It takes a lot to convince me to set up my Xbox 360 these days. I mean, I have to get it out of its box and plug it all in. Then I need to find space for it and, assuming that I can shuffle my shelf into some sort of discernible order, I have to route around the back of my TV trying to find that illusive HDMI port. It’s an awful lot of hassle. So a game has to be pretty darn epic for me to go through all that trouble just to play it. Dark Souls II is one of those games, it really is the gamification of epic. Yeah, yeah. I know that gamification isn’t a word. Just think of it like personification, but with video-games. So what makes Dark Souls II so damn good? In truth, there are plenty of reasons. But for me, it’s all about the challenge. I’ve been told that it isn’t as difficult as the original Dark Souls game, but it’s still bloody hard nonetheless. Some of the bosses are nigh-on impossible if you tackle them alone. But if you do try to lone-wolf it, it’s all about the preparation. To be honest, the whole game is about preparation, so here are a few points that might just help you out in the unforgiving world of Dark Souls 2.
Don’t be afraid to bank those souls – Souls are the key commodity in Dark Souls II. They’re easy to earn and you will gain souls in varying quantities for killing enemies, depending on their difficulty. The harder the enemy, the more souls you will earn. You can also earn souls from finding soul shards (that’s how I like to see them) which, depending on who they once belonged to, could give you a boost from 100 souls all the way up to the tens of thousands. Souls can then be used to either purchase items, some of which could be integral to the story, or used to level up your character. You can also sell items to earn souls, but selling items is only possible at certain points in the game. The only NPC merchant that will purchase your unwanted goods is Gavlan. He seems like a bit of a wheeler dealer, the Del Boy of the undead, if you will. Still, you can find him initially in N0-Man’s Wharf, about half way through the level in the house where all of the creepy light hating alien spider monsters dwell. Be mindful, though, as you can only use him once in all of his locations, so sell wisely! He will then move to Harvest Valley and, after that, the Doors of Pharros. I once sold over 20,ooo souls worth of junk to him in one sitting, so it’s well worth your time. Souls are key to the game and levelling up could be the difference between defeating those difficult bosses or having your arse handed to you every five seconds. So don’t be afraid to bank those souls!
As you’ll probably know, when you die, you’ll loose your souls and return to your most recent bonfire. You can recover these souls by returning to where you died, but if you die again on the way there, those souls will be lost forever. So, if you have 6k souls or more and you’re standing before an ominous looking mist barrier, it would be a good idea to use a Homeward Bone, fast travel back to your most recent bonfire and use those souls to level up or buy better armour / weapons. It might take you a little while to get back to the point you were at, but you’ll make it back there eventually and probably with greater ease than you did before – what with you levelling up and all. Banking souls is the key to survival, so don’t go getting greedy!
Go out of your way to find bonfires – A bonfire is the closest thing that you’ll be getting to a check/save point in Dark Souls II, so it’s pretty euphoric when you stumble across one. Not only will they let you transport around the game-world, you’ll also heal up when you rest at them and return to them when you die later on in the game. They can save you a lot of walking, especially if you have a good number of souls in your possession. It’s always worth going out of your way to light a bonfire, even if they seem difficult to reach. They can be hidden behind locked doors, inside passages and, in the most part, in overly obscure and hard to reach places. But they’re hard to get to for a reason, and the benefit of lighting them greatly outweighs the difficulty of finding them. One of the first things I’ll do is scout a map for possible bonfire locations as well as work out routes back to my nearest bonfire, if I get myself into a sticky situation and need to hightail out of there. Yes, bonfires can be hard to find, but if you follow the next piece of advice, finding them, and other items, will become a hell of a lot easier.
Read the messages and leave your own – My favourite aspect of this game is the ability for you, and others, to leave messages dotted around the levels. Admittedly, sometimes they’re a l0ad of bull – people will tell you to jump down holes to your certain doom because they’re twisted, twisted individuals. Others will write the words ‘big but hole’ or ‘giant but hole’ or ‘attack but hole’ because ‘but h0le’ is a viable text option in the messages, for some reason. But in the most part, the messages will save your life and make your time in Dark Souls 2 that much easier. They will warn you of ambushes well in advance for you to prepare for them. They’ll tell you when boss battles are just around the corner, or when treasure is lurking in the darkness. They only serve one simple purpose, to give you a little booster, a ‘keep going, you’re almost there’, or ‘bonfire ahead’ can really perk your spirits, especially after defeating a tough boss or barely making your way out of a tight spot.
Horde your lifegems – Lifegems are incredibly useful in Dark Souls 2. As you would imagine, they give you quick and easy HP, which is a valuable commodity in the game. You can purchase them from a number of vendors and you will collect various types of lifegems as you explore the world. Although it might be incredibly tempting to use your lifegems, I tend to horde them just in case I need them later. Instead, if I’m running low on HP, I’ll use my Estus Flask. The Estus Flask gives you quick HP every time you take a gulp and it can be upgraded by taking flask shards to the Emerald Herald in Majula. Every shard gives you another gulp and there are 12 shards to find. You can also increase the amount of health that you receive per gulp by burning Sublime Bone Dust in the bonfire at Majula. If you’ve not done it yet, I really recommend upgrading the flask. It replenishes every time you rest at a bonfire, which means it’s guaranteed health, whereas you never quite know when you’ll stumble across another lifegem. That’s why you should always save the lifegems for an incredibly rainy day (as most days are pretty rainy in Dark Souls 2).
Always seek help, even if you don’t think you’ll need it – There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you need a little help in Dark Souls 2. I mean, I need help almost every time I pick up and play it, and I couldn’t thank those players that have helped me in my travels so far, anymore. You might have seen the yellow glowing messages, scrawled on the floor, that are dotted around the world of Dark Souls 2. Activating these messages will send a ‘phantom’ to your game (sometimes real players, sometimes NPCs) who will help you in your travels. They come in most handy when tackling bosses, or in the lead up to a major boss battle. On the way to a boss, you want to save your lifegems and flask gulps for as long as possible, so having someone else to take some of the blows as you work your way to the boss is a real must – especially for noob players such as myself. If you’re really lucky, they’ll stick around for the bosses too. Win, win! It’s all about being humble in Dark Souls 2. You may think that you’re a warrior God, with the most awesome armour, biggest swords and most bulging biceps in the universe, but it will only take one stupid skeleton to stab you in the back to make you quickly realise that, in the eyes of every enemy in Dark Souls 2, you’re fair game. Bosses will kill you in one swipe, weird butterfly things will poison you and kill you in seconds, shamans will hex or curse you and decaying zombie archers will shoot you in your face until you feel like a little kid borrowing your dad’s suit of armour. There is no shame in needing a little help, which is why my next point is a good one to close on.
Join a covenant – There are plenty of options for covenants out there and they come with their own benefits and trials. The Brotherhood of Blood probably sounds the coolest and the Blue Sentinels the most noble. But, considering this little article is all about trying to survive in Dark Souls 2, I would suggest that you get your arse up to the monument in Majula and talk to Crestfallen Saulden. He will encourage you to join the Way of Blue, a covenant dedicated to protecting those in the greatest need. At points in the game, members of the Brotherhood of Blood could invade your game world and try to kill you – mean, right. If you’re a member of the Way of Blue, a Blue Sentinel will be sent in to your game and they will help you defeat the evil invader. It’s a great idea to help introduce new players, as well as those that just want to get on with their own business without being killed every few seconds … especially as they’ll be dying every few seconds on the game, anyway.
So there you go, just a few words of advice that could help you deal with Dark Souls 2. I’ll be live tweeting my Dark Souls related escapades every now and then on our Twitter account, which will be populated mostly with tweets of fail … mostly. (Alien reference, there). If you have any pieces of valuable advice, I’d love to hear them. For any of those still struggling with this game, the Dark Souls Wiki has been a life saver, so give it a Google. Also, press ‘A’ on illusionary doors. You’re welcome.