8 Things I Learned After a Week of Dying in Dark Souls II


I’m not sure I’m done hating you yet, Dark Souls II, but I get you.

And if we’re being completely honest, I also kind of love you.

After spending much of the last console generation avoiding the previous Souls games, I decided to give From Software’s latest brutal RPG a try. And behind the often obtuse systems, occasionally baffling UI, and some initially rocky network performance, I found 8 ways to survive (and love) Dark Souls II.

8. Sometimes, Maybe Consider Killing the NPCs


Did you just try to kill an NPC? Maybe that mage/merchant at the top of the tower? Yeah, that probably wasn’t a great idea. And now you’re dead.

Okay, this is a terrible idea, but one that could yield interesting rewards and unique loot under the right set of circumstances (you’re a bit higher level, have thoroughly bought everything you’re going to buy from them).

Some of the NPCs in Dark Souls II are hauling unique loot, like stat-boosting rings which you might not have enough souls to buy outright.

And given how notoriously obscure some of the systems in the Souls games are, it almost feels like you’re getting one over on Dark Souls II by removing something from the environment that’s (theoretically) supposed to be permanent.

That’s if, you know, you survive the encounter.

7. Skeletons Are Assholes. Avoid Them.


Here we have a game filled with flaming ambushes, blind walkways, and poison, poison everywhere. So what better thing to add than unkillable skeletons?

Reminiscent of the old Castlevania baddies, these guys will go down with a couple of satisfying thwacks, only to rise again, ready to return the favor.

There’s probably a way to end them permanently, but as with most things Dark Souls II-related, I’m much too stubborn to let the game win and take to the Internet to find out. I mean, if some eager soul posted the solution in the comments that I compulsively read, then I’d have no choice but to find out there, but much like a stereotypical dude in a hacky sitcom, I refuse to get out and ask for directions.

6. Be Poised (Or, Build a Character That Can Take a Hit)


Finally, we’re into the nitty gritty of the mechanics, right? We’re at the point where we can start talking about what stats to dump where.

Well, not quite.

Frankly, even at 25 hours and something like 64 levels of character progression, I don’t have a firm grasp on all of the stats in Dark Souls II, and I only know that you want to dump points into those stats that increase poise based on conversations with friends about the previous games.

But now my fairly hearty lady night with plenty of HP and a STR of 21 barely survives even the most cursory encounter with poison. Maybe I should have put more points into ADP?

My best advice: unless you’re speccing out some kind of oddball challenge character (a naked brawler, perhaps), try to avoid having any stats in the single digits if you can.

5. Learn to Roll!


I lost 10,000 souls in the span of an hour the other night. It was a multi-whammy thing of getting killed in an area pretty far from my last bonfire, then, on the trip to retrieve them, getting whacked by a not-too-tough bruiser with a pair of scythes.

The look on my face, you’d think I was just forced to watch someone eat my puppy.

Evading enemies in Dark Souls II is a skill you’ll have to hone over time; the dodge-attack-dodge rhythm all dependent on how your character is balanced and what weapons/armor you’re carrying.

And it took me some time to learn this. Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, this is not: twitch strategies aren’t welcome here, and before you even approach an enemy, you should be thinking about how you plan to get out of its way. Because there’s no telling if it’s got a second or third lunge up its sleeve, or a sweeping arc attack, or it’s a suicide bombing ghoul.

Seriously, eff those guys. With arrows.

4. Make Some Friends…


Just beat a boss? Go ahead and put down your Soapstone mark at the arena’s entry so you can be summoned by the next unlucky cuss trying to make their way through. Not only is it a great way to pick up some extra souls, but it’s also a way to help out some other hapless stranger who’s probably one more bad encounter away from exiting the punishing Dark Souls II experience permanently.

(That was me the first time I encountered the three spear-wielding Sentinels)

Along the same lines, don’t be shy about leaving messages and be doubly sure to rate useful messages that are already there. Not only is it a great way of paying it forward, but you’ll give someone an unexpected health boost (when they’ll more than likely need it).

Of course, maybe you figure you’re too good to make friends in one of the most challenging games out there…

3. … Then Make Some Enemies


I’m not really prone to griefing in games and I think you’re probably a dirty, sub-human monster if you you’re the type who loves to do this. But… BUT!

Maybe it’d be nice to be on the end of Dark Souls II that involves making someone else miserable for once?

I’m just going to kind of leave that thought there for you. I mean, you’ve been having a rough time of it. You’re not getting past that next boss anytime soon, and you’re way over-powered for the enemies in the area you’re currently stalking. So why not take it to another flesh and guts human with everything to lose?

I can’t promise it’ll make you a better person but it will probably make you feel better (that is, if you survive).

2. ABG: Always Be Grindin’


This is a no-brainer and yet I didn’t really take it into account in my first few hours with Dark Souls II. Actually blazing through the first tutorial area in order to see the next vista and visit another part of this fallen, decrepit kingdom, it was only at hour three that I realized I was vastly overmatched and should really, you know, go back and end some unarmed undead and blaze through the earliest stages of my lady knight’s progression.

One of the big innovations with Dark Souls II is that, unlike in previous entries, enemies have a limited number of respawns when you return to your bonfire, making them an even more precious commodity than ever. So taking the time out to do some petty zombie killing (rinse, repeat) is essential.

Oh, and leave the weird yeti things alone! They will end you and you’re obviously not tough enough to fight them yet.

In fact, if, at any time you’re starting to feel cocky or like you can take on anything…

1. Rest Your Stupid Brain


To trek on for another 6 hours collecting souls or to call it a night? That is the eternal Dark Souls II question (and the hallmark of any addictive RPG). The bonfire to bonfire crawl – searching for the next open area or save point – has a tremendous allure and is responsible for the vast majority of the souls I’ve lost in the 25 hours I’ve spent with Dark Souls II.

And that’s when the controller-breaking frustration sets in: I’ll die at near a particularly obnoxious enemy, hike back to where I was slain to retrieve my souls and either A., nab them before being killed again (repeat), or B., die and lose everything and swear on the darkest of dark gods that I will have my vengeance on developer From Software.

But before I assemble my cursed altar of dark offerings, I’ll always take a break from Dark Souls II. Because despite what your idiot brain (and mine) thinks, it’s not an endurance challenge. Sometimes, you simply can’t get past that last, dark magic-wielding goon because you’re tired, your coordination is off, and you simply can’t think around the challenge.

So be smart! Be up to the challenge! And be prepared to quit dying!

Previously by Charles Webb

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