[Dark Souls 2] Day…WTF

I started playing Dark Souls 2 a few days ago. And I have been in a near-constant state of aghast since.

See, the devs messed with the formula, but they did so in cruel and unusual ways. It started when I made it to the first formal Bonfire only to find no option to level up. I talked to the NPC nearby twice, but still didn’t know what was going on, so I thought maybe I had to unlock it further on. So I went forward down the only path that was visible: the one leading to Heide’s Tower of Flame. Needless to say, I was very confused as to how the armored knights were an appropriate challenge for new players who couldn’t even level up yet. Then again, this was Dark Souls.

So, spoiler alert, you have to talk to the NPC near the fire THREE times before it is revealed that she is the only way you can level up in the game. You can teleport between Bonfires right from the get-go, which I suppose is handy since you’ll be coming back to the starting area dozens of times.

After dying a bunch of times to the armored knights – which were not as obviously “you came to the wrong neighborhood” as the skeletons in the original Dark Souls – I then understood something fundamental: Dark Souls 2 features failure cascades.

As you may be aware, dying in a Dark Souls game means you drop all the Souls (upgrade currency) you had collected up to that point, you get sent back to the last Bonfire you rested at, and all enemies in the area respawn. If you manage to get back to your corpse you can collect all those dropped Souls, but if you die beforehand, those initially dropped Souls are gone forever. In terms of harsh death penalties in games, it’s the industry standard for pretty fucking rough.

In Dark Souls 2, dying ALSO reduces your maximum HP by 5%. Per death. Down to a limit of 50%. What in the ever-loving Christ is the point of that? The game still prominently includes “surprise, you’re dead!” traps and ambushes, which means you spend a lot of the game with less than max health, which then makes it easier for you to die again. There are Human Effigy items you can consume to reverse the HP reduction, but they are a limited resource (at first?) which only serves to excessively punish people learning the game. Did I mention you must be in Human form (no HP reductions) in order to summon friendly NPCs/players to assist you with boss fights?

Oh, and get this: regular enemies stop respawning in an area after 12-15 resets. One might assume that this would make things easier for struggling players… but think this through. If you’re dying a bunch, about the only thing that you can do outside of “git gud” is farming Souls so you can level up and gain higher stats. But now the enemies you farm no longer exist after a dozen resets. In my particular case, I got caught in a failure cascade on the way to re-attempt the Pursuer fight. Killed the enemies on the way, started the boss fight, desperately collected my dropped Souls, then died to the boss again. Repeat a bunch of times, and now the enemies on the way to the boss aren’t respawning, and realize that if I die before retrieving my dropped Souls, not just those accumulated Souls are gone, but so are any potential Souls on that path to the boss. Again, what the fuck?

In the game’s defense, there are technically ways of getting enemies to respawn. First is the Bonfire Ascetic, which is a consumable that can be used to essentially “upgrade” an area to the New Game+ version. This, of course, means all of the enemies that respawn are the NG+ versions of themselves, which might not be an appropriate solution for someone trying to farm Souls to overcome regular enemies. The second option is joining a specific Covenant that unlocked infinite spawns… in return for a massive increase in enemy attack and defense, and a decrease in damage you deal for as long as you stay in the Covenant. So, yeah, not a great solution either.

I honestly don’t understand what the devs were going for with these changes. Did they just not like players farming Souls and experiencing incremental progression that way? Were they trying to save players from themselves? Did they intend to double-punish people who weren’t able to retrieve their corpse? The Bonfire Ascetic mechanic is a cool addition, but everything else they “added” to the formula feels like hot garbage and I really want to know why/how they thought it was a good idea.

Posted on May 18, 2023, in Dark Souls and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Oof. Would a Ring of Life Protection mitigate the problem somewhat?


    • Not really. In Scholar of the First Sin edition (which I have), it costs 14,000 Souls to repair the ring each time it breaks (instead of 3000 in original game). It might help in scenarios where you have accumulated tens of thousands of Souls attempting a boss fight over and over and then decide to cut your losses by equipping the ring, but the repair fee alone seems like a huge Souls drain.

      Are Effigies worth 14,000 Souls in the endgame? I have no idea what the “economy” looks like there.

      There’s another ring that limits your Hollowing to 75% Max HP, which might be worth equipping while still exploring new areas. Still doesn’t make me feel better about the overall game design. Death is punishment enough.


  2. Hmmmm alt-f4 uninstall? I mean, it’s the devs who rely on the income from the game for eating, not you, and there are enough games to keep you occupied for multiple lifetimes, so why bother with something which was designed like shit?


    • It’s a fair question.

      If I’m honest, what I really want to play is Elden Ring, but since I’ve already waited this long I’m not about to purchase it without a (more) significant discount. Playing DS1 and DS2 – which I had already purchased ages ago – scratch that itch and satisfy the sort of incremental progression drive that I have. Plus, on some level, I appreciate being able to experience first-hand bad (IMO) game design so that I can leverage that in future armchair game design discussions.

      I just had my first few PvP experiences in the game though, so who knows.


  3. Dark Souls 2 was my first foray into the series, so I think I have a softer spot for it than most series fans.

    But even with that being the case, I didn’t really get into and make it through to completion until I (months after initially putting it down in disgust) happened across a Dark Souls II walkthrough youtube series.

    I have no idea what compelled me to actually start watching the dang thing at that point. Perhaps nothing more than still feeling like the series was something I *should* like. In any event, I did watch it — and remember the jaw drop moment of realising the ‘intended’ way to go was one I hadn’t even seen last time I tried.

    Ended up finishing it, but only with the help of the full walkthrough. Dark Souls 3 was my next one, and the first one I tried without the benefit of a walkthrough. Maybe one day I’ll even go back and finish the first. xD


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