I’ve been watching the RKG boys play through Dark Souls II, and it’s reignited the debate about whether the game is good or terrible in ‘the community’*. There are the ones who insist it’s terrible, then cite the one thing that gets oft-repeated in the community–the physical impossibility of going from the end of Earthen Peak (up an elevator) to the Iron Keep. There’s just no way the two places could coexist the way the game places it, but here’s the thing. I never noticed as I was playing. I only learned about it from watching a video on what’s wrong after said video was mentioned in a playthrough I was watching. Now, it’s repeated as gospel as why the game is so terrible. I mean, yeah, it’s not great, but I wonder how many people would have even noticed without the videos on it. There are other things that the game can be rightfully dinged for in this same category (in the original game, if you see it, you can get to it. Everything is connected in an organic way, and it’s amazing), but this one single item isn’t the trump card that other people think it is.
In the post on the RKG FB page, it became clear that a big part of the problem was the expectations for DS II. I’ve mentioned before how sequels are often in an impossible position because half the people just want the original thing, only more of it and make it better somehow! Other people want an improvement, but they still don’t want you to skew too far from the original formula. Some people who played Demon’s Souls first think it’s a much better game than Dark Souls, and they cite the lack of invention in Dark Souls as the main reason. For people who didn’t play Demon’s Souls (me), Dark Souls was so innovative and they had never played anything like it. If you played Demon’s Souls first, then Dark Souls was more about refinements and pulling it all together. There were a few changes such as the interactive worlds, but a lot of it was streamlining the ideas from the first game and making it a bit more mainstream.
Side note: reviews for Sekiro are coming out by the people who got it before the release, and I asked Ian to tell me in general what the reaction has been. I’m trying very hard to go into it spoiler-free, which is really difficult. He said that people have said it’s the most accessible of the FromSoft games while still being satisfyingly difficult. I’m all in! I mean, I would be, anyway, obviously, but I feel more at ease with the positive reviews than I would be otherwise.
Anyhoo, back to DS II and the boys. In their latest episode, they just finished Huntsman’s Copse, and I want to talk about this area because it shows both the best and the worst of the game as well as how an idea that is good in conception doesn’t always translate well into reality. There is a room in the game that you notice as you’re going to Heide’s Tower of Flame. You may or may not notice that there is a post in the middle of the room that has a hole in it. You may or may not notice that there is a path that is barred off. If you are me, you don’t think twice about it until later when you’re at a loss as to what to do. I’m a bit fuzzy on my first playthrough, but I think I looked up what I needed to do with that room. Strap in, lads and lasses, because it’s a bumpy ride.
The first time you’re in the room, you go down the open path to Heide’s Tower of Flame. At the end of Heide’s Tower, there’s an NPC named Licia of Lindelt whom you find kneeling and praying by a bonfire. When you talk to her, she talks about fleecing the gullible then quickly corrects herself. She also seems obsessed with souls as a currency. I didn’t think twice about her, shrugged, and moved on. I did exhaust her dialogue because that’s what you do in these games, but I didn’t give her another thought.
Here’s the thing. At some point after you talk to her (not sure exactly when), you have to go back to the room with the barred path and you’ll find Licia there. You can pay her 2,000 souls to perform a ‘miracle’ (she puts a key in the lock/hole), and she’ll rotate the room so the barred bath is now open. Cool idea, right? The problem is, there is no reason to go back to that room. I mean, yes, there’s that barred path, but there’s nothing in the game to indicate that you should go back at a given point. If this was just an optional path, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but you *have* to go this way at some point. By the time it becomes necessary (depending on which order in which you do things), it could be hours after you first encountered this room. I completely forgot about it by the time I needed to go back.
The other thing about Licia is that much later in the game, she invades your world as the Nameless Usurper and tries to kill you for your souls. She does this twice in Drangleic castle. Then, you can find a Crushed Eye Orb, go back to the rotunda (the rotating paths room), use the Crushed Eye Orb and invade her world to kill her. She says something like, “So you figured it out, did you?” as you invade. I don’t think there is any way to figure that out organically or at least, it’ll be a bunch of trial and error.
Again, this is pretty cool in theory and it hearkens back to the original game in which you can use the Black Eye Orb in order to invade the world of Lautrec in order to avenge the death of the Firelink Shrine Fire Keeper, Anastacia. This isn’t that intuitive, either, to be honest. You find the Black Eye Orb on the body of Anastacia. It mentions Anor Londo, but it doesn’t say specifically where you need it. However, if you have the Black Eye Orb and go into the room before Biggie & Small, your controller will shake, and there will be a message saying the Black Eye Orb is quivering. So while it’s not obvious, it’s not as obscure as is invading Licia in Dark Souls II.
I love the idea of the rotating path and Licia, but it just wasn’t executed well. There should have been more breadcrumbs littering the trail of what you’re supposed to do. One of the reasons it worked in the first game was because everything was connected and the whole storyline could have unfolded naturally depending on how you did things.
Back to Huntsman’s Copse. That’s the area that follows the turning of paths in the rotunda. There are two bosses in this area, and the optional one is a pain in the arse. It’s called the Executioner’s Chariot, and it has both the best and the worst thing about this game in one boss. The run up to this boss is bullshit. One of my biggest gripes about Dark Souls II in general is that one of the main ways they decided to make things harder was to throw mob enemies at the player. On the way to the Executioner’s Chariot, there is a particularly brutal gauntlet you have to run with seven assholes who are markedly harder than the general enemies of the area. Five of them are in one short run, and you can proc them all if you move too far into the room. Then, at the end of a rickety bridge with gaps in it, there’s an NPC (red dude) who guards the entrance to the boss fog.
To make matters worse, the mob enemies don’t tether, so if you stop to fight the red dude, you get ganked by the other enemies. Also in this game, you can be taken out of your going into the boss room animation, which is not a thing in the other games, so you can’t even run by everyone and go into the boss room without a bit of luck on your side. As a caster/ranged person, it’s even worse because I wanted to save my magicks for the boss, but my melee weapon did potato damage on these enemies. I hated this run so much. This was one of the few times I was happy that there was a limit to the numbers of times the enemies could respawn. My way of handling the run was to kill all the enemies every time, but Rory’s tendency is to kill the enemies once and then hoon it the rest of the time with very mixed results.
The boss room is also filled with the mob enemy bullshit. There are skeletons that rush you, and there are two necromancers who resurrect those skeletons. The room is a circle with two gaps in it (I think. It might just be one, but I’m pretty sure it’s two) that you can’t jump over. By the time the boys reached the boss room, Krupa (loremaster, the one who’s played the games before Rory attacks them) had had enough. He told Rory that it was a puzzle boss and how to deal with it (hiding in the recesses in the side because the spikes on the wheels of the chariot can kill you–or you can roll through it, but your ADP has to be high not to take any damage. That’s another negative about this game–they invented another stat solely for invincibility frames, but that’s not the point here. Standard procedure is to run around the circle searching for the necromancers and killing them as quickly as possible. Once they’re gone, the skellies can’t be resurrected.
Also, the boss can kill the skellies as it races by, which is nice. Anyway, after killing off the necromancers, the standard way of dealing with the boss is to pull the lever in the room to drop a gate right in front of the gap. The horse bursts through the gate, rears up, and drops the executioner and the chariot into the gap. Then, you have to fight the horse itself, which is not that difficult.
However, and this is the cool part of this boss, I approached it much differently as a caster. It was much harder to deal with the skellies, by the way, because I didn’t have the stamina to block through all their attacks. For the boss itself, this is what I did. Once I cleared the room of the necromancers and the skellies, I would hide in a recess as the boss passed by. Then, I would set cast Lingering Flame (exploding pyromancy) in the middle of the path and wait for the chariot to race by. When it did, Lingering Flame would explode and do massive damage on the boss. It comes with 2 casts, but there are various ways to increase the number. I think I had 3 or 4 by the time I reached this boss. When I ran out, I used whatever other pyromancies I had available. I was prepared to use this to finish him off, but hen he was around 30% health, I didn’t see him come around again. I cautiously went to find him, and he was hanging in the gap, struggling to get out. I shot him with another pyromancy, and he fell into the gap. I didn’t even know the lever existed until I watched a playthrough of the game.
I thought that was brilliant. I loved that there were two completely different ways to kill this boss, and it’s one of my favorite things about the game. I can’t think of many other bosses in the series in which you can defeat it in two different ways–in fact, the only one I can think of is the Curse-Rotted Greatwood in Dark Souls III. With that boss, you have to hit him in his egg sack between his legs until they completely pop (there are other egg sacks on his body). Then, he pounds the ground and both of you fall down to a different level. However, one time on NG+ or NG++ or further, I managed to keep him on the first level by pelting his balls with Chaos Bed Vestiges (pyromancy) repeatedly, and he never did the break the floor bit. I finished him off in short fashion with more Chaos Bed Vestiges with little trouble. I never managed to replicate that run, so I’m wondering if it was a glitch.
Hm. I just read the wiki for it, and it says if you deplete his health without breaking three egg sacks, he never initiates the second phase. It also says Pestilent Mist will work on him without breaking the sacks, so it’s another way to bypass the second phase. I might try that the next time I fire up DS III! It would have to be on NG+ or beyond, however, as Pestilent Mist needs 30 Int to cast. One thing I love about having played the games several times each is that I can try all the shit I never would have attempted on my first playthrough just for the hell of it.
Back to the Executioner’s Chariot. When I found out that the way I had defeated the boss was not the standard way of doing it, I felt a sense of pride that I had done it differently and all on my own. It’s one thing to try alternate methods or cheese that I found in the wikis, but to do it on my own in an organic fashion felt really good. I have to give props to FromSoft for adding this into the game because they didn’t have to, and it shows that they were trying for innovation in the sequel. As I said earlier, not all of it translated well in execution, but in this one case, I applaud them.
*There isn’t just one Souls community, obviously, but it’s often spoken about as a monolith. In this case, I’m referring particularly to the RKG community.