Friday, June 13, 2014

Dark Souls II - Great Balls of Fire

Been a fair amount of time since I’ve written extensively about this game. Why you ask? Work of course, though there’s something to be said for playing the best games only occasionally instead of constantly, after you’ve come to the conclusion that they are excellent. I did a no bonfire run and I did a no death run; but aside from the novelty of using different weapons in the no bonfire run there wasn’t a ton to write about that wasn’t regurgitating stuff I already said. However there’s still tons to do in the game and various different playstyles to explore; in this case pyromancy. I’m also doing an online playthrough with a faith build that I may write about at some point, but there’s sure to be a Hexing post and a Sorcery post in the future.

In order to experience the true glory of pyro I’m playing an older version of the game, also I still haven’t done NG+ since there’s just so much stuff to do and explore in basic NG, and I’d like to experience the hardest version possible before I patch it further. Time will tell if I manage to do this before the first DLC comes out. I don’t know if I’ve ever written this on this blog before but the original Dark Souls’ DLC is probably the best piece of DLC ever released and is the main part of Dark Souls that holds up compared to Dark Souls II. I might even write a 2 years late review of that at some point, but it’s more or less a sure thing that the Dark Souls II DLC will be amazing.

So, what makes unpatched pyromancy so special, you ask? Why, Flame Swathe of course. Though ironically it isn’t really as powerful as something like Iron Flesh was at release in Dark Souls, it hits really hard but it can be awkward to cast and you have to rely on RNG to get more than usages of it. Great Resonant Soul is actually substantially more overpowered, but we’ll save that discussion for another time. Flame Swathe hits for 1200-1500 damage, a fairly staggering amount considering; the reason it got nerfed is because it could and did one shot people in pvp. It’s not too difficult to avoid in pvp situations, but getting hit once and dying isn’t exactly an interesting experience.

What else does pyromancy have to offer? Well unlike Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls you can pretty much get an unlimited amount of firestorm casts and use it as your primary spell instead of just an occasional devastating AoE. It really murders just about everything and is quite reliable relative to its counterparts in the other spellcasting schools. The previously incredibly daunting Dragon Shrine becomes somewhat trivial with firestorm, though that’s to be expected from the Souls universe.

The most interesting pyromancy spell is the corollary to Flame Swathe, Lingering Flame. What Lingering Flame does is lay a trap that lasts for ~25 seconds. It only hits for ½-1/3rd as much as Flame Swathe however you can stack up multiple traps and it just is a really cool spell to use in tandem with various pulling methods. If Swathe wasn’t comically overpowered you might see more usage of this spell; but even in the handful of cases where I did use it I had fun setting traps and luring particularly troublesome enemies into them. The main area I used this was the Huntsman’s Copse; on the way to the Executioner’s Chariot boss fight.

Unlike my early playthroughs I’m using very minimal amounts of vitality, endurance, adaptability, and vigor; since it seems more purist to play a spellcaster with low survivability.  This also maximizes the damage output, though in the case of pyromancy the output is already so high that this doesn’t convey particularly large advantages. As you might imagine running around with base- or near base HP (started as Deprived) leads to a fair amount more deaths as you adapt to how your spells work and sometimes things don’t go quite as planned.

Pyromancy also sees the return of fireballs, which have 5 variants this time instead of just the 4; I’ve yet to try out the Great Chaos Fireball since the process of unlocking it either requires online and is arduous or requires NG+; I’m assuming it behaves similarly to the Dark Souls version. The other fireballs are okay, the most notable difference is the first one is more like a small flame but it has a much greater travel distance than any fire spell in Dark Souls. You can actually lob most fireballs at a great distance which adds an interesting element to the game assuming you’re not using alternative ranged methods; though in pre-patch Shrine of Amana that doesn’t work out so great.

The new fireball-ish spell is what the Giant Mages use in Memory of Vammar; that is to say an enormous, fast travelling fireball with a massive radius of impact and huge amounts of damage. It was also nerfed, but Forgotten Sun is very limited in the number of uses so it isn’t controversially overpowered or anything. What ultimately makes the spell so impressive is the cast speed, which is quite a bit faster than every other pyromancy spell. It is probably the fastest primary spell in the game, which coupled with very impressive (though not Flame Swathe level) damage and lingering effects makes it just awesome. While you only get a few spellcasts of it that’s more than enough to have some fun.

The way to get Forgotten Sun is to talk with the kindly Navlaan while he’s in prison and go around murdering NPCs (if you like) to get items for him, there’s alternative methods of getting the items but this is your Mephistopheles equivalent. Granted he also has so much more to him and this is probably the best NPC in the history of the series just for his overall presence. Hopefully the series sees more Jekyll and Hyde type characters in the future.

The combustion spells also return from Dark Souls, though they are fast and do a ton of damage they also use quite a lot of stamina so you can’t just spam them repeatedly as you could in the first game. They’re useful, just not relative to Flame Swathe. Fire Whip is nominally categorized as a combustion spell now, though it varies whether it’s more or less useful than Great Combustion depending on the opposition and your accuracy. Chaos Fire Whip is no more it seems.

The last aspect of pyromancy is the status effects and support spells. The status spells are what you expect with a tad more variety. I guess for SL1 playthroughs these spells are your bread and butter, and they make fights like Twin Dragonriders fairly amusing (perhaps the most interesting fight in the game with spells, just as a barometer for how smoothly you can kill the black dragonrider). Toxicity and Poison both kill enemies at a much faster rate than previously, a single toxic duration can do even more damage than one usage of Flame Swathe (~1500 damage), which while quite powerful doesn’t hold up to just blatantly overpowered stuff for sheer DPS.

There’s no more power within in Dark Souls II, which is probably a good thing; but you do have this spell that lights yourself on fire called Immolation. While this spell looks incredibly impressive it isn’t all that useful in practice, because you’re doing similar amounts of damage to yourself as you are to your opposition. However this could just be that my build was incorrect for it since I didn’t have a ton of vigor, perhaps it’s more useful with a tanky build.

The spell Warmth creates a beacon that pulses every so often and heals everything in the area, you, enemies, allies, everything. What makes this useful is that it lasts for an absurd amount of time and you can kind of use it in tandem with lingering flame; set a Warmth beacon near the beginning of the room, set a lingering flame or two in front of that, and then lure the enemies into the flames. Something like pre-nerf Shrine of Amana becomes substantially easier with Warmth on your side to limit the incoming damage; though it doesn’t do much for the huge damage dealers in later areas.

Iron Flesh and Flash Sweat are both situationally useful. Iron Flesh isn’t even remotely close to being broken but you can still find some value in it. I imagine there’s got to be someone who beat a boss like Smelter relying on these 2 spells as well as phantom support; though it was probably not the optimal way to do it. The enormous arrows from Iron Keep still stagger you even with Iron Flesh up, and naturally you’re not going to be able to avoid them at such a slow speed.

The most interesting thing with Pyromancy is that the best flame scales with your deteriorating humanity. In effect, the more you die the stronger your spells get. The more depraved or primitive you are the more effective pyromancy is. This is a curious thing from a lore perspective and goes along with all the raggedy clothing that pyromancers have. Obviously I wasn’t too concerned with dying with this being the case, even if the spell buff wasn’t irresistible; and perhaps running with low vigor isn’t too much of a bad thing when pyromancy is concerned (non-Immolation division).

For this run since it was going to be overpowered anyway I went with the incredibly generic Greatsword which I've never used before. The Greatsword might not be the best weapon in the game but it's still quite ridiculous assuming you use it right. If you're just using it as an every-day bludgeon this is a decent weapon but ultimately inferior to various blunt weapons in the game; however if you stick exclusively to 1 hand jump attacks it becomes quite impressive both for the absurd reach on the weapon and the very short recovery time after each jump attack. What more can I say other than it's fun and comically overpowered, much like pre-patch flame swathe and forgotten sun.

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