To start this week off I went to confront the last major challenge remaining, fighting Ornstein and Smough solo. I did this on New Game + on my original character and did it the harder way killing Smough first. This is harder for a few reasons, it’s generally more difficult to damage Smough with Ornstein always on your ass and Super Ornstein is much harder than Super Smough. As with any other multiple enemy boss there’s some randomness to it though I’ve decided this is the fairest, cleanest fight of them and about as good as a dual boss is going to get. I died 4 times, twice to chain hits (with some pretty decent dodging on my part to boot) in the first phase and twice to Ornstein’s mega lightning doom grab. I’ll call the former 2 deaths bad luck and the other 2 a lapse in skill.
Super Ornstein’s grab is the hardest hitting attack in the game as far as I know at north of 1400 damage on the first playthrough (I don’t precisely know, it’s always killed me in one hit even with fairly high Vit, guide has damage numbers on everything but grabs), and presumably hits for more than 2000 on NG+. It’s also one of the hardest grab attacks to dodge, if you back up right when the animation starts you can avoid it but he could also be doing a lightning bolt (very similar startup animation) to sap some health from you. If you roll backward too early he’ll still poke you, if you roll to the side with close to perfect timing (hard to judge) you can dodge it. Additionally continuously strafing to the right with no obstructions will make it miss just barely (once I ran into a column and poof). Unlike Gwyn there’s a pretty big ranged bias here.
Ornstein and Smough are the community-labelled hardest boss in the game (by reviewers and forum goers alike), as Four Kings is considered too cheap to count and most people cheese Lord Gwyn. I’d say it’s third since Four Kings is technically harder and Gwyn is a monster in a standard fight. In my regular runs I always have a shield with very high stability and ideally lightning resistance (Eagle) which makes them unlikely to crack your guard (note you can’t just stand there and eat certain attacks, move your ass). Openings do happen as Ornstein jumps off randomly and Smough has long delays in his animations, Ornstein will still poke you while you hit Smough but with a small amount of poise it won’t get you into a chain hit. The biggest problem, much like fighting Gwyn, is selecting the proper time to use your Estus Flask. Do it at the wrong time and you risk chain hit spam requiring more wasted Estus or plain old death.
Past this the only obstacle left were the Four Kings, back with more misery. I used a Chaos Halberd for most of my run and thus every time I died on this fight I had to get my corpse back to maximize damage output (scales with humanity). Eventually I figured it’d be faster to simply homeward out on corpse runs and run back. Four Kings have nearly twice the HP of any other boss in the game and at least in the first playthrough you have to deal 2500 or so damage in a short period to prevent them from spawning too quickly. In NG+ without specific fairly cheap builds it’s not possible to deal enough damage to keep pace so in essence my SL 50 sorc (Crystal Homing Soul Mass can do 2500 in one shot, the Kings don’t dodge) had a better chance at killing them than my SL 100 chaos melee guy. If the first king decides to grab you, regardless of whether you dodge it, the second king will be up and running long before you can kill the first. Once more than one are up you basically just pray for the best and eventually kill it. I didn’t cheese it this go around but I certainly wouldn’t have felt bad doing so.
I quickly went on to finish most of the next areas and finally got enough strength to use the Greatshield of Artorias. This shield has 88 stability, which is pretty damn insane since stability scales exponentially the closer you get to 100. You can block every physical attack in the game with low stamina with Artorias’ shield. If an attack actually ate through my 160 stamina it would be doing somewhere north of 5 times my health if it had landed. This, and a few Crystal +5 shields (Eagle and Hollow Soldier), are one way to make Bed of Chaos substantially less painful. Don’t like dodging those annoying sweeps? Just put up your sweet shield and laugh at how it only takes 1/5th of your stamina bar.
The shield isn’t broken for a couple of reasons, the high STR requirement being one. The other reason is that it doesn’t have particularly high elemental resistances. Only Havel’s shield (50 strength instead of 34) has the potential to be “broken,” but it also has substantially lower stability. Anywho, the shield helps for fighting Lord Gwyn as it does have decent fire resistance and can actually soak up most of his hits (he’s still kind of nuts), you will bleed a lot and have to heal several times, picking the right time to heal is what saves you. The Black Knight Shield +5 is the best anti-Gwyn damage shield (as well as being overpowered in PvP) in the game but the 76 stability means your stamina bar will get crushed in any clear but the first, so this mandates the alternative (unless you’re a rolling guru or something). I still died once, I healed at the right time but he got off one of those lovely combo attacks just as I started to recover and death was upon me (it’s so damn tightly tuned that the fight is always tense regardless).
I quickly ran through the beginning of the next game, platinum trophy now in sight. All I had to do was make Sif’s cursed sword and I was finally in the clear. Everything was going smoothly, nice and relaxing. Peace, calm, happiness, things to cherish. At this point Sen’s Fortress decided to have it’s vengeance on me. In the past I hadn’t died much there (and had 3 consecutive no death clears even), so now I barely missed a roll on the last trap section of the area and died a few more times on the way back. I rushed to fight the Iron Golem and skipped killing the boulder guy only to find out that he tosses boulders into the fighting arena if you don’t kill him (makes sense in retrospect). Ordinarily this would amuse me quite a bit but I was a tad pissed so I bit my tongue and went to slowly defeat him.
There’s an amusing, somewhat hard to find, spell called Fire Spray which shoots a constant flame and ticks down rapidly (80 charges), if you use it on a larger enemy it’ll rack up damage fast but also drop the framerate to 5ish (has to be constantly hitting them) and make it really easy to dodge any attacks that might happen. It’s not particularly overpowered since you need most of the charge just to kill one stronger enemy, but it is a humorous way to fight things like the Boars (bitch to predict, do way more damage than you think) and these selfsame boulder tossing giants. Aside: the golem gives an absurd 90,000 souls when killed in NG+. For the most part experience scaling seems to be in line with how buffed the enemy you’re fighting is; Gwyndolin hits more than twice as hard and gives the most souls in the game after the first clear.
Anyway I made it through Anor Londo without too much trouble (cleared that damn Dragon Bow spot in one try once again, fuck you Sen’s Fort), made the sword and no trophy was acquired. Aggravation was building, I looked through every weapon I had and verified it in the guide. I realized one thing was missing from the guide and my inventory… the Dark Hand… Fucking Four Kings again. I wasn’t having any of this bullshit and promptly decided it was time to break down and acclimate myself to assholes. Lightning Zweihander +4, be mine!
Iron Flesh is absurdly cheap for every boss except Four Kings on New Game + or beyond (Four Kings is still annoying and random in the first playthrough but it is possible to beat it with a variety of methods), but yet it seems most of the playerbase has trivialized difficult bosses with it. The last boss is absolutely fantastic, why someone would want to ruin it with overpowered abilities is beyond me. I’ll address this more in the review but Dark Souls has a whole bunch of abusable things (and insanely good weapons that can be used with low stats i.e. Lightning 2 Hander X) as opposed to just a few in the previous game.
They’re unlikely to affect a mostly blind first playthrough and thus don’t really ruin the experience. However for the legion of sagely morons on the internets it sort of softens the difficulty. It’s still the hardest game in 10 years at a slightly more difficult clip than Demon’s Souls, I just wish varied approaches were better rewarded. In Demon’s Souls I wound up using whatever weapon I wanted (Crescent Kilij +5 was my favorite), sure the enchanted Blueblood was the most powerful but I’d only use that to speed up bosses I already devastated. In Dark Souls you could theoretically go after a cheap Lightning Weapon and use it for the rest of your playthroughs. As a result, while I don’t think much of them already, there isn’t much chance of the playerbase actually getting better at the game over time. If all you do is spam iron flesh and swing your overpowered 2 hander how can you be thoughtfully approaching more difficult enemies.
Thank you, dumbasses, for buying this game and ensuring more will be made in the future. I truly am indebted, as this game is definitely a huge improvement on the first and From still has a solid chance at making something perfect in the near future. In some respects Dark Souls not being flawless actually raises my hope for the third game. The “second game in the series is the best” trend continues to spread, but there is still quite a bit of room for improvement in this series. They still have the capacity to make great bosses and the tendency to make retarded ones appears to be slowing (just the one in this game). Asinine areas are still present but they are much shorter segments and they aren’t nearly as annoying on later playthroughs.
Unless you went a very specific route the Valley of Defilement was a huge pain in the ass even on New Game + (and still had to fight at least 2 Giant Depraved Ones). But things like the Tomb of the Giants or Crystal Cave are fairly easy to swiftly move through after the first time. Lost Izalith might be kind of a pain but once you realize you only have to fight a handful of the 20 or so non respawning Bounding Demons it’s really not that painful (assuming you don’t skip them entirely via Covenant shortcut). I thought Bed of Chaos was always going to take several tries but found myself beating it on the first try in later playthroughs and it is probably the best puzzle boss in the series (though Dragon God still looks better).
I’m presently bouncing between 9 and 9.5 on this game, methinks Gwyn is good enough to more than negate Four Kings’ badness and I’ll eventually settle on 9.5. No where near as flawed as the first game and since I don’t have nostalgia disease I can see the huge improvement for what it is. Review will be up within next month, not particularly sure what else I’ll post about yet. God Hand is miraculously $10 on PSN so I picked that up, I had been playing Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage as an admittedly poor substitute (new hardcopies of God Hand are up to over $70). That doesn’t stop it from having an awesome intro though.
Oddities: The Giant Blacksmith Hammer that you get from *gasp* killing the Giant Blacksmith is actually a damn good weapon (every smith you can get to drops a hammer of some sort, obviously kind of crippling to kill them all). You lose the ability to make soul weapons but it’s yet another evil thing you can do in the game with both profitable and dangerous consequences. You can long distance snipe with lightning spells and to a lesser extent soul arrows/spears. The direction your character is facing is precisely the horizontal(?) component of your projectile (left analog stick), while the vertical pitch of the camera determines the vertical component of the trajectory (right analog stick). It’s pretty touchy but can be quite useful for fighting things you can’t lock on to very well due to distance or terrain. Range seems to be slightly less than a regular bow shot, though the projectile doesn’t lose damage over distance nor arch.
Phantom Stories: I made a few new characters but wound up with a Deprived (no master key this time) with extremely pale skin. To my surprise this actually makes your Hollow form look pretty damn sweet (instead of that dark red weirdness it’s pale and bluish). I’m making this character into a strength build since I haven’t really gone that route yet, and was fortunate enough to get the Black Knight Sword off the first guy so I can eventually dick around with that (20 Str 18 Dex required) alongside the not quite as lame plain old Zweihander and eventually Great Axe/Dragon King stuff. I summoned a few jolly cooperatives to fight the Minotaur. All 3 of us attempted to downward the boss, the first got knocked off the edge by an axe swing mid fall (great stuff), the second hit it but did piss poor damage, and I forgot to switch to 2 hand and did about 20 myself. I now fought the boss in melee for a bit while the other dude dicked around on that ladder for a few minutes, I really kind of wish he eventually died (more souls/comedy) but he came down and helped out right at the end.
I now summoned a phantom who decided it would be brilliant to put his sign in front of the Hellkite bridge. The Hellkite Dragon has a very strange attack pattern and it’s difficult not to take damage from it (not as good as the long bridge in Demon’s Souls), if you block you tend to die horribly even with a super high stability shield (for whatever reason the first hit does substantially less than subsequent ones after your guard breaks). I let the phantom lead the way and slowly walked around the corner and watched him get immolated, success! I ran down, hoped for the best and was fortunate enough that the Dragon didn’t destroy me as well.
A Note on Gargoyle Phantoms: Summon the ones by the Boar if you want to have a reasonably fair experience. It's the second most popular WP boss in the game, but it's possible to grossly overpower them with no chance of dying whatsoever as an SL 10-25 White Phantom (eg. Lightning Zweihander is usable by an SL 5 character, Pyro scales with how much you power up the flame and humanity moreso than int). Ornstein and Smough are still finicky enough that you always have a chance of dying (and so does the host) even if you can kill it in 30 seconds(instead of 5). Gargoyles have ~1500 and 750 HP respectively with 2 phantoms summoned, 0&S have 3000-5000 and 5000-7000 depending on order.
Approximate Death Count (kept forgetting to bring my journal):
Ornstein and Smough: 4
Four Kings +: 8
Four Kings ++ Cheesed: 2
Flaming Boulder Iron Golem (Hard mode!): 1
Competent White Phantoms/Hosts: 6
Incompetent White Phantoms/Hosts: 15