I play Dark Souls II with what I call the “Playground Rules.” That is to say, very simply, that if I could have asked a kid on the playground for help with an NES game I was stuck on, I have no problem extending that logic to a modern game, but otherwise, no spoilers. No guides, no walkthroughs, and sadly no forum browsing.
Dark Souls II (and its precursors) actually seems to be more or less built with this exact ethos in mind, as the use of “orange soapstone” signs attests. The Souls series allow you to leave “graffiti” in the game, messages formed from default sentence fragments, that show up in other people’s games. This is how you find secret doors, or hidden items, or how you (hopefully) don’t walk past the save point of a bonfire. Learn from your Uncle Mordicai’s mistakes!
So that’s me; I’ll look at a wiki if I’m using it strictly as an encyclopedia—like comparing the stats of the Longsword to the Heide Knight Sword—where information that is available in the game is provided more legibly, with the little icons explained. Figuring out the mechanics behind rules like regaining Humanity would be cheating, as would be looking for where items drop randomly, so I mostly stay away to avoid the temptation. Of course, I hear the rumors—that getting Humanity back for helping kill bosses is a glitch!—but I don’t dig deeper. (If that is true, that is foolish, I think: rewarding players with Humanity for helping kill bosses as Phantoms is just plain elegant.)
What I want to know is: how badly did I mess up by killing the giant scorpiontaur guy? I saw him from far away, sniped him with a bow, then got close and saw a bunch of “friend ahead!” messages. A bummer, but I got the equivalent of the Ring of Favor and Protection from his corpse, so I am not too sad. Still, no idea what his whole deal is.
I’ve found in Dark Souls II—as I found in Demon’s Souls, which I never finished—that I tend to get hung up on a boss and then have to backtrack to get better items and gain some levels. Currently dealing with the ultra-demonic Old Iron King—or really I should said, failing to deal with him, as he shoots me with a fire laser through a wall and knocks me into the lava for the umpteenth time. So instead of getting frustrated, I’ve been going back to the stuff I skipped, poking it, taking the risks and making sure that I’m not missing anything obvious like “oh if I talk to that priest again… well, first, she’ll act like a corrupt Chaucerian pardoner, which is funny, but two, she’ll open up the rest of the game! A huge swath of levels I’d been missing until I got hung up on Iron Keep!” Might explain some of my troubles, as I am higher level than you need to be for the levels I missed. It figures that I was a lower level than I needed to be at the levels I’ve been tackling.
I also started exploring the Gutters—the “dark zone” of the game! How useful is the torch? Frankly, it has to be pretty dang useful to make me abandon my shield, so other than the creepy dark apes in No-Man’s Wharf, the only place I’ve used it is here in the all-dark level. I will say this: for all the sudden floor collapses, all the shadows, all the poison in Dark Souls II? None of it seems like the worst parts of Blighttown, the most notorious map from Dark Souls. See, what made Blighttown so bad was not the long falls, the poison darts, the movement impairing swamp, nor the cannibals. No, what made it the worst was the clipping errors, the broken physics of the game. I haven’t run into those issues at all in DSII—bravo! I just also haven’t found the torch as useful as I was promised I would. That’s okay. It just makes me hope they come out with more than one DLC; the logic and mechanics of the game are there; now I want to see them bring the fundamentals together into a complex whole.
Rats! I finally killed the Royal Rat Authority. A friend of mine had been giving me advice, advice that didn’t make any sense to me, but I think he thought I was fighting a different giant rat boss. Obviously Dark Souls II is a game with a lot of giant rats. There is even a whole Covenant devoted to them! Let’s talk about Covenants. I joined the Way of the Blue and the Blue Sentinels, which have a cool elevator pitch. If you are Invaded in the Way of the Blue, the game will summon Blue Sentinels to protect you. A cool notion, but wasn’t getting any action when I bothered to wear the correct magic ring; I suspect that the ratio of Invaders to other players is skewed. I just joined the Rat Kings, so I don’t know much about it as a Covenant: I’ve only been on the receiving end. So far, the Rat Kings seem…inconvenient? That is, it would feel mean—barraging someone with ranged attacks while they fight enemy tanks—but the stakes are pretty low. I just found the Heirs of the Sun Covenant, the Sunbros, and I might try joining them for a bit, but so far the Bellkeepers were the right fit for me.
See, Dark Souls had the Darkroot Forest, which was an area I thought was very clever. It summoned other PCs from other games to defend it, essentially making other players an enemy type; as you can imagine, a decent player is always more dangerous than an AI. Dark Souls II’s Rat Kings are similar, only they summon you into their world, into the rat warrens where they can use enemies and traps against you. I don’t know the rewards or the risks for the Rats, yet, but I was a member of the Bell Keepers, a Covenant similar to both. There are two bell towers—think Undead Parish—and, well, there are a bunch of adorable Chucky dolls guarding it, crossed with the doll-replicants from J.F. Sebastian’s apartment in Blade Runner, ringing the bells, laughing maniacally and asking you to join. How could I say no! The Bell Keepers is fun and rewarded me with Titanite Chunks, rather rare weapon and armor upgrade components—in other words, totally worth it. It helps that, like with Invasions, the level of skill in PvP is more diverse than it was in Dark Souls towards the end, when everyone was basically an elite duel master, so I’m actually pretty good in a skirmish.
Speaking of those Titanite upgrade ores… I had complained last game about the bottleneck of Shards, the lowest level item (you need Shards, then Large Shards, then Chunks, then a Slab, unless you need weirder stuff). I stand by that; it is a real problem. I don’t mind restricting Large Shards as much, but both tactics discourage you from using them, and if you do, then you run the risk of regretting it. I think I’m close to getting a merchant who will sell them—the blacksmith in the Lost Bastille who needs a new Ember is my guess, if I can ever find his Ember, or maybe the prospector, the blacksmith’s daughter, will suddenly become more useful—but it has taken too long. Trying out new armor, rather than new weapons, is the current bee in my bonnet—or rather the fact that I can’t, since I don’t have the materials needed to mess around. Oh, and a related PSA: did you know you can upgrade your Catalyst, your wizard’s staff, as well as your weapon, this time?