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[Dark Souls 2] Day PvP

When I played the original Dark Souls, it was the Prepare to Die edition, which never had multiplayer reenabled after the hacking exploit back in 2022. As such, I never experienced seeing the messages on the ground, being able to summon friends to help with bosses, or indeed, to be invaded by players.

Well, I have since had the distinct pleasure of getting invaded in Dark Souls 2. Twice. By the same guy. And yes, this was a legit player and not an NPC – I got the Armorer Dennis experience separately.

Pictured: cheesing the Armorer Dennis experience

In case you aren’t familiar with the system, here it is: you can be minding your own business, and suddenly a warning message will appear that “so and so is invading.” At that point, you cannot leave the general area (fog gates appear), you cannot fast travel via Bonfire, and a red invader (player) will show up somewhere. Oh, and you cannot Save & Exit the game. You are essentially locked into non-consensual PvP for the next 15 minutes until either you or the invader dies. Also, any regular enemy NPCs that are still around will still be around and will only attack you.

If you die, you drop your Souls wherever you are. If you manage to kill the invader, you supposedly get X amount of Souls. I wouldn’t know, because I was killed both times I was invaded.

Because here’s the thing: I didn’t sign up for PvP. In the original Dark Souls, the system was that you could only be invaded when you were Human form, e.g. something you deliberately triggered with a consumable. Dark Souls 2 has no such limitation. In fact, my max HP was already reduced by 20% because I was working my way through No-Man Wharf, which features enemies that will deal 90% of your HP in damage if they catch you with a combo. I already lost 17,000 Souls in this area just from NPCs. Well, NPCs and falling into the water once. So when I saw the invasion text, I ran back to the Bonfire at the start of the map with the idea that “at least my Souls will be near the respawn point.”

Very helpful

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I’m playing a Sorcerer build. It’s been okay-ish for regular enemies, but it definitely leans towards the glass cannon side of things. Certainly, the invader I faced had a significant HP lead on me, as even though I managed to get a few full combos off on him, it only amounted to about 30% damage. And that’s the thing about this: the invader gets to pick the time and the place. Well, I guess I picked the place by running over to the Bonfire, but I was already out of spells both times he invaded, and I was running around with Soul Gain+ equipment rather than items more geared for PvP. Meanwhile, the invader can gear themselves however they want, with whatever spells they want, and they have to be in Human form to invade in the first place, which means they have their max HP. I think the only limitation is that they cannot regain HP from flasks/consumables, which sounds like a bigger deal than it is considering they aren’t likely to give you the opportunity to pop a consumable yourself. Plus, you know, I had already used most of my flasks working my way through the map.

At this point, I’m not quite certain what I’ll do. The option exists – one way or another – to basically play the game offline. That will mean zero chance at getting invaded, but will also remove the player messages and bloodstains. The messages have pretty much exclusively been memes, but occasionally there are warning about traps or illusionary walls. Is that worth having my gameplay interrupted to such a massive degree? If I tried to engage the invader where I was and died, I would have had to work my way through the entire level all over again, past enemies and traps that could kill very quickly. Nevermind the fact that since I did die, all of those enemies respawned, setting me back again. I did manage to trigger some shortcuts inbetween invasions, so I won’t start from scratch, but still.

I hesitated dropping onto that area for a long time.

From what I read you can also just Alt-F4 to shut the game down and boot the player. Supposedly this “flags” your account and you cannot invade or play co-op until you use a special item that respawns after many in-game hours. Which would be just fine by me. My hesitation though is around the rather opaque auto-save mechanics. How much progress would I lose (if any)? Would it be perhaps worth it?

I dunno, man. Helistar recently questioned why I would continue playing this game if I already hated its fundamental design, e.g. failure cascades, etc. And that’s fair to ask. At the base level, I am having fun… after a fashion. I like the sense of incremental progression, working my way through a hostile map, and having spells/items/etc to look forward to. And remember: I’ve played dozens and dozens of survival and roguelike games over the years prior to this series, so this sort of thing is up my alley.

But we’ll see. Non-consensual PvP is not up my alley, and if the game feels worse without “social” elements, then that will be that.

[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.