Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dark Souls II Day One and a Half Impressions

Ah the day finally came! I went again to the same Gamestop as last time, the line was around 150 people and seemed to be evenly split between Dark Souls II and Titanfall; last time it was Rage, NBA 2kwhatever, and Dark Souls; the NBA game evidently had like 200 people showing up to buy it alone. For some reason this Gamestop makes you go there a few hours earlier to set it up, which saves time for them but loses a half hour or so on the part of the customer; not especially surprising just found it weird.

On to the game! I've played about 25 hours in the past 34 which is almost twice as much as last time so this is going to be tough to summarize and I'm just going to forget stuff. Luckily I have my death note pad to guide me. For starters: this game is really fucking hard. In Dark Souls where you'd fight 1-2 enemies you'll now fight 3-4 at once; where you'd fight 3-4 enemies you'll now fight 7-8 at once. Firebombs and their various cousins are a lot more powerful and useful as a result; but one thing I've found to do in groups is just backstab, backstab, backstab; you might take some damage coming out and starting the animation but during the middle you are invincible for a second or so.

The tutorial area is much more free form than in the past, there isn't even a tutorial boss for example and every offshoot way is optional. Not knowing this I went to fight the Hippo/Cyclops (very large enemies with around 1300 health) things in this area; though the first time I was just using my fists and so I had my first death. I then went and made my character/got equipment and beat the crap out of that dirty hippo. There were 2 more to deal with, these two at the same time. After a while I managed to get one to fall off a log into the ocean (insta-drown) and fought the other one normally. 3 times this guy did a grab motion and I rolled well out of it, 3 times the hitbox decided otherwise despite my character being a good 2 meters away from the Hippo's extended arms. There's only a few attacks that were "Bounding Demon" hitbox style so far, but it was kind of annoying that one of them was in the tutorial. One of the first things you'll notice is the AI is a shitload better at tracking you/following you/not whiffing with attacks. Since the roll has very few I-frames you have to rely on positioning and patience to win the day.

Now I stopped by Majula. I later found out there's an estus shard here but it's pretty obscure; I didn't have it for another dozen or so hours. Majula is great, basically a Nexus/Firelink hybrid with some awesome music. I'll say more about it later. Anyway the Estus flask you get from the Maiden in Green (I'm going to take a shot and say she's the "King's" relative). starts at 1 and grows as you find shards which are super duper scarce; I've found more than twice as many boss souls as estus shards. I'm finally up to like 7 estus but I'm so used to lifegems at this point that I don't really use them that much. Estus is much slower than in the past and cancels out if you don't stay stationary through the entire healing. Instead the game gives you consumable healing over time items; though not that many for the opening area.

The online on PS3 is pretty busted right now but for me the servers don't work at all so no messages, no hints, no player summons to get frustrated when the summon doesn't work. It doesn't matter right now but in a week or two I'll need some sort of variety beyond just making new characters. Getting summoned and watching people fail or succeed is very enthralling. I'm probably too big to get invaded so that's not much of a concern anymore.

The "first" intended area, the forest of the giants, is one hell of a doozy; it's at least like 10 times harder than either the first area in Dark Souls or Demon's Souls. You're going to die here, a lot, just embrace it and move on; try not to waste your effigies. I think it's quite possible to completely screw yourself because the enemies eventually stop respawning and if you don't cash in your souls they're gone forever. I've lost somewhere around 150,000 souls over the past day; and all of those monsters have finite respawns. I mean I've made/banked probably 4 times that, but still that's a lot of souls. For lifegems use them very sparingly to start out with, you don't want to be out during a boss fight; you're just going to have to slowly master every encounter in this area. I did not hit the no respawn point prior to this boss, but I still died something like 10 times prior to fighting it. I summoned NPC help because losing healing items/maximum HP is not really a good thing, but first boss is easy enough that I could have beat it anyway; also Pate (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz) kind of sucks.

At this point I was pretty much lost, I could go fight the obviously much later in the game boss or keep looking for a different way to go. I failed to find the other way, so after 30 minutes or so I said fuck it and fought the Pursuer a whole bunch. Pursuer is basically a slow version of Gwyn/Artorias; but since shields really suck at the start of the game there's not a great deal you can do about it. With an ideal build I could see taking him on the first try even at low levels; assuming you got lucky with his attack patterns. He has around 10 attack strings, and some of them are pretty easy to avoid/land damage on; and others are ridiculously difficult. For my first 2 attempts he just straight up shield bashed me and then hit me before I could roll backwards; every other time he shield bashed me after this I was able to get away. Basically just fight Pursuer as though he was a large, dangerous normal enemy; slowly wait for him to do the ideal attack and take advantage.

I guess just to spit on you the developers put an amazing set of armor/shield directly after Pursuer; as if to say "don't you wish you had this shit before? *evil laughter*" I've used the shield ever since. You see a baseline normal ass shield in Dark Souls is as good as one of the best ones in the game in Dark Souls 2; it is one of 2 shields I've found with 100% physical reduction; the other having very low durability (though maybe it's farmable if you got lucky). I did some more exploring but eventually just went to the next area after Pursuer (via everyone's favorite mode of transportation).

This where I sort of figured out I was doing things "wrong," as the enemies were all facing the opposite direction in this area and I was able to dispatch them with relative ease; though there were several doors I couldn't open. Turns out you can get to the Lost Bastille in a couple different ways going through completely different areas. This game isn't like Dark Souls 1 where it's exploration but you sort of have a general idea where to go; in this game you haven't got a clue; in fact I still have no clue where the hell to go and I'm 75% done with the main quest; this is just pure exploration all the time and you have to figure out where exactly you're supposed to go in every extremely elaborate labyrinthine area that you face (starting with Majula). It's really awesome from an exploration standpoint but the cohesiveness of the world is a little off from the first game. You can teleport from any bonfire to any other and that basically let the developers do whatever the hell they wanted with the environment. Mandatory Great Hollow type zone? Check. Falling where you can't get back up? Check. Confusing as hell? Check.

The next boss which I guess is intended to be the fourth or fifth one in the game (Pursuer just being an optional beast you can fight whenever), has not one, nor two, but 3 equal strength enemies. This boss is very tricky solo but I think it is doable. Unfortunately the same issue rose up here where I'd eventually run out of healing items trying to do it; thus I summoned an NPC and the boss was still really damn hard but miraculously I made it through in a few attempts.

After this you go across some very lovely architecture and eventually wind up at a hugeass tower. This is one of the "final" areas for the first portion of the game and as a result there's enemies here that give almost 2000 souls and respawn a whole bunch. I guess the most amusing thing here is the bonfire that has 3 crossbowmen literally perched over it right when you start there. Yep, bonfires aren't necessarily safe anymore; From just had to take away all sense of security outside Majula. There's another NPC summon here before you even get to the boss who will help you fight the large enemies. She does pretty terrible but while doing this I figured out a good way to fight them solo and commenced the soul farming, for fear of losing all my souls when I fought the boss. Later I tried summoning the NPC against the boss and she totally got annihilated. NPC AI is better but I guess this boss doesn't give a fuck. It's another Gwyn/Artorias type fight where-in it's extremely difficult to heal and pretty hard to deal damage as well. Have fun with that.

For beating the boss you get what amounts to a key that you can use in any number of random ass places (there's another thing like this as well but a bit more common/way more many places to use it); I figured I'd use it on the safest location where it was guaranteed to help. And here was the shaded forest; whose enemies have enormous genitalia. I've started calling these guys "Dongers" in honor of twitch chat. The game likes ambushing you in weirdass places where you thought you were safe, and the dongers will have their way with you. I eventually wound up fighting a mini boss similar to a Dual Katana skeleton, and lo and behold it was a regular verison of an actual boss that I was supposed to fight hours prior; but I didn't know that yet.

Through some confusing geography (I picked the right way, fortunately) I met one of the most interesting NPCs who gave me a nice trophy both on the PS3 and in-game which I'm still using. I then wound up at what amounts to a curse area. I won't spoil this too much but suffice to say if you're already at 50% hp cursing does nothing to you, because all it would do nominally is lower your hp by 10%. The boss here is Quelaag's distant scorpion cousin; relatively easy but some attacks are hard to avoid and some attacks you benefit from not avoiding them so takes a lot of healing. I'm guessing there's an NPC summon somewhere around here but no clue where it is exactly. She was actually the second easiest boss I'd fought in the game at this point, died a few times to her anyway because easy in Dark Souls 2 means hard in every other game including Dark Souls.

Running out of Dark Souls 2 images

At this point I had 2 major options and went through both of them. The second kind of key you get has maybe 50 or so doors in one of these areas and you obviously won't find that many in the course of the game; I haven't explored this fully (if that's even possible) but I did find a fucking great boss name. "Royal Rat Authority" is basically Capra Demon + Sif; the fight's decided in the opening moments and if you screw up you're dead pretty much; it doesn't feel as random as Capra but it's still really easy to die. After this I got to join the "Rat King" Covenant, which I assume is the forest covenant but there's several different areas you're allowed to invade; I really want to try this out but no online sort of kills that. Alvina in rat form, with a very distinguished accent. I'm still in this covenant because you don't have to join covenants to get the trophy for discovering them, hopefully online works at some point.

The other area is just pretty good all around, very unique aesthetically and in terms of enemy/world design. You fight pilgrims first, then after the pilgrim boss you fight spiders and then the giant fuck-off spider boss. The Pilgrim boss is really really fun/good, might not be overly difficult but it is still quite satisfying. The Spider Boss is basically if Gaping Dragon had harder to avoid attacks and you could only damage it by hitting the serpent head, and it's ass was also a head. I'm sure that makes a lot of sense. The fight isn't hard but if you solo it it will take somewhere around 20 minutes so just summon the NPC, he's actually quite useful for the fight and speeds it up immensely. You can still die because the boss hits ridiculously hard and it's hard to predict some of the attacks; but you shouldn't need more than a few Effigies. 2 Lord souls down, 2 to go.

At this point I finally upgraded my weapon a bit more and it maxed out; Titanite Slabs aren't quite as scarce as they were in Dark Souls; though evidently Large Titanite shards are (took super long just to get past +4). I've been using the Heidl (?) sword most of the game because it has a nice attack pattern and it does reasonable damage; but there's a shitload of new weapons to try on later runs/NG+; and I do mean a shitload. If I had more upgrade materials/an easy way to find them I'd mess around this playthrough but I'll probably just stick with Heidl/one old buddy from the first game that you can get after Mrs. Spider.

So at this point I had no clue where to go, I bought the cat's ring and tried to fall in the giant hole; but I didn't have enough HP to survive the fall; the proverbial "Laters!" So I went and looked it up, scumbag that I am; yes wandering aimlessly is fun and all but only if you have some guarantee that you're actually making progress. I found the area where I imagine you're supposed to go after the first boss because Pursuer kicks your ass and you're not as stubborn as I am. And I proceeded to tear through about 4 zones and boss fights without dying in combat once; perhaps finally getting a hang of things and perhaps my character was a tad overpowered for this area. One thing to note other than the gorgeous visuals is the big "Old Knights" can drop a ridiculous shield, but it does seem to be random whether they drop it and of course finite respawns; if you got like 5 you could just use them all game, low durability and all. I'm still mixing it with the shield after Pursuer.

After the pretty place I went to test the well again, full HP and all; lo and behold it was possible to survive the drop! Another day, another weird ass rat boss. Also quite cool and sort of a puzzle/combat hybrid. After this I had to fall in a pit with a bunch of suicide bombers; because that has to be the way forward in this game. They got me a few times but eventually I made it out... to your Blighttown/Valley of Defilement/Great Hollow shithole stand-in! Despite myriad occasions where I could have fallen to my death (loads of platforming here at least the route I took) I miraculously made it through unscathed. It's very dark so have fun trying to do the same.

After that is the last area from Kotor 2; don't know why. Did I mention the geography doesn't make a whole lot of sense? Protip: statues can be broken. This area has 2 very proximate bonfires but I suppose if you don't break the statues you could die over and over here. It's not too bad and I'll probably return for soul farming eventually. The boss here is basically a super difficult version of the Adjudicator + environmental hazards; I summoned the NPC help here and he promptly walked into some fire and died. Now, somehow or other I didn't die on this boss but it is just ridiculously hard to get into a good position to attack him; keeping in mind that you'll probably just get smacked down in an unbreakable combo if you act too aggressively. I guess this could be the Kalameet equivalent. He's probably pretty easy with good sorcery/pyromancy, but tough as nails with melee.

At this point it was around 3 AM and I should have gone to sleep. I didn't. On we went to another forest with difficult aggro radii and hidden enemies. Still pretty sure I haven't actually found the way through this forest but I did find that really fucking sweet chariot boss and died to him or on the runback a bunch, then I went to sleep at like 5:30. And now *drum roll* the moment you've all been waiting for:

Death Count:

Falling - 15
Hippo (Barehanded) - 1
Hippo (Grab) - 3
Hollow Infantry - 2
Hollow Soldier - 7
Last Giant - 0
Pursuer - 7
Dongers - 2
Boulder - 2
Turtles - 2
Three Sentinels - 3
Large Indescribable things (Bell X?) - 1
Suicide Bombers - 5
Royal Infantry - 2
Lost Sinner - 3
Ambushes - 3
Minotaurs - 2
Giant ass Frog - 1
Royal Rat Authority - 4
Giant Spider - 2
Dragonrider - 0
Old Dragonslayer - 0
Royal Rat Vanguard - 1
The Rotten - 0
Ghosts (?) - 1
Chariot/Chariot Skeletons - 3

Note: I died at least 20 times more than this, at some point you're paying too much attention to the game to take a note every time you die. I didn't count really stupid platforming deaths, because yes there's your stand-in Avelys jumping puzzle to get one item; but if I died without knowing that the jump was a 10% success rate I counted it. Depending on how long the game is could be on pace to have the most deaths in any RPG ever; and that's not even thinking about the game's built in hard mode covenant.

SL - 89 (seems to be roughly 70 or so by Dark Souls terms)
Boss Souls doing nothing in Inventory - 13 or 14

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