I’m well aware that I’m doing it wrong in many ways, at least where “it” is defined as “playing through Dark Souls 2.” It’s not that I’m running into problems, but that I’m running into signs that I’ve skipped a few steps along the way. An inventory piled high with upgrade ores that I can’t even use, and their connection to the ember I found, are the biggest signs that something is missing.
The lack of key NPCs is more concerning. Not only for their utility, but for potential interactions and the information I might gather from them. I played through Dark Souls 1 essentially backwards, and it meant that there was at least a few NPCs that I didn’t get a chance to chat with at all. What of the ones I’ve met so far, and the ones that I haven’t yet? I’m not bothered by the gaming possibly being harder than it should be (though I am annoyed by my inflated character level because of that), but if I’m missing out on content or damaging future prospects, that needs to stop. That, and when I do eventually go back to the skipped areas it’s likely they’ll have lost their potential impact.
So, reluctantly, I have to turn my back on the Gutter for now, and pick up where I should have started a long time ago.
I warp to the bonfire that the big bird in the Forest of Fallen Giants dropped me off at. I assume this is the back entrance, as it’s second on the list, though I’m aware that it would have been the first I found chronologically, if I’d been going through the game in more proper sequence.
The upside of Drangleic’s haphazard and unyielding time flow and environments is that I can be pretty sure that if I leave a place early it’ll still be there, just how I left it, when I get back. Which is the case for the Bastille. It’s still a fortress of crumbling, ashen stone held down by a gloomy night sky, the stars invisible, painted over by thick, dark clouds. A bright moon, glimpsed only through a tear somewhere behind the bonfire tower, provides ample light, and lends the entire scene a simple, almost clinical, stillness that can only exist during the quiet of midnight.
Right. On with the killing.
My first target is obviously the big, bandaged fellow straight ahead, but to get to him I’ll have to navigate the narrow ledge running along the outside of these high walls. With disciplined footsteps, I make it to the first corner, where some fallen stones form an artificial ramp over the short parapet. Using that I could get across to where the big guy is walking slowly back and forth. Of course, the barrier itself isn’t even up to my knees, so you’d figure a shin-high ramp would be redundant, but this is video game logic. Anyway, I want to see where this ledge leads to, so I skip the ramp and keep going.
I’ve switched to the heavy grand lance for this area. It’s the weapon I was most interested in testing out in combat, and is also lacking any upgrades. I figure that should help make up for how far I am over this place’s power curve. Aside from Vengarl’s chest armour and one of my rings, everything I’m using right now I found before gaining access to the Bastille, so maybe it won’t be that bad.
The ledge turns a corner around a boxy tower. At the far corner is a loot corpse holding on for dear unlife, and to my right is a big open window. Inside the building is a knight holding a big crossbow, his back to me.
I skip over to the body, because I’m not afraid of heights–not after my recent adventures–and loot the corpse. I make not of a chest sitting alone in the space past the building.
The knight becomes alert and starts stomping back and forth as I pass the window. He’s one of the royal swordsmen, the ones with the big, wavy blades, that were guarding the top of the outer wall back in the fortress at the edge of the Forest of Fallen Giants. Makes sense, since that area connects with this one, and every prison needs guards. This is a step up in security compared to No-Man’s Wharf, the cave full of allegedly imprisoned pirates who all had their own weapons, and a pub, and maybe even a ship as well.
There are dogs inside the tower, on the ground floor. I can hear them. After looting the corpse I walk back to the open windows, then drop down and stab the swordsman through the back. He drops a royal swordsman helm. Maybe I’ll be able to complete the set, if there are a few more of these bozos around here.
The dogs are restless, prowling back and forth through a stacks of old barrels. There’s a ladder in front of me, and to the right, balanced precariously on the ledge, is a single black barrel. I’m sure it’s the kind that blows up. I should avoid hitting it.
I’m preparing myself for going down the ladder to fight the dogs when I hear the sound of a third animal in the room. Fighting the pair of dogs I can see with this slow weapon is already an issue, so I’d like to know about something else ready to pounce on me from behind. As I’m trying to get a glimpse of what’s underneath where I’m standing, as I’m edging myself out and moving the camera back and forth, I bump into the black barrel. It wobbles, but doesn’t explode. Which is enough for someone as dense as me to get the picture.
A running start gives me the momentum needed to send the barrel over the edge. There’s a tense moment of anticipation, and then the barrel hits the ground and the entire room explodes in a chain reaction. The blast knocks me from the ledge, and I fall face first into the ground below. But everything else is completely dead, so the danger has passed. I do collect 3 separate bunches of Souls, so I know there was another dog hiding somewhere, but I’m not going to sift through the debris to find it.
The ladder on the other side of the room leads back outside to where the big guy is waiting. I can see how taking that route into the building would have been a problem, with the knight having a crossbow aimed right at me, and the dogs waiting below.
I get a good running stab in to start the fight, but the charge is not as easy to control as I’d expected, and I become wary of running myself over the edge and into the black water below. I back away, and the big guy starts throwing fireballs at me. They must have a connection with pyromancy. The first of them I ever saw was on a boat along with my first pyromancy flame, so it’s not much of a stretch.
I try again to stab the big guy in the back, but it doesn’t seem possible, so I stab him in the face instead.
He was guarding the way to another tower, its entrance blocked off by stacks of barrels and empty wooden boxes.
After that last explosion, I decide to play this safe by throwing a firebomb to clear the barricade. Inside the tower is a single treasure chest with someone leaning against the wall next to it.
The someone is none other than Lucatiel of Mirrah, the bearded-mask wearing woman I met in No-Man’s Wharf. Already I’ve run into an NPC for a second time, assuring me that it was a good idea to come here.
As I talk to her, I notice that she’s no longer wearing the manly full face mask from when I first met her. Instead, she has a simpler mask that only covers the left side of her face, from her cheekbone up. The way she stands makes it difficult to see, as if she’s trying to hide her face from me.
She’s happy to see me, though she claims that she’s found nothing but madness here. Where “here” is meant to be is a little unclear, especially when she says that she also sees the place’s former glory. The Bastille itself, or Drangleic in general? Probably the Bastille, which must have been a fortress before it became a prison. She gives me an effigy, and says she doesn’t know what it’s for. Is she not Undead? Or am I the only one who can reverse my Hollowing with the things? If so, then why are there so many of them around here?
Lucatial goes on to tell me her story, about how she was raised in an inconsequential family, and had to gain respect with her skill at using her sword. She came to Drangleic at some point, but doesn’t remember why, which is something she has in common with the Undead I’ve met, yet she goes on to tell me about being Undead as if it were something that happens to other people. One thing she’s sure of is that Hollowed can never become human again, which is an odd thing to say. And why is she so fixated on the Souls found in Drangleic, and the legends that say they can keep someone from becoming Hollowed, if she’s not Undead herself?
All questions I’m not going to get answers to by standing around. On my way out I loot the chest, netting myself an Antiquated Key. Which opens something, somewhere. I guess I’ll find that out when I get there.
I go through another door, which puts me at one end of another long, broken wall walk. The path straight ahead ramps down and out of sight behind another of the big, bandaged pyromancers, while a chunk of fallen stone bridges the gap across to the entrance into the biggest, boxiest building I’ve come across. A pair of royal swordsmen stand guard near piles of boxes and barrels that will no doubt blow up in my face at some point in the near future, and behind them, blocking the door, is a petrified Hollowed traveller. And here I am without a branch of Yore.
A ladder runs up along the outer wall of the tower I just left, giving access to the remnants of a second floor.
I walk carefully along the narrow stone wall and climb the ladder. A body lays next to a broken window and an unlit sconce. I pick up a single large titanite shard.
Before fighting my way to a dead end, I return to the first building I went through, the one with all the bits of exploded dog covering the floor. A door there leads to the flat, open space with the single chest sitting in the far corner.
The space is so flat and so open that it must be an ambush, unless the chest itself is a mimic. I’m not even surprised when, as I walk toward the chest, I hear a sound coming from behind me. It’s a short, raspy noise, a cold and breathless moan. When I turn, I see a dark Pursuer (The same one as in Things Betwixt? Are there more than one of these guys?) rising out of the ground, blocking my way back to the door.
As usual, questions are many and answers are nowhere in sight, or will be coming out of this thing. It’s here to kill Undead, and that means me. If there’s some significance to it wearing black armour while the last one wore white it will stay a mystery, though it occurs to me now that if I’d taken the path presented after killing the Pursuer at the top of the big seaside fortress I would have been right here, and this would be the first big enemy I saw. The entire sequence loses some impact when I killed the first one in Things Betwixt long before running into the prime model. Maybe these things are a replacement for the Black Knight mini-bosses the first game had, and I’ll be running into them often. If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate that they all seem to carry the same arms. Could I get my hands on that cursing sword?
Even though it caught me somewhat unprepared, I have a strong shield now and plenty of experience. It lands a single blow when it guard breaks me after I take a risky attack, but I heal up and finish it off long before the curse damage it does can overtake me. It drops a single twinkling titanite.
Which allows me to loot the chest.
The Silver Serpent Ring is doubly useless to me since I have the +1 model and won’t even use that. The effigy is nice to have. The branch of Yore is the real prize. It’s exactly what I needed.
I’m a little worried that moving forward to fight the big guy will trigger the swordsmen into attacking me from behind, but my hand if forced when the pyromancer sees me and charges. We fight on the worn, scarred steps, with it standing above me and swinging its pike in long, slow horizontal arcs, as if it wants to knock me over the edge. I stab a couple of times with my big lance, but the forward movement is really getting to me now, and becoming dangerous in this tight space, so I switch to my spear to finish the job. The swordsmen don’t budge.
When I cross the stone bridge they notice me at last, and spring into action, moving like they want to flank me. I take a couple of hits while trying to corral them into a line, but then I’m able to stab through the both of them with the heavy lance.
The branch of Yore frees the Hollowed, which then attack me. It dies and the way through is clear.
The door opens with a weighty grind. On the other side is a large room dominated by thick shadows. Windows were not a priority when engineering the Bastille as a fortress, or when retrofitting it into a prison. As soon as I step across the threshold I hear the anxious, clanking footsteps of royal swordsmen. A couple of them charge up some stairs at me, and I back away to fight them on the bridge outside.
It doesn’t go well. As I stab at the first swordsman, hoping that I have enough reach to keep the other at bay, I leave myself open to a heavy counter-attack. My health is so low that I almost hesitate in making my final attack. But I survive, so it’s not a total disaster. I’m still warming up, I tell myself.
I’m dismayed to find that my +3 Estus flask is still not quite enough for a full heal, so I have to use some supplemental medicine to top myself up. And then I’m ready to enter the building again.
What I find is best described as a parade of armoured, sword-swinging jerks. Two steps inside and there are at least 3 more swordsmen coming at me from the left.
I start a fighting retreat, poking and shuffling backward, until we’re in the open, next to the barrels. So of course one of the swordsman clips them with his sword. A deafening sound hits me along with the blast. The fire consumes the idiot who started it, while my raised shield is battered into submission, staggering me as my stamina runs out. There is one last swordsman who is moving in for the kill, but I’m able to rally in time and stab him before he stabs me. He drops a helm, while the last one dropped a sword.
It’s not over yet. I go back inside, and this time manage three whole steps before more of the swordsmen are rushing at me, a tight pack of wordless, steel-clad aggression. I don’t bother giving them space this time, and instead I ram my lance into them as they try to get through a narrow passage. I wait, but that seems to be the last of them.
The same suspicious pots I saw on the dock in No-Man’s Wharf fill the room below. I take the stairs down to get a better look, and see a loot corpse across a gap behind some broken iron bars.
These things are weirding me out. The bigger ones could definitely hit an adult human, and might serve as cages, of a sort, but the process of putting prisoners inside would be awkward. And why are the bars in the bottom half? People standing up would have their faces hidden.
I can hear movement coming from below. There are stairs down to a basement level. More of the swordsmen, I guess.
The room above, the one where most of the swordsmen must have been waiting, has metal bars blocking the way through. There’s a switch in the wall next to them, and on the other side are more swordsmen.
The bars rise when I pull the switch. Instead of charging me, the swordsmen turn around and retreat out of sight. Once the way is open, I step through into a long hallway. I catch a glimpse of the swordsmen ducking into a nearby room, one of many that line each wall. At the far end of the hallway is a wide fog gate. The iron gate doesn’t close behind me, as there was only the single switch. After a few seconds the swordsmen come back out at me, and I kill them without trouble.
I check the first room on my right, the one the swordsmen ran into. The floor had collapsed long ago, and now all there is in the room is a rusted ladder down to the basement. No wonder they came right back out, even after seeing me slaughter all of their pals.
The other rooms, or cells, are barred up tight and empty, except for one with a single lifeless skeleton that holds a pair of Radiant Lifegems.
If, as I suspect, that fog gate is leading to a boss fight, I should get as much of this area cleared as I can before throwing my life away.
So I go back to the first room and take the stairs down to the basement. In the corner opposite me is the biggest of the prison pots I’ve ever seen.
And it’s not empty.
A royal swordsman runs in from another room, where the ladder should lead down to. Two stabs from the lance and he’s down.
I walk over to the prisoner in the pot. Though it makes no move to attack me, it doesn’t seem friendly. At first I think it must be a Hollowed that has been mummified, or simply covered in bandages, and that might be so, but whatever it was before it’s nothing like an average Hollowed now.
The thing stands still, knees bent, head back, as if completely oblivious to the world. Bandages cover its face, including possible eyes, except for where its mouth cuts through like a wide gash, giving it a stupefied, and more than a little malicious-looking, grin. Though it wears the signature tattered and stained loincloth of a prisoner, it also has a big hole in its torso, with nothing inside. The thing is literally hollow.
The dots are starting to connect, though the bigger picture is still vague. There is more to this thing than it being ugly. There were experiments going on in the Bastille, or somewhere else and the results ended up here. That hole in its abdomen matches up perfectly with the hole in the abdomen of the explosive, suicidal things I ran into on my way down to the Gutter. For whatever reason, this guy doesn’t have a flame installed, and that’s probably why it’s benign. There’s also the big guys outside, the ones who casually toss fireballs at me, and the pyromancer flame on the ship. What could possibly cement pyromancy more as a legitimate field of study than insane pyromancers attempting to create monsters in a mad dash for more power, just like people do with other magic?
Besides an unlit sconce the room is otherwise devoid of major features. I turn away from the pot and look toward the ladder. At the end of a short hall is a loot corpse laying next to a pair of big metal doors that have seen more than their share of action. From this side I can’t be sure whether they kept something in, or kept others out, but either way I’m not getting through.
The thing in the cage doesn’t move, or make a sound, or bust out to attack me when I pick up the effigy and Soul from the corpse, but it’s making me nervous. Something about it is wrong. I kill it before moving on.
There’s a door near the stairs, which I open, but on the other side is only a drop down a sheer wall, and its a distance that I know I can’t survive even without using a prism stone. Nothing down there, anyway.
To get loot the corpse I saw outside the window on the floor above I have to go back outside the building and along the wall walk. Another of the big guys is waiting nearby, and killing it is even easier than usual after it blows itself up with some black barrels nearby.
The corpse is holding a single gold pine resin, a temporary lightning damage buff for melee weapons.
Standing on the wall near it, I can look down to see the open door in the basement of the building. Maybe if I lined things up just so I could make the jump down there, but I don’t see why I’d want to risk that.
The big pyromancer was standing at the top of some stairs. A strange, s-shaped crack in the wall at the bottom marks it as a candidate for an explosive breach, but there are no barrels nearby.
At the bottom of the stairs, around a corner, are a pair of zombie dogs. I can hear something else nearby, the sound of a weapon or a heavy tool cutting through the air, but I can’t see the source.
I kill the dogs, but an iron gate blocks the way further on. There’s a switch, but it’s on the other side this time, out of reach.
I can’t see the source, but I do know the general direction the swinging sound is coming from. A door of thick iron bars leads into a small building at the side of the fortress, but it’s locked and I don’t have the right key. There’s an NPC in there, waiting for me to get him or her out, and since I can see the edge of what looks like an anvil, I’m pretty sure I’ve found the next blacksmith.
I guess this really is the back door, since the only ways through were blocked by the petrified Hollowed, or these locked gates. Still, there was that conveniently placed branch of Yore, and that key I found has to be good for something.
The only place left to go is the fog gate, unless I want to warp to another bonfire, which I don’t.
As soon as I step through the fog gate I’m falling. As I land I see there are not one, or even two, boss health bars. There are three of them, which is not what I expected at all.
I raise my shield in time to block an attack from the nearest enemy.
I back away a bit to get some perspective. I’m standing on a narrow ledge above a big room. There are other ledges running along the walls, the remnants of a ledge running along the outside of the big room that has been crumbling over the years, cutting each section off from the others.
There is only the single Sentinel in sight, the one on the ledge with me. I can see it now, a lanky suit of bronze armour holding a wide, round disc of a shield with one arm, and a long polearm with a heavy hammerhead in the other.
Although this doesn’t seem like enough space to fight a boss, I think it would be best to keep it confined while I don’t know where it’s buddies are lurking. If its an up-close fight against heavy armour, then it’s a club fight. I put the lance away and take out my trusty chunk of wood and get to work.
The Sentinel’s movements are ponderous, and most of the danger comes from the enormous range it has with the polearm, and how I’m always in danger of its blows knocking me off the ledge, even when I block. But my defence is enough that I can take a normal hit, and I’m able to find the space to heal up. After a tense struggle, the first Sentinel is dead.
I turn away. Where are the others?
One of them is stalking along a ledge on the other side of the room, moving in my direction. The last one? Somewhere below?
I step to the edge of the stone platform and peek over.
At the same moment a Sentinel leaps up at me, swinging its weapon in a wide arc. I take the hit on my side and lose most of my health. That’s not the worst of it, though, because the attack sends me tumbling off the ledge to the stone floor underneath. I land on my feet, but my knees buckle. The fall was too much, and I die next to a pair of big, rusty metal doors. Now I know what’s on the other side, what the doors locked away.
Lucatiel is gone now. If not for my Covenant I’m sure she’d have left a summoning sign for me. But I’m on my own here.
Fighting my way through the long line of royal swordsman is not difficult with the lance, but in its current state, without any upgrades, its revealing its weaknesses. The heavy attack especially is too costly for what it provides, which is less damage than a pair of normal attacks would do, but it requires nearly all my stamina to do a running charge attack that leaves me vulnerable at the end and isn’t strong enough to kill the swordsmen in a single attack. If it did more poise damage I could count on it to stun an opponent, but right now it wont even do that.
I drop through the fog gate and grab my body, which is at the edge of the platform, where I’d been knocked off. That’s a mistake. I turn around in time to block the Sentinel’s attack, but I lose my position and slide over, falling to the ground below and taking some damage.
The other Sentinels drop down to the floor with me, and soon I’m fighting all 3 of them, and there’s no way to climb back up.
Surprisingly, it’s not that bad. I mean, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It’s not the sort of thing I’d make into a hobby. But the Sentinels are slow enough individually that, as long as I keep them all on the same side and in sight, I can keep myself safe enough. The problem is that dodging them and running around to get position takes up so much of my time and attention that I can only rarely get an attack in.
The Sentinels take turns swinging their polearms back and forth, or winding up for whirlwind spinning attacks, or even jumping into the air so they can close distance and smash their hammers down at me. One of them throws its shield like a discus, but it misses me and becomes lodged in the wall. I run wide circles around the room whenever the Sentinels are closing in, which gives me enough space to heal. Soon enough I’ve got them all hurt and one is below half health. Which is, of course, when I get cocky and pull out my flask while they’re not all locked in animations. The free Sentinel runs up and clobbers me into the ground, killing me dead.
It was still a valuable attempt. I’ve learned about all I need to learn, and know I can fight them all at once, so I should have little trouble with the leftovers after I kill the first one.
Through the fog gate again, and I resist the urge to drop down for my body. The other Sentinels won’t move until I kill the first one, or fall off the platform, so it’s best to take this one out while I can.
I have it all planned out. I kill the first Sentinel, then I wait for the next to jump up. I can get a few shots in on it while the last one closes in, then jump down for my body. Everything is going great until, while I’m mid-attack, one of them chucks it shield at me and doesn’t miss. Though my health is as full as I can get it, I die in a single hit.
Again, no big deal. I learned something, and I lost nothing.
Which is, naturally, when it all goes wrong.
There’s a moment before most deaths when you realize it’s all over. You’ve made a critical mistake and there’s no way to escape the consequences. On my 4th attempt that’s what happens to me. I kill the first Sentinel no problem, and I wait patiently for the next to jump up at me. I’m fighting it, doing well, but have my back to the end of the platform where the last Sentinel will jump up. No problem, though. I’m far enough away to be safe.
And I think wrong. A vicious blow from behind knocks me on my face. I’m struggling to my feet, my health low, and my first thought is to dive down for my body before they can finish me off. Except now my health is too low to survive the fall. In that moment of realization I know that I’m dead, and that I’ve lost the 25,000 or so Souls I’d been carrying. I have no room to move now, and can’t defend myself forever, or even that long. I do the only thing I can do, which is pull out my flask and hope I get lucky.
I don’t. The Sentinels cut me down.
It hardly matters. Souls are only Souls, and the sting from losing them is more about my pride than any potentially lost gains.
I return to the Sentinels for the final battle, now that I have nothing left to lose. This time everything goes exactly how I planned it to. I kill the first Sentinel quickly and easily. I get a bunch of good hits in on the next one, then drop down to the floor when its buddy shows up. In the open, with only the pair of them, I can run circles around them. This seems to be frustrating the Sentinels, and each of them tosses a shield at me, but misses. Without that extra weight they become a little faster, a little more agile, but it’s not enough.
The final Sentinel can’t even put up a decent fight. If only they’d been more coordinated, they could have been really dangerous.
I gain the Soul of a Ruin Sentinel and 33,000 Souls, which is 11,000 for each of the Sentinels I killed. Not a bad haul. The Sentinels were animated suits of armour created by the jailer to keep the Undead prisoners in check. Will I ever meet this jailer, or is that a more generic term? Seems like some powerful magic was at play there, but is it the same type of magic that turns Hollowed prisoners into walking bombs?
I find some stairs, accessible now that the fog gates have cleared, leading back to the upper platforms. As I climb I begin to hear strange noises. A cracking, yawning noise like metal scraping leather. Now what?
I jump a gap to a platform with a loot corpse. I pick up 3 homeward bones.
Next is a narrow corridor lined with tiny cells. The sound is coming from that direction, but it’s also the only way out.
Brittle skeletons hang out of the cells, as if the prisoners had forced themselves as far as they could through the bars in the desperate search for help. But the Undead and Hollowed in the Bastille were already dead, left to rot in quarantine, as if that could stop the spread of the curse.
Something is moving in the furthest cell on my left. A sound like the first cracklings of a fire. I take a step toward it, and now I can hear growling. Another step and whatever it is explodes. Nothing remains when I get to the cell, but I get the picture, and more dots are connecting. At some point, likely after this place was abandoned, though possibly before, someone decided that if a fortress full of neglected and helpless Undead existed, it was also the perfect place to start screwing around with their magical experiments. If anyone had the time to notice they probably didn’t have the resources or inclination to do anything about it.
The corridor opens up into a mess hall. The wooden ceiling has fallen away over time, exposing it to the sky, but it’s not like it’s going to rain or anything. In the corner is a bonfire. It’s peaceful after the explosion, with only the sound of a wolf howling in the distance drifting in over the wind rushing through the rafters. I rest at the bonfire. I’ve found the servant’s quarters.
As soon as I sit down at the bonfire I hear the sound of rattling metal. The exploding guy has respawned. I jump up and run over, and manage to get a glimpse of the thing in the cell before it explodes again. Fire, and that permanent grimace. It’s unmistakable.
I’ve established a further foothold in the Bastille, though I know I’ve got plenty more work to do. But this is Drangleic, and it’s not going anywhere. It will all be here tomorrow, every Hollowed and monster waiting tirelessly for their chance to kill me.