Dark Souls 2 Diaries – Day 04

I have taken down the Dragonrider, earning myself the tidy sum of 12,000 Souls. It’s a specific number, and it immediately reminded me of the Branch of Yore that old Melentia has for sale. So instead of investing the Souls in some fresh stat points, I warp over to the bonfire inside root-choked fortress and buy the first, last, and only Branch of Yore in stock.

What to do with it, though? Right now I have two people who have been cursed into stone forms, each blocking a different path. There’s the guy blocking my entrance into the final tree of Things Betwixt, and there’s the woman who is stuck in front of the switch inside those ruins filled with ghouls.

Of the two, it’s obvious that the ghoul gulag is the main path. There’s an NPC outside of it ready to tell any who approach that there is definitely a statue in there blocking his progress, which also means the statue is blocking my progress. At some point, I will have to pull that switch and open that door, which isn’t necessarily the case for the tree.

Yet I only have a single Branch of Yore, and Melentia isn’t selling another. All this tells me is that at some point I’m going to find another one, or another NPC will have one for sale. Because the Things Betwixt area is a side area, and you can’t give the player a single use item that will give them access to a small side area while also preventing them from continuing with the game proper.

When will I get another Branch of Yore? I have no idea. But I have to assume that it will be there when I need it. Which makes my choice easy. I’m going back to Things Betwixt to finish exploring that last tree, and to light the final sconces inside. It will feel good to cross something off the list.

Things Betwixt

The first step is to confirm that I can use the Branch of Yore to free this guy.

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So, I can. Good.

I can hear the basilisks on the other side of the fog gate. That might be a problem, but there will be basilisks if I open the other door as well, so there’s no avoiding them anymore.

While I’m in the area, I check in with the old Fire Keepers. Strowen, the head Fire Keeper, wonders aloud if I’ve come back to start again, and a menu pops up. Now I get what she was babbling about. There is an option to reallocate my attributes, though I need an item called a Soul Vessel to do so.

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This changes things, or at least it would if I knew more about the game. Or maybe even if I don’t. With such a system, it is possible to view character progression in distinct chunks, or phases, instead of as a linear progression. Say I wanted to use a cool dexterity sword, but I have to beat a certain boss later on to get it. All the other dexterity weapons till that point aren’t up to snuff, which would be a problem normally, but if I can make a full strength build to carry myself to the weapon I wanted, and then reset my points and change to a dexterity build, it would make life easier.

It doesn’t even have to be that specific. When I played Dark Souls 1, I ended up cornering myself into a strength build because I kept putting points into strength so that I could use new weapons I’d find. Given the choice, I probably would have stuck it out with my spear, but by the time I realized it would have been possible to use a spear all game, it was too late, so I picked the highest strength weapon I had on hand and used it instead. If I can reset my stats, to any degree, then that pressure is gone. If I find a weapon I like later on, but don’t have the optimal stats for it, I could fix things so that I do.

A thought strikes me as well. It’s possible that the reset wouldn’t be complete. After all, every class starts with different stats. What’s going to happen, will I get all my Souls refunded so that I’m back at level 1? What if I were a Warrior instead of a Deprived? But what if the stat reallocation–and notice that it is reallocation, not a reset–is related to the Soul Memory stat that seems to be keeping track of every Soul I pick up. Maybe the refund will only be as much as my Soul Memory. Or maybe not. I have no way to test this yet, or to tell either way, but it seems the most probable use for Soul Memory so far.

I also stop by the nest and see if the voices will trade for any of my items. They won’t. Oh well.

Anyway, I have a statue to take care of.

I run over to it and use the Branch of Yore.

 

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The guy stumbles back to life, taking a few moments to get his legs under himself. It’s another Undead traveller who must have gotten himself turned to stone while trying to run away from the basilisks inside the tree. I bet he’ll be glad someone rescued him.

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Or not. Whether he was Hollowed before the basilisks got him, or lost his mind while frozen in place, I have no idea, but he’s definitely Hollowed now, and his only reaction to freedom is to attack me. As I club his brains out, I hope that he was Hollowed before a curse turned him into a statue. The idea that someone stuck in an agonized eternal moment like that might still be conscious is far more horrifying.

As the Hollowed dies, the fog gate clears up. There are a pair of basilisks on the other side, as I expected. They have the scent, and they’re after me.

 

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I have my highest curse resistant shield equipped–which isn’t saying much as I only have 2 shields to choose from. None of my armour has any curse resistance, so I’ll have to make due. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? Is a curse going to lower my maximum health even more?

These googly-eyed bastards start spewing their cursed breath as soon as they see me. I move back, avoiding any touch of the gas. Once it looks safe, I attack the nearest with my club. As I start my swing, the other leaps at me. Can’t be that bad, right? Just a stupid toad-monster, after all, and it’s not using a cursing attack. I forgot to take into account how weak I am. I die at a single touch of the basilisk’s flailing limbs. I’ll have to be even more careful.

After recovering my corpse, I try again. Now that they aren’t crowded around the fog gate and waiting to get out, I am able to draw them out one at a time. I kill the first easily enough, mostly avoiding the curse breath. I do get a whiff of it, and the bar appears on my screen, but it’s not as bad as I expected it to be. Still, I wait for the bar to deplete and disappear before going after the other one. I try to fight it inside the tree, but take a hit. An arrow whizzes by my head and sticks into the wood there. I forgot about the Hollowed archer. I get back outside, flask up, and then kill the second basilisk.

 

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I duck inside the tree and head over to a tablet. It’s next to an old, dead tree that looks to be on the way to turning to stone itself. I use the smaller tree as cover from the arrows while I read the tablet.

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That’s simple enough. But I suppose this is still the tutorial area. I kick the tree over, creating a bridge to the area guarded by the Hollowed archer.

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I don’t feel like fighting the basilisk while the archer uses my back as a pincushion, nor do I want to fight the archer while the basilisk curses at me. The basilisk is too far away, though, for me to catch its attention. Maybe too far away to be an immediate problem as well? I rush the bridge and close on the archer, hoping to kill him before the basilisk notices. But the archer is much stronger than I expected, and doesn’t go down with a couple club taps. Instead, he almost kills me with a vicious sword slash. That’s enough of that. I time out his next arrow, then dash back outside the tree to heal. That was my last flask charge.

As I tab out to take notes, I see the final basilisk wandering out of the tree as casual as you please.

 

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I dodge a curse barf, and as I get close to it, the basilisk does some weird jumping spin attack, which knocks me on my ass, but also sends it flying over the edge and into oblivion. Well, that explains all the random Souls I get walking through this area. A few seconds later it dies and I gain Souls.

It’s only the Hollowed archer now. He’s standing at the other side of the fallen tree, arrow ready. It pings off my shield, doing some damage but not slowing me. It’s risky getting close now, as I have little health and no more flask charges, so I stay around the range where he’ll take his bow out, and as he fires the arrow I charge, killing him while he switches weapons.

There is a hole in the floor. That is the only way to go. Not only is it a hole, but it is a deep hole, and at the bottom is a basilisk standing next to a loot corpse.

 

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Nearby is a fog gate. That’s the way I’m supposed to go, alright.

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I’m not sure I could even survive that fall. There is another unlit sconce in here. Maybe that will open up another path? May as well try. I light my torch on the nearest fire, then set the sconce ablaze. Nothing happens. Either nothing is ever going to happen, or there’s another sconce outside the tree, past that fog gate.

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Jumping now would be suicide, and I don’t want to spend my last Lifegem on a peek around. I return to the bonfire and rest. I can get through that room without taking so much damage.

This time the first two basilisks both do their little jumping uppercut, letting me knock them off the edges. The last one goes down without putting up a fight.

I fight the archer. When I get close he pulls his sword, as usual, but then does a guard break. It misses, and I start bashing at him with my club. One hit, two, three. He falls into the pit. And doesn’t die.

 

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He’s down there with the basilisk now. Wait, did I say there was one basilisk in that hole? Let me correct that. There are two of them down there.

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Actually, I was wrong about that as well. There are three of those bug-eyed freaks in that pit.

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And that archer I knocked down there? Maybe you think he’s lonely in that pit, with those basilisks bumping into him and nowhere to go. Think again, because there’s already an archer down there, on a ledge overlooking the pit full of basilisks.

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This is a situation where you pause for thought, and take a good hard look at life and priorities. If I fall down there I will die–that’s a forgone conclusion. If I die down there I will probably lose my body and all my Souls. Right now is when any normal, sane person decides that maybe, just maybe, this area is meant for higher level characters, ones who are better equipped, ones who maybe even have a full health bar.

But that’s not what I’m thinking. What I’m thinking is, “There’s a ladder down there, to get out of the pit. I bet basilisks can’t climb ladders.”

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

I mean, if I could survive the fall, dodge the curse breath, and the arrows, and somehow get up that ladder I’d at least be able to look around.

I wait for the basilisks, which are all wandering around at random, to get as far away from the ladder as they can, then I drop down for a plunging attack on the archer.

Which I miss, of course.

I take a lot of damage in the fall, leaving me with only a small amount left, not enough to survive another attack. I dodge away from a sword slash. Cursed breath is filling the pit. I dodge again, toward the ladder, and start to climb. An arrow hits–did it go right through me? Am I invulnerable on a ladder? No time for that. I get to the top of the ladder. I’m still alive.

The archer up there is looking at me with those beady little Hollowed eyes, all milky white and without visible pupils, as if they can’t focus on anything in the real world. I whip out my Estus flask and chug the last few drops before he can get me with another arrow. Then I move in on the archer. I hit him, and he falls over the edge, into the pit. I’ve done it. I’m safe now.

Only, I’m not safe, because I can’t stop my momentum. The last club swing carried me too far, and I’m slipping over the edge after the archer. I hit the ground and curses are spewing in every direction. I’m low on stamina because I was attacking, and I’m also surrounded. A single sword slash kills me.

 

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As soon as I respawn, I gain 200 Souls. When I arrive at the tree, one of the basilisks is already gone. A good start. I clear out the top level of the tree without any trouble.

The problem now is getting a good angle for my drop into the pit. I lose so much health when I land that I need to get free to heal up. Even though killing everything up here only cost me a glancing blow on my shield, I have to use a flask charge to be sure I won’t die when I hit the ground.

When I think I have the right angle, I drop again. I land on one of the basilisks with a plunging attack. Not that it makes a difference, because I take more damage than it did. I’m closer to the ladder than my body, so I roll in that direction. I get to the top again, and figure that since the archer had just fired an arrow, and since he waited so long last time, it’s safe to drink from my flask. So he shoots me in the face, and I die again, without recovering my body.

After a couple more false starts, I do everything as properly as I can expect to. I make it into the pit and up the ladder, and I take out the archer. I’m out of flask charges, but at least I’m safe for the moment.

 

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Now it’s me, the basilisks, the loot corpse in the pit, and the fog gate. Which has me thinking about how I am supposed to get out of here. There’s no ladder back to the top of the tree. I guess there will be a way back when I make it through.

I really should be going through the fog gate now. I really, really should. But that body, and those basilisks. What’s the worse that could happen? I begin to line up plunging attacks, dropping on the heads of the basilisks with my club, then scooting back to the ladder and out of the pit before they can respond. It almost works, too, until one of them gets wise and does that spinning jump attack while I’m climbing away. So much for ladder invulnerability, unless it’s only for arrows.

One of the basilisks drops a raw stone. This can change a weapon to a raw state, which raises base damage but lowers attribute damage bonuses. I wonder if it’s still a poor choice for upgrades in this game. Maybe needing a special item for it is enough reason to make it better? I’m sure in the long run that regular upgrades, with improved attributes, are superior, unless it’s possible to turn a weapon that doesn’t have attribute bonuses raw.

A couple more attempts and I’m back in the pit. Realizing that I’ve been going about this like an idiot, this time I just grab the item from the corpse and leg it. It’s an Estus flask shard. That’s nice.

With that done, I can go through the fog gate.

I’m down by the water now, and I can see that the monster on the shore is the same type of hippo-clops as the one in the river over in the Forest of Fallen Giants.

 

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I have also found what I hope is the final unlit sconce.

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The question is, how do I get a lit torch down here? Because dropping down that hole with my torch out seems like a terrible idea, even for me.

As I stand around looking at the pale rocks and dead, black water, I realize I’m not alone. A Hollowed shows up to attack me, and I recognize it as the one I’ve seen standing outside the tree every time I pass by. There is a cliff path over there that goes around the side of the tree.

 

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I can see one hippo-clops down there, but I can hear something else. Besides the sticky noise of the basilisks creeping around in the pit, there is the sound of heavy, breathy grunts and growls from somewhere closer than the enemy I have in sight.

The cliff path around the tree leads back up to another potential log bridge.

 

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This tree falls down like the other, and I now have a bridge back to the bonfire. This means I can bypass the inside of the final tree, and don’t have to fall into that pit anymore. It also means I have a straight line from a lit torch to the final sconce.

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I light the final sconce. Nothing seems to happen, which was always a possibility. At least I have satisfied my ODC.

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The lapping of gentle waves against the shore is drawing me down to the water. It’s why I came here, after all. I may as well check it out.

A narrow ramp runs along the edge of the rocks, down to the beach. Walking down it brings me closer and closer to those grunts, and as I reach the bottom I come face to face with the last thing I wanted to see. Another hippo-clops. And he’s not happy. And he somehow alerts the other one.

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I turn and sprint for the cliff path, hearing the big guys stomping after me. I can recharge my flask at the bonfire. Because having those two heals will definitely make the difference in this fight.

And continuing today’s trend of every bad situation turning into a worse one, when I reach the top of the path I find another surprise. Waiting for me, sword in hand, is a silent, red invader. I’m not human and there was no invasion message. Must not work that way anymore. Where did this guy come from, anyway? Is this what lighting all the sconces accomplished?

 

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This guy is blocking my path to the bonfire, and those hippos are still coming up behind me. Weighing up my options, I decide that trying to get through this guy is the least terrible choice on offer. I raise my shield and attempt to get around him. He begins to swing his sword, and I block one slash, then another. The knockback is too much, and I’m pushed over the edge. Dead again.

He is still there when I return, which is good.

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I make the mistake of trying to sneak around him to recover my body instead of confronting him head-on. He’s having none of that, and kills me with a single sword slash. Oops.

Turnabout is fair play, and my (possibly) distant ancestor was the heavyweight champion of knocking fools off ledge. When the next fight starts, I roll around a slash and begin clobbering him in the back. It’s not long before he slips over the cliff edge and disappears below. After a long fall, I gain 2500 Souls, but no items. Do NPC invaders have bloodstains? Did I miss a chance for an item by doing that? I rest at the bonfire and come back. Nothing there. Oh well.

Now it’s time for the hard part. I have to kill both of those hippo-clops somehow. With a club that has no reach and does almost no damage. Or maybe not.

I warp from the bonfire to Majula and talk to the Emerald Herald. She uses the Estus shard to upgrade my flask, and now I have 3 charges. Another mystery solved. I invest my Souls in 3 points of dexterity, which puts me at 9 in total. Still a few points off from being able to use the spear, which should give me better range than a club. By my count I’ll need a little over 3000 more Souls for the extra 3 points.

 

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(Note: For an unknown reason my screenshot program stopped working at the point, so there are several in a sequence missing, including the level-up screen. The above stats are still what I ended up with.)

I’m not saying it was easy, or that I didn’t use some dirty tricks on the AI, but after some tough fighting the first hippo-clops falls. This was the one hiding in the corner. When his buddy has stopped noticing me, I go down there to check out what he may have been guarding. In turns out to be nothing but a rock, so that makes him low man (hippo?) on the totem pole, because at least the other one is in charge of that coffin thing and gets to stand near the water.

There is a strange sound coming from behind me, and I turn to see what it is. In the middle of the beach a black form is forming out of a weird smoke. After a second it has solidified into a phantom black knight with glowing red eyes. It floats above the ground, and with that colour scheme and armour design I’m guessing it probably isn’t going to help me take down this last monster.

 

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The phantom knight zips in my direction, aiming to slash me in half from the groin up. I dodge the attack, then get back up the ramp to take another screenshot. It stays in place, looking at me, and after a few more seconds it disappears.

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This is when I look at my screenshots, trying to confirm what I’d seen, and realize that the last few weren’t there. I tentatively put a foot down on the sand, and the phantom knight doesn’t return. A one time deal, or will it come back if I rest? Either way, that gives me a chance to take out the hippo-clops without worrying about another enemy coming up behind me.

I die fighting the hippo. When I return for my body I am relieved to find that the second hippo has stayed dead, and that stepping onto the beach again causes the phantom knight to appear and then disappear when I head back up the ramp. He will only fight me there, on the sand. As he starts to turn to smoke, I run up and smack him a few times with my club. I get good hits in, but from what I could see they did little damage. If he always disappears like that, then even if I do fight him there’s no way I could kill him fast enough.

Which is a problem for later. Right now it’s time to get rid of this hippo that has been taunting me since I first arrived in Drangleic.

Getting close, I can see that what he’s guarding is pretty much an open casket, though with a design that is reminiscent of a boat. Will this have something to do with a death Covenant? I could see that phantom knight being a part of such a thing.

It takes some work getting rid of the big jerk. I simply cannot be near him. Any attack is going to kill me in one hit, or stagger me long enough for the second to finish the job, and he will often put on a burst of speed so that he can grab me and munch my face off, or slap me so hard my heart implodes.

He may have more range, more damage, more health, and more poise than I do, but I have my brains and my speed. And my club, which is the fantasy version of a shotgun in a zombie movie. It solves problems.

By keeping the camera unlocked and my thumb on the sprint button, I am able to keep a step ahead, and whenever he leaves an opening–when he falls on his back after a 3-hit combo, or when he misses his grab attack–I dart in to bash him with my club, and I’m gone again before he can do anything about it.

 

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The beach is a big, flat, empty arena, so I have plenty of space to move through. I manage my stamina, and after I have him thoroughly figured out, I take the beast down in a single, calculated battle. He never lays a finger on me.

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Adding together the Souls gained from both of the hippos, and from the Hollowed that guards the path down here, I now have a fair amount saved. I also have that open coffin begging for me to crawl inside it. What will happen when I do? I have no idea. The smart play here is to cash out now before I bet it all on another stupid unknown. Not that I’m done here, but there is no sense in a pointless risk right now. That coffin could take me to a boss fight, for all I know.

I go back to the bonfire. I have enough Souls to use the spear now, so I warp to Majula and level up to 12 dexterity.

 

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I am completely underwhelmed by the spear. No, that’s not the right word. I am disappointed by it.

What made the spear for me in Dark Souls 1 was that it had range and speed. That was all it had, and that was all it needed. The light attacks were quicker, shorter stabs. The heavy attacks were slower stabs with more range. The jumping attack was lunging stab. I think the rolling attack might have been an upward swing, but who uses those?

That’s what spears are for, that’s what made it good. Every time there was an opening I could get in half a dozen pokes, and with the heavy attack I could fight and out-range most enemies, keeping a safe distance while punishing every attack they missed.

This spear is now a hybrid slashing and stabbing weapon, more in line with the partizan’s moveset from the first game. The simple stabs are gone, and the new ones are lame. The light attacks come in pairs, which slows them down considerably. The heavy attack is a horizontal swing followed by a stab that has decent range, but since it comes after a very slow attack, who cares? The swinging attacks also hurts one of the spear’s greatest strengths, which is fighting in tight corridors. Worst of all is the jumping attack, which is now a downward stab with no range at all. Unless it’s possible to hit downed opponents with it, what is the point?

I put the spear away. I can’t use it in this state. I can only hope that there is another spear I’ll find later on that is a true thrusting weapon and isn’t hampered by awkward and pointless slashing attacks.

The club is still a club, though, so I have that. I can also use the old knight’s greatsword that I picked up in the Tower of Flame, but only 2-handed, and only if I remove most of my armour so that I can still move.

 

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It’s time to take down that phantom knight, on the assumption that he’ll stick around if I don’t run away.

Close up, I can see the designs of open-mouthed, screaming faces that cover his armour. Black smoke pours out of his joints, and he makes frequent rasping hisses in my direction as he darts around the beach.

My assumption is correct. As long as I stay on the beach, he stays out and fighting. I attempt a battle while wearing heavier armour, but find that he kills me in a single hit no matter what I’m wearing, so I instead strip down to my lightest gear. I go to work learning his patterns. His charging slash that I can roll past. His wide horizontal slash that has a deceptive timing and is often followed up with a combo that has two different endings. The occasional quick stabs. The leaping slash he does after floating in the air for a moment. I get it all down, and find the openings in each sequence.

I am wearing him down, bit by bit. Once, when he drops to around half health, he starts to gather dark energy, and moments later it erupts into a torrent of dark skulls that fly around the area and then home in on me. I dodge a couple of them, but 3 hit my in quick succession. I am cursed! And also dead.

When I respawn, everything is normal. My health is still at half full, and all my stats are otherwise intact. Looks like curses are a thing that only matter to the living now. Which is a relief.

 

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His most dangerous attack is that horizontal slash. Like the overhead smash of the Dragonrider boss, I have trouble timing the rolls with it sometimes. More often than not, that is how he gets me. I decide I need to stay close, so that I can better recognize and react to it. It also helps the next time he does his dark missile attack. Close as I am, most of them go over my head, and I manage to survive with a sliver of health and a curse bar that isn’t quite full. When he does it again, I’m not as lucky, but I notice that he only shoots them out from the front.

With that final bit of information, I have the phantom knight completely solved. Every attack is one that I see coming and know how to punish. When he does his magical attack I get behind him and lay into him with my club. As with the last fight, when he finally goes down I have accomplished a perfect victory.

 

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He drops a twinkling titanite and a bunch of Souls. The twinkling titanite looks like it has the same use as in Dark Souls 1, to upgrade unique weapons.

Now it’s coffin time, but I think maybe I should spend my Souls first. I have collected a fair number from basilisk suicides and killing the Hollowed on the way down to the water, plus all the Souls the phantom knight gave me. I figure that helps make up for everything I lost in the Tower of Flame.

I warp to the Forest of Fallen Giants and speak to Melentia. From her I buy the Pharros Lockstone. Is it the key to the switch in the sewers? I’m about to find out. Next, I warp to Majula and buy enough titanite shards to upgrade the club to +3. From here I’ll need large titanite shards, and probably an ember to upgrade the smith. There is no option to change my weapons to raw, so that must take an upgrade as well. I would be more hesitant about upgrading so early, but I figure the game wouldn’t make it an option if I wasn’t expected to do it.

At the Herald I level up again, putting 3 points into vitality. Need to work on that equip load.

 

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Now I am ready for the coffin.

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Which ends in more disappointment. I think. I crawl inside and the lid closes, as expected. The screen goes dark, and then the lid opens again and I get out. I look around and realize I’m in the same place as I started. A message pops up telling me that “the nature of my being has changed.” I look at my stat screen and character sheet. Nothing new there. What happened?

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I hop inside again. The same thing happens, and I get the same message. Have I reverted whatever change took place the first time? I decide to get inside once more, to be sure, and then I leave. I mean, I figured I’d at least get a Covenant invite to reject.

There was a load screen, and I should have expected it to count as me leaving the area or resting. The Hollowed on the path back to the bonfire has respawned. I hardly even notice stomping him on the way out.

Back in Majula and I take the lockstone down into the sewer. There’s something standing next to the device now. It’s the woman I met in the Tower of Flame, Licia.

 

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As you might expect from a humble, god-fearing priestess travelling the land to bring peace and harmony to all, she has monopolized control of the device, claiming that it takes miracles to use, and she wants 2000 Souls to flick the switch for me. I don’t have 2000 Souls, and the lockstone doesn’t work, either. So much for that. I wonder if she’s telling the truth about a miracle getting the machine working, and if I’d be able to learn it. Chances are it’s none of the miracles she’s selling if that’s the case.

Feeling like a bit of a conqueror, I figure I’ll set my sites on an area I’ve already begun. After all, I have my +3 club.

 

Heide’s Tower of Flame

As much as I am a capable learner when it comes to patterns and AI tendencies, there is a belligerence within me that sometimes rears its ugly head. It is usually apparent in moments that aren’t quite stressful, but more about tedium. I look for imagined shortcuts, and I have this firm concept about how a game is supposed to work. Besides my poor decisions on a big picture level, this is what hurt me most when playing fighting games competitively. Well, that and my general laziness and terrible command input.

But I digress. The point is that I will often make an unconscious or arbitrary decision about how a game should work, and then have it stick to me like old tree sap. Most people have this to some degree, and it’s the ability to quickly unlearn bad habits that sets top players apart from the ones who are merely very good. And it’s not as if it’s only my fault. Some of these traps are there by design. They are all over the place in fighting games, and one of the greatest benefits of having an active community is being able to identify the most basic of them so that everyone can learn to circumvent them without giving away stupid, free wins.

Playing Dark Souls 2 on my own means I can’t benefit from the mistakes and wisdom of others, but it’s a game against the AI, so the learning curve isn’t anywhere close to as steep as learning to play against other human opponents.

 

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I say all this to put into context my slow, rambling struggle against the white knights of Heide. They are the exact sort of enemy that is tailor made for causing me trouble. They move erratically, to the point where I often wonder if they’re bugging out. They also have an annoying tendency to attack at random, which seems to become worse and worse as I progress through the area. I have these ideas about how I can fight them, and some of them are sensible. For example, I learn that my club’s running attack will always stagger them. Well, except for when they are already in the middle of an attack, or when they decide to randomly do their little quick slash attack. My jumping attack will also stagger them.

After a while, it is this quick slash attack that is the only threat the knights pose. That it is so random is what tortures me. I can fight two of them in a row that will allow me to zone them out and bash away whenever I see an opening, backing off before they can respond. And then the third knight will cut my throat as soon as I get close, or while I’m still recovering from the attack I just landed, or as he is standing up, or when it really, really looks like I have a chance for a back stab critical attack. Actually, that last part seems to be by design, as they will often present in a manor that looks like I can walk right in and get that free damage, only to kill me when I get close. Because I am a stubborn person who refuses to learn from some mistakes, a part of my brain lights up every time and tells me that this is it! This is the moment! I am supposed to get that critical attack, because that’s how the game works. Then the the mild shock that I am dead again, which is more from how I fell for the same trick one more time than the trick itself.

What am I doing back in the Tower of Flame anyway? I am trying to kill a dragon. Because dragons are the worst.

 

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Step one is to gain access to the loot I missed the first time through here. After taking care of the hammer knight and one of the white Heide knights, I am able to open that chest I couldn’t before.

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Inside is a Ring of Binding, which raises my maximum health while Hollowed. That amounts to gaining a quarter of my life bar back, and that is definite progress.

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This gives me some room for error. I can now survive a single attack from each of these enemies. With that, and my 3 flask charges, I am able to make steady progress, until I have come through the other side of the central cathedral and find another loot corpse at the edge of some collapsed stairs. It holds a Divine Blessing.

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If it weren’t bad enough that the Heide knights fight like schizophrenics, they also don’t stay in place. The old knights each have a spot that they like to hang out in, only moving when I gain their attention and they decide to fight. The Heide knights wander about, and where I end up fighting them depends a lot on how fast I get through each area.

Through careful curbing of my instinctual desire to take every fight as a slugging match, I am able to improve my runs to the point where I can reach the end with a full bar of health and a couple of flask charges left over.

 

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So, I’m at the end now, standing at the bottom of some stairs that climb up to the dragon’s resting spot. There is another white knight up there, the only one that is still sitting down. I am impatient, though, and after the work involved in getting to this point, I need to make sure what I am doing isn’t futile. If I’m to continue then I have to be certain that I am not completely wasting me time. Imagine if I get up there and find out that it’s a dead end, or that I can’t kill the dragon. What if it flies away? While it’s unlikely that this is a true dead end, ultimately, since there’s a bridge right there, it could be that I have to drop that bridge from the inside, that I am running backward through a shortcut that I can’t use yet.

I run up the stairs, past the lounging knight. I see him only long enough to notice that he is holding a spear instead of the swords that all the other Heide knights fight with. I am level with the dragon now, sprinting toward a narrow bridge.

 

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The dragon is drawing itself up, and as I get near the bridge I hesitate, waiting to see what it will do. That is a mistake, because what it does is breath fire all over the place, burning me to a crisp, and even doing a bit of damage to the spear knight.

I fight my way back to the dragon, though it takes some effort. Along the way I get some item drops, including the huge 2-handed mace the hammer knight fights with, white chest armour and leggings belonging to the Heide knights, and even the massive ultra greatsword that the old knight in the middle of the main building fights with.

The hammer requires 30 strength, and there is no hope of being able to use it. The armour is a decent compromise between the very heavy old knight’s armour I already have, and the ragged bits of cloth that are my only other change of clothes. I find a Heide knight sword as well, which seems to be a normal long sword that does a bit of lighting damage. Fits with the dragon theme, I suppose, and all the arrows these guys sticking out of these guys. Maybe? I’m not sure. If they were the invaders, why are they called the Heide knights? Could be that they were the ones on the receiving end of the invasion, though. It would be less confusing if anyone around here, from the land that birthed the Way of Blue, wore a scrap of blue.

I am standing at the bottom of the stairs again. I want to get rid of the spear guy this time. I use my final Lifegem.

So he comes at me down the stairs and starts swinging this spear around. The spear is faster, has more range, and does more damage than the swords the other knights use. He kills me with a slashing combo that ends in a hopping lunge. While the slashes miss, the lunge may as well have come from behind me for all I did to recognize or avoid it.

Dead again, and realizing that I have found an entirely new enemy that will likely have me jumping through hoops to work out. I have finally reached my limit. I have been grinding through this place for a while now, and when I got near the end I find out that I may be just beginning.

I’m not going to run away without knowing for sure, though. I do the most sensible thing I can think of. I run to the dragon again, because if I really can’t get across that bridge then it’s time to leave. The dragon is asleep when I get there, which implies that I could have enough time to get to it before it is fully awake and ready to breath fire, so I am hopeful.

It’s no trouble getting past each of the knights on the way. They are too slow and oblivious to raise a hand before I’m too far away for them to hit me. As I get closer, the dragon wakes up, gets to its feet, and spews fire again. But I’ve rationed my stamina, keeping it ready for the final sprint to the finish line. I am crossing the bridge as the dragon opens its mouth, and by the time the flames appear I have made it past.

 

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Of course, so has everyone else. The spear knight is here with me, and soon he is joined by another white Heide knight, and even a big sword and shield knight. I circle around the dragon, waiting for what it will do next. If it breaths fire again, I may have to give this up.

But it doesn’t breath fire. It spins around and bites at my head, which knocks me to the ground, but doesn’t do unreasonable damage. I get closer and whack it a few times in the shin. I can hurt it, too, though not a whole lot. That hasn’t stopped me yet, and it won’t stop me now. I can make it to the dragon, and I can survive next to it, and I can hit it as well. This is the criteria for a successful fight with just about anything.

Before I die, I get to see the dragon’s tail send the big knight flying into the water, and also a familiar brown square on the ground near the dragon’s feet. It’s a switch that will rise up if I kill this beast, and that must drop the drawbridge.

Between my bonfire and the dragon’s open-air bedroom are:

  • Three old sword and shield knights. Difficulty rating: 1/5
  • One old hammer knight. Difficulty rating: 3/5
  • One old greatsword knight. Difficulty rating: 3/5
  • Three Heide sword knights. Difficulty: 1-4/5
  • One Heide spear knight. Difficulty: the worst/5

 

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Not every obstacle is created equal. There is a difference between a wall and a maze. If I had run into impenetrable dragon’s breath, that would be a wall. I could not get past it with my current means, or from my current position, I would have to give up. Anything less than that I consider to be a maze, which is my favourite type of puzzle. All that I need to get through a maze is knowledge and memorization. If I can perfect my run, if I can solve the problem of that spear knight, I know I can do this.

First step is making sure I’m in the best shape possible before getting to him. I need to get a better handle on the randomness of the Heide knights. After some experimenting, I find that I can use the huge old knight ultra greatsword if I hold it 2-handed and take off all my heavier armour. Its heavy attack is a strong stab that has plenty of range, and also staggers the Heide knights for a long time, long enough for me to back off again. Is this a function of poise damage? This sword does more poise damage than everything else I have, and does that mean it also has longer hitstun? Whether it’s that, or merely a function of the weapon’s moveset, it is the solution I’ve been looking for. With the stab, and its followup swing, I can fight the Heide knights at a range where I don’t have to worry about their random attacks, then switch back to my club to take care of the big guys.

 

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I try taking on the spear knight as if he were like the others. My brain keeps telling me that I can do that. It’s the problem I explained earlier. In my mind I can fight him the same way as I fought the rest, using the big sword to stab the knight before he can get close enough to do anything. But his speed and range thwart me. I am at a loss for a while, doing everything from putting on all my heaviest armour so that I can take a hit (it doesn’t work, I die just as fast), to trying to block with big sword, as it has the best stability of all my options. I learn something then, that it’s possible to parry with a 2-handed weapon, though it seems impractically slow with the sword. It’s not much better for blocking, either, as the damage the bleeds through kills me almost before I run out of stamina.

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At some point I pick up some awestones. Random loot, or specific drops from one of the big knights? I have no idea.

While staring at my items looking for a hidden anti-spear knight potion, I realize that my ingrained perceptions of how the game should work have been holding me back in ways I haven’t even noticed.

I have been looking at this Hollowed and human thing from the wrong angle. I saw that I could burn an Effigy at a bonfire and that was all that mattered. After all, it required a bonfire to reverse Hollowing in Dark Souls 1, so why wouldn’t it be the same now? A less stupid person would have clued in that it wouldn’t work the same way because it is obviously not working the same way. There is no more Humanity to collect and convert–the entire system is different. But these Effigies, which are right there in my consumable item menu–they are the first item on the list–have been under my nose this whole time. Why did I found them before I could burn them? Why are they in my consumable item menu?

The answer is that they are consumables. Now, to my credit, an Effigy is often something that gets burned, and, like I said, there is an option to do just that. 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.

I don’t use an Effigy now, though. I have yet to solve this spear knight problem, and the extra health would not help, now that I have the Ring of Binding.

Invigorated, I head back out to map my way through the final leg of this maze. And soon, I do.

By pulling him all the way to the end of his leash, I am able to fight in a position where I at least have the option to back away and drink from my flask. Every other fight has ended as soon as he got close enough to poke me in the gut. Now I take the time to watch him closely, study what he’s up to. Then, I have it. I find the times to roll, and the attacks that I can punish. In the end, he is as mortal as the rest.

I lose that fight, but I have the confidence now to use an Effigy. I pop it, and I am now human again.

 

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Using the Effigy doesn’t heal me, so it’s not quite as useful as it could be, but I rest at the bonfire and, for the first time in forever, I have my full health bar to work with.

Everything comes together. I make the run while taking only a single hit from the spear knight before he goes down. I use a flask charge, put away the big sword, pull on my heavier armour, take out my club. I am ready.

 

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I have been doing the runs so well up to the point of the spear knight that I have kept Souls from life to life. Standing near the top of the stairs, with nothing but my club, with the dragon there, and with nearly 29,000 Souls in my pocket, I do get a momentary flash of excitement. What if I do this wrong? What if he toasts me before I get across the bridge and I can’t recover my body? I took the spear guy down once, but it wasn’t easy, or fast.

I push that aside. I am here now, and I have only one thing left to do. There is no point in second guessing my abilities.

I get to the top of the stairs. The dragon is rising. I run for the bridge. I have judged the distance wrong, and I’m out of stamina before getting safely across. A blast of flame hits me, knocking me to the ground. Half my health gone. I stand slowly, and catch the tail and of the same blast. The other half of my health is gone. I failed.

But no. Somehow, I am still alive, with a tiny sliver of health. I stand up and dash to the dragon’s belly before it can breath fire again. I pull out my flask and drink, even as the dragon lifts a leg to stomp me. I lose some health, but I’m alive. I stand and use my final flask charge. The next stomp I see and avoid, and from there it is a battle of angry feet and brutal club swings. I stay as close as I can, because when I do the dragon keeps stomping, and I can see those coming and avoid most of them. I notice it’s possible to target different body parts of the dragon, which is helpful. I dance from leg to leg, attacking whichever is on the ground before the other one crashes down. This pattern is easy, and I have already mastered it.

The dragon dies.

 

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It drops the Watchdragon Parma, a medium shield with decent resistances and respectable stability. I equip it immediately. It also drops a petrified dragon bone, which upgrades special weapons. I haven’t seen any demon titanite yet. Has it been replaced? Seeing the dragon bone reminds me that I should have tried to cut the dragon’s tail, which slipped my mind in my frenzy to kill it before it killed me. It’s possible I missed a weapon, but it’s not a big deal.

With the switch pulled, the drawbridge comes crashing down.

 

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Temple of Blue

There is a body at the top of the drawbridge, and also a fog gate at the entrance to the temple. I loot an old radiant Lifegem, a big healing item.

I am sitting on over 30,000 Souls now, am close to death, and I’m completely out of flask charges.

But I’ve come so far.

I know I shouldn’t. I know it’s a bad idea. I know it will end in disaster. And I know I can’t resist, either.

I have to get a peek. I have to know.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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“Victory Achieved”

I gain another 20,000 Souls, putting the total up to over 50,000. I also pick up an Old Leo Ring and an Old Dragonslayer Soul. Time has worn away at the ring, but I recognize the lion crest, and its effect of raising the counter attack damage of stabbing weapons. If only I had a spear worth using. Maybe I’ll be able to make one out of this Soul.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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