The Dark Souls II Diaries: I Think I'm Starting To Understand

Late last night; one of those dizzying moments of realisation that often come after physical and mental exhaustion. "I finally understand. It's all connected." I woke up this morning and tried to remember what that realisation was, but like a weird, partially remembered dream I could only grasp at fragments.

I had been struggling with a boss battle for far too long. My first boss battle, actually. The new game mechanics were completely crushing me of all hope. In Dark Souls II players who remain 'hollow' are punished. Each time the players dies he or she permanently loses a part of their health. This continues to the point where, if you continue dying and don't/can't restore your humanity, your health bar is literally stuck at 50%. I had chosen the 'Warrior' class and had very little health to begin with (the Warrior class specialises in strength and dexterity) so this boss could literally swipe me down in one hit.

It was classic Dark Souls. Classic. I was being punished for being shit. Punished for dying when I shouldn't have died. That punishment was making it more difficult for me to survive. Dark Souls II was literally kicking me while I was down, sending me into a spiral from which there was (seemingly) no escape. In Dark Souls II the weak get weaker.

And I was weak. So very weak.

Restoring my humanity was impossible. A new item, a 'human effigy' was required to restore it and I had already used the only one in my inventory. What the fuck was I supposed to do now? Human Effigies could be bought, but they were expensive, and I didn't have enough souls. A new feature of Dark Souls stops enemies respawning after you've killed them a certain amount of times, so I couldn't farm for Dark Souls dollars. I wanted to howl at the moon. This is fucking BULLSHIT.

At this precise moment I hated the new mechanical additions to Dark Souls II. The original Dark Souls didn't punish you for remaining hollow, it didn't slowly strip you of your health, it didn't remove enemies from the map after you killed them a certain amount of times. Why was this happening to me? This is completely unfair, I thought. Possibly out loud.

But I hadn't quite lost my patience. I backtracked, went to the previous area where there were enemies for me to kill, where I could gather souls to buy the human effigy I needed. I got halfway and, in a moment of lost focus, died. I lost all my souls. Despair.

I decided to head back. A long slog. Then I made another fatal mistake. I saw a powerful looking Knight and, instead of avoiding him, thought 'I can totally take this guy'.

I died. I lost everything. Again.

But incredibly, before getting stabbed in the throat I managed to collect, from a random corpse in the clearing, a human effigy. A goddamn human effigy! I was saved! SAVED! Back at my bonfire I restored my humanity and after a few more failed attempts at the boss battle I was previously struggling with, I finally killed that giant bastard. Victory achieved.

That victory came from my struggle. Knowing that I only had one hit before death absolutely forced me to learn the patterns of this boss perfectly. When I finally defeated him I felt literally untouchable, like I was gliding through the fight, like gravity didn't affect me, like a bloodied, death dealing ballerina.

I took a few deep breaths and started to think about what I had just experienced. The unfairness of my initial situation, the way in which the game punished me, the way it made me weaker in my weakness. Then I began to dwell on what I didn't like about Dark Souls II, the aspects of the design that I felt were misguided.

There was the bonfire teleportation, which I felt sucked the cohesiveness from the world.

The fact that players could be invaded whilst hollow.

I disliked the idea that you could 'clear out' an area of enemies. That just didn't feel like Dark Souls to me.

What else? Well, every item in Dark Souls II was terrifyingly finite. Even merchants could run out of goods. Necessary items like Human Effigies, life gems -- each merchant only has a small stock of these items and, when they run out, they don't come back ever.

But then a realisation. I think I'm finally starting to understand. It's all connected. Everything is the way it is for a reason. Dark Souls II is not Dark Souls. It couldn't possibly be. Dark Souls II is Dark Souls II and every design decision I disliked slowly began to make sense in the context of that game.

Dark Souls II is game that seeks to eliminate every cheap method of victory possible. It crosses them off a list like stray bugs. If this was the original Dark Souls I would have farmed for souls, I would have stocked up on Human Effigies and killed the boss quickly. I would have brutalised him without properly learning to defeat him with skill.

In fact, I wouldn't have even gotten that far, because I would have had no reason to remain human. I would have played like I played the original Dark Souls: spent all of my time hollow, avoiding invasions, avoiding huge parts of the game to progress quickly, cheaply. I would have farmed for souls and levelled up, cheaply. I would have bought all the gear, loaded up and simply tanked my way through.

My health went down as a hollow because the game wants me to become human. The game allows hollow invasions because it wants to stop me from avoiding a huge aspect of the game, the PvP. The game made it difficult for me to farm for souls because it wanted to avoid cheap exploits. Same goes for the limited amount of Human Effigies. In Dark Souls it was common for people to completely stockpile 'humanity', that game's equivalent of Human Effigies. That simply isn't possible in Dark Souls II and with good reason: it would feel cheap.

I started to understand. It was all connected. The things I hated, the design decisions I loathed -- it wasn't about me. It was about Dark Souls II. It was about protecting the integrity of the game itself. Dark Souls II was forcing me to beat this boss fair and square and it gave precisely zero fucks about me or my precious little feelings.

"If you want to progress, do it fairly." Dark Souls II doesn't just say these words, it enforces them like an authoritative mantra. It completely removes the training wheels. It crushes them under foot and demands you do this goddamned thing properly.

In the end I respected that. I understood it.

I'll be updating with new Dark Souls II Diary posts throughout the month! I'm looking forward to playing through the game with all of you by my side. Stay tuned!


Comments

    You "simply tanked my way through"? Why, I never! You should have done it with complete finesse, like me and my level 86 thief (I think?) with 46 strength and wearing Havel's armour :P

      HAHAHA. Oh god Havel's armour I love you.

        This could be why you're finding the game so tough Mark - The Champion Covenant:
        "One of the first covenants available in the game (found in majula). Joining this covenant adds a new degree of difficulty to the game and disables cooperative play (either summoning or being summoned). All enemies have their damage increased."
        Only just discovered this after 60 hours in it - so sneaky to put it so early in the game

          Seriously? Shouldn't there be a big warning sign before you join the covenant then? Like "DON'T"

            It says something along the lines of "This will make the journey much more perilous".

        Source - http://darksouls2.wiki.fextralife.com/Company+of+Champions

    This guy is so tough!
    https://i.chzbgr.com/maxW500/8102246912/h319DD9ED/

      I was expecting a "this is sparta" moment haha

    You and me Mark. You and me.
    Had almost an identical run, except after swiping an effigy once all hope was lost, facing the boss renewed, dancing and dealing out blows like Syrio Forel, I faltered, just for a microsecond as I contemplated my hard-won victory, and died.

    This was 5am, I could hear birds outside... all was lost.

    I turned and trudged back again....

      A good shortcut with that boss is imbuing your weapon with magic. He seemed quite vulnerable to it. When I beat him I did it without the magic, because I stupidly died getting fancy, but I was smashing him with the magic.

        Thanks for the tip. I may get to bed before the baby wakes up tonight!

    I'm so torn on whether to buy this or not!

    I'm still trying to play through all of the PS4 games I've got and Ground Zeroes and inFamous drop next week... It also doesn't help that I barely made a dent in the original, I'd played for a few hours at most but it was during a pretty busy time and due to its difficulty other games took its place.

    But man! Reading @markserrels tweets over the last few months and now your diaries over the last few days I'm so tempted to just go and buy it after work! It just seems like its a game that you need to basically "live" to the detriment of everything else to really get into and make progress, which I fear may be even more difficult for a newcomer.

    Help me Kotaku! ;)

      My advice would be to play through the original Dark Souls if you already own it. I'm getting the impression this isn't the definitive Dark Souls experience so much as a new and unique one in it's own right. I don't know if you'll enjoy this if you didn't get into the first, and it's definitely worth taking the time to get into the first.

      I say that as somebody who has a huge pile of shame, can't help but get the latest game, and has not yet finished Dark Souls while still having preordered Dark Souls II PC. So my advice is aimed at somebody who is a smarter person with more self control than myself.

      Be sure to remember it's not a next-gen title, so hopefully you still have your PS3! :)

    I wonder if this is why I have so much trouble getting into Demon's Souls? It looks like several of its mechanics have made their way into Dark Souls II (The reduced health when in hollowed form, teleport to any waypoint, Level Up Lady, etc.) so I've been a little worried I might not enjoy it as much as I think. However, maybe the idea is, as Mark says, to not think of it as Dark Souls: Improved but Dark Souls: Whole new set of challenges to tackle.

    Last edited 13/03/14 12:20 pm

    This is the longest work day ever! I want into this punishment so bad.

    I left work this morning ready for the day. As I left, the delivery guy pulled into my driveway, handed me my collectors edition, and left. Now I'm in the office, struggling to focus on my work as I try desperately to prepare myself mentally for the trial I have waiting for me when I get home.

    This sounds absolutely and completely fucked to me. So if you die - which is probably going to happen at the hands of other players more often than not - and lose a pile of souls, you can end up completely in a corner. Everything's cleared out, nothing left to farm, no way to get items you need to finish the game. Only option to start over from scratch?

    How is that good game design?

      @markserrels: given that you're considering them different games, rather than comparing to dark souls and especially given that this game has a different director, do you feel like DSII is actually as well-designed a game on its own? I haven't played it yet (waiting for PC) and as someone that is completely shit at video games I'm utterly unable to progress in Dark Souls past Ornstein & Smough, I'm kind of worried that I'm going to end up hitting a wall in the sequel a lot earlier because it sounds like they're effectively taking away your ability to fuck up while you learn the game.

      I think back to some of the bosses I got stuck on in Dark Souls eg the Stray Demon or the Capra Demon or even the Taurus Demon when I got started. They're basically skill checks, and I would have failed them 20-30 times each and eventually had to abort and go grind to pick up some better gear and grind some more to upgrade it. I actually really liked that element, because I knew that if I was struggling for some reason, a lot of the time I could fix it. Need a weapon with +bleed? Go grind those mobs over there. Keep getting ganked by people and run out of humanity? Down to grind the rats in the sewers. Always options to keep progressing forward. Seems like that's not on the table any more. You could make mistakes and lose big piles of souls (I once lost about 30k and a bunch of humanity because of a framerate glitch in Blighttown for example) and all you really lost was your time.

      To me the biggest issue I can see in the future is all the changes could form basically a perfect shitstorm, where you're repeatedly invaded by higher-level players, killed, lose your health, use up all your items to fix that, can't beat the boss as a result, and there's nothing left to farm. Dark Souls was always tough, but it was usually fair about being tough. It's pretty hard to completely ruin your game (aside from choosing bad stats because the game is so terrible at explaining why you would want to build on certain ones) and it's pretty hard for malicious players to ruin your game for you because you had to opt into that.

        The fact that there is essentially a finite amount of both Souls and Effigies in the game is kinda shit tbh. If you die and cant manage to recover your drop, those souls are GONE from the world, full stop, there is no way to recover them. The curse in DS was annoying enough already, as a core mechanic, yeah, no. DS was punishing but you could progress this is just a game of diminishing returns while getting kicked in the dick over and over.

        I'm about 4 hours in and beat my first boss. I can say that basic enemies do respawn and (this is hard to define but) only the larger more unique and difficult enemies don't come back. So you can farm a hell of a lot because they aren't that hard.
        Now this next thing, maybe it's because we live in AUS and maybe there's a limited community on this game here, but I was never invaded, not once. I played the entire time as Hollow. I've stockpiled Human Effigies, which seem very limited IME but I'm trying to find out how important they are in the scheme of things, before I use them willynilly.
        The whole reducing health everytime you die thing only gets down to 50% and there are rings to help alleviate that. If you're worried about this one, I will say that having less health trains you to be less reckless. I assume you drive a car. Well, there's a reason you haven't died (or have you..?), because you know you only have one life and you are careful about it. In Dark Souls II, principle's the same, rules are different, you have less healing items which means in no time you are going to realise you want to heal as less as possible, which in turn forces you to make more considered steps in battle.

      There is always the option to drop your sign and help others. Makes you human if you achieve victory and you get more souls than farming.

      It isn't! This is possibly the worst game ever created and I've played MADDEN25

    Farming is not impossible in DS2. You can fight boss battles as often as you like with the white soapstone. There's also an item that will restore mobs to the map and increase difficulty.

    Yeah probably, mainly because it affects only every enemy in the game. Guess subsequent playthroughs will feel easy in comparison though

    Ok I get that everyone who has success at this game played this first game and/or is a complete nerd king. But this game isn't fun. It's difficulty isn't overwhelming but it gets redundant very quickly. The story is poopies because there is no snarfing story it's just over and over HEY LOOK THIS GUY KILLS YOU AND OH WAIT THAT GUY KILLS YOU TOO AND OH NO NOW YOUVE DIED TOO MANY TIMES AND ARE COMPLETELY SNARFED AND HAVE TO RESTART THE ENTIRE THING BECAUSE WERE DARK SOULS AND YOU PAID $60 FOR THE WORLDS LONGEST AND MOST BORING MIDDLE FINGER! People don't buy games so they can learn a whole new level of aggravation! And if you do I hope you die of cancer.

      Thank you for your insight, fellow butthurt guy !

      Dark souls had more story than most games do. The only difference is it doesn't spoon feed the player through hours of cinamatic shit. It's not the games fault when a person thinks it has no story.
      And the other reason it's so popular is because some people like a challenge. If you want to go ahead and play through the mindless stories in most games, and breeze through the campaign in a matter of hours, cause its made to be beatable by the average 5 year old, have fun. I'll be enjoying the feeling of FINALLY killing something that has wiped my face with the floor for an hour or more.

    literally half of your article is based on a fallacy. the human effigy is not essential to game play, and in fact, you can beat the game without using a single one, even if you die horribly all the time.

    1) you don't have to beat a boss to get a small or normal white soapstone.
    2) the white soap stone (large or small) upon completion of your timed duty with another player, restore not only your humanity, but your weapon durability and spell casts.
    3) you also get souls while with other players, in the unlikely event that you have exhausted all of your respawns. this removes any pretense of "limited amount of souls" as well.
    3) you have to have farmed an enemy 15 times for it to stop spawning. this only counts for your world, not worlds that you are assisting in.

    it's easy enough to cheese through levels even still, but if you keep ignoring mechanics in this game because you think it's another game entirely, well... that one's on you, not the developer.

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