[Let's Play] Dark Souls 2 - Day 19: Hell+++



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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    Day 04 continued.
    Old Dragonslayer

    I sometimes manage to temper my recklessness with contingencies. In this case, I tell myself that it's fine to get a look at what is on the other side of the fog gate, but I have to keep my Homeward Bones active and ready. At the first sign of trouble, I'm out.

    I step through the white fog and music starts to play. I am in a wide cathedral, as the name suggested I would be. A ribbon of red carpet divides the room, and large stone pillars prop up a tall, ornate ceiling. Pews run in rows along the walls to my right and left. At the far end are a pair of those big statues, the ones I thought might be bird-knights but now realize have to be dragon-knights. They look down over the room, surrounded by panes of intricate stained glass.

    Truly, I am not even surprised by what happens next. A boss health bar appears at the bottom of the screen. I have found the prowling grounds of the Old Dragonslayer, a guy wearing some rather familiar looking armour.

    This is not what I want to deal with right now. I kneel and pull out a Homeward Bone. I have it ready to go when this jerk comes flying across the room and stabs me in the face, killing me dead.


    Well, shit.

    I know I'm not giving up on that Soul stockpile, not this time. I earned them. I need to run back, grab my body, find a corner to hide in, and then Homeward Bone out.

    Except, why stop there? Yes, there are 30,000 reasons to stop there, sure, but do they outweigh my need to know, my need to try? No, they do not.

    I'm Hollowed again, but that was my first death. My health bar is still full, and I have killed that dragon. It won't be in the way anymore. The way is clear, and I could run all the way back without getting touched. Most importantly, I have a shield now. A shield and a weapon are all that I should need to take down any foe, and my weapon is my club, which was good enough to get me this far. How could I find a new boss and not even take a swing at him?

    I make it back without any problems, though I swear there was a chest at the top side of the drawbridge, next to the body I looted. I'm not sure how I missed it the first time. I must have been so fixated on the fog gate that I forgot to look around. But now I have at least two of the white Heide knights--one of them the spear knight--chasing me, and I can't stop. I dive through the fog gate and recover my body.

    My Homeward Bones are still equipped. This is a test, I tell myself. I'll see how it goes, and I'm out at the first sign of trouble.

    I'd almost forgotten what it's like to have a decent shield. It changes the game drastically, especially when fighting bosses. With my 90% physical damage block and improved stability I can hold up against this guy's strings, and though the Old Dragonslayer knocks my shield away with his final blows, he has no backup to take advantage of the openings. At the first available opportunity, after rolling around one of his dashing stabs, I smack my club against his armour, landing a pair of quick blows. It does damage. Not a lot, but any damage is enough.


    So I kill him. I kill him, and it was easy. Sure, I use all my flask charges, taking hits when I don't raise my shield in time to deflect the first hit in a string. But I have enough poise that I can defend against the next, and as the fight progresses I become more confident, bolder in choosing my attacks. A few times he leaps high into the air and comes crashing down, sending out waves of pulsing, dark energy, but I back away and roll to avoid any damage.


    The Old Dragonslayer dashes around the room, knocking over pillars and thrashing about in a useless fury. I keep my shield up and continually press into him, keeping him in club range.


    The only real scare comes when I run out of flask charges and realize that I don't have any Lifegems equipped. I wait for an opening and quickly open my item menu, equip my Radiant Lifegems, then wait again and pop one when it's safe. After that I can move in for the finishing blow.


    As I read the descriptions of the new items I've picked up, and contemplate going for that chest, or perhaps even continuing on in the Temple of Blue, through the new doorway that opened up when the boss died, I realize that the pair of white Heide knights are still hanging out near the top of the drawbridge. They are uncomfortably close, and even as I think that, the spear knight sees me and comes charging into the temple as if to avenge the Old Dragonslayer.


    This is something I absolutely do not want to deal with now. I want to use my Homeward Bones and get away. I circle around him, then run back outside. There is definitely a chest out there, but I can't stop for it. I look down the drawbridge and see only more knights waiting for me.

    I turn back around. The spear knight is coming through the doorway at me. I try to squeeze past, and he swings his spear. I take one hit, then another, and another. I have no right to still be standing. I sprint to the other end of the cathedral, wedge myself in a corner, and use my Homeward Bone. Time dilates as I watch the spear knight and his sword knight companion walk toward me. The spear begins to swing, arcing around toward my head.

    And I'm gone. I have escaped with my life, if only just.


    I'm exhausted, and my hands are aching after gripping the club so tightly for such a long time. I have pulled off a coup, killing a boss on my first try and escaping with an incredible haul of Souls.

    I have sated my curiosity. I am ready to call it a day.

    ps: it's still Wednesday somewhere!

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    ecco the dolphinecco the dolphin Registered User regular
    Page- wrote: »
    But all it takes to find out how to become human again is highlighting my Effigies and opening the interaction menu. The top option is to use an Effigy. I could have been human this whole time. I could have fought those hippos and that phantom knight with a full health bar.

    Hahahaha, he took down the pursuer with a club! Hahahahaaahaha yessssssssss

    Penny Arcade Developers at PADev.net.
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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    Page- wrote: »
    But all it takes to find out how to become human again is highlighting my Effigies and opening the interaction menu. The top option is to use an Effigy. I could have been human this whole time. I could have fought those hippos and that phantom knight with a full health bar.

    Hahahaha, he took down the pursuer with a club! Hahahahaaahaha yessssssssss
    Clubs utterly op tho.
    S scaling strength weapon buyable from the start?
    Yeah that thing is stupid good.
    There's a reason I was utterly unphased by the idea of him doing CoC.
    He has one of the highest damage weapons in the game.

    Morninglord on
    (PSN: Morninglord) (Steam: Morninglord) (WiiU: Morninglord22) I like to record and toss up a lot of random gaming videos here.
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    I hate to think about what the over/under must have been for how long it would take my dumb ass to figure that one out.

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
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    Some_tall_guySome_tall_guy Registered User regular
    I thought you were gonna do the whole game at 50%. I'm more surprised you found the 75% ring before you figured out how to use the effigies.

    Too bad Smaugh or whatever wasn't around for that last fight.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    There are tutorials telling me how to use basic attacks, but nothing in there telling me not to be stupid. Clearly, that is the major failing of the game's design.

    Page- on
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    I know it's been forever since I updated. Well, it's been a tough, busy week here. A lot of life stuff going on, and it cut out my writing time. Just to let you know I'm not stuck or anything. I actually got a lot done last time I played. Next update should be this weekend. The writing hasn't been going as smoothly as I'd hoped, but I'm not going to quit or anything like that.

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
    Anyone want to beta read a paranormal mystery novella? Here's your chance.
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    Some_tall_guySome_tall_guy Registered User regular

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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    No matter what you do Page- or how long it takes, I'm never going to assume you have quit.

    Morninglord on
    (PSN: Morninglord) (Steam: Morninglord) (WiiU: Morninglord22) I like to record and toss up a lot of random gaming videos here.
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    ecco the dolphinecco the dolphin Registered User regular
    No matter what you do Page- or how long it takes, I'm never going to assume you have quit gone hollow.


    Penny Arcade Developers at PADev.net.
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    cj iwakuracj iwakura The Rhythm Regent Bears The Name FreedomRegistered User regular
    Is it possible to spoiler tag previous updates so it condenses the required scrolling?

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    DerrickDerrick Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    Wrong Thread!

    Derrick on
    Steam and CFN: Enexemander
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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    @Derrick Wrong thread. Please remove it because it is a spoiler. Post it in the other thread.

    Morninglord on
    (PSN: Morninglord) (Steam: Morninglord) (WiiU: Morninglord22) I like to record and toss up a lot of random gaming videos here.
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    Day 05
    I'm rich. At least relative to my power and position. Over 50,000 Souls so early on is an unexpected windfall, and I have to be careful about how I spend. I have enough that I could bump myself up to over twice my current Soul level, and that seems like overkill. I have already proven to myself that I can take on greater challenges, so I don't want to use those accomplishments to fund an easy path through the next half of the game.

    But first, some general upkeep. I take my awestones to the Victory Stone and donate them? Sacrifice them? Pay them?


    There are 6 in total, and each vanishes in a puff of light. A message tells me that I have deepened my devotion to my Covenant, but nothing happens otherwise.


    I talk to the cat next, checking my Covenant rankings. I am still rank 0 in the Company of Champions. I probably need 10 awestones donated for the next rank.


    The cat also has some convenient Soul sinks, which is exactly what I'm looking for. The more I dump into items of dubious use, the less I will end up spending on premature levels. I buy the Silvercat Ring (reduced falling damage), the Ring of Whispers (can hear hidden enemies), and the Ring of the Evil Eye (gain HP after every kill). The first two because I want to see what they do, and the Evil Eye because I want to see if it has improved at all. I also buy a few prism stones. Maybe they will have a use. I take off my Ring of Binding, which has lost its use now that I can become human and regain my maximum health whenever needed, and put on the Ring of Whispers and the Ring of the Evil Eye. That is all my ring slots filled.

    Next, I talk to Licia in the underground tunnel. I don't have enough Souls for her ring that increases faith, and still don't feel like committing to miracles. Should I ask her to move the path? I suppose I have more than enough to pay her to move it back, and I've already been through the Tower of Flame and secured bonfires around it.


    As expected, there is no visible magic going on. I bow my head, and when I'm not looking she presses the button, and then kneels in mock prayer as the wall behind her rotates, opening up the new path. I still can't activate the button on my own. What's her trick?


    While the way on to the Tower of Flame is now blocked by a heavy iron grate, the way back up to Majula is still open. I guess this was a one time payment, which is fine by me. Licia still has the general attitude of someone trying to pawn miracles off on a street corner, which is not what I look for in a priest.

    I check out the new path. The loot corpse I could see through the window is holding rouge water, an item that restores both HP and spell charges. For a spell casting character, access to an item like this might be enough to justify the 2000 Souls Licia charged to press a button, but that's not me.


    The rough, natural tunnel soon opens up into a wider cave, with a cliff path curving around its outer wall and a straight drop into blackness taking up the rest of the space. Standing here, I realize that I am not hearing the rush of sea air, or the ceaseless pounding of waves against ruins or rocky cliffs. There is no monster growling, no Hollowed groaning. Only a deep silence that borders on intrusive, like it's trying to block out the outside world. I don't like it.

    After carefully navigating the narrow cliff path, I take another tunnel, still climbing upward. It opens up at the top, revealing a quiet evening scene, and also a lone figure sitting on a high-backed chair facing the cave wall.


    I walk over and introduce myself. I don't get a name, or anything else except for a male voice telling me that my weakness is interrupting his ability to peer into the darkness. This guy is sitting alone in a cave and wearing a sack over his dead. So, I mean, it's another crazy asshole Undead, no surprise there. But I have not yet encountered this single-minded weirdness. Maybe it's some sort of Hollowed meditation? At least he's not whining about not knowing what he's doing here.


    I leave the cave and enter Hunstman's Copse. There is a bonfire nearby.


    I light the bonfire, then stand near the edge of a cliff. To my left is a dark forest with a cloud of dark birds circling. That must be the Forest of Fallen giants and the fortress within.


    To my right, which is the direction I would have to go if I continued through this area, is a walled city or fort set against a mountainous backdrop. I can see an odd black shape sticking out, above the walls. A tower? A weapon?


    I can hear the grunts of nearby Hollowed, but I'm not interested in continuing here. I have seen what it is, that there is a new area to explore, and found a relay bonfire. I sit down and warp to the fortress in the Forest of Fallen Giants to do business with the old hag merchant.

    As soon as I arrive, I hear a strange, directionless groaning. It wasn't here before. Is it because of the Ring of Whispers? It's freaking me out a bit, because I can't see anything, and nothing attacks me. But it's supposed to reveal hidden enemies, so maybe that's the point. Just to be safe, I rest at the bonfire while I consider my next move. After taking some notes, I get up and remove the ring. The sound stops. Nothing attacks me. I put the ring back on, and the groaning starts up again immediately. I can't tell where it's coming from, if it's getting closer, but if nothing is going to come after me then there's nothing I can do about it.

    I talk to Melentia, still hearing the groans in the background. I buy all her effigies, and she gives me a Covetous Silver Serpent Ring +1. This increases the Souls reward for kills, and is not something I'm likely to have a use for, but it's a nice gesture for having spent a bunch of Souls. I wonder if the other vendors do the same thing.


    When I leave the bonfire area I no longer hear the groaning sounds. When I warp back to Majula I don't hear them, either. In fact, after warping to every other bonfire I have access to, I find that the only place I hear the groaning is near the fortress bonfire. I first heard itas I was leaving Hunstman's Copse, on my way to the Forest of Fallen Giants bonfire. Hmm.

    I warp to Hunstman's Copse and look around a bit more. Near the bonfire is the entrance to another cave. I can see someone kneeling in the dirt, staring at nothing. A Hollowed, sure, but not hostile. There is another one laying in the grass, lazily scratching at the tough, rocky ground.


    The kneeling Hollowed is laughing, a low chuckle that doesn't communicate anything like joy or humour. Standing near them I can hear the distinctive groaning of the ring, as I could in the fortress bonfire. I run back to the bonfire and warp to Majula. The groaning doesn't follow. Why only at those two bonfires?

    I am distracted when I remember the armourer in Majula. Maybe he has something I can spend my Souls on. I get annoyed once again by not being able to compare what is on sale to what I have equipped, but after going in and out of menus I confirm that my Watchdragon parma is a better version of the medium shield for sale, with greater resistances to elements and magic damage. While checking that, I notice there is a column of bonuses for my equipped shield. Which of my stats are they coming from?


    I look over the resistances again, this time actually paying attention. Recent events are telling me that I need to take less for granted. I notice there is now one stat for curses, and another for petrification. They are no longer the same thing, as I'd already experienced. So, what do curses do now? There is also a darkness resistance, where I'm pretty sure that in Dark Souls 1 darkness was a combination of magical and physical damage. What I come away with is that my basic resistances from stats might carry over onto my shield, but what is less clear is how much of a difference that would make. I seriously doubt any investment I made that would significantly alter the power of a shield would be worthwhile compared to putting stats toward basic needs like damage and gear requirements and then using a shield with better base stats. If that were the case, then it would defeat the purpose of having heavier, more powerful shields in the first place.

    In the end, I get nothing useful from the armourer. A recent loading screen popped up for a Winged Spear, which makes me hopeful that there will be a weapon in the spear range that is more specialized to my needs. If possible, I'd like to spend these Souls on something else, so that I will be able to swiftly adapt to whatever stat requirements a Winged Spear might have, should I find one.

    Wanting to clear my head a bit, I walk over to the Majula pig pen. When I get close, I hear the disembodied groaning sound. When they die, it stops. That's something. I warp to Things Betwixt and run out to the tutorial area, into the first tree. I get near one of the Hollowed inside. I hear the groaning. I move away, and the groaning stops. Well, that explains that. I am hearing the sound of nearby enemies and Hollowed, not the sound of hidden enemies. What I'm hearing in the fortress must be because of nearby Hollowed soldiers.

    I talk to the blacksmith, buy his last titanite shards. I upgrade my Merchant's Hat. I like the extra item find, and the monocle, and it's not as if I can't make it without a heavier helmet.

    That done, I have nothing else to buy, so I spend my last Souls on 6 points of vitality. This puts my total equipment load back under 50%. I had considered putting the points into adaptability again, but now that I've played more of the game I am less interested in it than I was when I first discovered the new stat. Whatever agility is supposed to do for rolls, I know already that my current invulnerability frames are getting the job done. Besides, if the option is better rolls across the board, or reducing my weight so that I get faster roll animations, I'm certain that the reduced weight is more important right now. It's possible that I'm wrong, but not probable. It makes little sense to hide such an important, and well known, system behind a nebulous statistic like agility when players can see without aid that having lower weight completely changes the way a character rolls. I would have to know frame data and break points to confirm my theories, and as I've said, what I have already is good enough. If I were finding my dodges to be lacking it would be a different story, and chances are that agility only becomes an important factor once the roll animation is final--it would be important for a character that is already rolling as fast as they can, but not for a character that is still hovering around 50% weight and could be lower.

    Resistances are trickier, especially after seeing that stuff with the shields, but equipment still makes up the bulk of those stats, and if I can wear better gear because of weight limits that would be solving the same problem and allow for greater flexibility in the long run.

    On top of that, I know what vitality and equip load do. I can be sure of what my investment will get me. I am only guessing with adaptability. When I have more space for experimentation, maybe I can test a few things, but for now it makes more sense to stick with what is demonstrably practical.


    Next, I warp to the Tower of Flame. I haven't forgotten about my unfinished business there. I run past all the knights until I am back in the cathedral. After they've gone, I go outside and loot the chest I missed last time.


    Through the cathedral and I come out to a balcony. There is a knight out there holding a polearm and a blue shield. Friend or foe? As he is behind a boss fight, I'm assuming friend, but when I step into the open and there are no groaning sounds from my ring, I know it's safe.


    There are a couple more chests out there. I pick up 3 more cracked blue eye orbs, and I already have so many of those it doesn't matter. There is also a cleric's parma shield, which is terrible for everything but lightning resistance, though apparently it can parry spells. The other chest has a tower shield, which requires 30 strength to carry, and is very heavy, but has 100% physical resistance and great stability.

    I talk to the knight. He calls me a transient being and tells me I could never make a knight of the Blue.


    Even though I have full health, I pop an effigy. Maybe his idea of a transient being is another Hollowed Undead? It makes no difference. Likely it has something to do with the Way of the Blue Covenant.

    It's interesting that I spent so little time here exploring the actual tower of flame. A simple boss fight and a bonfire, but no clue about what it's doing there, still burning away. Maybe it was some sort of beacon?


    I've done all I can here, spent all of my Souls. It's time to move on.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    Day 05 continued.
    The Forest of Fallen Giants

    Exploring the old fortress comes along with the peculiar feeling of being an invader, a time traveller, an archaeologist, and a forensic pathologist all at once. There are important questions hanging in the air, ones that I think will be crucial as I continue my journey.

    What is history without witnesses, evidence without memory? At what point does the past become lost?

    As with Heide's Tower of Flame, the people who built this fortress, who made up its garrison, the great king who envisioned it in the first place--they are all gone now, and with them seemed to die any legacy they might have tried to leave. It's not as if I picked up a history book and read about the foes was built to defend against, or the battle that broke it. I have only the babbling of a crazy old woman, some scattered text on pieces of armour, and the physical remains.

    It's obvious enough that King Vendrick saw the northern coastline as a threat to his realm, and put a lot of resources into securing it. Did this happen before or after he pissed off a nation of giants? It may even be the case that, with the fortress in place, he believed himself in a position where he could make himself such a terrible enemy. But why? The motives aren't merely unclear, they are a missing puzzle piece. Could be the giants had been making threats against Drangleic for years, or that Vendrick had kidnapped the giant's equivalent of Helen of Troy for his bride.

    Without witnesses and their recorded memories, it is difficult to put what I see into true context, but that doesn't mean there aren't scenes designed to evoke specific responses and emotions. I may not know who was the aggressor, but I do know who I am meant to feel sympathy for.

    For example, the first giant that I find is a broken down creature that must have been majestic in life. It sits, mutilated and passive, in a small courtyard at a midway point in my journey through the fortress. Even in this ruined state, the giant somehow forlorn with its bent back and bowed head, the beast is being set upon by Hollowed soldiers.


    When I stumble into the scene, something that must have been playing out for centuries, I essentially rescue the giant by clubbing the soldiers to death. No further interaction with the giant is possible, at least not yet, but I am not given the most subtle of messages.


    These things wrecked this fortress, killing countless human defenders. Yet, when I encounter one, even though I myself am human and by all rights should be on that side of the conflict, not being able to chat with the giant, or see it move, is something like a setback. There is no relief that it doesn't uproot itself and tear me in half, something that it was capable of doing-- and by all available evidence more than willing to do, as well.

    Even at a broader, more basic reading of the situation, it's clear that the opposing forces were not created for equal sympathy. The human inhabitants of Drangleic were capable of impressive feats of engineering and stonework, could erect some great structures, but appreciation of that skill is skewed by what they were ostensibly defending themselves against. Giants who look an awful lot like walking trees, and who sprout into huge systems of roots and branches when killed, is as direct as metaphors can get without me finding graffiti scrawled into the fortress walls with protest slogans like "nature rules, humans drool," or, "the branch is mightier than the sword."

    There is also that everywhere I go in the fortress I am assaulted by Hollowed soldiers and royal guards. They attack me with axes, swords, bows, bombs, and spears. There are even hints of stranger, most sinister goings on within the Drangleic troops, represented in this case by the turtle-looking Ironclad soldiers who stand, march, and fight as silently now as they did in life, if they were ever truly alive.


    I may not know what they really are, but I'm pretty sure they aren't human, and likely not natural. I do like the way they flop onto their backs when I come up behind them, though.


    Not to say that things are completely black and white. There may be plenty of leftover Hollowed soldiers to deal with, but there is also plenty of evidence of the ordeals they dealt with while trying to defend their homeland.

    The first part of the fortress I explore is the scaffolding outside the upper bonfire.


    From there I can see that the inside of the fortress is on fire, and probably has been since forever.


    When I reach the ground, I find not only the cause of the fires, but also the painful end it dealt to many helpless humans. Their agony-filled final moments are frozen in time as statues of condensed, fire-blasted carbon and ash.


    Inside a cave I find the source, a great fire-breathing salamander.


    Though a solid wall of debris and junk blocks off the way into the fortress from here, when I descend the ladder from the upper bonfire and get a look at the area from above, it can see that there is another fire salamander down there, at the heart of the fortress, keeping the fire burning eternally.


    Frustratingly, I can find no way to get to either of them. As bad as it is being Hollowed, fire-belching monsters roasting you over and over again is much worse. Despite what the environment wants me to think, I still have sympathy for the humans here. Any human knows to fear the fire above all else.


    The fortress itself is a maze of old debris, locked doors, and root-chocked passages broken into segments by paths that loop back to the bonfire, such as the cracked wall opened up by explosive barrels that allows me to bypass an early section of archers.


    The explosive barrels are consistent feature of the fortress, and not always easily avoided. More than once I fought an enemy, usually one of the clanking Ironclads, that would smash into a stack of them, catching both of us in the explosion. Usually I survived, usually they did not. Every time I made note of where it happened and took care to avoid being in the same position again.

    I meet more people as well. I find the first in a mining tunnel I gain access to after fighting through the previously mentioned gauntlet of archers and their assorted melee support troops.


    It's a skirmish that involves a lot of falling and jumping from roofs, and the Silvertcat Ring seems to come in handy there. I never take any falling damage at all with it equipped, which I take note of for use later on.


    In my own roundabout way, after checking every possible nook for loot and more enemies, I gain access to the mining tunnels, and after a close call with a giant rolling ball, I find Cale.


    It goes without saying that he's an odd duck. Not only do I find him digging around in the dirt of an old fortress full of angry Hollowed, but he claims that he's there just daydreaming. After some prompting, he claims to be a cartographer, and that he has been travelling around Drangleic to confirm that a map he found is really a map of the continent. He invites me to check the map out myself, and hands over a key to the large, locked house in the back of Majula. The key comes with a dire warning about searching too far into the abandoned mansion, because he's pretty sure something bad lurks in there. Honestly, that's more interesting to me than a map, except for the question of why he didn't bring this map with him on his journey.

    Above the archers, next to the wall that becomes a shortcut back to the bonfire, is a wide, flat roof.


    I first climb up to it when I spy a bomb-throwing soldier perched on the corner of the roof, ready to pepper me with his little man-made fireballs. I might have left him for later, but the way past is stuffed with barrels of all sorts, and I had no interest in standing next to them while some jerk tries to test them for duds.


    The first time I climb onto the roof I hear the beating of large wings, and a shadow passes over me. I think for a moment that I'm about to be dive-bombed by another dragon, but as the shadow passes I see that it's a giant bird, and it flaps away, toward a distant part of the fortress.

    Bodies litter the roof, and they aren't all holding loot. I know at least a few will hop up to fight me, but I'd like to take care of the bomb thrower first. I run over to start attacking him, and hear sounds of something coming up behind me. Just Hollowed soldiers, I think, and I have enough time to kill this guy before they get to me.

    Then I start to take sword slashes that remove huge chunks of my health. Within seconds I have tried to roll away, and die before I can fall off the roof. I only catch a glimpse of what attacked me, and it wasn't another Hollowed soldier. It was a big, white knight, and it was floating. In fact, it looked an awful lot like the black phantom knight I killed in Things Betwixt.

    Return trips to the roof are fruitless. I get up there again, and no phantom knight appears. I try going as both Hollowed and human, reasoning that I was Hollowed when the black knight appeared, and human when the white knight appeared, but it never returns. The only explanation I can find is that either I missed an important sub-boss, or that it was somehow linked with the bird that passed overhead, because it never came back, either.

    It's around this point, after clearing the roof, that I find the passage back to the bonfire and decide that if the game is going to give me the means to jump around from path to path, I should take advantage of it. I warp back to Majula to check out the mansion.


    While there, I check in with the Emerald Herald. I'd picked up an Estus shard on the roof, and after using it I am up to 4 flask charges. Closer and closer to a meaningful amount that will help mitigate general attrition from exploring.


    I also use some titanite shards I've found to upgrade my Watchdragon parma to +1. I wouldn't care so much about upgrading a shield, except that I can see all the resistances go up with upgrades now. I don't have enough titanite to get to +2, which would raise the stability a fraction, but it already seems that with the right investments shields can be quite strong in this game.


    On the other hand, the resistances gained are mere fractions, so it's also possible that I wont be able to upgrade the shield enough to make a real difference. I'll figure that out when I have access to more resources and other shields. Right now experimentation is the goal.


    The inside of the mansion is not exactly luxurious. Though the house is large enough, it seems to have been built with utility in mind, and countless years of wear and neglect have made it cold and drafty.

    The most prominent feature of the main floor is a study filled with large books, the largest of which with the largest propped up and opened for easy reading next to a few candles.


    The meaning or purpose of the books is a mystery to me, and might remain so because I can't read them or interact with them in any way. At least I pick up a Pharros lockstone from a body in there. I have 2 of them now, so I know they aren't unique.

    At the back of the mansion is a large room carved out of the rock that hems in two sides of Majula, with the others boundaries being the open sea and the man made stone wall that cuts it off from the entrance to Things Betwixt.


    The floor dips, and at the back of the room, in a roughly hacked alcove, I see what looks like a large, indistinct smudge on the floor. A stain maybe, or snow? Not snow, it's not cold enough here for that, and there is no way it could have fallen in here.

    From closer up, I realize that it's the map Cale was talking about. Now I know why he didn't bring it with him.


    I have no idea of the scale, or accuracy, of the map. Without context, it looks like a basic tracing of major topographical features, with no legend or markers to tell me how what I'm looking at might relate to the real world. There isn't even an orientation compass. As it is, I can't see what use this would be to me.

    There are stairs leading down to a dark basement. I'm assuming this is the place Cale warned me about.


    Before checking that out, I climb some stairs to a the crumbling second floor. The roof has fallen apart, if it had ever been finished in the first place, and sun splashes in through big holes. There is a single room that is still mostly intact, and amongst some battered furniture I find a chest.


    Inside are some torches and titanite shards. I'm nearing an hour of torch time now, and I have to wonder what I could possibly need that for.

    Back in the basement and I find what the fuss was all about. As I reach the bottom of the stairs, I hear the telltale clattering of bones, and a skeleton jumps out at me.


    The space is too narrow to swing my club, so I back it out to the map room, and there I take it down easily. I gain 700 Souls, which means that it's going to stay dead. I mouth a silent prayer to whatever deity is responsible for that particular mercy. I also pick up an effigy.

    It is nearly pitch black in the basement, and I can see an unlit sconce nearby. There may be more skeletons waiting in there, and I may as well be safe while I'm still human. I run back to the bonfire and light a torch, and with it I light the sconce.


    I'm not sure what the original intentions for this place were. There is nothing much left, besides a scattering of broken pottery in one corner. Like the ruined stone arches in Mujula, the walls down here look like they are slowly collapsing, sinking back into the ground. Whoever built here should have been more careful.

    Although I find another skeleton, it's not the kind that will get up to fight. I loot an Estus shard from it, and find a chest that holds a Soul Vessel.


    This is a lot sooner than I expected to find one of these, and I'm a little surprised that it doesn't seem to be a unique, key item. If I use it, I imagine I will have to live with the consequences until I find another one. Which isn't a big deal, because I don't feel the need to play around with my stats yet. The most interesting part of the Soul Vessel right now is how it might relate to my Soul Memory, and I'm not going to use it just to test that theory. Its flavour text has a warning about using it improperly, without help, but I can't use it directly, so I'm not sure what that's about.

    The Estus shard goes to the Emerald Herald, and now I have 5 flask charges. That's about the amount I'm used to. I upgrade the Watchdragon parma to +2 with the titanite shards, because what else am I going to do with my Souls? I also repair a couple of the old knight swords. I broke them all while testing a theory based on their flavour text, which promises that sometimes an item will show its true potential just as it breaks. Not sure what I was expecting, like the swords would transform in my hands, Shadow over Mystara style, after I smashed them against the nearest wall a few times, and become the Sword of Legend. In the end nothing happened, and I figure I might need the ultra greatsword again, so I fix it up.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    Day 05 continued.
    The Forest of Fallen Giants

    The further I get into the fortress, the less the twisting, chaotic roots of the giant trees have damaged it. Here it is all stacks of dense stone arranged in precise lines and brutal angles, all the better to set it apart from giants, who seem to be avatars of nature itself.

    The organized feeling of the fortress's construction does give the area a pleasingly sectional feeling. Having completed the area with the archers and the mine, then clearing off the roof where I saw the bird, and after opening up the shortcut back to the bonfire and going through the mansion back in Majula, I can move on. Which, in this case, means climbing down a ladder to ground level, putting me in a large, open passageway that branches into new areas.


    There is a large hole in the wall here, leading into a storage area full of ballistas. It doesn't take a genius to see that they are all aimed directly at the hole in the wall, with loot corpses placed enticingly in their line of fire, and that the entire setup is a trap. At the same time, this is the way in, and those corpses aren't going to loot themselves.

    I step inside and hear a heavy, mechanical sound. The trap has been sprung. I turn to make sure the way back out isn't closed off, which is when the ballista bolt hits me, knocking me to the ground and taking out half my health. A Hollowed soldier comes at me from the right, and I see movement behind the ballistas. There are other Hollowed back there, moving out from behind the siege weapons so they can attack me.

    I manage to get enough distance for a flask charge, but before long I am surrounded by a quartet of Hollowed soldiers, and they have backed me into a corner. With nowhere to run, and not enough stamina or stability to block all their attacks, I'm soon dead.

    My shield has been causing me problems. It is not yet strong enough that I can completely alter the way I play, but it's still strong enough that, even unconsciously, I have taken a more defensive stance in most fights. It goes along with my desire to see what I'm up against before making decisions. But that is now ending more often than not with enemies surrounding me, or attacked from behind, or with me failing to recognize an obvious opening and waiting too long to take advantage of it. It is never a good idea to give AI a chance to run its routines, if possible. I have to come to grips with enemies now often travelling in packs, and that means fighting them in ways that mitigates that numbers advantage.

    Instead of waiting for the soldiers to group up and attack me, I use my speed and power to isolate them. After stepping through the hole in the wall, I back out a little. This causes the nearest soldier to rush out at me, and it takes the ballista bolts in the back instead of me. That's one down and three to go. The soldiers are circling around from behind the ballistas now. I get inside and cut right, where two are coming after me. I attack the nearest, knowing that I can take a hit from his buddy and still come out ahead. After a couple of solid club smacks, the soldier goes into a defensive pose, starts to back away. I ignore the one that just attacked me and chase the injured one down, finishing the job. Then it's a simple matter to turn on the other soldier and finish him off before the last one gets close enough to attack.

    Room cleared, I go through the loot corpses. One holds a blue wooden shield, the other a Soul Arrow spell. Neither is useful to me.


    Standing behind the ballistas, I find that I'm able to fire them. I use the middle ballista, sending a long bolt in a straight line through the hole in the wall, then through a nearby arch into a space full of barrels. There is a series of explosions and I gain a few Souls.

    There is a ladder leading to a basement floor. I can still hear the heavy groans of the Ring of Whispers, so I assume there will be more enemies down there. On the one hand, I'd like to check that out soon, because it would be good to clear this area before I die, so that I don't have to go through that fight again. But I'm also curious about what I just blew up.


    Back outside and I can see there's fresh loot amongst the bits of wood and metal left over from the explosions. As I get close, bombs start to fall. I look up and see a couple of tossers standing above me in open windows.


    I grab the loot and back out. It's a Winged Spear, which requires 11 strength and 18 dexterity--more than I have--but its moveset is much more in line with what I want from a spear. Everything except for the jumping attack is a quick jab or long-ranged thrust, and it even does decent damage. I now have the next weapon to level up for.

    At the far end of the passageway is a man holding a spear while lounging on a pile of sandbags. Nearby is an unlit sconce (Convenient that it's so close to a bonfire?) and an open portcullis with a raised iron gate.


    This guy calls himself Pate, and warns me of bandits. I hate to labour over this point, but that is a strange, maybe even stupid, thing to say to a person while you both stand in the middle of a literal fortress full of Hollowed soldiers. He then warns me about the open portcullis, claiming that he has seen its like before, and that it is a trap. If I step through it will shut behind me, locking me inside. The last time he found one he was with another warrior, who took the bait and became trapped. Pate still has that guy's ring, but he won't give it to me.

    On Pate's word, there is supposedly treasure on the other side of the gate. Thing is, no matter how I stand or angle the camera, I can't see anything in there. Not even an enemy. They could have at least dangled a shiny corpse in the corner. I'm willing to walk into a trap, but not if there's no bait.

    Near the bomb throwers is where I catch sight of the first humbled giant and his Hollowed tormentors. I don't rush to rescue him just yet. I have to check out that basement first.


    It's dark down there, but not so dark that I can't see what I'm dealing with. There is a chest, an unlit sconce, and in the corner a pattern of strange holes in the wall. A face? There is also a locked wooden door.


    I move through the dark room, expecting an attack, but it never comes. Whatever is setting my Ring of Whispers off must be on the other side of the locked door. I open the chest, which glows briefly with a putrid green, and then erupts into a cloud of poison gas. I roll away, catching only a bit of the poison fumes, and not enough to actually poison me. From the chest I take a single titanite shard.

    The holes turn out to be a Pharros device, which means I can use one of my Pharros lockstones on it.


    I insert the stone, which is exactly like sticking a squarish peg into a squarish hole. It slides in, then clicks into place. A second later a blue-white glow fills the room. I turn and see another face projected onto a nearby wall.


    I get close enough to examine it, but there is no option to interact with the light. I can't walk through it, either. Which means the only other option I have is attacking. The wall breaks open, showing me a small room with a pair of chests.


    I pick up a titanite slab, which now only upgrades a weapon to +10, and a Cloranthy Ring, which increases stamina recovery. Are titanite slabs more common now? Is +10 the new maximum? I have no idea. More importantly, how directly does the Pharros device relate to this secret treasure room? Did it point me in the right direction, or did using it open the room up? If I hadn't used the stone and had attacked the wall, would anything have happened? The issue is whether the Pharros device is just a hint machine. I'll need to find another one before I can test that.

    I replace my Guardian's Seal Ring with the Cloranthy Ring. Now that I can become human and recover my maximum health at will, I don't care so much about the tiny bump I was getting from the Guardian's Seal. And extra stamina gain is always nice, even if it doesn't negate the heavy penalties from completely draining my stamina bar.

    Next, I go and rescue that poor, poor giant from the nasty, nasty Hollowed human soldiers. I also pick up an Undead Soul from a nearby corpse, so it's not a complete waste of time. I do wonder what would happen if I had the Seed of Giants now.

    There is a ladder nearby that climbs to the top of the dividing wall. From up there I should be able to get at those bomb throwers, and also find a better vantage point over the alleged treasure area past the trapped gate.


    If I want to get that better look I'll have to drop down into a large gash smashed into the parapet wall. If I go left, toward the treasure, I will not be able to get back to the ladder, and will have to jump down instead. Going right would be safer, but a reckless curiosity overtakes me, and turn left. After smashing my way through an old wooden cart blocking the way, I gain full view over the courtyard below.


    Still nothing in sight, but I do see a doorway into the fortress. Maybe that's where the treasure is.

    I find my own way inside, and around a corner I come to stairs leading down.


    As I near the bottom my Ring of Whispers begins to groan at me. I slow down and look around the corner. There are half a dozen soldiers there at least, all with their backs to me. Between the load groans from the ring, I can hear the mutterings and grunts of the Hollowed, so it's not as if I was particularly forewarned.


    Now it's clear what was meant to happen. If I had gone through the portcullis trap I would have had to take these guys on in a head-to-head fight, if they didn't immediately charge out once the gate had slammed shut. I remind myself that aggression is the key, and I pounce.

    Most of the battle takes place on the stairs, with me clubbing down the Hollowed as quickly as they come, giving up ground each time I need to recharge my stamina. Within seconds, it's over.


    From a corpse at the foot of the stairs, I loot 3 aromatic oozes. This is a temporary magical damage buff for melee weapons. Good against thick armour and scales. There's a lot of that around here, and I'm sure it would be useful for an upcoming boss. Chances are I will never use it.

    I go outside, and the gate locks as soon as I get close.


    This forces me to take the stairs back up, then to hop down to where Pate sits. I use my Silvercat Ring to make that safe. Pate is so impressed by my survival that he hands over a white sign soapstone.


    I don't know if Pate was being a jerk, or if he's just oblivious. There was no treasure in there at all, unless he was counting the aromatic ooze that he wouldn't have been able to see. But there's nothing I can do about it now. I move on.

    This time I turn right at the top of the ladder. There is a body there holding a light crossbow. I have a flask charge left, so I may as well keep going. In the grand scheme I'm still not that far from the bonfire.

    A lit sconce illuminates the hall above the bomb throwers. It's such a singular sight that it's almost sinister, and I'm careful when I approach it, expecting an ambush or trap, but nothing happens.


    I jump a small gap above them to pick up another torch and an Undead Soul. The bomb throwers are guarding a chest.


    I kill them easily enough, then loot the chest. There is a mail breaker and an infantry helm inside. This is the first non-broken piece of gear I've found here, after countless battered Hollowed soldier armours. It has passable defence, but no poise and is heavier than my monocle. Pass. The mail breaker is a thrusting dagger with a special property that causes damage through shields with its heavy attacks. That's neat, but not particularly useful. I do like that some weapons have special effects besides elemental or status damage, and I hope I find something cool that I can use.

    There is a 2-handed sword Hollowed waiting for me when I jump down from the bomb thrower's spot. He nearly kills me before I realize that I forgot to equip my shield after testing the mail breaker. I roll away, use my final flask charge, then kill him.

    The final doorway is nearby. It's the only path left after the ballista room, the giant, and everything up the ladder. This is the outer wall of the fortress. I can see the sky beyond it, and hear the sound of distant waves.

    Inside is a long room full of smashed stone and masonry. It appears this is where the giant's assault began. Nearby are a couple of soldiers holding spears.


    I turn the other way, and up some stairs I find a corpse holding a Lifegem and a homeward bone. After some hesitation, I decide that I'm still close enough to the bonfire for safety, and I attack the spear soldiers, killing them both. I then kill an Ironclad and loot another corpse.

    At first I think the hole in the wall was caused by a falling pillar, but nothing of that size would have fit in here, and there is a dull, metallic texture to the object jutting out over the sea. It's a giant sword that something stabbed into the fortress, creating this opening in its defences. The scale of such an action is titanic. How big were these giants?


    I can see the glow of loot up there, near the hilt. I can also see that it's an obvious trap. After I've taken a few steps out onto the blade, when there is nothing under me but the sharp stones scattered like defensive stakes in the water below, the trap is sprung. I hear a thunk from behind me, and catch motion in my peripheral vision. I spin around and see that Hollowed soldiers are dropping onto the sword, trying to block my way back to the fortress. It would be suicide to fight them on the narrow blade, an idea hammered home when one of the Hollowed falls over the edge and dies in the water. I spring past them, then beat them all to death. My club breaks during the fight, and I have to finish the last Hollowed with my fists.

    Outside, I can see that a pair of massive statues stand a silent, and ultimately fruitless, vigil over the sea. These are the only visual adornments I have seen in the entire fortress, besides that crest, and the statue in the bonfire area.

    The statue on the right is missing its head.


    The statue on the left is missing its sword hand.


    Which explains what I'm standing on, if not quite how it got here. What is the purpose of these statues, while the rest of the fortress is so spare? It must have taken a lot of time and resources to build them, time and resources that obviously would have been better spent on further defences. Considering their size in relation to the mangled giant I saw, maybe building huge, stone men to face the giant's attack was meant to be an insult.

    From the corpse I recover a halberd. It's probably as good an all-round weapon as it was in the last game, but just like the last game, I'm not interested.

    The only things left in the outer room are a locked wooden door and a fog gate.


    That could be a boss, or not. Either way, I'm out of flask charges and don't even have a weapon. However, I have cleared out a significant section of the fortress, and it would be a shame to let that go to waste. I run back to the lit sconce near the bomb throwers, and from there I carry my torch to the unlit sconces I have found. I light the one in the basement, near the Pharros device, and the one next to Pate. I then use my old knight ultra greatsword to clear the area underneath the bonfire, and light a sconce there, next to a locked door.


    Those are all that I've found, and with that accomplished I trudge back to the bonfire and have a rest.

    I warp back to Majula to repair my club. While at the blacksmith, I notice that the fire sword I found near the first salamander uses normal titanite for upgrades. Are elemental paths now completely separate from phsyical damage? Can a weapon go straight to fire or lightning damage from level 1? Since faith and intelligence now raise elemental damage, it might be feasible to run a build like that. I spare only a few seconds of thought for that, since I don't have the ores or the smith needed for such upgrades. I have 3 titanite shards I've picked up recently, and I could use them on my shield, but I decide to save them for the Winged Spear.

    With that in mind, I talk to the Emerald Herald and put 3 points into dexterity.


    Even with 15 out of 18 dexterity, I can't use the Winged Spear in a 2-handed grip. I guess that dexterity weapons are more complex somehow, so holding them in both hands doesn't help the same way as holding a strength weapon does. What's odd is that equipping a weapon that I can't quite use yet gives me a message saying I can't use it at all, even for strength weapons, where all I need to do is lift it up high enough to drop it again. In Dark Souls 1 it would tell me that I could only use it with a 2-handed grip.

    Back to the Forest of Fallen Giants and I use an effigy in preparation for a possible boss fight. Pate is gone now. I figured that would happen after he'd given me an item.

    I start fighting toward the fog gate. The spot full of explosive barrels blows up again when I throw a firebomb I've picked up. I recover another Winged Spear from the debris. Are they common drops now? I guess the soldiers here must use them. I should be able to experiment more with upgrades at least, and it will be nice to have a backup weapon.

    Before long I am standing in front of the fog gate. I step through. It's not a boss. I'm back in the large, open area above the fire salamander, on the other side of a metal door leading to the bonfire. It's locked from this side, so I couldn't open it before. Which means I've just opened up another shortcut.


    There is an unlit sconce as well. I've also reached an elevator that I saw before. It ends up somewhere far below, so maybe it will take me down to the salamander?

    I pick up some fire arrows from a body, then fight my way to the nearest lit sconce and carry a torch back. Another body holds large leather shield and a few Lifegems. The shield has passable resistances, and is light, but has poor stability.


    The next step is taking that elevator. I have full health and all of my flask charges, as well as a shield with great fire resistance. I am ready for a fight with a fire-breathing amphibian.


    I step onto the platform, depressing a large button. Chains start moving, and the elevator descends. Down, down, then I'm at the ground floor. I can feel the fire, see its glow. I ready myself for the fight. But it doesn't happen. Instead, the elevator keeps on dropping, until I am deep underground. I step off into a narrow corridor with another fog gate at the far end.


    Now, this has to be the boss.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    Day 05 continued.
    Half way down the corridor and I'm attacked by an estoc-wielding soldier. At the start of the fight I still have the menus open, and when I hastily close it and throw out a wild club swing, he parries me. I fall on my ass, prepared for death, but he hops backwards instead of sticking a sword through my face. I guess these guys are as confused by the new mechanics as I was. I stand up and kill him.

    The Hollowed was guarding another door, which I can't open.


    I keep going, until I have left the man-made corridors underneath the fortress and entered a rough natural cave, complete with stalagmites.


    The Last Giant

    The sudden shift toward natural, primal scenery should have been the clue. I have left the fortress proper, stepped away from the harsh, artificial walls and towers, the unnaturally rounded turrets and impossibly regular battlements. Back in the wild, I was bound to run into such an enemy, closer to its own turf. Past the fog gate is a large cave, the ground patched with green plant growth.

    A cutscene plays, showing the giant pinned under rubble, impaled with rusted iron. When it sees me, there is a flash of blood-red rage, and it starts to break free from its bindings.


    The fight is simple enough, and also easy. Knowing that I can target the giant's feet, I am able to bash away at its knees while it tries to stomp on me. I still take a few hits, and flask up for safety, but it's not actually dangerous.


    When it falls below half health, it pulls off its own arm and starts to swing it like a club. This gives the giant extra range for its attacks, but doesn't make it any more difficult to fight from up close.


    It nearly gets me with a couple of stomps when I think I have enough damage to kill it, but run out of stamina instead. It's so slow that I easily get the distance needed for my final flask charges, and then I run in for the kill.


    I gain 10,000 Souls, a Soldier's Key, and a Soul of the Last Giant. According to its Soul, this thing was the lord of the giants, and was a prisoner down here. Was that the impetus for the giant's attack? Possibly, but that still leaves me with questions, and it's as likely that it was captured during the battle itself.

    I try the key on the door outside the boss room. No joy. Where, then?

    I return to the bonfire to recharge my flask. When I stand up, Melentia is gone.


    The Forest of Fallen Giants

    With my Soldier's Key in hand, I am able to access a few new sections of the fortress. Taking the ladder down from the bonfire, I unlock a door and find a chest holding a few torches and a Ring of Restoration, which slowly restores HP when worn. There is also a doorway to the outside.


    I stand on a broad, flat roof. There is a loot corpse in one corner, a chest in another, and nearby is a large black door covered in intricate patterns of etched gold. A solitary knight stands guard, sword and shield at the ready.


    The knight makes no move against me as I loot the corpse, picking up a grand lance, and take a couple of amber herbs from the chest. The grand lance is something new, being a heavy spear option. It requires 22 strength on top of 18 dexterity, so I can't use it, but it's nice to know it exists. I might be able to get behind big, meaty stabs. The only problem I see is that its poise damage is low when compared to other heavy weapons I've found. Perhaps it makes up for that with multiple hits?

    My Ring of Whispers is telling me that the knight is hostile, but he still hasn't moved a muscle, even when I test the grand lance out in front of him. There is nothing else here, no other way to go besides that black door. Curiously, when I stand in the far corner of the roof, I can hear the same slight magical ringing tone that I heard outside the bonfire. I wonder what it is.

    I walk over to the knight. A message pops up informing me that I must produce the symbol of the King. It's only then that the knight starts to move against me.


    He doesn't put up much of a fight, but also drops nothing. I don't have the symbol of the King, so I'm not getting through the black door. I leave.

    The key opens another door, the one near a sconce I'd lit earlier. On the other side are stairs going down, and at the bottom, darkness.


    I can make out indistinct shapes, there is a perception of some length. It's a cluttered hall, filled with old boxes and barrels, and broken stone bricks, and I now know why there was a sconce so close to the door, because there is another unlit one close by.


    I walk over and light the first sconce. The sudden light ruins my low-light vision, and now I can see even less of what's ahead. Then a skeleton pops up, holding a long, curved sword in each hand. I extinguish my torch, and then batter the skeleton into pieces. It stays dead. Good. A hall full of skeletons that I can kill, and that will stay on the ground, is like dessert after that boss fight.


    I leapfrog from sconce to sconce, lighting each after I've killed any skeletons that stand up. I loot a corpse, picking up some black firebombs and a homeward bone, another corpse holds a torch. Soon, I am nearing the end of the hall.


    The soft clacking sound of bone on bone as each skeleton hops up is something I revel in. Without the advantage of a necromancer backing them up, they fall back down as fast as they stand.


    There is a door at the end of the hall, and when I open it I find myself back outside. Across a small gap is an archer who immediately starts firing arrows at me. In my mind, I can make the jump, but it doesn't go so well in reality. Maybe I could have, if I'd timed it right, but my run feels oddly slow, and I jump much too early. I fall into the crack in the earth, and I die.


    I fight through the skeletons again, still without any trouble. As I near the door, an Ironclad bursts through. It does a series of quick attacks, somewhat mimicking the combo that caused so much trouble with the old hammer knights in the Tower of Flame. I had never seen this particular sequence from the Ironclads, and I'm not prepared for it when it comes. I die again.


    This time I open the door to the outside, then immediately sprint across to another building. Inside is a ladder leading to the roof, a door leading in the general direction of the archer.


    I begin a methodical campaign to clear out all resistance from this section of the fortress. There are a couple of Hollowed soldiers in the next room, they go down swinging. I pick up an effigy from a nearby body. On the roof I find a small gang of Ironclads. I attempt to pull them one at a time, but fail. When they all turn toward me at once I drop down the ladder, and for the next minute I can hear them angrily smashing at boxes and barrels. While tabbed out to take notes, I hear clanking footsteps nearby, then the urgent warning moans of the Ring of Whispers. I look around the corner and see the Ironclads coming down the hall toward me.


    It might be my imagination, but they seem a little stronger than the ones I've already fought. Maybe it's just the new attack string they use, as it's more dangerous than the slower attacks I'm used to. After some work, I manage to take all the Ironclads down. This leaves the roof free for looting.


    I pick up a whip, a bastard sword, an effigy, an Undead Soul, and a few cracked red eye orbs. I drop down onto another Ironclad that was standing guard below. He nearly knocks me into the bottomless pit, but I get him first.

    My mental map of the fortress tells me that I'm on the other side of an iron grate I ran into earlier, somewhere behind the area full of archers, next to the mines.


    A corpse there holds amber herbs and green blossoms. A good haul.

    I take a short path through a crumbling building to get across the gap to the archer. As I kill him, a message pops up. Armorer Dennis is invading me.


    He comes at me wearing robes and holding a sword and shield. As soon as he gets close, he hits me with a guard break and gets a solid hit in before I can roll away. He follows that up by pulling a magical blade out of thin air and swinging it in a wide arc. I dodge that, and then we dance around a bit in the narrow space. I get a backstab, and then a message pops up telling me that my club is about to shatter in my hands. This is not good. Dennis still has about half his health. After getting some distance, he starts throwing out Soul Arrows, which I avoid with ease. Then he begins to spew a mist of magical energy in every direction, forcing me to back away and take cover until the attack is over. There is a close call when he hits me with another magical blade attack, but I flask up. Using careful positioning and another backstab attack, I manage to kill him just before my club breaks.


    I was Hollowed when Dennis appeared. I was Hollowed when the red guy showed up in Things Betwixt. I have yet to find an NPC to summon, but other than losing my maximum health, I'm wondering what being Hollowed or human does for me. There is no humanity, and no indication of a magic find stat, so it can't be anything to do with that, can it? According to the effigies, being human actually makes it more difficult to be summoned or invaded, at least for online purposes. Does that apply to NPC invaders as well? Hopefully I will get more information about being human at some point.

    After searching the area a little, I find a bonfire tucked into a tiny room behind where the archer stood. Perfect timing.


    In the next building over is another fallen giant, this one tells me that it is resting in peace.


    On a nearby set of scaffolding is a chest holding an Undead Soul and a complete set of hunter's gear. It's basic leather armour and a fancy hat. Nothing I can use now, but it's nice to have options.

    There is nothing else around here except for the bonfire and the giant. It's a conspicuous pairing, as if I wasn't already sure that I would be interacting with them more at some point. I'm intrigued by this giant having a different message from the other, but without, presumably, a seed, there is nothing else I can do here.

    I search through the fortress, looking for other doors to open. In the end, I only find one in the room with the giant sword, and it leads away from the rest of the fortress. How about all that I missed, like the fire salamanders, and the small keep they seem to be guarding? Could be I need the help of the giants, or a way to open the black door, before I can explore the rest of the fortress.


    At the top of the stairs is a lanky soldier holding a big sword. The blade is taller than he is, and probably ways as much. He's pretty tough, but not so much that my club can't make short work of him. Up more stairs, and there is another of the lanky knights, and now I can see the sky through breaks in the masonry.


    After killing him, I find myself in an open space at the top of the highest walls of the fortress. Nearby is an archer perched on a ledge, and another of the knights. Past them is a fog gate.


    My club is almost broken again, and I have to punch the archer to death. There is a body nearby holding a few Lifegems and another Undead Soul. From up here I can see over the short wall of fallen stone, through to the other side of the fog gate. I see the head from the broken statue, but nothing else of note. It's an open space of distinct design. That is a boss fight if I've ever seen one.


    I consider using a repair powder on my club, but I'm close enough to the bonfire that it's not a real imposition to go back and recharge. While I'm on my way back to the fog gate after resting, I am nearly taken down by the pair of spear knights in the broken hall. Instead of standing at their post flanking the door to the elevator, they are waiting on either side of the door into the hall, and get in a few good stabs before I can recover and take them both down. One of the royal swordsmen, the guys with the overcompensation swords, drops a royal greatsword. It's a lot like the bastard sword I found early, only with more exaggerated flourishes with each attack. I am annoyed just looking at it, and would hate to try fighting with it.

    I pick up some royal guardsman's armour pieces. The chest piece is somehow heavier than the Heide armour while also having lower stats.

    Fighting the royal swordsmen reminds me to keep a closer eye on my stamina. They are the first enemy around here that I can't always kill with a full stamina bar's worth of attacks. If I blow everything I have and can't roll away, I'm liable to take a hit or two for my trouble. Enemies are much more aggressive and revenge focused now, and poor planning will result in taking needless damage.

    The Pursuer

    I step through the fog gate and a cutscene plays. A sword crunches into the stone, then a giant bird flies overhead and airdrops a hulking knight in dull steel armour. He pulls the sword out of the ground and begins to float.


    All the puzzle pieces fall into place. The attack from the white phantom knight on that roof wasn't a dream, and it was the bird the brought him. I wonder if I could have killed him there, if I'd had a chance to see him coming.

    I am disappointed that I didn't get the real experience of seeing him coming the first time. One of my suggestions for improving Dark Souls, after I'd played Prepare to Die, was giving bosses more presence and personality within their areas. Somehow, I got what I wanted, but didn't notice it enough to make the experience worthwhile. Oh well.


    The Pursuer fights almost identically to the way the black phantom knight in Things Betwixt fought. In fact, he's easier overall, as he doesn't have that guy's dark magic missile spell. Instead of fighting him exactly like I fought the other guy, though, I stupidly hide behind me shield at first, giving the Pursuer chances to break my guard, which then gives him free hits. Finally, he lands a stabbing attack, and I see that he's got his own way of cursing.


    After I'm impaled on his sword, he lifts me into the air and pumps me full of dark magic. I'm cursed, and then I die.

    The second fight goes how it should. I get hit once by the sword stab, and become cursed, but there is no noticeable effect on my combat abilities. I apply all the knowledge I gained from fighting the phantom knight in Things Betwixt, and soon the Pursuer is dead.


    "Victory Achieved"

    I gain about 17,000 Souls, a Soul of the Pursuer, and a Ring of Blades. It's only then that I get a good look at myself and realize that I've gone Hollowed without dying. That's what curses do. Lesson learned. I wonder what they do to someone who is already Hollowed. Maybe that's where the petrification comes in.


    The Ring of Blades raises my damage by about 20 points, which is good enough for me to put it on. Where did that bird go? According to its Soul, the Pursuer seeks the bearer of the sign, which I guess is me. Will there be others? Who sent it? Its name suggests more of a will than your typical Hollowed or monster.

    I look around the rest of the area. I notice that it's possible to fire the heavy ballistas up here, though it seems impractical to try and hit an enemy like the Pursuer with a weapon that can't even be aimed. Through a crack in the huge stone head I can see there is another comatose giant up here.


    Though I already know what will happen, I walk over and interact with it. Nothing happens. I'm still not feeling sympathetic toward them. I may have had to kill a whole lot of Hollowed to get up here, but I also saw all the damage the giants did, and for what? What could have been so important that they destroyed themselves to put another nail in Drangleic's coffin? Past the giant is a stairwell completely blocked by dirt and debris. I can't get any further here, though there is a spot I could drop down to pick up a loot corpse.


    I climb a short flight of stairs and I'm on a wall practically at the shoulder of one of the huge statues. There is a nest in the corner. I walk toward it.


    When I bend down to check it out, a cutscene plays. That damned bird comes flying out of nowhere and grabs me, carrying me away.


    Do you ever get that feeling that someone, somewhere, really doesn't like you? That someone, somewhere, really wants to see you fail? I have had that feeling ever since I left Things Betwixt and started exploring Drangleic. Behind the general apathy of most of the Undead I meet, and the flat, distant encouragement of the Emerald Herald, has been a darker sense of quiet malevolence. It's not a secret that Drangleic is a special kind of messed up, but the overriding question remains unanswered: Why am I, and all the other Undead, here? Why are we attracted to this place?

    And why is something trying to keep us from our goals?

    It is more than simple Hollowed, or monsters of any sort. Those are roadblocks, but do not have intention. They do what they do because it is all they have left. It's what they are now, not what they always were.

    But other things lurk, or watch. Or pursue. Things that have some tiny modicum of will, of purpose. Things that are here to exterminate the Undead.

    Tell me that I should seek out powerful Souls for the nebulous purpose of becoming the new king of a broken, discarded land, and I might work toward that because I've got nothing better to do. Tell me there is a force out there trying to stop me, though, and I will begin to move with purpose. The only one who stops me from doing something is me.

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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    There's been a few points where you mentioned assumptions.

    Do not assume what you know from DS1 is true for anything, even basic game mechanics. Specifically test them.

    (PSN: Morninglord) (Steam: Morninglord) (WiiU: Morninglord22) I like to record and toss up a lot of random gaming videos here.
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    This is what I have been dealing with over the last couple of play sessions. I think it becomes pretty clear when it comes back to bite me.

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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    There are some very, very basic assumptions you have made. I suggest you start from a base line of naked for all basic mechanic comparisons, for example.
    Like, if you wanted to work out weights effect on something, I would suggest you take off everything, test, put on a small amount, test, increase the amount, test, repeat until you reach overencumbered.
    That's the level of experimentation you need for this game because it makes significant changes that are difficult to work out intuitively because the mechanics feel so similar, even though under the hood they aren't and are frequently much more complex. Prior ds1 knowledge confuses and obscures.

    Morninglord on
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    You mean how there's a much wider and less distinct difference between the weight classes? I had to hit over 70-75% to get the heavy roll, and everything between ~20% and that at least looks the same, which is where I'd guess agility comes into play.

    I have played further than this update, and I'm still busy wrestling with my equip load with some heavier gear. You're right that it would take heavy testing to figure out minute frame differences with some of the equip loads, but it's not yet a priority over getting the stats I need for the weapons I've found.

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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    None of the above.
    It's kind of esoteric but fairly important and can be a factor in some fights. Do you want me to tell you?
    Otherwise I'll just leave it up to you to discover it on your own, or not, as the case may be.

    Morninglord on
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    I'd like to run into an actual problem before I start asking for solutions.

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    General_ArmchairGeneral_Armchair Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    IMO precise knowledge of how your stats work such as breakpoints and diminishing returns isn't really necessary for simply completing NewGame.

    Min/maxing a 150 SL build for PvP is another story.

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    Some_tall_guySome_tall_guy Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    None of the above.
    It's kind of esoteric but fairly important and can be a factor in some fights. Do you want me to tell you?
    Otherwise I'll just leave it up to you to discover it on your own, or not, as the case may be.

    Trust me I know exactly how you feel wanting him to know when he's missing something we all take for granted as readers of the "other thread" :P but it's also super cool watching him stumble through it and I'm always happy when he finally figures something out on his own.

    I'm personally curious to see what he does in-game working off his current assumptions and knowledge. For better or worse.

    Also, Page I'm glad you finally got the next update up. I was really itching for it!

    Some_tall_guy on
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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    Page- wrote: »
    I'd like to run into an actual problem before I start asking for solutions.

    Alright I wont say anything else then.

    Morninglord on
    (PSN: Morninglord) (Steam: Morninglord) (WiiU: Morninglord22) I like to record and toss up a lot of random gaming videos here.
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    override367override367 ALL minions Registered User regular
    your stuff seems to be breaking a lot, do you have the game capped at 30fps?

    On PC your durability is tied to framerate, and they didn't bother to fix it with scholar of the first sin, 60fps has items break at double the normal rate

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    I needed anime to post.I needed anime to post. boom Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    it's going to be patched

    it's tied to framerate in all versions

    I needed anime to post. on
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    I did hear about the patch. When it comes out I'll get it, until then I'll have to do what I have to do to get by.

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited April 2015
    Writing going steady, since I still had tons of notes left over from last time. Should be done by the weekend again. Maybe this is the best schedule at the moment. Whatever it is, I want to prevent another 10 day gap between updates.

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    MrGrimoireMrGrimoire Pixflare Registered User regular
    Loved the last one, so I'm happy to see you're doing DaS2 now :) Good luck!

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited May 2015
    Day 06
    Day 06

    Lost Bastille

    The bird drops me into an open, circular tower, next to a bonfire and a couple of chests.


    I pick up a couple of effigies and a dull ember. The ember goes into my key items, and seems to do what it did before, which is allow me to further upgrade my gear with different and higher quality titanite.

    After resting at the conveniently placed bonfire, I step outside and get my first look at this new area.


    As the name suggests, the Lost Bastille is another abandoned fortress, this one likely also serving as a prison. Maybe this is where they kept Undead dissidents? It did require bird flight to access, so chances are it's not directly connected to Drangleic's land mass. Islands are a good place to put people you don't want getting near you again.

    It's night here, and the sky is devoid of stars. Not that stars would serve any practical purpose--I couldn't use them to get my bearings, or anything like that. Still, it would be nice to see something of the outside world while stuck in this remote place. The idea that I am under the same sky as I was before the curse is the sort of thing a lonely Undead might cling to when things get tough.

    The Lost Bastille has the same isolated environment as the rest of Drangleic, crystallized in a date and time divorced from reality. Every new sight reinforces the impressions I had of Drangleic after I'd first talked to the cat and the Emerald Herald. It's not only the Undead here that suffer from the curse of eternal, apathetic existence. The land itself seems stuck in limbo, unwilling or unable to take the next step.

    What is history without memory to record it? I may as well wonder what is the present if the past never ends.

    Somewhere below me is the sound of gentle waves. That explains the isolation, yet my first thought is about when I might finally start to move inland. I've been stuck on what seems to be the northern coast of this continent, and I'm getting sick of the sight and sound of the sea.

    Ahead, past some crumbled stone, is a solitary figure. When he turns to face me, I see that it's a hulking man with a face covered in bandages or something. He holds a long, wicked looking polearm of an exotic design, with a sharp looking crescent blade. Annoyingly, I can't get to him from here. This looks like your classic video game bait-and-switch level design, presenting me with something early on that I will have to navigate a maze to reach. I'm eager to test my strength against his, to measure chances and decide whether I should push forward here. Looking around, it's obvious that I will have to scoot around a few ledges, and probably have to navigate some traps, before I meet up with him. But I just took down a couple of bosses, and I should be trying to catch up with my home base so that I can spend these Souls I have.

    Which is what I do. I return to the bonfire and warp away.


    My first stop is the blacksmith, who promptly informs me that he can't use the ember I found. He's pretty sure blacksmiths used to stoke their flames with embers like the one those, and that it would be useful, but it's not something he knows how to do. Well, shit.


    Melentia is now sitting outside, near the bonfire.


    Despite her promise, she has nothing new to offer, and hasn't replenished any of her stock. I figured she'd end up here, like most of the other NPCs I'm sure to meet. It goes along with the idea that Majula was, and still is, a dumping ground for the the unwanted. I wonder if we are all outcasts from our lands. For one reason or another, that's likely the case.

    I have another awestone that I picked up somewhere in the Forest of Fallen Giants. I offer it up to the Victor's Stone, which I think puts my donation count at 7.

    My next stop is the mansion, where I look in on the map room. Cale is there now, and he starts to gush about a flame that has appeared on the map. He says it wasn't there last time he looked, and I know it wasn't there last time I was here.


    His theory is that it has to do with exploration, which makes sense. If I squint at the map from the right angle, the blotch with the flame in the middle looks roughly like the fortress in the Forest of Fallen Giants.


    But what am I meant to take away from that? I know for a fact that I haven't covered all the ground within that fortress, whereas I have explored the Tower of Flame almost completely, and there is no flame on its part of the map, wherever that might be. Perhaps the flame is a more direct metaphor. It could mean that I've found all the bonfires in that area. As with most other things, it's a mystery I don't yet have the clues needed to solve. I'm sure the import of this map will be made explicit when when it actually matters.

    I visit the Emerald Herald. I have enough Souls to jump up 14 levels, which feels like overkill. I decide to take the 3 points in dexterity needed to use the winged spears, and then a couple more points in vitality with the intention of using a heavier shield, once I've found one I like.


    I use the 3 titanite shards I have to upgrade one of the winged spears to +2, which, surprisingly, also raises its dexterity damage scaling from B to A. That's nice, but for some reason even though I have more total dexterity than strength, and both the club and the winged spear have A scaling from their primary stats, the club has higher bonus damage. Is it because the club is +3, while the spear is only +2, or is it that not every A is equal? Could be there is a sliding scale even within each ranking, and some As are only barely above Bs, as if there were an A- and an A+. Or maybe strength weapons get higher bonuses in general. Once I have more weapons to compare I'll have a better grasp of how things work, but even then it's not as if it matters that much.

    I still have 30,000 Souls. What else can I spend them on? I run over to Licia in the tunnels and buy her 28,000 Soul faith ring. It does indeed raise my faith stat by 5 points, which also raises my maximum health and resistances.

    Using items to boost stats for requirements was a well known, and often used, exploit in the first Diablo game. A character with 20 strength could put on a ring of +5 strength, which would allow them to hold a sword that required 25 strength, and then remove the ring while still holding the weapon. Every player would keep such stat boosting items on hand, and with strategic use they could wear gear way outside their stat ranges while putting all their skill points into vitality for increased maximum health. This was also a way for characters with low magic stats to learn important spells without having to spend stats that could otherwise be used to buff physical attack damage. Such an obvious loophole in the system was excusable at the time, since Diablo was breaking new ground, and nearly every game that followed fixed the problem. For that reason alone I'm sure that having an extra 5 points in my faith stat won't be that useful unless I start a faith build. Any faith weapon I equipped would become unusable if I ever removed the ring. Likewise, any spell I learned--which would also take an investment in attunement to get spell slots--would fizzle out if I removed the ring, provided the game allowed me to learn such a spell based on bonus stats.

    Which is a lot of words to say that, while the ring is an interesting novelty item, it will have little practical use, unless I suddenly decide to become a cleric.

    It did get rid of my excess Souls, though, which is good enough for me.

    Now I have to decide where to go next. I can't make any more progress in the Forest of Fallen Giants, and I've opened up paths to Lost Bastille and Huntsman's Copse. Of the two, Lost Bastille seems like the natural next step from the Fortress, what with the bird carrying me from one to the other. But there's also that unexplored path in the Tower of Flame, which is on my mind now thanks to the map. I know it leads to another area, and I'm no longer the slightest bit intimidated by those big old knights. With a shield I'm not even worried about the white Heide knights.

    Oh right, there's also the pit in the middle of town. I bought that Silvercat Ring, so I may as well put it to the test. I have full health and plenty of flask charges, and homeward bones if I get stuck. So I line myself up with the first platform.


    I'd like to find the person who wrote the descriptions for these items and congratulate them for making partner in the law firm they must work at, because they are filled so many vague weasel words that only a lawyer could have managed it. The Silvercat Ring says it reduces falling damage. So far it has nullified the damage from every tumble I have attempted. Until now. There is nothing catlike in the way I take that landing. There is a sharp crunch, and then I am reduced to a pile of compacted meat jelly as everything in my body breaks. The point is, I do not survive. It would appear that the line between reduced falling damage and completely dead is narrow, and this ring isn't going to get me down into that hole. It's not that I was completely surprised, but I'd expected a little more gradation between surviving a drop without even a bruised ankle, and turning into pavement pizza.

    So lethal falls are still lethal falls, and I'm stuck here on the surface. Maybe I do need a ladder to get down there.

    As long as I'm taking care of unfinished business, I may as well do what that bird prevented me from doing. I warp back to the fortress in the Forest of Fallen Giants, and before long I am back at the top of the outer wall. Having the spear makes getting there a breeze, too. The range and speed allow me to put Hollowed down with ease, and I can even line them up to hit two or three at a time. Not having to worry about swinging into walls is also great. In fact, it seems as if the spear doesn't bounce from hitting the environment, even if I stand next to a big rock and stab it from point blank range. I also appreciate the new 2-handed attack string, a nice double stab that works like the daggers I've found, with a slower leading attack followed by a fast, heavy thrust that does a respectable amount of damage. I'd been prepared to take a hit in my attack strength compared to the club, but for unarmoured enemies the winged spear keeps up just fine.

    As if I hadn't already gotten the message, a gang of Hollowed soldiers are now beating on the poor, defenceless giant sitting behind the boss area.


    Though I'm still not buying the sympathy play, I do take advantage of the opportunity to see the winged spear's new backstab animation. After I've impaled a hapless Hollowed and lifted him bodily into the air before dumping his lifeless corpse on the ground, any remaining doubts are gone. This is the exact weapon I've been looking for While my club is reliable and will always get the job done, the spear is something that I enjoy.

    Once the soldiers are dead, I drop down through the broken ground to loot the corpse I'd seen last time I was here. From it I gain a full set of Drangleic armour, a Drangleic sword, and a Drangleic shield. This outfit belonged to Captain Drummond, who I gather was the commander of this fortress. He must have gone down fighting early in the battle, which would have been the doom of the defenders.


    The sword looks decent enough, with high dexterity scaling, but also high requirements. The armour also has some pieces with good defence, being stronger in general than the old knight armour I have, while also being a little lighter. This would put it between the old knight gear and the few pieces of Heide knight armour I have. I put the leggings on.

    Out of it all, the shield is the real prize. It's a medium shield, so not too heavy, and also has 100% physical damage block, on top of better stability than my Watchdragon parma. The only problem is it also requires 16 strength to use. Still, it's the next goal.

    I'm willing to look around a bit more. I take the elevator down to the giant's prison cave, thinking it might be possible to jump off at some point. There is no opening and it doesn't work. I ride the elevator back up and climb to the bonfire.

    Continuing the nature theme, I find the bonfire room is now host to the first, and perhaps only, growing greenery in the fortress. For all the trees and branches I've seen, all the sprouts left behind by the giants, I have seen no evidence that they were any more alive than the few collapsed giants I found. Or the remaining defenders, for that matter. Here, at last, a bit of life has returned, as if I opened a pressure valve by putting the lord of the giants out of his misery.


    Not for the first time, I consider flinging myself down toward the fire salamander at the heart of the fortress with the Silvercat Ring equipped. After my experience in the Majula pit I decide against it. This drop is even higher, to the point where I had already assumed the ring wouldn't help me survive it.


    Plus, I can see the hole down there that I'm eventually going to use to gain access to that area. I can wait. If there's one thing that's certain about Drangleic, it's that nobody and nothing is going anywhere. Nothing is going to change until someone changes it, and that someone is going to be me.

    Before leaving, I spend a minute looking over my gear, trying various combinations until I've found one that better balances defence with weight and poise. With light gloves I can afford to put on the heavy Drangleic chest piece, giving me slightly less poise than before, but higher defence. It also comes with a cape.

    There is only one thing left to do. I warp back to the first bonfire in the Forest of Fallen Giants, and I kill that big, fat hippo-clops thing. I know it wasn't as overtly hostile as the ones in Things Betwixt, but it still killed me a couple of times, and that's not something I forget.


    I'm slowed whenever I have to enter the shallow stream, but aside from that I've already solved the fight. I use the same hit and run tactics as I'd used on the others, and now I actually do a bit of damage. I have to force myself into a proper pace a couple of times when my relative increase in power goes to my head, but the fight isn't actually difficult at this point. After a minute, the beast is dead, and I'll never have to see it again.

    That done, I warp to the bonfire in the Tower of Flame, then cross the bridge to the underwater tunnel.


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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Day 06 continued.
    The amount of damage I do to the big knights is noticeably lower with the spear than it was with the club, reminding me that damage types are a factor, though I still doubt they will ever be important enough to sway me away from a weapon I'm having fun with. I manage to take a bad counter-hit from the knight with the huge sword, and I go down in one hit. There is a lesson to learn from that, but it's going to take me a while to truly wrap my head around it.


    I return and kill the knight. Nearby is a loot corpse draped over the stone guardrail. I pick up an effigy and some dark torches, which are items that temporarily boost darkness defence, and are likely to be useless to me.


    In a narrow alcove next to that body are two more. I gain a Knight's Soul and an old knight's halberd, which is a long axe. I haven't seen any knights using those yet. I wonder what these guys were doing hiding in here. A skirmish that went south for everyone involved?

    Stairs lead down to the lower level of the passage, and I come out to a broad, curved tunnel.


    To the left of the tunnel is the knight I'd seen from above. It's not another old knight, as I'd thought, but instead one similar to the knight that was guarding the black door in the Forest of Fallen Giants. This one has a polearm instead of a sword, but doesn't put up any more of a fight. I get behind him and turn him into a metal-encased meat skewer. He doesn't survive the process.


    I find that he was guarding a chest, and from it I gain sublime bone dust. According to its description, I should be able to use this at the Majula bonfire to upgrade the strength of my Estus flask. I assume that this will be healing strength, rather than more charges.

    I check the other end of the passage, and find a room with an ornate elevator.


    When I step onto it, the elevator begins to gently descend, until I am in the dark. I find myself at the entrance to another hall like the one I'd just left, only this one is dim, lit only by a wall-mounted torches. It is also flooded with cold, ankle-deep water.


    I move forward cautiously. A Hollowed pops out of the water like a zombie. I stab it, pick up a throwing knife, move on. Before long, I have come to the mouth of the broad, curved tunnel. At the entrance to the stairs is basilisk guarding a human statue. And here's me without a Branch of Yore. Lame.


    I kill the basilisk and a pair of Hollowed that pop up, predictably, to help it out. When they die my targeting cursor tracks upward and locks on something on the floor above me.


    My first thought is that it's one of the guys I saw in Lost Bastille, but this thing has a shield, and a different weapon. Whatever it is, it looks big, and it's guarding another loot corpse.


    I can't get through with the statue in the way. How many branches will I need? When I find the next one I'll have another difficult choice to make.

    I walk to the end of the hall, figuring I'll find a dead end, maybe another knight guarding loot. Instead, I find a hole in the wall.


    On the other side of the hole is a narrow tunnel that leads to a cave with a maze of thick stalagmites growing out of the ground.


    I take a lazy loop through the small cave until I find another bonfire.


    I rest there, and find out that I'm in the Unseen Path to Heide, which apparently counts as a separate area. I get up, eager to find out what might be around the corner.

    No Man's Wharf


    I once made the mistake of disagreeing with a popular Youtuber's descriptions of the game Salt and Sanctuary as "Souls-like" in a gushing promotional video.


    It should be obvious to everyone that Salt and Sanctuary is trying hard to be a 2D Dark Souls game, from general aesthetics to combat and stat systems. I would never be dumb enough to argue against that. I have nothing against the maker of that video--I had never heard of him before, and haven't watched anything else he's done, so there's really no opinion formed at all. I have nothing against fans of the Souls games, or the Souls games themselves. I think I've made it clear that I enjoy them as much as the next guy. I don't have a problem with calling a game that wants to be like Dark Souls a Dark Souls-like game, either.

    What I objected to was the broad brush that some fans of the Souls games seem to be using to paint themselves out a little sub-genre, because I guess there has to be one. The Dark Souls games are hits, so it was inevitable that others would try to ape their style, either from pragmatic greed or sincere adoration, but Dark Souls didn't spontaneously form in a vacuum. It has as many debts as any other modern game.

    The idea that a game is Souls-like because it is difficult, because it has bosses with patterns to memorize and attacks to avoid, because it has safe areas with save points in them, or anything along those lines, seem absurd to me. Not only are the Dark Souls games not that difficult in the grand scheme, but even if they were, that is not something unique to them. Neither are boss patterns and and save points.

    When I was first playing Prepare to Die--when I had no other context besides the game I was experiencing, and not a series that was inspiring others like it--I had no problem labelling the game a metriodvania. It shares the most important cornerstone of the genre, which is the large, interconnected map and the non-linear way the player must tackle it. Prepare to Die even had a lava level that required a special item to traverse, which has the fingerprints of Metriod's Varia Suit all over it. The safe haven save areas are a legacy of Metriod and the later Castlevania games, so didn't strike me as something special.

    I may be an argumentative jerk, but I at least have the common decency to turn that back on myself now and then. The Souls games are unique in the minds of many people, and it may be true that those people simply lack perspective, but it's also true that the Souls games are not merely 3D versions of metriodvania games. I mean, there already have been a bunch of those, and I've played a few of them. They were not Souls games. And there is more to it than atmosphere or setting alone.

    The question I asked myself is, what sets the Souls games apart for me? After thinking about it for a while, I found an answer.

    Allow me to demonstrate.

    The very first thing that happens when I enter the Wharf, even while I'm looking around to confirm that I have found myself in a vast cave that seems to be functioning as an old pirate base or ship graveyard, is an archer standing on a distant pier starts loosing fire arrows at me.


    This sets the tone for the rest of the area. After knocking a Hollowed into the water and passing a few unlit sconces, I close with the archer and put him out of my misery. Nearby is a melee fighter, his back to me. Is this really what I think it's going to be?


    He has higher poise than I expected, and when I attack him he turns around to hit me. It's a pirate, of course. I suppose with the general watery theme this game has had so far it was inevitable that I would run into pirates. He swings a pair of curved swords, and I stab him in the face. After he's dead I loot a body floating in the shallow water nearby, picking up a Lifegem and a large Undead Soul.

    I take a left along the dock, and get hit right in the face by another arrow. I look up and see a pirate camped out on top of a rough shack built into the wall of the cave.


    I head inside and take down a couple of Hollowed lackeys that pop up from around old wooden tables. Up the stairs and I see a chest resting amongst old junk and barrels. I want to open it, but the pirate archer has pulled a sword and is attacking me. He slashes and kicks at me, and the chest breaks apart, leaving a glowing item on the ground. Chests can break, I'd found that out earlier, but what happens when there's something still inside? Assuming there are mimics in this game, being able to attack every chest on sight would remove most of the danger. When I've killed the pirate, and a nearby zombie dog, I pick up the item that fell out of the chest. It's a nice pile of rubbish. Which makes sense. I wonder what it would have been had I killed the pirate before he broke the chest.

    Another pirate pops up from the water when I'm back on the dock. This one has a shield, but it's not a good one, so he takes a lot of damage even when he blocks my attacks. Things do not go well for him.

    After clearing out the immediate area, I head back to the bonfire and light a torch. I then light the first few sconces on the dock, which gives me a better idea of what I'm up against, and which parts of the water are shallow enough to enter.

    There is a big, and much too obvious, chandelier hanging from the cave ceiling. It stands out even more when the only other decorations are empty hanging cages.


    By the docks I see a raised bridge, and it would appear that I'll need to lower it to get access to the ship floating in the water nearby.


    To get to the other sided of the bridge, so that I can lower it, I'll have to fight my way through an entire pirate shantytown, built in tiers so that I'll have to climb to the top before descending again on the other side.


    I have entered the area, and the game has shown me the goal. That's all pretty standard stuff, and the Souls games have the courtesy to let me work that obvious out for myself instead of panning the camera over to the bridge, and then to a switch on the other side.

    What comes next is what makes Dark Souls interesting to me.

    I don't play open-world or sandbox games. They bore me, because they are mechanically uninteresting, and the tools given to the player often eclipse the challenges they are meant to overcome. I'm not saying that's a bad thing--I used to play in real sandboxes when I was a kid. The power of imagination and creativity are not lost on me. I can't draw, or paint, or play music, but give me a pile of Lego and I can build just about anything. I had a fleet of Lego Star Wars vehicles long before there were any licensed sets.

    But there was something pure about those activities. I stopped playing with Lego when the licensed sets took over. They were no longer interesting when the designer pieces started to take over. I enjoyed building things because of the challenge of using the bricks I had to make something that I pictured in my mind. Once that challenge was gone so was my desire to keep going. It's the same with modern open-world and sandbox video games. They are too structured, too based on assets that I had no input in creating. Even something like Minecraft has no appeal, though I think that if I were born at a different time, and didn't already have my experience with physical Lego bricks, I'd be more receptive to its charms.

    There are ideas present in sandbox games, about being able to tackle any problem from any angle, with any set of skills, that I admire. The problem is the follow-through. I am no expert on the genre, the complaints I see and hear most often about the average open-world sandbox-type game are about the parts where the developers try to force linearity for a time, like a chase, or an escort, or a race, or a boss fight.

    What I feel Dark Souls does, that sets it apart from metriodvania and action games both, is how it marries the simple sandbox philosophy with more engaging action game mechanics. This allows Dark Souls to build and tell narratives within the gameplay itself, using map design and enemy placement to nudge players this way and that, and using the focus on dying and repeating to continually elevate the tension.

    Your typical action game uses the environment as a cage, as an arena. The player enters an area, and enemies attack. They may be placed in a specific way, but it won't be long before combat devolves to the point where it hardly matters, even as more enemies spawn. Each level could take place in a blank, empty space and there wouldn't be that much lost, outside of the occasional puzzle or key that acts as a roadblock before the next boss fight.

    Your typical metriodvania has enemies almost as an afterthought, as filler before the next boss fight. Usually it's safe to ignore them completely, if they aren't physically standing in the way. The gameplay centres itself more around exploration and physical progress, on getting the next power-up to access the next area, on using those power-ups to access secrets that involve getting more power-ups.

    Each type of game challenges the player in different ways. In the metriodvania it is usually about putting the puzzle together, figuring out where to go and how to get there. In the action game it is about defeating increasingly difficult enemies, and terrain only matters when it's a physical roadblock.

    Like in the metriodvania, I have looked over the broader area and identified where I am supposed to go and how I'm likely to get there. Like the action game, I am going to have to kill a lot of enemies on the way. Like the sandbox game, how I take them on is largely up to me, at least when it comes to the order of things.

    But, because Dark Souls limits my tools, and still presents enough challenge to make the combat itself interesting. I have to engage with its mechanics, fight its battles. Not only that, but I want to.

    Most areas in Dark Souls games involve smaller skirmishes that connect more complex and punishing set piece areas. No Man's Wharf is not an exception. I begin the area by taking down Hollowed soldiers and pirates in their ones and twos, or threes and fours, as is the case with the first set of shacks and the small group of Hollowed that rush out at me when I get close. I fight them on the narrow dock, where I can take advantage of my spear's reach and hit them all at the same time.


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    Day 06 continued.
    Almost without thinking about it, I have decided to commit to this area. I'm not leaving the Wharf without getting to that ship, or as close as the game will allow.

    I go from building to building, or shack to shack, which is usually more accurate. In one I find a strange looking Hollowed holding a torch, and above him, standing on a roof, another pirate. As the pirate doesn't have a bow, I put him out of mind as I move closer to get a look at the guy with the torch. Which is when the pirate hits me with a plunging attack, and then slices me in half before I can flask up.

    I return, pick up my body, then kill the pirate on the roof after he drops down. He leaves behind a Varangian sword, which tells me that these guys were indeed pirates, the scourge of the northern Drangleic coast, but the King captured them and imprisoned them here to do hard labour. Why they still have all their weapons is a mystery, though it's possible they were rising up, given all the turmoil Drangleic must have been in at the time. A pair of Varangian leggings tells me that to the north of Drangleic, across the sea, is an unexplored continent full of monsters. Unexplored then, or now? And considering that Drangleic is already supposed to be way in the north, what are we talking here, a polar region?

    The torch guy doesn't do anything special, but he does drop a torch when I kill him.


    On to the next level, and my spear is nearing the breaking point. I switch over to my club. Though the pirates like to wait in ambush, it's easy enough to spot their swords sticking out from their hiding places. I dodge more plunging attacks, and before long I have found my way into a relatively well-lit building. There is a man inside, leaning casually against a wall.


    Only, it's not a man. It's a woman wearing a mask with a man's face on it, complete with a beard. I discover that when she begins to speak, her words muffled somewhat by the mask, but still feminine. Of course, since she's the one cross-dressing while in the middle of a cave full of zombie-pirates, she calls me the "odd one." Other than that, she's nice enough. She tells me her name is Lucatiel, and she's from Mirrah, a land far away, across some mountains. (Which isn't much help, since mountains surround Drangleic on all sides.) She came here to get Souls, which has me wondering if Souls are what everyone uses to buy and sell these days. In the first game it was at least implied that regular commerce went on outside Lordran, that the Undead there used Souls because cash would have little meaning to them. There were even coins to from the outside world. Perhaps Souls have another use outside of Drangleic. Lucatiel tells me that if I need help, she'll be there. Seems I've found my first NPC summon.

    I burn an effigy, then keep going. I've decided not to stop until my club gives out. I need to figure out how far I can get with my weapons, and then decide which enemies I can avoid to keep enough durability to make it to the end.

    Which is when I make it to the Wharf's centrepiece.


    A wooden cart blocks a narrow gap between two rock walls, and past it is an area of flat, open ground at the base of the largest building I've seen so far. A group of dogs are running around there, overseen by a pirate standing on the building's front steps. On a second floor balcony are a pirate archer and another one who starts throwing out jars of black oil when I get closer. I can already tell this is going to take some work to get through.

    I get as close to the dogs as I'm able to, and they don't seem to notice. The oil bombs start landing nearby, and I take a few swings at the dogs. They finally notice me when I'm just about touching them, and charge in a pack. It takes some tactical positioning and my final flask charge, but I take them all down.

    When I get closer to the building a pirate bursts out the door and runs at me. I kill him, but take an arrow in the back. There is an archer behind me, in the direction of the dock. I turn to face him, and find that he's guarding another Pharros device. I've made the mistake of placing myself in a crossfire, because trying to fight this archer means I'm getting hit by the one on the balcony. After another arrow hits me, I stumble off roof behind the Pharros device, landing safely on the ground below. And then the pirate lands on top of me, with his sword, and I die.

    Maybe it's how I learned to play games, but I'm not bothered by that. I know many would see it as a cheap death, having enemies hidden in ambush all over the place, so that every fight comes with the risk of a previously unseen enemy stabbing the player in the back. But death is a part of playing any game, and is a huge part of playing Dark Souls. For me, those deaths don't denote difficulty in particular, but surprise, and I love surprises. The games are designed around dying, and there isn't much consequence involved for the player. It's not as if I'll run out of lives, or lose my collected power-ups. I die and respawn at a nearby bonfire, and by the time I've collected my body I've usually come out ahead in Souls.

    Those deaths are woven into the gameplay to create a narrative. I have new information now, which means revising my plan. Killing the dogs and fighting a few pirates that I can drag out of range of the balcony archer is one thing, but dealing with the one guarding the Pharros lockstone, and his body guard, while I take continuous fire from above is something else.

    Which is where I take the next step in the narrative.

    A better plan might be to take the path along the cliff above the building, where I could drop down on the balcony archer and eliminate him first. So I do that, taking a left up some stairs and past another Hollowed soldier, until I've reached a narrow path that runs through the darker parts of the cavern. I mean, the path is right there, so it only makes sense to take it.

    What I find up there is not merely more Hollowed up there, but an honest to goodness monster. Is this the sort of thing they have up north? If so, I understand now why nobody wants to explore it.


    It comes at me, knuckle-walking on grotesquely elongated arms, and when it gets close enough it lifts one of those heavy, clawed limbs and swings at me sideways, like it wants to knock me right off the cliff. From the little of it that I can see, it's not that big, aside from its arms, and doesn't look to have any natural armour or scales. Maybe I can break its poise and avoid the hit.

    That doesn't work out well at all. We trade blows, and though I do some damage, I eat a combination of claw swipes that send me reeling. I barely survive the attack, but take heavy bleeding damage that finishes me off before I can back up and heal.

    And that's where the pseudo-open world design of the Souls games stands out. If this were a normal action game I would have had to take the challenges sequentially, or at least in a way that separated them. The docks, then the path to the building, the building itself, then move on to the cliffs above. Each would be its own section, closed off from the others. If this were simply another metriodvania, chances are the sections would still be closed off from each other, and that either way the challenge would be in figuring out the way in, not in getting there. In a true open world game, I would have so many other tools and options, so many other things I could do, that before long such a challenge would be trivial.

    But in Dark Souls that level design allows the designers to direct and anticipate player action, reinforced by the death by design philosophy. That's what creates the subtle narratives for each player, allowing them to tell stories without having to interact directly with plot, with NPCs, dialogue, and cut-scenes. It creates a journey that matters as much or more than the destinations.

    Not to say that Dark Souls doesn't scale, to a degree. It is still an RPG in many of its mechanics, and at the end of the day grinding is always an option. Even without levelling up, I could buy spells and items to ease the passage. I could have dropped my 12,000 Souls at one of the vendors and picked up an expansive supply of throwing knives and firebombs and killed most enemies before they saw me coming. I don't hold that against the game, either. It's a sort of variable difficulty that works for a game that doesn't have a developed hard mode. There is always a shortcut, always a way around, a way to cheese through something giving the player trouble, and they can choose for themselves to take it, or not.

    After having the knife twisted like that, I have begun to learn my lesson. I have to do a better job of dealing with the Hollowed soldiers and pirates, so that I have more leeway later on, when the surprises pop up. I'm having issues with priority and recovery right now. The spear is a weapon designed around counter-hits, which only happen when I land an attack during the animation and recovery of an enemy's attack. Standard fighting game stuff. The problem is that enemies seem to build up poise during their attacks, so that they become difficult, or maybe even impossible, to interrupt after a point. I take a lot of bad trades because of this, and it takes adjusting to suppress my natural instinct to go for those counter-hits. Without a stronger shield I'll have to better use my range if I want to get them. There is also a noticeable change to recovery frames for my attacks and those of my enemies. If I don't put them down completely with my attacks, chances are they will be swinging at me before I can back away, before my stamina has begun to recover. Keeping a small reserve so that I can retreat is becoming more and more important.

    I have to track a delicate balance. When I am the aggressor it is because I have the damage and opportunity to take a fight in a quick, savage burst. Against an enemy that can't survive my damage, I am able to take the initiative and kill them before they kill me, even before they can fight back. When my enemies have reached a point in their power curve where I can no longer take them down before they react, they become the driving force of combat, and I have to respond to their actions. The trick for me is recognizing which situation I'm in.

    The next time I fight the beast in the darkness I am more careful. I use my spear, hold my shield up and watch its attacks. I attack when there is an opening, and soon it dies. There is another beast ahead, past it are dark buildings. Next to them another pirate hangout, which should lead me back down to the water and the bridge.


    Below me are the oil thrower, the fire arrow pirate, and below them the dogs and the Pharros device. I'll have to fall down multiple levels to get all the items on the roofs that I couldn't reach from below.


    While I'm planning my next move, another of the beasts attacks. I fight it on the narrow cliff, confident now that I've figured out its attacks, its strengths and weaknesses. It's good to have a shield in such a narrow space, because having to roll away from attacks here risks tumbling over the edge. I take a hit, rack up some bleeding damage, but heal and kill the beast. There is a third one, and fighting it teaches me that I can backstab them, and that the period of invulnerability while enemies stand up is now short enough that I can finish the beast off before it has a chance to get its feet.

    Despite everything I've said, it seems apparent now that I could bypass this pirate enclave entirely, moving along the cliff above it, then around to the dock and the bridge. That's an option that your standard action game or RPG wouldn't have. But that would mean abandoning not only the loot I've seen, but whatever is in that building, and the Pharros device. That's not going to happen.

    So I drop down on the archer, killing him quickly. I want to see what else I'm up against here. The archer below starts firing arrows at me, and I take one high in the chest, forcing me to duck behind a wall for cover. While there, I see a solid iron gate, and on the other side is a thickly armoured warrior. A prisoner? No time to think about that. My Ring of Whispers is blaring at me, as if I didn't already know I was surrounded.


    I charge out of my cover to take out the bomb throwing pirate. Even as I close for the kill, another pirate is behind me, hacking away at my back. I am low on health now, nearly dead, and need space to heal. I can't use my shield, because even the little bits of damage that would bleed through are more than enough to kill me, so I try to roll away. It doesn't work well, and I fall from the roof, which is too much for my legs to take in this state. I hit the ground dead.

    I have come to the point where the durability on my club and spear are at such a premium that I'm using other weapons to break down barriers. During a fight a pirate pulls out an Estus flask, because of course they all have those. Eventually, through failure and adaptation, I figure out the position of most of the pirates, beasts, and zombie dogs, and work out an efficient route to run through them. I manage to kill everything around the building, from top to bottom. I take down the beasts first, then circle back and kill off the dogs, and the pirates that rush out after them. I almost fail when I go after the archer on the Pharros device and yet another pirate charges me from the building, but I manage to back out, kill that pirate, then return for the archer. That leaves only the guys on the balcony and whatever guards they have inside the building. I find a body outside.


    More smooth stones. I wonder what I can trade them for. Even their description says that someone is looking for them.

    I take a peek inside the building. There are a bunch of pirates sleeping at tables inside. It must have been the local booze hall, before things got real bad, and some sort of ingrained memory is keeping the pirates at this sacred post.


    A pirate comes rushing down some stairs at me, but doesn't bother to sound a general alarm. I lead him outside and then stab him through the heart with my spear.

    From this vantage I get a good view of the outside, past the mouth of the cave. I see a blue sky over dark water, and I know that the ship will be able to sail out to sea. The path to the ship is clearer here, and I can see definitively that I'll have to climb up past where I fought the beasts if I want to make it there.


    In the new calm my murder spree has caused, I can hear the sound of someone drinking. One of the pirates inside?

    Close to my goal, I decide to pop an effigy and heal up before going inside. I go in quietly and stab the nearest slumbering pirate through with my spear, taking him out of the fight immediately. The guy across the table from him stumbles to his feet, adjusts his helmet, and then comes around at me. I kill him quickly, my eye on the other table. The pirates there don't move, so I repeat the process, and soon the room is clear. I wait. Nobody else comes, and I wonder if I've killed the guards on the second floor as well. That would be nice.

    There is a chest behind the bar. Inside is a bandit axe and a set of brigand armour. The hood confirms what the map in Majula already showed me, that treacherous mountains surround Drangleic on all sides but the northern coast. I can understand why many population centres would be up there, with trade concentrated in that region, but I'm assuming that the capitol will be further south. King Vendrick seems like the type that would do that.


    The gear is mediocre, with average weight and defence paired with a lack of poise, and the axe has alright damage but a low strength bonus. Not anything I'll use.

    I head upstairs. When I'm near the top and panning the camera around to get a look at the room, a pirate pounces on me from above and behind, taking out half my health with a single attack. Should have seen that coming. I get down the stairs and kill him when he follows. Again I wait, and again nobody else comes. Is that it, finally? I go up and outside, looking for the archer, but he's now standing below me, on the ground. I hop down before remembering the falling damage I took last time. It's more than I expected, but not enough to give the archer any chance. I take the fight safely, waiting for a backstab opportunity. There's no point in risking a trade when I'm not in a hurry and don't have to worry about other enemies coming up behind me or shooting me in the back.

    There is a chest on the second floor, and inside is some repair powder and a titanite shard.


    Everything is dead, and I can still hear the drinking. I go out to check on the guy behind the iron gate. Standing near, I can see that he's the one chugging away, but I can also hear the groans from my Ring of Whispers. Is he hostile? It doesn't matter right now, since I can't get through from this side.


    Next is the Pharros device. But what will it do? Show me another secret doorway? Standing there, I catch movement below, and see there are more of those beasts down by the water.


    I look around for a bit, even waste some of my weapon durability attacking various walls. I don't find any secret entrances. I return to the Pharros device and lean down to insert my plug into the hole provided.


    Light fills the cavern. That seems to annoy the locals, and another archer starts firing arrows down at me.


    It takes a few moments longer, but I realize that the Pharros device has lit up the giant chandelier that I saw when I first entered the Wharf. It's really a huge hanging lamp. But is that doing anything besides giving some extra illumination and pissing everyone off?


    I kill off the archer and loot a nearby corpse, picking up an Undead Soul and an Emit Force miracle. Next, I check out a suspiciously empty building at the back of the cave, where no light had been able to reach before I'd lit the big lamp.


    There is a door in there, and when I open it one of the beasts swings a huge arm, breaking the wall apart.


    I move away from the door, back into the open. I can see there's another of the beasts, but neither of them follow me.


    That must be why they were lurking so deep in the cave. If the light doesn't harm them, it does a good enough job of putting them off that they try to avoid it. Neither of the beasts will come after me if I step away from the shadowed interior of their building. I manage to coax one out for a few seconds, and though it doesn't take damage, it doesn't like it and retreats quickly.

    With that advantage, taking them down is trivial, and soon I have reentered the building to look for loot. I find stairs to a second floor, and before I can take them I also see a hole in the ceiling, just in time for another beast to dive through it at my face. I take a solid hit, start bleeding, but I can go outside and heal without worry, then return and kill it.

    Another door on the second floor, and through it is a small room holding a couple of chests.


    I pick up a plain greatsword from one chest, while the other has a poison trap and a couple of silver talismans. These are consumables that camouflage the user, allowing them to hide from enemies and invaders. Which makes me think of the Ring of Whispers. Is this what it's meant for? To find people hiding during PvP?

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    Day 06 continued.
    Back outside and it's time for the final leg of my route through the cave.


    Inside another building I kill a couple of dual-sword wielding pirates, then make my way to the roof, where I find an unlit sconce and a bell that I can ring.


    I'm not sure what ringing that bell will do, and I'm prepared to leave it for now, till after I've cleared the rest of the cave. Below it, on a flat roof, is another loot body. I could jump down to it, but then I'd be committed, and I still have other avenues to explore. I can see that there's at least one pirate hanging from the edge of a cliff down there, face stuck to the rock while he waits patiently, forever, for someone to wander by. The life of a Hollowed is not glamorous.


    Both my spear and my club are dangerously low on durability now, with only 5 points left on the spear and 8 on the club. I did find some repair powder, but that should be for a real emergency. From what I can see, I'm only dealing with a few stragglers now, and I'll be back at the bonfire soon enough.

    I do have to drop down somewhere to keep going, and after some consideration I put on my Silvercat Ring and hop down to where the drinking NPC is holed up. He's not hostile, which is a relief. Between his gulps I can hear the croaking of one of the beasts down by the water, but I seem to be safe here.


    With thick, hesitant words that border on grunts, he tells me his name is Gavlan. The only major feature I can make out is the beard that spills out the bottom of his heavy helmet like the bristles of a dirty broom. He's a vendor, selling things, but more importantly, he's buying items. Using the card collecting logic of my youth, I immediately sell off the excess of any item I have multiples off, and completely throw out a few items I know I'll never use, like the scimitars I've picked up from the pirates. I end up with a sizable amount of extra Souls. I hope this guy is willing to move to Majula.

    Gavlan sells a few items as well. Various poison-based consumables, like venom-tipped throwing knives, resin used to poison melee weapons, poison arrows, and bits of moss that will cure the effects of poisoning. He also sells a heavy Ring of Giants, which increases poise, but there is no way of seeing how much the increase might be. He has nothing else to say except for his monosyllabic sales pitch, but I decide to throw him a bone and buy the Ring of Giants. It gives me +10 poise, but is pretty heavy for the cost and not something I'm likely to use.

    A pirate is waiting for me on the floor below Gavlan. In the confined space, with my durability so low, I am careful to position myself for a backstab. One more floor down and I find a door leading back outside.

    I'm close to the dock now, but before I can look for the best path down, an arrow hits me. There is another archer, and he's standing on a level above mine. I can't reach him from here. I walk forward, looking for a way up, and that's when a ninja drops down from the ceiling and starts screeching at me while throwing knives.


    I stab him once when he's close, and the message appears telling me my spear is about to break. This is not the time for that. I want to backstab the little bastard, but he won't stay still. He's jumping back and forth constantly, and while I look for a good position I'm taking arrows from the archer behind me. I get close and stab the ninja twice, quickly, putting it down just before my spear snaps in half. The ninja drops a shadow dagger, which marks him as an assassin from Mirrah. Some relation to the masked woman I met earlier? The shadow dagger itself seems to be a worse version of the regular dagger, with higher requirements and lower stat gains, and also without any additional effects like poison damage. Weird.

    I find a door leading into the building underneath the archer. Inside are more sleeping pirates and a bunch of clay pots.


    I get up behind the nearest pirate and smash his head in with my club. The other hops up and starts to swing his sword in every direction, smashing a few of the pots. Green gunk is flying all over the room, and soon we're both poisoned. I keep my shield up while the pirate just dies. There is a chest in the room, and near a wall I can hear a magical tingling. There is a crystal lizard somewhere nearby.

    The wall by the chest has been rebuilt at some point in the past. I break the wall open with my club, and there's a crystal lizard sitting right there, in front of a few skeletons.


    I smash the lizard with my club. None of the skeletons move. I pick up a large titanite piece and a couple of titanite shards from the crystal lizard, and loot the rest of the room. There are a few Lifegems and Undead Souls on the skeletons, and inside a chest is a Royal Soldier's Ring. It increases total equip load by a small percentage. It's likely to be a powerful item, but not so much that it was worth dying for. I doubt being sealed in this room was voluntary on the part of guys that became these skeletons. Maybe they had attachment to the office the ring represented, and decided to die with it rather than give it up to the pirates, or maybe it was an unfortunate masonry accident.

    I gain a total of 7 equip load with the ring on, which is good enough for me to hold both the club and spear at the same time and keep under 50% weight.

    The chest in the poison jars room has a Branch of Yore. Well now. What am I going to do with this one? I'll decide that later. I put it away, and then find another body hidden behind a couple of the poison jars. I roll through them and pick up throwing knives and a flame butterfly. The butterfly allows lighting torches and sconces without another source of fire, like a bonfire. Could be useful. Right now, though, I already have this place mostly cleared out, so I can safely light my torch and run through to all the sconces without having to worry about attacks.


    There are no stairs in the building, no ladder to the roof, so I still can't reach the archer, or the ninja I spot hanging from the ceiling up there.


    I can't reach the archer, but I do get the ninja to drop down. Worried about my durability, I again look for a backstab, and again fail to get one. I block so many attacks that his claws inflict bleeding damage through my shield, taking out a chunk of my health. I have to run back to an empty building and flask up before he can finish the job. I bash him a couple of times with the club, putting him down and saving on Estus charges, but that's my club out of commission as well.

    Looking at it from down here, it's clear that to reach the archer I'd have to drop down from above, from the bell I'd seen earlier. Getting there means going down to the dock, crossing the bridge, and circling all the way back up and around.

    I equip my backup winged spear, the one without any upgrades, and go down to the water. I find more of the beasts cowering in the shadows of a small, broken building.


    I kill them, then take down a pirate that hops up from the edge of the dock. A corpse nearby holds Lifegems and an effigy.

    The sides of the pier are encrusted with hanging pirates. It's not effective at all, since I can spot their hands and the weapons they're holding. Whatever happened to the old dagger held in the teeth trick?


    Each time they pop up I simply knock them back into the water. They may have fingers of steel, but they can't swim. You'd think that would be an issue for pirates, though it's possible they lost that skill in the Hollowing.

    Soon I am at the raised bridge. There is no obvious switch to lower it, and that archer is still firing arrows at me from above, so I don't stand around to look.


    Instead, I keep walking along the pier, toward the ship. I can see an NPC nearby, sitting cross-legged. I run over to him and start chatting.


    He is an old man wearing a distinctive jacket. He tells me his name is Carhillion, and that he is only interested in talking with the magically inclined. So, a wizard. I guess he'd be willing to sell me some spells if I were able to use them. A crane nearby has its rope deep in the water, but there is no way to activate it. It seems like I'd be able to pull an item up. Oh well.

    Though I didn't find a switch for the bridge, I'm still able to drop down into the shallow water on the other side. I light a torch and carry it around the Wharf, lighting each sconce I mentally mapped out. I get up the bell and drop down to the body on the roof. It holds a homeward bone and more Lifegems.

    I drop down again and enter the building above the archer. On the floor below me are a couple of the beasts, but they're unwilling to climb the stairs into the light.


    Fighting them on the stairs is all kinds of awkward, since I can't move close enough to hit them without going into their attack range, and I can't move around them to draw out attacks and get openings. I still take them down, and one of them drops a longsword, which is a strange thing for a monster to drop. Could it be that they were human once, and corrupted somehow? A body on the lower floor holds an Undead Soul.

    I open a door leading outside and the archer charges in at me. I kill him easily, which leaves only the pirate hanging off the nearby ledge. I knock him off and I'm done.


    I light a few more sconces, and I think that's the lot. Nothing happens. I walk toward the ship, to see if there's another sconce out there, but I don't see any, and I can't reach it anyhow. That must be what the bell is for.

    Back at the bridge I get close enough to see that there's an option to kick it over. Oops. I'll have to account for direct action in puzzles now instead of always looking for a key or a switch.

    With everything opened up, I do one last sweep of the area. I find a chain next to Gavlan that opens up the iron gate to the pirate bar. That may have been useful earlier, but I'd have run the risk of Gavlan getting hurt in a fight.

    I can't shake the idea that the torches have some purpose other than lighting up a few areas. I find one more in the small building on the ground floor where the pirate smashed the loot chest. Still, nothing happens.

    Even though I've killed off everything that has tried to attack me, the Ring of Whispers is still sending out a warning call. I am briefly fixated on a hollow in the cave wall near the final set of buildings. It's such a conspicuous space, but there was nothing in there, no enemies hiding inside, no secret doorway.


    After all this, the real question is what the Pharros device accomplished. I have two examples what they do now, and together they are still inconclusive. Lighting up the big lamp here seems to only have made progress through the area a little easier, while the one in the Forest of Fallen Giants pointed me toward a room full of treasure. I'm leaning toward my first thoughts about that earlier Pharros device, that I might have found that room on my own, and device was there as an introduction to its uses. After all, the Forest of Fallen Giants is the first area I should have cleared, and was still my first encounter with this new gameplay element. It seems as if they are there to give hints and a helping hand, but are not required or essential in any way.

    All that's left to do is ringing the bell.

    As I expected, when I pull the chain, and the peeling sound echoes through the Wharf, the ship lights up. Ghostly flames coming alive in the hanging cages, and glides gently to the dock.


    I can see there's at least one enemy on its deck, and as I approach the ship I consider my situation. My club and spear are both broken, and even my backup spear has lost more than half its durability. Lowering the bridge means I've opened a shortcut from the bonfire to the ship, and I'm pretty sure I'm about to face a boss. I decide to be smart this time, and I turn away from the ship and return to the bonfire.

    After resting, recharging my flask, and repairing my gear, I make it to the ship, running past everyone on the dock. I'm ready to jump aboard, but when I hear footsteps behind me I turn to find small parade of pirates chasing after me. They must be the ones that were hanging in the water.


    I let them get to the stairs, then drop down past them and sprint back to an open area, where I'm able to kill them. After that I get on the ship and kill the first pirate that comes at me, as well as an archer on an elevated deck.

    On the bow deck (I'm going with that over forecastle, but really I have no idea about ships.), coming down the stairs, is a familiar enemy. It's a bandaged, or wrapped, man holding a long polearm, like the guy I saw in Lost Bastille.


    Though he's tough when compared to the pirates, he's still a big, slow target. I can't seem to land a backstab, but I still have the speed and power to take him down with minimal effort and no danger.

    Wooden boxes and old iron cages litter the upper decks. I mean, that's a pirate ship for you. I stand by the wheel, but I can't use it.


    I head into the forward cabin. There is nobody inside, but a weird glow is coming from below deck.


    Down the stairs and I've found what must have been a mess area. Skewed tables with old dishes, more wooden detritus floating in shallow water. There is also a fog gate. Boss time.


    I'm not sure how well I got my ideas across here, but I think reading other entries, both the ones from the past, from my Dark Souls 1 adventures, and the ones I write in the future, will show a consistent through line in how I play the games. Which is also how they work for me. What I write about them is what I feel makes them distinct. I couldn't do what I'm doing with a normal action game, or a metriodvania game, or any type of sandbox-style game. The paths that I weave, the tales that the Souls games and I tell, are what sets them apart. It's not their supposed difficulty, nor is it any single mechanic--not death, not light and heavy attacks, not guard breaks and stamina bars, not stats or experience lost with death, not weighty combat or rolling and dodging. Each of those are things that I have experienced in many other games.

    Perhaps its too simple, somehow, for obvious reduction. I'm not going to be as silly as saying that it's just a feeling, something that is only experience while playing. Yes, atmosphere plays into it. Yes, the lack of a driving plot helps. Yes, there are numerous other details that Souls players identify with. But those are there to serve the hole.

    I wouldn't be against the idea that the Souls games are more than the sum of their parts. That is why the few other games that try to copy the style somehow miss the mark. If the Souls games are not quite unique, they are at least special.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited May 2015
    Day 06 continued.
    Flexile Sentry

    There is a concept that arcade players and speed runners knows well. A broad description of it is AI manipulation. Not to say that every player of every game doesn't take advantage of enemy AI in some way, but there are specific ways that people who play games for speed and efficiency learn to trick specific AI into doing specific things. It can be as simple as finding a blind spot in their patterns, a place on the screen where the player can rest without worrying, and it can be as deliberate as forcing a boss to run through certain routines at certain times. This is usually done to avoid more dangerous attacks and patterns, or just to save time. The most common method is to stand or move in a certain way, triggering an ingrained if/then clause in the AI's programming.

    I learned all about this in arcades when I played beat 'em ups. Invariably, there would be a way to avoid attacks and fights that could lead to a continue screen. It was all about saving money, and for someone with a limited allowance, that was a big deal.

    Though AI has improved through the years, and though the games are more complex, there are basics that I still use in nearly every game I play.

    Take this boss, for example. When I pass through the fog gate there is no cut-scene. Instead, I'm standing in an open space with water covering my ankles. The Sentry hobbles over to me, and I get a good look at it. The thing appears to be a melding of two warriors, connected at the waist and facing opposite directions. One holds a pair of curved swords, the other, which is facing me, holds a long, spiked club in each hand. Its heads are serpentine, and it makes no sounds besides its stomping footsteps and the swinging of its weapons.


    The idea is simple enough, but the name seems like a misnomer. If anything, this thing is the opposite of flexible, because it never turns around. If I get behind it, it attacks me with the weapons on that side. Since the clubs are forward by default, I mostly deal with them, except for the few times it bends forward so that the sword half can get a swing in.

    As with most melee enemies, the Sentry has a couple of basic attack strings that lead to different finishers, either a lunging attack with both clubs, or a horizontal swing. Enemies in Dark Souls 1 were much the same, but they were more willing to complete combos regardless of whether the attacks were going to hit. It would seem that, while developing the AI for Dark Souls 2, someone realized this was an obvious flaw in the AI, because it allowed players to stand at a comfortable distance while enemies attacked the air. Ranged attackers could get in free hits, and melee fighters could wait for the big recovery of the finishing attacks before running in for free hits. Plus, it looks pretty dumb.

    So what they did was stick in an if/then check for the AI to determine the distance between the player and their enemy. If the AI realized that the player was too far away for their attacks to hit then it would abort the combo before doing the finisher, because the finishing attack was the slowest in the string and left the biggest opening. I'll admit this caught me off guard a few times early on, though it mostly meant I missed opportunities to go on the attack. By the time I was clearing the Tower of Flame I'd worked the entire thing out.

    The Sentry has these rules, and I have my spear. Using it, I'm able to stay at the perfect distance to poke at it without worrying about taking hits. The fight is going well, if a little slow, when I realize that it's becoming harder and harder to move. The water in the room is rising, and by the time I'm paying attention it's near my waist. Distracted, I take a hit that I shouldn't have, and unable to move away far enough to heal up, I take another hit and die. Lesson learned, and I'm willing to give the first one away, so I don't mind.

    I return and do the fight again. This time I am more aggressive, and use the AI against itself. By standing far enough away to be safe, but moving close enough that the AI thinks it might hit me, I can draw out the heavy club attack finishers, and each time I'm able to completely unload on it, draining all my stamina as I pour on the damage. It dies without getting a clean hit, and before the water has risen past my knees.


    "Victory Achieved"

    I gain a Flexile Sentry Soul and 14,000 Souls.

    According to its Soul, the Flexile Sentry was used to punish Undead. Why would it be on this ship, then? I head for a door on the far end of the room, and up a ladder I find a small cabin with a chest and a compass.


    Inside the chest is a pyromancy flame and a fireball spell. Does Lost Bastille have some relation to pyromancers? I doubt I'll be using the flame unless it has some simple spells to light fires or something. I mean, its magic that is all about fire, so you'd think it could do at least that. When it comes to fighting, I prefer to do that with my own hands.

    I examine the compass. A cut-scene starts. The bell is ringing, and the ship is sailing away from the dock, out into open waters. I stand on the deck, watching the moon in a cloudy night sky, as the ship glides toward distant towers.


    I land on another dock next to a sheer cliff. Below is an opening showing warm firelight. A bonfire, I hope.


    Of course, it's not a bonfire. It's more goddamned pirates.


    I clear the room as efficiently as I can. There is an elevator, which I step into. Am I still in the Wharf? There hasn't been a transition title yet. When the elevator stops I am standing in a prison, black bars all around holding in forgotten, abandoned Undead. I can hear their moaning even before I see anything alive. Somewhere, a wolf is howling.


    I step out of the elevator, and after checking the nearby cells for signs of life, and only coming up with an Undead Soul and a Radiant Lifegem behind some broken bars, I move toward the stairs.

    Lost Bastille


    Looks like I've come full circle and found a different entrance. Is this the front door or the back? It's hard to judge between getting carried off by a giant eagle and taking a ghost ship out of a cave full of zombie pirates. Does it even matter? Probably not.

    I start forward, passing cells that are alternately empty, or occupied by tiny, huddled figures that had given up on everything a long time ago. Some mumble, some groan, a few laugh. I find a body holding a couple of common fruit, which temporarily boost poison resistance. Is that going to be a problem here? Are there going to be more of the ninjas? I equip my homeward bone, just in case.

    It's not needed. Soon I find another open cell, and inside is a bonfire. It's about time.


    After resting, I walk just far enough past the bonfire to see what's ahead. I'm standing on a long wall under the moonlight, and in the distance is a fog gate on a bridge leading into a tall tower. I stand there long enough for a Hollow with a crossbow to fire a bolt in my direction, blowing up a stack of explosive barrels. That's enough for now.

    I return to the bonfire. According to descriptions, I'm in the exile holding cells. Exiled Undead, I assume. Is this Drangleic's version of the Undead Asylum?

    I warp back to Majula and see that the entrance to the underground tunnels is lit up.


    I go down there, but there's nothing new. So I return to the bonfire and burn the sublime bone dust I'd found. My flask is now upgraded, and should heal more. I wonder what the final slot for burning items is for.


    And I still can't burn an effigy at the bonfire.

    I have enough Souls now to level up 11 times. At this point, why not? I put 4 points into strength, so that I can use the Drangleic shield, and dump the rest into vitality so I can carry it comfortably. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that I could be doing this completely wrong. But I have an out with my Soul Vessel, and not distributing my stats perfectly is only a problem if I make it one. I doubt anyone else would be running around at this point with only 6 points in vigour, either, but if I can get by on the bare minimum of health, why not? I'm still exploring, and unless I find something that forces me to change directions, I'll screw around until I stumble into what works.


    I use my titanite to upgrade my winged spear to +4, and the Drangleic shield to +1 for the bit of extra stability. I then move my equipment around again till I've found a better defence to weight ratio, and I'm ready to call it a day.


    Because, really, right now all I want is a nap.

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    KetBraKetBra Dressed Ridiculously Registered User regular
    yay, been looking forward to this

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    GarthorGarthor Registered User regular
    edited May 2015
    Flexile Sentry isn't very flexible because he's flexile instead.


    Garthor on
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    There is a point in the 20 hour straight editing process where my eyes cross, then roll to the back of my head. As the kids say, mistakes were made.

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
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    I needed anime to post.I needed anime to post. boom Registered User regular
    re: themes in ds2, some plot spoilers
    really interested to see you picking up on the importance of history so early, especially as soon as the woods

    one of the setting themes of dark souls 2 is the idea of history built upon history built upon history, civilizations continually co-opt the buildings of the past for new purposes, creating this slurry of history due to the undead curse that makes it difficult to cleanly determine where one kingdom ends and another begins

    some people dislike it, as it makes some lore much more difficult to discern, but i quite like the way it makes the land reflect the hollowed nature of its inhabitants

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