Dark Souls 2 Diaries – Day 15

Anyone who read my play through of the first Dark Souls game should have noticed that I’m fine with doing that in gaming as well. I want to throw myself in at the deep end, and for a trial by fire to force me into adapting and learning. Because, like I said, I’m lazy, and will try to get through doing as little work or thinking as possible. That one level or boss that forces me to sit down and spend hours testing and probing the mechanics is not a wall. It’s a hill, and from its peak I’ll be able to build momentum that will see me through to the next challenge.

Most recently, I was playing Lightning Returns. with only an hour or so in the first Final Fantasy XIII game, and none at all in the second, the build up to that battle system and its mechanics were a mystery to me. Staggering monsters, juggling ATB gauges between the different costumes, the timing on blocks, it was all completely new to me. So I put the game on Normal mode–the highest difficulty available from the start–found the nearest 3-Star optional boss in the first city, and hammered away at it until I learned how to effectively juggle my ATB gauges, how to get staggers, and what to do when they happen. I learned the game by making mistakes and building on them. Having a clue is more fun to me than the first section of the game, which I spent hitting buttons more or less at random to kill off the tutorial-level fodder tossed my way.

So, when the time came for me to sit down and play Dark Souls 2 for the first time in, what, almost 4 months? Wow. Anyway, when I was standing in Majula feeling lost and stiff, as I kept hitting the parry button when I meant to guard, the 2-hand-mode button when I wanted to open the menu (thanks, Lightning Returns), I thought back to the loose threads and open paths before me. I needed something that would make me sore the next day, so that I knew I’d been working.

The Gutter

And here I am, standing in the pitch darkness of the Gutter, the slimy underground cavern that I nearly fractured my ankles finding. Why the Gutter? Because it’s the bonfire warp point that’s last on my list, behind Harvest Valley, Brighstone Cove Tseldora, and the Grave of Saints, which are my other main avenues of unexplored territory.

 

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I am at the central bonfire location. It’s my only option, since I missed the first bonfire, the one closer to the entrance, while bumbling through the dark the first time. Problem is, I’m a little lost at first. I tell a lie: I am a lot lost. It’s dark down here! I didn’t exactly know what I was trying to do last time, and that was when I was in the moment. Months later, with all context removed and all potential landmarks obscured, I know neither where I came from, nor where I’m trying to go.

Half a minute of slow-panning and walking in circles later and I’ve recalled the broad strokes. I came from above and from the opposite direction of the structure I’m standing on. While the other bonfire is above me, unless I can find a ladder it will have to wait till I come through the Grave of Saints. I’m headed further into the cavern, and down toward the ground, wherever that may be.

The bonfire is on a corner of a wide ledge jutting out of what is likely the central structure in the cavern, given the name. It’s a mess of old planks and boards stuck together with spit and bad vibes, and it’s also, I soon discover, where I am stuck.

A wall stands between me and the inside of the structure. I can see at least one fog gate inside, and ladders, but I can’t get to them.

 

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I’ve neither souls nor Humanity to lose. Time to take a look around and see what I can see.

Three strides later, and I’m almost poisoned by a gob of green goo. It’s one of the little oblong statues that are the real litter in the Gutter. I’d forgotten about them.

The ledge only runs along the front edge of the structure, with no doors or ladders at the far corner to give me a way through. All I can do is jump the short gap to the next structure over, which I am certain is the direction I came from on the way down.

 

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Over the thumping organic beat that pulses ceaselessly in the Gutter, and the fainter whisper of wind, I hear the snuffling and snarling of something big on the other side of the gap. One of those dog creatures, and now I can just make out a shadow against the dark, patrolling back and forth. Other movement. A Hollowed with the dog. Time to find out how thick the rust is.

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The fight goes as well as I expected it to. Which is to say that I made a stupid mistake–overreaching with my attacks and running out of stamina–and get chomped by the wrinkly mutt because I couldn’t defend myself. Yes, I died. You might be asking what kind of self-esteem I possess if I start fights expecting to lose them. Can I plead the 5th even if I’m not in the United States?

After pulling my guts out through my groin, the dog dives over the ledge. Suicidal, but still took the time to get rid of the vermin. That’s man’s best friend for you.

And the warmup begins. To my credit, I soon figure out the basics. Between getting myself poisoned and intense flashbacks of the dog’s Mr. Fantastic-like sweeping paw attacks that seem to hit me even when I’m behind it, it’s a sink or swim scenario. Not in the deep end, but it forces me to find the bottom with my feet, so that’s something. Next time, the dog dies.

My scouting trip isn’t getting me much else, though. This building is as much a dead end as the one with the bonfire. As I look around, there’s a crashing sound nearby, from further in. Right, the Hollowed with the sword. It has smashed through the ceiling. After taking it down with a quick stab through the spine, my target cursor jumps up, revealing a dark and translucent moth hiding on the wall.

 

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One magic missile later, it’s dead, and I pick up a wilted dusk herb. The commotion is drawing other enemies, and more Hollowed fall through the ceiling. I take down one covered in bandages, then one carrying a torch. I wait, making sure nothing else is coming, and then finish my look around.

Thorough examination of the second structure confirms my initial fears. I’m stuck at this level. To get here, I fell through the ceiling as the Hollowed did, but have no means of climbing back up.

I do find some better views of the continued layout of the cavern. Standing on this side, I can see the fog gate near the bonfire connects to a bridge headed back into the darkness.

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As I’ve explained before, nothing confounds me like an obvious environmental puzzle. I’m too busy overthinking what I look at to notice what should be plain to see, and it takes that special kind of obliviousness to get stuck like this. Here I am, with a bonfire that has access to a pair of rickety platforms and nothing else. Seems like a cruel joke, right? In the second building, I see there’s another platform on the other side of the wall. Standing on the roof, if I’d jumped down on that side instead of falling through, I could keep going. Is this bonfire a trap?

Only, it can’t be. It makes no sense to put a bonfire in a closed cul-de-sac. A classic dead-end, maybe, but not a bonfire. Not a save spot and warp point. I know I can keep going, and, if you’ve played the game before, so do you.

Watch in cringing horror as my warped mind flails uselessly for the simplest of solutions.

Unable to go up, or, apparently, forward, I look down. I find four main points of interest.

Standing at the edge of the second building, I can see a fog gate somewhere below. Near the ground?

 

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In the same spot, which is the corner closest to the bonfire’s building, I can see the dark outline of a lower ledge. It’s possible that I could make the jump, and from this distance the fall doesn’t look far enough to kill me.

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Similarly, the bonfire platform splits half-way across, sloping down far enough to show another platform that is definitely within striking distance.

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Finally, standing at the edge of the bonfire and looking straight down reveals the gleam of an item far below. Also the ground? This is a fall I’m sure I won’t survive.

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Meanwhile, I’ve been wandering back and forth past one of those distinctive pieces of stick art. I’d seen them all over the place on the way down here, and thought they were odd, but that’s about it. Now, though.

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I’ve been at this for a while now. It’s common design to give the player a side path that overlooks their eventual goal without giving direct access. A teaser of sorts. Sight-lines to what might be the ground below, and at least three different fog gates and an item. That would qualify. But it would also mean there’s a way through. There has to be. Even so, the feeling of being stuck is growing as the minutes pass.

I run through a basic checklist. Step one is to bash everything. The walls are so flimsy looking, and I hit everything with my club, then roll around on the ground for a bit, hoping to smash a hole somewhere. All I manage is looking like an idiot.

My first leap of faith is from the second building, aiming for the platform below the bonfire. I roll over the ledge, but miss the mark and plummet to my death. Fair enough. I try again, getting a good running jump this time.

It works, and then it doesn’t work. I make the jump, landing squarely in the middle of the lower platform. And die anyway, though I am certain it wasn’t the distance that did the job. Seems I’ve found a part of the map I am not supposed to go. Which is the first clue.

For clarity, I try jumping at the other lower platform. This one is even closer. I’m dead before I land. Definitely a dead zone.

Progress of a sort with my last jump. Rolling off the platform near the bonfire and aiming for the item below, I connect with solid ground. Hard. Too hard. Even with all my fall damage reduction gear, there’s no I’ll survive that. It’s a small path cut into the cavern wall, and it ramps away from the loot corpse, down in the direction of the lower fog gate. There is something below, I only need to find the way down.

After killing the torch-carrying Hollowed again, I have an idea. At the bonfire, I light my torch and carry it to that little pile of sticks, confirming what should have been obvious from the start. It’s a sconce.

 

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After lighting it, and the one in the second building, I carry the torch around. Maybe its light will show me something I’ve been overlooking? I have a better view of the area past the fog gate, but nothing else jumps out at me.

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Now all I can think about are all the sconces I passed on the way down here without realizing what they were. Of course, I didn’t have access to a fire at the time, either, but what if I’d taken the correct path from the start and found the higher bonfire? I could have a trail of them by now, dotting the cavern and showing the way. So desperate was I in that moment, that I thought maybe I needed to light the sconces to open up the way through. Sure, I’d been lighting them all over the place in other areas, and nothing happened so far. Except for that one spirit that appeared in Things Betwixt. Was that a trick as well?

I have sudden visions of the entire Gutter up in flames. It’s nothing but old kindling piled up in the dark, and I certainly wouldn’t miss the place. If only. If only. But swinging the torch at nearby walls accomplishes exactly nothing. I even try to light a line of old candles on the floor of the second building. No joy.

I’m at the point of giving up. Nowhere to jump to, and all those unlit sconces. Maybe I should head to the Grave of Saints and start again from the top. Chalk this one up to my ineptitude and take a different path, fall the right way.

And then it happens.

 

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I break a hole in the wall near the bonfire, giving me a way inside. I would swear on my favourite shoes that I’d hit that very spot already, at least with the torch, but there you go. All that fuss and worry, all that jumping and dropping of prism stones, all the elaborate plans and mental mapping of sconces, when all I had to do was whack a part of the wall that looked as flimsy as any other bit.

But I did it, and that’s what counts, right?

Walls loosely divide the inside of the structure into three directions. Left is a ladder headed down.

 

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Ahead is an open space dotted with more ladders, all going down, and the fog gate. To the right is a short hall that that runs to the corner of the building before turning inward.

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Since it’s the only direction that isn’t entirely obvious, I turn right. I turn again at the corner, finding myself next to more ladders. I can see a shadow between them. A Hollowed, bending down. Is it harmless, like some of the others? I’m squinting at the dark, but can’t see any weapons.

I turn away, then spin back around in time to put my shield between my face and the Hollowed’s black blade. The weapon is enchanted with dark magic, and takes a chunk of my health through my guard. I kill the Hollowed, then another that’s coming at me from behind, squashing it with a critical blow from my club. One of them drops an item, but it slips through the cracks in the floor before I can grab it.

Nothing attacks, so I look around the rest of this level. Besides the fog gate, there are at least half a dozen ladders in total, scattered at random, and all heading straight down. From trapped to spoiled for choice in under a minute.

Some broken jars drop dung pies. Throw to poison an enemy, or ingest them for some good times. Lovely stuff. Standing next to the fog gate, I see one of the bandage-wrapped exploding Hollowed on the other side of the wall. It grumbles and rattles its chains. Not a boss fight, then.

 

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Figuring I can leave that for the moment, I pick a ladder at random and climb down. It takes me to a mid-sized platform on which a Hollowed languishes next to an unlit sconce. I drop down and kill it, then try to get my bearings.

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It’s a classic backtracking maze. All the ladders are inside the structure, but they lead to different platforms. There are items to jump for, and ladders that descend further still. Getting through is a matter of working out the connections and doubling back until I reach the bottom. Simple enough.

First, I climb back to the top. A skinny Hollowed follows me up, so I kill it. I light my torch. I have well over 2 hours of fuel for it, so I’m fine with being inefficient, as long as I can light some beacons and cheer this place up a bit.

I try another ladder, and see another unlit sconce below, but no enemies.

 

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I haven’t quite worked all the stupid out of my system. The ladder I picked is broken at the bottom, stranding me. I didn’t even light my torch first.

Another ladder going down is the only option I have. I can see the ground, at last. A Hollowed nearby holds a torch above its head, and another near the cavern wall is looking mighty suspicious. I say that, but, honestly, if you met a beef-jerky looking zombie at the bottom of a lightless garbage pit, would you go for a handshake or a kick in the junk? After all the close calls I’ve had lately, I’m not about to hesitate. Frankly, if you don’t want to be clubbed or stabbed, choose a classier place in which to loiter.

 

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There are a few of those thumping heart-shaped jars as well, near the torch-less Hollowed. The two enemies far enough apart that flanking is a danger, but I have it worked out in my mind. I drop from the ladder early and turn on the suspicious Hollowed first. Before I can get within spitting distance, it has a sword out. See? It’s not paranoia when they actually do want to kill you.

I kill it in time to turn toward the torch. Only, it’s not alone. There are two more Hollowed coming from that direction, and another bursts out of the nearest heart-jar. I dodge away, evading the torch and two of the slashing sword, but the last one nicks me, and I die in a single hit. I know I’m only at three-quarters health, thanks to the Ring of Binding, and that hit I took off my shield was hefty, but I still didn’t except that. I’ll have to be more careful and take into account that any single hit will end me. Not going to waste any Humanity on this, either.

But I have a goal now. I can start working at it, and get the juices flowing.

I take my torch down the same ladder, lighting the sconce after dropping down. As I land on the platform, something growls and explodes above me, shooting flames across the inside of the structure. So that’s happening, too. The Hollowed are dropping poisoned throwing knives when I kill them.

Down to the ground. I kill the lone Hollowed first, again. As the heart-jar explodes, as if birthing the things, I pull out my spear and back myself away. For all I know, I’m about to fall into a hole. That’s a risk you take when fighting in the dark.

 

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Once I have the Hollowed lined up, I lash out. With limited space and stamina, I have to consider my priorities. I stab through the two Hollowed with swords, taking a hit from the torch as a trade. That’s fine. Fire is not as dangerous as whatever powers their blades, and I couldn’t get them all at once. Seconds later, it’s over, and I’ve won. I stand still, listening for footsteps. Soon, another Hollowed rushes from the shadows, and dies. Listen again. Nothing.

I explore the ground level. Besides ladders going back up, I find a jar holding 20 lifegems, and another holding a Dark Fog hex and a torch.

 

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The central structure is built over an open cave, and it’s not that big. Have I found only a nook, and not the real bottom? At the far wall is a row of heart-jars, thumping away. Is that a hole? I break them. Each explodes with the sound of shattering stone.

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Craning my neck at the edge of the hole in the wall, I see a patch of deeper dark below. I know I’ve been tricked before, but this is a little more obvious. Still, it’s a fall and not a ladder. If I survive, I’ll still be stuck down there.

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Back to the top, where I use a ladder in the corner nearest the fog gate to drop down to a chest.

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The great club differs from the large club I already own by being slightly heavier, having a little higher base damage, but worse strength gain. Otherwise, they’re the same, having an identical movelist. And the large club is white instead of the wooden brown of the great club. All this is academic to me, because I’m a dozen points of strength away from being able to use either weapon.

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Up and down, lighting sconces and grabbing items. After picking up some rotten pine resin, I’m forced into a jump toward a lower platform. Which I miss, ending up as a crater on the bottom of the cavern. On the way to recovering my corpse, using a different ladder for the sake of variety, I run into the exploding Hollowed, only recognizing what it is and what it’s about to do at the last possible moment. I start a backstab, and it blows up in my face. Somehow, he dies and I take no damage. Must have started the backstab’s invulnerability frames in time to save myself. Or it was a dud. Another Hollowed tries to finish the job, and has similar luck.

This new route gets me to the ground on the opposite side from the torch Hollowed. I’m able to avoid fighting all the Hollowed at once, and recover my body. Soon, I’m back at the hole in the wall. I’ve picked up everything on the way down, and it’s a pain going down the ladders over and over. I’m already here, so I may as well check this out. I still have the bonfire at the top if I want to go for the fog gate instead.

My mind made up, I’m still going to take basic precautions. After breaking apart the heart-jars, I drop a prism stone over the edge. It lands safely.

 

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Though I can’t see them both at once, turning left or right shows that near the prism stone’s light is the glow of a loot corpse. This is what I saw and fell onto from the bonfire.

On goes the cat’s ring, and down I go.

 

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I’m next to an unlit sconce, the prism stone, and a corpse holding a Branch of Yore. That’s a nice find if nothing else comes of this. The ground slopes down toward another fog gate.

A few steps later, and I notice a row of sinister, green glowing spots against the cavern’s wall. Eyes? I slow down.

 

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A few more steps and the distant heartbeat is coming at me from below. The source of the glowing eyes reveals itself as a row of the little poison-spitting statues, all infused with the well-known alchemical formula of purest Green.

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They don’t spit at me, but I smash them anyway. The heartbeat stops.

Now I’m outside the fog gate.

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I don’t sense a boss on the other side, and don’t think to use my magic weapon buff before holding my breath and stepping through.

Black Gulch

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Despite the name, Black Gulch is like a bright room compared to the area I’m coming from. As it’s not a boss fight, I look for the nearest bonfire, which is tucked into a small cave on my left.

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Once rested, I go out and get a better look at the place. A little voice in the back of my mind is reminding me of what I’ve left unfinished, but I ignore it.

Ahead, the cavern opens up and levels out. There are dark pools of what I hope is only water, spaced suspiciously, and flanked by steady, if uneven, rows of the poison-spitting statues. And the whole thing looks like someone blew his nose all over it.

 

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The green is everywhere, filling the place with a malicious light. Not a natural ore, as it wouldn’t be all over the statues. A creeping algae, perhaps, or a magical blight? I’ll assume it’s whichever of those is worse.

That’s all background. In the foreground are the rows of statues. I can’t take two steps without one of them spitting poison at me from either side, making the dozen or so metres to the puddles tedious work. I get there by working my way along the left side, bashing every statues I can reach, until I’m close enough to confirm that I’m looking at a bunch of round puddles. My nostrils fill with the unmistakable smell of an ambush. What does an ambush smell like? Like old sweat and bad intentions. What does that smell like? Use your imagination.

Oh, and I can also see something moving under the surface.

 

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I’m already forced to the wall because of the statues, and I’d really like to be free of them before getting too close to whatever lurks under my feet. Passing a break in the wall, I become poisoned, and use some moss to cure it. Keep it cool. Smash statues. Getting closer to the water.

Methodical will only take you so far when you’re slightly clueless and all kinds of rusty. It gets me nearly past the puddles, and then things get kind of crazy.

Without warning, a giant, black worm erupts from the wall, blocking my passage. At the same time, there’s a splash behind me as something leaps from the nearest puddle. It’s a nasty creature, looking like a clawed, black hand with concentric rows of spiky teeth on its palm. I back away from the worm, around the puddles, trying to get some space. The row of statues on the right side, still intact, opens fire, and then there’s another of the hand-monsters.

 

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Once I’ve blocked a couple of their sideways punches, things have calmed down. I poke out with my spear. The hand-monsters have a decent amount of health, but low poise. I press in, staggering each in turn and finishing them quickly and easily. One drops a large titanite shard, which is nice.

Now, the rest of the statues, and the worm. Some good news: it can’t move from its hole.

 

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Some bad news as well. Another one of Thing’s inbred cousins is hiding in one of the puddles. Must have missed it in my scrambling retreat. But it doesn’t miss me, and before I know what’s happening, it has my by the head, its long limbs gripping me while the teeth chew through my skull. Two bites and I’m out. Not a dignified death, but what can you do?

As soon as I leave the bonfire, an invasion message pops up on my screen. That creep Forlorn is back for another round.

 

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I see him far away, past the worm. He’s swinging wildly at some jars. Once they’re properly broken, he charge at me. I want to grab my corpse, but that would mean running the gauntlet of poison-spitting statues and arousing the hand-monsters. All I can do is stand on the narrow ledge near the bonfire and wait, because I have nowhere else to fight.

I whip out my magic wand and wave it around to buff my spear. In a completely non-sexual way, mind.

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Forlorn opens with a guard break, pushing me close to the edge and getting a good slash in before I recover. More out of self preservation than tactical cheese, I circle around and land a backstab. A quick flask charge while he gets to his feet, and we’re back at it. If not for the fresh oblivion at my back, the fight would be simple, and I’m still doing well. A few pokes and another backstab, Forlorn is nearly dead. But he’s pushed me around, away from the bonfire, and the poison statues are spitting at me. I take a slash, but he’s so close to death, and I think I can finish him off. Except, I’m poisoned. I’d forgotten how fast it works, how dangerous it is when I don’t have a full health bar. I falter mid-thrust, and fall to the ground, dead. Nuts.

Not that I lost anything of value. A couple thousand Souls at most, which is water off my duck-like back by now.

Forlorn doesn’t appear again when I respawn.

Maybe 7 doses of poison-curing moss left. I need to be more careful. Even as I’m thinking this, I get slammed by so many gobs of poison that I stagger back.

Once I’ve cleared the statues, I approach the puddles once more. The hand-monsters aren’t so bad now that I know they’re coming. It’s only that burst from the surface, where they try to grab me, that’s dangerous, and that is easily dodged. With heavy 2-handed spear attacks, I can kill them each in two solid hits.

The worm pokes its head out again. It’s guarding a loot corpse, something that fell out of the broken jars. Why there are jars down here is anyone’s guess, but loot is loot.

A row of statues on a ridge overlooking the puddles has been spitting this whole time, and I can’t reach them from down here.

 

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I go back to the opening in the wall, looking for a way up. No luck. All I find is a chest, and inside is a Great Magic Weapon spell.

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All those awestones I’ve donated, and completely reworking my character to accommodate my Covenant’s special spell, and it’s not even unique. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little cheated.

I grab a shotel, too. This little curved sword does damage through shields with its heavy attacks. Still not a fan of the overly fancy curved sword fighting styles.

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The worm is surprisingly meek. It’s frozen in place while I stab it to death, which is fine by me, because I’m still dodging poison shots from the statues behind me. I loot the corpse, finding an Undead Soul, a torch, and a Scraps of Life hex. Supposed to bring things back from the dead, but I don’t know what that means. Summons skeletons or zombies, maybe? Whatever it is, it’s got bad mojo all over it, like the other hexes I’ve found. You don’t kill an entire village over someone waving a hand over their pet rabbit to wake it from a coma.

Another worm appears, bursting from the wall with deliberate force. Trying to knock me off the ledge? This one fights back, but isn’t any more dangerous than the last guy. The best it can manage is a headbutt to the side, but if I stay near the wall it can’t reach me at all.

 

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Past that, the cavern opens up even more, sloping gently down toward a shadowed crevice. More puddles, and the bones of something large and long dead against the wall. A few jars sit like peanut butter in the mousetrap, tempting me to get close to the puddles with the gleam of an item.

Before I can spring that trap, another invasion message. Not Forlorn coming for his rematch, but some chump called Woodland Child Gully.

 

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He throws his hands in the air. A taunt? Figures a guy with a name that lame would be a jerk. I use the moment to apply my weapon buff.

I lead him back to the previous area, not wanting to risk any puddle-based surprises. And it gives me a chance to size him up. Despite the stupid name, he looks ready to fight. Shirtless, but carrying a big, nasty looking sword, and an even bigger shield. Something tells me that I don’t want to get hit.

 

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He whiffs a big guard break, and I start forward, only to run into his sword after he cancels into a vicious horizontal slash. I’m staggered long enough that his next swing finishes the job. Hate to say I told me so.

My body isn’t too far away from the bonfire, and I try running past the statues, testing the feasibility of skipping some of it. Doesn’t work. I’m poisoned well before I can recover my souls, and have to retreat to the bonfire to cleanse myself. When I come back out, the few statues I smashed are still in pieces, which is useful. At least for the first section, if I get myself poisoned I can run back to the bonfire and save myself healing items without losing progress.

I manage to get smacked by one of the hand-monsters as well. Would you guess that, like everything else down here, that little love tap nearly puts me in the grave? Of course it does. And I like it. I may be out of my depth–literally–but that’s what I came here for.

On that note, I get exactly what I wanted from Gully. A fight tailored to exploit my weaknesses and force me to shake off the rest of the rust. Though he’s not wearing any armour, he still has enough poise that I can’t interrupt him with my pointy stick. Any trade will go in his favour, and stagger me long enough for him to follow it up with a killing blow. I can’t break through his shield, either, and he’s not about to let me circle around and get an easy backstab. This puts me on the defensive, because he might attack once, or twice, or even three times in a row, and if I guess wrong, I’m dead. Trying to wear him out is useless, even with my magic shield buff. He’ll break my guard in three attacks or less, if he doesn’t land a guard break first.

This goes on for a few more deaths. I always fight him at the first set of puddles, so I can recover my corpse each time. The hand-monsters are dropping the occasional titanite chunk, while the worms drop poison ores and a couple of awestones. If not for that feeling of grinding when I don’t like to, I’m in my element.

Then, Forlorn pops up again, coming up at me from the same spot after I respawn. I make a desperate dash down to the puddles and grab my corpse. Somehow, I’m not poisoned, but I do arouse one of the hand-monsters. I sprint back to the ledge outside the bonfire and watch as the invader runs through the same poison statues that have been pestering me. Though he gets hit a dozen times, he doesn’t become poisoned. And now I have both him and the hand-monster to deal with.

 

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I take them both down anyway, without any trouble. Poke, poke, poke, backstab. I can feel it starting to click.

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I work my way down to the other invader, and Gully shows himself again.

Though it was the only way it could happen–any mistake is instant death–I’m still a little surprised that I take the fight perfectly. My momentary worry that I’d have to stop being dumb and figure out the parry timings is dispelled when I realize that I’ve worked out all the spacing. He attacks, I’m just out of reach, and I poke him in the face. In and out before he can respond, quick stabs whenever there’s an opening. And suddenly he’s almost dead, and suddenly he’s staggered. I take the spear in the hands and use my heavy attack, a lunging double-thrust that finishes him before he can attack again.

 

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He gives up a bunch of souls and an awestone. I’m also able to snag the item in the broken jar, which turns out to be a radiant Lifegem. Nice to have, because I’ve been using Lifegems in place of my precious moss to outlast any poison I’m inflicted with.

Along the left wall of the cavern is tunnel opening, and I think again that I’ll be able to make my way up to the ledge with the little statues. But it’s only another chest, this one holding a Divine Blessing. Cures poison, so it feels appropriate.

 

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The bones are from some ancient, long dead drake or dragon. What could it have been doing all the way down here?

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I’ve been using the spear to break statues. It has more reach than the club and lets me smash a bunch at a time. Problem is, the spear is delicate. It’s down to ~20 durability, which is less than half of its maximum. The club is down to about 40. I hope there’s not too much more of this.

Another hand-monster jumps out of a puddle. I pull my club out, and it launches itself at me like a rocket-punch. That’s new. I get behind it and swing till it disappears.

 

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At the edge of the second area, way back against the far wall, is a small ledge. I can see a narrow tunnel blocked by a petrified Undead. Isn’t that handy?

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I look at my other option, which is a large fog gate that is giving me all kinds of boss vibes.

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After a moment’s thought, I decide to use the Branch of Yore I picked up. It will save me the trouble of having to come down here again and deal with these little poison-spitting lumps of [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]. Yes. It will save me from that.

The Undead unfreezes and does its usual moaning. Once I’ve put it out of everyone’s misery, I check out the tunnel.

Inside is a low cave. At the far end are some jars, and in the middle is a bonfire. Convenient, and it tells me there’s definitely a boss through that fog gate. I break open the jars and find a Pharros’ Lockstone, so even better.

 

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I light the bonfire, then, after some hesitation, rest. The invaders are gone, so it’s only a few puddles between me and the fog gate, and I could use the repairs.

The bonfire cave ends in a short drop overlooking the area before the fog gate. Perfect.

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As it turns out, a little too perfect.

I land between poison statues and roll out of the way. As I’m turning to break them, the unexpected happens. I’m being invaded again. Of course I’m being invaded again.

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I thought it was something odd at the time. Maybe I’d made the game angry. But looking at the screenshots, Victor and Gully are different people who happen to have the same stupid title and use the same weapons and armour. Anyway, now I have this guy on me as well as the hand-monsters, and I’ve yet to break any of the poison-spitting statues. It’s every type of mess.

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All I can think to do is book it for the little cave and the bonfire, so that I can regroup. But I take some poison in the ribs, and it slows me down enough for Victor and his buddies to catch up. Dead.

Seemingly a tricky situation, but I have Victor’s number the same as his brother’s. I respawn at the second bonfire, walk to the hole in the wall, picture the fight in my mind. Once I have my strategy visualized, I buff my weapon and jump down.

I break the nearest couple of statues, then run for the back corner, the area near the bonfire’s entrance. It’s got the fewest statues and the most open space, with only a single hand-monster. In the moments it takes Victor to spawn and get to me, I take down the monster, giving me a relatively safe arena for the battle.

 

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The same tactics as the last fight, but with less space. Poke, poke, poke. He lands a single hit, but my luck returns and he’s out of gas to follow it up. Moments later:

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In my best Arnie voice, I say, “Who’s the victor now, Victor?”

Not really, but you get the point.

I gain some souls and another awestone.

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Now I stand outside the fog gate. I can hear moaning and the clank of iron. The heartbeat is louder than it has ever been. What am I getting myself into?

The Rotten

One of the bigger problems the Undead have in Drangleic seems to be permanence. And I don’t mean the lack of it. When all you can hope for is the potential waking nightmare of becoming Hollowed, treading carefully is important. Because when the rest of your life is a potential synonym for eternity, mistakes add up.

The Rotten is a good case in point.

A cut-scene plays. In the middle of a fiery pit evoking that particular hot place, is a beast which is more than the sum of its parts. Its wriggling, screaming parts. The Rotten is a construct of human parts–whole humans as parts–a mound of bodies melted together in the form of a lumbering beast. It’s not pretty, and it’s not happy, and it’s not happy to see me.

 

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At first, it has its back to me. I see it slowly and awkwardly try to put together one of the little statues. When that doesn’t work, it turns on me, a sword the size of a horse held in one hand, while any part of it that has a mouth cries out in pain. Think about them, all stuck together for so many years. Gods willing, the madness set in long ago, but you know what they say about Hell being other people, with or without the pools of fire.

The Rotten glides . . . squirms? Crawls? Moves surprisingly fast. Not that it’s about to win a footrace, but we’re confined its lair, and it has a lot of range with that cleaver. Before I have time to think of an approach, it’s on me, chopping down twice, big swings that eat through my stamina and have me reeling. It doesn’t follow that up, so we keep circling.

 

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By now, my weapon buff has worn out. Did the cut-scene count against its duration? I make a stab, fall short. Have to get closer. The Rotten slashes sideways, then drops the hammer on me, breaking my guard. Unlike last time, it has a followup attack, a third overhand bash that drives me into the ground, killing me.

Keep in mind that three invaders have jumped in a row now, two of them in the area before the fog gate. And, for all the attention I paid to attack patterns, ranges, and damage, I did not notice at the time that Gully and Victor were different people. Every time I entered the area, someone jumped me, and, after respawning, I was sure it would happen again.

I have over 50,000 souls lying on the ground in the boss arena, and I’m far more concerned with picking them up and getting the boss than with taking on yet another invader, especially one that can kill me in a single combo. I wasn’t about to wait for that to happen.

I use an effigy as much free up a ring slot than to fill out my health bar. Then I swap the Ring of Binding out for my Lingering Dragoncrest Ring to increase the duration of my weapon buff. I apply the buff before dropping down from the bonfire, and run straight for the fog gate, wanting to make it before an invasive spirit has fully formed. In my haste, I am poisoned, but I still make it through the fog gate. I can see my souls nearby.

Here’s a pro tip: Standing in fire hurts. Even the split second of contact I make with the flames is enough to compound the poison damage I’m taking. No time to heal, and the Rotten breathing down my neck. Keep going. Almost there.

I collapse and die on top of the souls, without recovering them.

It stings, but only for a moment. Effectively, I was grinding anyway, and 50,000 is no great loss.

 

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Running for the fog gate again, I manage to swing around far enough to avoid any poison. The next fight goes well. I have the range down, so I’m landing consistent damage. I keep to the beast’s left, forcing it to use its slow fist pound instead of the faster, and further reaching, cleaver. I take damage a few times, putting my foot in a pool of fire, ,r misjudging the range of a slash, but the Rotten is slow enough that I can sprint to the opposite end of the area and chug from my flask before it catches up.

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When I think I have it, the Rotten raises its weapon above its head, summoning dark energy before slamming it into the ground. My shield is up and my stamina is full, but I die anyway.

A couple of runs now and no invader yet. I slow down, mashing the statues to avoid the poison. I wait long enough to be sure no more invasions are coming, then pop another effigy and buff my weapon at the fog gate before stepping through.

This time, prepared, I have no trouble. I keep to the side and stab relentlessly, healing after any small amount of damage lest I get hit by another potential one-shot attack. Once, he belches acid, but it’s slow and obvious, and not going to hit.

 

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When it drops low, I move closer and get more aggressive. I get the kill as the Rotten is raising its arm to let loose another wave of darkness.

“Greater Soul Embraced”

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Another surprise. I also gain 47,000 souls and the Soul of the Rotten. Some sort of demigod that rose from the discarded and abandoned dregs that inhabit the Gutter. And now I have another Greater Soul, which I did not expect to to find down here. These people must have been mighty lonely and hopeless to accumulate so much power.

I’ve been passing an item near the wall, surrounded by a moat of flames. Now I have a chance to go for it. For safety, I use a Lifegem before crossing, letting its healing effect partially counter-act that I’m being roasted alive.

 

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I recover a Fireseed.

At the back of the Rotten’s lair is a dark tunnel.

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After a few steps, it breaks off into a small room with a chest.

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The tunnel turns, then opens into a green cavern. Thin pillars surround some sort of monument, and there’s a primal bonfire.

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Up close, I can see there are words scribbled on the four monoliths, and that artfully designed, but long-broken, snake statues enclose what looks an awful lot like an old birdbath. Or maybe it’s a scyring pool or something more mystical and mysterious. I’m no archeologist.

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I read from the four slabs of stone, then try to put the verses together.

“The city of the Sunken King sleeps, as does the dragon within;

Forbidden is the path to the ancient King’s domain;

Trespassers will face adversity befitting a monarch;

With water dry, the path amiss, woeful temptation is dismissed.”

None of it rhymes or anything, so that’s the best I’ve got.

It really was an age of decadence if they spent all that time and effort to drag stones into the place so they could put up what amounts to an overelaborate and cryptic “Do Not Enter” sign. Does that last line even make sense? And what exactly is “adversity befitting a monarch?” Whoever wrote this must have had a strange view of royalty and feudal systems if they thought kings and queens garnered more suffering than the common folk, or maybe this isn’t the dire warning it seems to be.

After all the trouble I had getting down here, it will take more than some nerd’s liner notes to turn me away. I kneel before the birdbath and find myself warping to another location.

I’m standing in a cave. Roots cover the ceiling and stretch down the walls. In the middle of the space are what looks like sixteen graves encircling a fire. Four tall monuments of stone form corners outside the circle, and at the far end of the cave is a big, black door.

 

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I walk down the stairs and find a message on the ground.

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Which means precisely nothing without context. What sign? This one? Is someone channelling a message from far away that says, “I’m channelling this message from far away?” Is that a feat in itself? They could at least sign their name to it to get the credit. This is like leaving a message in someone’s inbox telling them that you’re leaving a message.

Not that I expected sensible answers to questions I wasn’t even asking yet. Or answers at all. I move on.

 

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The door is locked tight, obviously. Have I found the way to a final boss? With only two Greater Souls, I’m not getting any further. I look at the design on the door for other clues. What am I seeing? A flying ram? Some dudes kickboxing? A terrible map? All I recognize is the sunny face in the middle of the door.

I look around a bit more. I can light my torch at the fire, and there’s nothing behind the stairs. Without anything else to do, I leave.

Back in the cavern, I use the primal bonfire and find myself back in Majula.

 

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Besides a single line of dialogue, nobody seems to care that I’ve recovered two Greater Souls.

I climb to the Victor’s Stone and give up my awestones. After 4 more, I hit the next rank.

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This time, my reward is something more tangible than a spell I could have found anyway. (Not bitter.) I get the First Dragon Ring, which once belonged to a famous knight of Drangleic. It buffs stamina, health, and equip load, but I’m pretty sure that putting it on means I can never take it off again. The numbers aren’t spectacular, about 30 odd HP, 4 stamina, and a little under 4 equip load, but it’s probably percentage-based and will improve as I level. May as well put it in my floating 4th ring slot, since I worked so hard getting it.

Back to the map room, and there’s another flame. I only have two Greater Souls and two primal bonfires. The other flame is in the Forest of Fallen Giants, where there is also a closed metal door and large portions of the fortress that I was unable to access the first time through.

 

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Chloanne drops some hints about Drangleic once having a different name, long ago. Considering that every other NPC I’ve met has told me the same thing, I think I get what they’re selling.

With the titanite I picked up from the hand-monsters, I have everything I need to upgrade my winged spear to +10. Which I do. In the first Dark Souls I didn’t max out any weapons, and this time I already have two titanite slabs. I’m also more confident about my weapon selection, and need something to spend my souls on while all the merchants here are out of stock.

I have a plain winged spear on hand, so I can make comparisons. At +10, the base damage has doubled, and a few upgrades back the dexterity scaling improved from B to A, which translates to 14 extra damage with the 18 points I have in that stat. Not a whole lot, but more damage is more damage.

I warp to McDuff’s workshop in the Bastille. The winged spear disappeared from my upgrade list once it hit +10, so all I can do with it now is add some elemental ores for extra flavour. Too bad all I only have poison, lightning, and darkness ores on hand. What I’d really like is fire or magic, to which benefit from the points I’ve put into intelligence. Poison is right out, as it seems only useful for PvP and boss fights, and lightning, while potentially strong, gains damage from wisdom. That leaves darkness, which is strengthened by my lowest magic-related stat . . . which is also wisdom, with only 6 points.

No danger in testing things out. I have plenty of palestones to remove infusions, and I know I can simply overwrite them anyway, should I find a better option. I decide to go with darkness, to complete the emo theme.

I test my new weapon on the dogs outside the workshop. The effect is on the subtle side for visuals, but it sure is loud. The dogs die easily, but I feel silly for not testing the vanilla +10 winged spear first to get a comparison. Considering I’m mostly dealing with Hollowed and demonic beasts, how many of the things I fight are weak to this element anyway?

Back to Majula, where I dump all my twinkling titanite into the Drangleic shield, raising it to +4 and from 59 to 63 stability. Not like I was saving that titanite for anything special anyway, and I’m not nearly strong enough to use a heavier shield.

Next, I visit Straid in the Bastille to see what he’ll give me for my new boss Souls. Though the Skeleton Lord Souls have the same name and description, the one I got from the chariot makes different equipment. The first is a shield with a crossbow built into it, allowing for blocking and attacking at the same time. Doesn’t seem practical, especially for the high strength requirement and buckler-level stability. There’s also a chariot lance, another strength-scaling spear with higher stat prerequisites than the gargoyle spear, but some bleed damage added. I buy the chest armour and leggings of the Forlorn from him, completing my set, before returning to Majula.

Despite my best efforts, I have Souls left over. So I take them to the Emerald Herald and bow down to receive my levels. I’d balanced them so carefully to use the equipment and spells I wanted, and I’m a bit lost with where to go next. If only I had a different ore for my weapon, I could start investing in intelligence. Maybe strength for a stronger shield? That would mean more equip load, too. And also finding one. The infusion reduced the dexterity scaling on the spear to a B as well, so more dexterity won’t be as beneficial as it might have been. After some thinking, I decide to put my 3 points there anyway. After all, I have at least one more respec on hand, if I really need it.

 

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After that, I’m done. It was a full day, and I accomplished more than I expected to. Completely by accident, but it still counts. I’m satisfied that most of the rust is gone, and now I can start looking for the other Greater Souls in earnest.

 

 

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