Words On Wednesday

2016-05-25 Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

Borrowed from a coworker, the first and only PS4 game I’ve played so far is Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. With more than 50 deaths, I’ve only recently beat the first level. Though one level certainly isn’t enough to form an opinion on the entire game, it is enough to gauge some of the gameplay elements and find things I like or dislike.

As I discussed a few weeks back, the only Souls game I’ve played was Demon’s Souls back on PS3, and I didn’t even play much of it. When Matt mentioned letting me borrow Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (abbreviated DS2 going forward), I was mostly uninterested. Some people rave about the games, they didn’t seem to be for me. Not that they aren’t good games, but I don’t really hate myself enough to put up with the absurd difficulty.

For whatever reason, I decided to go straight for DS2 instead of any other games I’ve borrowed or buying one of my own. I suppose a large influence could’ve been that Matt is playing through DS3 and frequently discusses his frustrations and failings, so I figured I could join in with tales of my own. I breezed through character creation with mostly default or randomized properties and got right to the gameplay.

First Steps

Now, I realize that the Souls games are known for being notoriously hard and allowing players to figure things out on their own, rather than holding your hand through the entire game. I understand this, and I respect it to a degree. However, the way the game basically just drops you off without any firm guidelines or even basic principles is frustrating. I found out after the fact that doors to the left and right of the main path when you first begin give a brief tutorial on controls and actions. The problem is that nothing announces this, and they’re *off* the main path. Going right up the main path takes you straight to the hub world with little knowledge of how anything works. You can revisit the tutorial area, sure, but nothing ever even suggests that you can learn a few things by going through the doors.

Luckily, Matt knows a good bit about the game and can explain anything I don’t understand. And for a more in-depth discussion, I can always read through the DS2 wiki. However, I really don’t think that should be necessary to play the game. Without a friend who’s already played the game, or for someone who isn’t willing to read through guides online, trial and error just doesn’t cut it. The equipment and item interface is unwieldy and hard to understand, leveling doesn’t make a ton of sense, and nobody tells you that you have to actually exit the game instead of just closing the application. The NPC who handles leveling and Estus Flask upgrades is by the first bonfire, but you have no way of knowing that until you exhaust her dialog options and then see the menu pop up.

Maybe I’m more critical of these facets than I should be. Perhaps someone who is willing to invest more trial and error time could figure these things out with little difficulty. Furthermore, a veteran of the Souls series probably already knows this system like the back of their hands. I never played the first Dark Souls, so maybe it gave a better overview of how everything works. Once you get through the tutorial, you level up a few times, and you start getting better gear, everything else seems to mostly fall in line. The game is hard, no doubt, but it isn’t just completely unfair with no explanation.

Forest of the Fallen Giants

Majula is the hub world, but the first actual level of the game is the Forest of the Fallen Giants. It’s basically the only path out of Majula that you can get to at first, besides the Things Betwixt tutorial area. The gradual exposure to harder enemies in greater numbers is very fair, giving players an honest chance to figure out combat before they’re thrown to the dogs. The only truly hard non-boss that players can encounter so early on, an ogre, is slightly removed from the main path and doesn’t aggro until you get very close to it. Furthermore, there’s a bonfire right nearby in case you want to experiment with it. Note: my first two deaths were to this ogre, and I still haven’t managed to kill it.

The first boss (perhaps a sub-boss, but it had a cinematic introduction) is The Last Giant, a large creature that is far more menacing than it actually is dangerous. Once you figure out that giants are nearly incapable of striking things immediately beneath or behind them, you’ve got a nearly perfect safe spot. That I encountered, the only attack that can hit below the giant is a stomp move, and it’s both predictable and easily dodged. As I’m seeing more and more, with both bosses and normal enemies, playing very cautiously and watching for openings is always the way to go. Most of my deaths have been due to me getting ahead of myself, or trying to get that one extra hit into a combo. Don’t do it, just take what you can safely get and wait for another opening.

The Last Giant on YouTube.

The main boss of the Forest of the Fallen Giants, The Pursuer, was a little harder to kill. I first encountered him midway through the level, where he only spawns once with what I understand to be less health than his recurring form. Instead of actually trying to fight him here, I ran. At the time, I didn’t know that he only spawns there once, but admittedly I probably wouldn’t have fought him there anyway. Even if I had, I certainly wouldn’t have won.

My second encounter with The Pursuer, my first in *his* boss area, came as a complete surprise. I was exploring the level, trying to figure out where all I could go with the Soldier Key. Passing through the mist that opens into The Pursuer’s area, the cinematic began and I realized my mistake. “Whoops,” I thought, “better go back and spend some souls to level up.” Yeah, apparently you can’t do that. Once you get into a boss chamber, the only way out is a homeward bone. Obviously, I died very quickly. Considering I only brought in about 3,000 souls, I figured it wasn’t worth the trouble to try and kill him then without leveling up some and getting some better gear.

After figuring out where The Pursuer was, I knew what room to avoid. I spent some time grinding out souls to level up a few times, as well as obtain the Flame Longsword and enhance it. I also improved my dexterity, and got a buckler shield to parry The Pursuer’s attacks. According to Matt, The Pursuer has some easily predictable attacks, and parrying staggers him for an extremely long time. I figured that would be my best bet to get through the fight. With some improved stats and better gear, I killed The Pursuer in only 2 attempts.

The Pursuer on YouTube.

Up Next

I’ll be proceeding to Heide’s Tower when I play again, and hopefully making some decent progress. With all 3 Estus Flask shards that are currently available to me, I should be able to hold my own as long as I play it safe. Then again, having all the Estus Flask shards in the game doesn’t prevent me from falling off cliffs, drowning, or any other faux pas that I frequently commit.

Meta:

Words: 1279 | Characters: 7173 | Sentences: 67

Paragraphs: 18 | Reading Level: 11-12th Grade

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