I did the Blue Sentinels for a while, but never got summoned, so I quickly tired of it. I think I'm going to do the Bell Keepers next, because it seems like I'll be able to do things.

Also, what was your typical weapon loadout? I kind of want to upgrade to be able to use the twinblade effectively, simply because the animation is slick, but it doesn't seem like the stats are up to any of the swords that I have (fire, Heide, magic crescent). That and I wonder how two-handing it will do against PvP shield users, if it'll stun-lock or not.
Mordicai Knode
8. mordicai
7. hihosilver28

Bellhops get the best rewards-- Chunks!-- but I'm a Sunbro kind of guy. Which I mean, explains why I like summoning. I totally 'get' fighting bosses solo; I don't summon right off the bat, but I'm not shy about it.

I'm an old fashioned sword-n-board guy. Give me a decent shield with a high Magic block & a straight sword & I'll kill everything, PvE or PvP.

The scarcity of upgrade materials was a big problem for me in this game. No easy answer. Try killing the green dwarves in the poison valley? & Belltower will get you chunks. Large titanite I guess I got from...Brightcove? Which is past the lady turned to stone.
Gristleborn
9. Gristleborn
If you're not the ganker type and therefore don't feel like enlisting with the Bell Keepers for your chunk fix, a good farming spot is the Black Gulch coal tar pits. Once I realized that the coal tars dropped chunks, I donned my farming gear and ended up with quite a haul. High poison resist helps with the process, of course (hate those damn statues).
Mordicai Knode
10. mordicai
9. Gristleborn

Or-- my personal favorite-- if you aren't a ganker you can just Bellhop it for a while & any time you get buddied up, be a huge useless jerk, throwing Prism Stones around, HELLO! HELLO! HELLO! & getting in the way. I don't know, I find ways to amuse myself...

What is your kit?
Gristleborn
11. Gristleborn
Hah. That's actually pretty creative. For some reason those carving voices never get old to me. "I'M SORRY, I'M SORRY, I'M SORRY" -- I remember throwing these down ad nauseam (maybe 2 minutes straight?) right after summoning two Sunbros to help me take down the Iron King and right before dying 5 seconds into the fight. I didn't actually intend to die, and therefore I ended up double-dipping on the irony.

On a lark two nights ago I decided to expend one of my many Soul Vessels and try out a hex build. I honestly don't know what I'm doing quite yet -- mostly just spamming R1 -- but so far I'm having fun and that's what counts! I'm not home at the moment, so this is off memory, but I believe my equipment loadout is:

Hexer's Hood - gives extra casts and +1 fth/int
Lion Mage Everything Else - to put some fast in my cast
Sunset Staff - A scaling for int, S scaling for dark
Disc Charm - weak for miracles/hexes but doubles as a (crappy) shield
Dark Long Sword - just in case something gets inside my comfort zone

As for my spell loadout, I'm still trying different variations out. I was mostly just spamming Dark Orb last time I played, with moderate success, but I've just been doing PvE for the time being.

I should be heading to NG+ fairly soon. Were you playing on PS3? If so, my ID is Dunkin_Idaho if you are ever up for some Jolly Coop or Somewhat-Less-Jolly PvP, that is if I ever develop any PvP competence as a hexer. At the moment I'd be a pushover.
Scott Silver
12. hihosilver28
@Gristleborn
What are the items that do the "I'M SORRY"? I don't think I've gotten far enough to get them. I'm currently in the Bell Keepers covenant, and I'm really enjoying it. Except for when it gets 2v1, then it's just not fair. I don't really get the vehemence against the group though. I always thought it was an intense feeling to try to get through the Luna Tower wondering when someone would invade and feeling like a badass when I wiped them out. Though since the environment is against the player too, I can see how people could take advantage to make an easier fight. (Which I did at the Belfry Sol yesterday, and now I feel a little guilty about it. Time to start bowing to people and let them get full health before starting a duel.)

I'm on PS3 under the ID Malgalad, but I'm quite a ways behind you and Mordicai. I'm about to get my second Great Soul (currently only have The Lost Sinner), but I still have a ways to go. I think I'm around SL 70.
Gristleborn
13. Gristleborn
@hihosilver28

You can purchase the carvings from Magerold of Lanafir at the Iron Keep. As soon as you cross the bridge and enter the keep, turn right, go down a stretch of hallway, and he'll be sitting there at the end in an alcove. Just make sure to clear out the Alonne Knights in the area first so they don't attack you mid-transaction.

As for the Bell Keepers, I don't have any particular disdain for the covenant. The members are just playing the game in one of the ways the designers intended. It's just really not my style, but even as I say that I acknowledge that I'll probably end up joining them sooner or later because of my completionist "do everything and get everything possible in the game" attitude. A week ago, I was playing around at Luna, laying down my summon sign for those not with the covenant going through the area in an attempt to even out the odds for them a bit. I was only summoned a small handful of times over the course of 2 hours, but the results tended to be satisfying :)

Next time I'm on the PS3 I'll shoot you a request. I probably won't get a chance to play at all this weekend, so you may be able to bridge the gap a bit.
Mordicai Knode
14. mordicai
11. Gristleborn

I'll send you a request!

Iron King, I got BUTCHERED & then eventually realized he was EASIER without summons. Nobody to get in my way or mess up the pattern.

I REALLY like the idea behind the Disc Chime. Less so the Blue Flame but still, a cool idea. Maybe I should try it out, that could be fun.

12. hihosilver28

I'll send you a request, too!

I actually totally agree. It is part of why the Looking Glass Knight is hard, part of why the Darkroot Forest was hard. Players are smarted then AIs, & a part of the game guarded by Players? Terrifying! I was really impressed with the idea in Dark Souls & so I really like the Bellhops, gank squads & all. It is supposed to be a no-fair brawl. & I say that as a bow guy.
Scott Silver
15. hihosilver28
Sweet! It would be fun to play with some people in the world.

So, I've been running into the problem of having tons of Titanite Chunks from being a Bell Keeper, but where the hell do I get more shards and large shards? There isn't a character like Frampt, who'll break larger chunks into smaller ones, is there?

I just finished "No-Man's Wharf" and was really disappointed with it. Mainly because I realized that it should have been the 2nd or 3rd area that I went through, and I was just too OP for it and blew through it. I had already fought the boss as a normal monster in the Shaded Woods.
Mordicai Knode
16. mordicai
15. hihosilver28

Nope; one of the things I thought was a problem with the game is that early bottleneck of titanite. It punishes experimenting, which is something I think Dark Souls is very good about not doing-- you can try anything, even swords to big to use, & when you try things like poison arrows they are much more useful than you'd thing-- but here it just meant you had to stick to the first set of stuff you really invested in, for too long.

Also it didn't help that I didn't find Harvet Valley for a LONG time-- try killing those green dudes? Oh, & maybe toss a bonfire aescetic in the bonfire? I just had that idea now; I'm sure someone else has already tried it. Huh. Anyhow, see I DID do the Wharf first, & Tseldora, & the Bastille & then I cake-walked the Valley & the Gulch.
Gristleborn
17. Gristleborn
I just wanted to stop back and say that the Shrine of Amana and Undead Crypt almost killed the game for me. I don't think I've EVER been more frustrated in a Souls game. I had the most trouble in the area in Undead Crypt where you have to fall down the hole and fend off all of the Leydia Apostles spawning from their caskets after the bells in the area are rung. That whole experience was some terrible war of attrition that took me at least a dozen tries to get through. And when I finally DID clear it, I was invaded by a BloodBro soon after and killed because I can't time my hexes properly. Perhaps I'm not cut out for hexing? Conversely, Dragon Aerie was cakewalk as a hexer, but that was simply because I didn't need to worry so much about maneuvering and spell timing.

I'm actually considering going for a faith/melee build. I still find myself running in to the fray with my underwhelming long sword and an armor set that's hardly more effective than my birthday suit at stopping physical blows. My glass cannon days might be over, but my jack-of-all-trades days are right around the corner!
Mordicai Knode
18. mordicai
17. Gristleborn

I've said before that I'm not shy about summoning; both those areas are-- to me-- ones I think are "fun for summoning," because if you get a couple of Phantoms to tag along, it becomes less of a war of attrition. Though I didn't find the Shrine to be as terrible as everyone else does. Maybe because I was a mage with a high AGL so rolling under spells is easy in my wheelhouse?
Gristleborn
19. Gristleborn
Mordicai:

For some reason, I'm stuck in the paradigm of thinking that summoning should only be done for support during boss fights. I know that that is patently untrue -- that jolly cooperation transcends any one particular set of circumstances when it comes to adventuring -- but that's how I've been approaching it all this time. I'll have to change my attitude toward non-Boss PvE co-op, especially with NG+ looming.

I should really drop some more points into adaptability in my next build. I've been ignoring it for far too long. Sometimes I miss the good old days when I could equip full Havels and Dark Wood Grain Ring and roll around like a ninja turtle, but looking back, I know in my heart that that was one of the very things wrong with the first Dark Souls.

Have you ever given a mundane build any thought? It sounds rather interesting...
Scott Silver
20. hihosilver28
So, something that I'm finding frustrating about the "open-ended" nature of the first four great souls is that it's not actually open-ended...or rather it is, but if you play out of the intended order, you'll miss a bunch of NPC characters. For example: I'm fighting the Dear Duke's Freja boss right now, and I didn't see Pate or the other character in Bright Cove because I haven't gone through Huntsman's Copse yet. It's frustrating to miss out on parts of the game because I took them at their word and went through the world in whatever order I came to it.
Christopher Summa
21. Gristleborn
The NPCs are a tricky lot to deal with in this game. Whether it's due to a strictly prescribed sequence of appearances for certain "quest" NPCs such as Lucatiel or Pate or unclear requirements for activating certain vendor or covenant NPCs (usually in the form of a minimum stat requirement). Honestly, I did a healthy dose of guide perusing to make sure I didn't miss any of them, because I doubted I'd figure it all on my own. In looking these things up ahead of time, I do feel like I'm side-stepping the spirit of adventure that the game tries to engender in leaving your next steps in the game shrouded in a certain amount of uncertainty, BUT I'm unfortunately sort of obsessed with finding everything (and everyone) in the game the first time around. Well, if you've missed certain events completely, at least you have a chance of rectifying it in NG+.

By the way, I've been playing around with a mundane build, and it is a lot of fun and very flexible throughout a number of play styles. My Mundane Broken Straight Sword +10 is absolutely hysterical.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
19. Gristleborn

I usually make a mundane build for funsies, but like-- actually, I take that back. Even my "mundane" builds are a little magicked up, like a slot for heal or pyro or magic weapon. I sort of think of my characters as "adventurers" more than "mage" or "Int" when I play. Like, I build around drops & whims.

I think weight & rolls are really well balanced in this game; that's part of what I mean when I say that the mechanics give me hope for a long, strong, healthy franchise. The changes from DS to DSII are mostly really great; I hope the upward trend continues for DSIII in however many years.

Adaptability is friggin' great. I yell at my character SO much less. "HOW ARE YOU STILL DRINKING YOU STU...YOU DIED." Up that Agility & you'll quaff & roll with a much more natural motion. I think it is tied to your Endurance or Stamina attribute somehow, too.

20. hihosilver28

I actually DO like that; like for instance what a pain in the neck it is to become a Darkwraith on accident in DSI. I don't mind missing things, even huge major things, because ultimately it just gives me replay value! & like you, I went to Brightstone before Huntsman's.

21. Gristleborn

Yeah, I make my first run free & clear. Second run I do naturally, but will look things up on a Wiki if I'm bored or curious. Then third run is my "gotta catch 'em all" run.

OH you mean THAT kind of Mundane build...no! I haven't given it any thought. What's the deal with Mundane Builds?
Christopher Summa
23. Gristleborn
@Mordicai:

On Mundane builds:

By infusing a weapon with Mundane, you'll take away a great deal of its base damage and also remove the normal scaling that it receives from specific damage stats such as STR, DEX, INT, and FTH. Instead, the weapon will scale in damage based on the value of your lowest stat (this can be any stat -- not just the typical damage stats).

You receive the most benefit from Mundane scaling when your lowest stat is around 20 or so. For this reason, the most basic Mundane template calls for setting every one of your stats to 20 (which puts you in the SL 120 - 130 range somewhere), and then specializing further from that point on. As for melee specialization, most people tend to pump just enough into STR and DEX to support their preferred weapon loadout and no more. If you want to place more of a focus on casting, then you can pump more unto INT and FTH in equal amounts to allow for hexing. Hexing makes most sense for the build since you have to invest in both magic stats to begin with, therefore it becomes difficult to truly specialize in either sorcery or miracles.

The weapons that apparently receive the most benefit from Mundane are those that have quick attack animations with low cost to stamina, but would normally have low base damage and subpar scaling to start with. Examples are the short sword, long sword, and in my case the broken straight sword. You can basically swing the broken straight sword FOREVER, and the Mundane setup does an amazing amount of damage per hit (not Ultra Greatsword damage, but considering you will be chaining lightning fast attacks the DPS is pretty phenomenal).

Other popular Mundane candidates are Santier's Spear and Avelyn, apparently. Apparently the damage output for both becomes absolutely Insane with Mundane (I just pat myself on the back for that one). I need to farm more upgrade materials before I can actually try the two of them out, though.
Mordicai Knode
24. mordicai
23. Gristleborn

Um...that sounds exactly like what I want. A low-level generalist build? Sign me up. I'm going to do this with my new character right now.

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