Monday, 27 February 2017

Dark Souls 2: A Trip Report/Boss Fight Critique (Part 2)

(Hey, all! This is part 2 of a Dark Souls 2 boss writeup post. If you missed part 1, pop on over here and read some good words on the first half of bosses I faced in this game. With your spoiler warning of there being spoilers for the rest of the bosses in this game, let's get this shit done.)

Almost 50 hours. Good god, I haven't taken that long to beat something in ages.
Previously on Dark Souls 2: A whole bunch of spooky bosses of varying qualities threatened my heroic lady knight, Ishara. As she worked her way through the hordes and I worked my way through the game, the "feel" of Dark Souls 2 started to become apparent. I mentioned it snarkily in the caption to the last post's image, but one of the opening cutscenes literally does begin by having an old crone in red robes outright state that you're going to lose all of your souls, over and over again. Then she and her other old crones actually start laughing. That's really blatant and signposted and I'm not fond of it. Sure, Dark Souls was hard, but it was only the marketing which played up the THIS GAME'S ULTRA HARD angle with the whole "Prepare To Die" tagline. The game itself was above it... but, as has become clear, this was made by a whole new team with the design philosophy of "let's make it hard". We've seen that one of their go-to ways of making shit hard is outnumbering you, be it with the normal enemies or by adding mooks in the boss fights to overwhelm you. This will be the post in which I yell about their other big blatant "let's make it hard" go-to, but that's still a couple of boss fights away. Last time we covered roughly half of the fights I completed, so let's finish up the rest of the game with the other half.


The fourth and final Great Soul boss I fought, and the only boss of this area. Everything else spoked off from the hub world to go through multiple areas and more than a few boss fights, but you only need to clear two areas to reach The Rotten. One of those, The Gutter, is quite reminiscent of Blighttown from the original Dark Souls. I hated Blighttown and I wasn't the fondest of The Gutter. Black Gulch, where The Rotten is hanging out, has a shitload of statues that fire poison at you and poison you in all of two hits from it. Yuck. At least you can hell run to The Rotten. He's a cool and gnarly creature design, a big blob made of corpses that has a giant machete. He's big and slow, but he hits hard. There's the extra wrinkle of parts of the ground being on fire so you can't just move everywhere while fighting him, but this didn't really trip me up. Two tries was all it took to get the final Great Soul. From here it was on to Drangleic Castle. The Ruin Sentinels showed up again as some normal-ass enemies, pulling that Flexile Sentry trick again. After quite a lot of wandering, I reached...


Oh god. I'm not sure what they were going for here, if we're being honest. If this was an attempt at recreating the "oh shit" moment of reaching the castle in the original Dark Souls and encountering Ornstein and Smough, then it doesn't work. It doesn't work because fighting two big enemies with big boss health bars is not as big of a deal in this game, where you've already one-upped it with the Ruin Sentinels. If the idea was "well the player might have found ONE Dragonrider hard early on, so here's a SECOND ONE firing arrows at you before joining into the fight!", then it didn't work for me because I beat this fight on my first try. I was well built to block by now, and Dragonrider is easy enough to block and punish. The second Dragonrider also gets cut through like tissue paper, making me really question where the design was for this fight. I don't get it, but it's a muted moment. Still, I'll take it over a "bad" boss fight.


This one was really cool, and it's one of the places where what the design team seems to have been going for worked for me. Even though Looking Glass Knight is another big dude with a sword, he was just interesting and not bullshit enough to leave an impression on me. His attacks are strong enough to drain stamina if you're blocking, and he's got a few curveballs to hurl at you. The first is that he's another boss who has sorcery magic as a backup. At least that's what I think it is, but the point is he's shooting ranged shit at you sometimes. The second trick is using his mirror shield to summon a helper friend. On paper that seems like yet another "LET'S MAKE IT HARD BY HAVING MORE SHIT" move, but I was okay with this one for two reasons. One, he takes a while to summon this friend so you can get some good hits in from behind. Two, the friend he summons is dealt with in a few hits and is actually faster than Looking Glass Knight. I didn't get overwhelmed by the two of them and was able to deal with the little friend quickly. I liked this fight and I really wish I had turned his boss soul into the cool mirror shield, but at this point I had my original Greatshield pretty maxed out.


This space was always reserved. Demon of Song was a trivial boss for me which only took two tries. It has a real gnarly design as some sort of corpse frog, and you can only damage it when it's about to attack. No, I need to talk about the run through the area before this boss. The Shrine of Amana is where I finally realized another go-to the designers came up with in the name of "making it harder". Sorcerers. This place is full of them, and they take their pot shots at you as you rush through. The run to the boss actually has you taking up cover behind pillars and moving with caution. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of that! It's just when you take the rest of the game into consideration that you see it for what it is; an easy go-to that can be slapped into an area in order to make it harder. The telling point comes when you really think about it. If you wanted to stick ranged attackers into your area, you could use archers. They exist in the game. Here's the difference between sorceries and archery, though; Sorceries are homing attacks. They'll track you better than archery, therefore they're harder to deal with... and this is A HARD GAME, so why wouldn't we always go with the harder option? You can see this in a lot of the bosses as well; they randomly just have the ranged attack option, and 9 times out of 10 it'll be some form of magic because it will track you and be harder to dodge. On its own in one area like this, it's fine. As it is, it honestly feels like a crutch being relied on instead of varied challenges that make things fresher. I'm not fond of it.


This guy feels fresh and cool, though. He's a big knight, sure. Instead of a sword, though, he has this big bell hammer mace thing. He hits hard, be it for health or stamina, but he's slow and gives you a good chance to counter attack. It's a fight of patience, and what I really like is that the battle starts in a room with lots of pillars. As Velstadt swings like mad, he'll break every single one with his attacks. The pillars don't add anything to the fight, but it's a cool little bit of flair. Of course, at half health or so he supercharges that bell with dark magic. If you're out of his melee range, he won't swing the bell so wildly. Instead he'll fire off DARK SORCERIES! You see what I mean about this shit being the easy go-to? It isn't quite so bad to deal with here as he's a big scary melee boss, but I still liked this fight nonetheless.


Holy shit, a dragon! Dragons have been a bit weird in the Souls games I've played. You have stuff like Seath The Scaleless who isn't too tricky, but then the DLC had an optional fight with the dragon Kalameet and he was hard as shit. Guardian Dragon was a boss I beat on my first try. It's notable that I only beat one boss on my first try in the original Dark Souls, so I must be gettin' better at this shit. He's big and likes to spend portions of the fight flying up and spitting fire at you. I'd cite the sorcery problem again, but it makes sense for a goddamned red dragon to spit fire at you. Besides, it doesn't really track you. The very next area has two or three of these dragons as minibosses, so that was fast as shit. We're actually shockingly close to the endgame now, believe it or not... but I still had quite a way to go.


It was at this point that I was advised to take on the DLC stuff. I figured it worked like the original Dark Souls, where as soon as you beat the game it carts you into New Game Plus. Thus, I wanted to clear out all the DLC things before beating the main game. As it turns out, you can just choose to go to New Game Plus at the end from a bonfire. I could have beaten the main game and then done the DLC, which would have been a bit more organic as you'll see. Anyway, after suffering through a shitload of hellish areas which I won't delve too much into, I got to fight this lady. She's a sorceress. She also summons things, but unlike Looking Glass Knight these were a bit more annoying. Being a sorceress, she's still shooting shit at you while you're trying to deal with whatever she's summoned. When she brings out three skeletons there's a sense of being mobbed, but they go down in one or two hits. The real tough shit is when she summons FUCKING VELSTADT to go after your ass. He takes a bit of a beating, and while you're trying not to get wrecked by the bell you're dodging explosive spells cast at your position or magic bolts. She was tough primarly because of the whole "outnumbering" approach so I wasn't too much of a fan.


This first DLC area made up for Guardian Dragon being a bit easy. Sinh is a tough motherfucker to beat, and he's not pulling any of that "summon a bunch of mooks" bullshit. He's a proper tough dragon who will kick your ass all on his own. He's a corrosive poison dragon, which is also a neat touch. His fire breath lingers as poison clouds which can poison you, and he likes to stay up in the air a lot and pepper you with poison fireballs or swoop at you. On the ground, he'll really eat through stamina/health with his swipes. It took me a while to learn him, and then another while to get brave enough to go for the hits I needed. Once I did that and learned how to space myself to bait out a fire breath attack, which is the best opportunity to hit him if you can dodge it, the fight was mine. This was one of my favorite boss fights in the whole game, as it just really clicked for me and was relatively bullshit-free. A good capstone to the first DLC area.


Oh god, do I have a mouthful for here. So, the three DLC areas all have these little side spots built for co-op. They're small areas with a boss at the end, and people without the DLC can be summoned there somehow as well to help out other players. This was the only one I found, but I didn't know it at the time. Imagine my surprise when I found a goddamned Smelter Demon recolor. Dark Souls pulled this trick as well with certain various demons, but good lord. He was just as hard, if not harder, than before. It felt like he was quicker and had better range. No, what really set my teeth on edge was the run TO Smelter Demon 2.0 here. It's a short little hell run with lots of undead knights, SORCERERS AGAIN, and what the hell NOW let's add archers WITH the sorcerers. You can take it slow and pick 'em off one by one, yeah, but doing that will get you hurt and waste Estus Flasks you'll need to not die to Smelter Demon. So I tried doing it fast and just running through. It took me a long time to get consistently, because these cheeky designers thought of that. The sorcerers have a spell that SLOWS YOU DOWN. They were utterly determined to make this mini-area a pain in my ass. Between the knights pivoting about to always stab me as I ran by, the sorcerers slowing me down, the archers always making their mark, the big guy smashing me just before the boss door, and the pain of Smelter Demon 2.0 himself? I was not having a good time. Any reprieve I might have gotten from finally defeating Smelter Demon 2.0 was undone by what came next.


Holy fuck. Holy fuck. Holy fuck. HOLY. FUCK. Meet the single hardest thing I had to overcome in this godforsaken game. Fume Knight is an absolute motherfucker and he kicked my ass over and over again. Let's go over this step by step. First things first, there are flaming idols outside his arena that will heal him. You can destroy these with some items you find in the area and cut off his healing. That sounds a lot like the Mytha fight, but this just makes the fight hard as shit as opposed to fucking impossible. Once again we have a big guy with a sword... but wait! He has TWO swords! He's got a greatsword in one hand and a smaller thrusting sword in the other. He will eat through your stamina if you try to block his shit, so rolling is the key here. Roll into his attacks to dodge and then counterattack. It really doesn't seem that bad, but then the fun begins. When he enters his second phase seems to vary, but the average is about at 60% health. He'll ditch the small sword and light his big sword on fire. This is when the fight really begins because now this fucker is FAST. He's got big swings, jumping attacks, and one or two telegraphed moves with extreme range. This wouldn't be so bad and would make a fun fight, except for the damage. I had a shitload of health and heavy armor, and Fume Knight could still kill me in two hits. One swipe of that thing will do at least 60% of your health bar, and he's got multi-hit combos. To put it simply, you have to be fucking perfect in order to win. I got that perfect run, but it was aggravating to get. I don't find being punished that severely for whiffing a hit or missing the timing on the dodge to be all that good. It's HARD, but not good hard. At least the run back to him is quick. I've seen comparison between Fume Knight and Artorias from the original Dark Souls DLC, but I dunno how much I buy that. At least Artorias let up sometimes, and healing is instant in that game. By the time you quaff from your flask and the bar fills up again, Fume Knight will be on his second swipe over your corpse. Good christ. At least the designers proved they could make a tough fight without relying on mobs.


This was the only really fun boss fight I had in the second DLC area, and even that was soured by extraneous stuff. We have yet another guy with a sword, but this sword is a katana! Sir Alonne is a quick and dashy sort who zips at you with dashing slashes and whatnot, and he's pretty fun to try and learn/deal with. He has the odd attack to trip you up, like a ranged sword beam slash or this spooky impaling thrust that buffs his damage if you get hit by it. Fighting him after Fume Knight had me in dodge roll mode and he was easy enough to learn, and at least I could block with my shield for once without worrying about a giant fire sword piercing my defenses. What kind of ruins this is the run back to him; you've got all these knights in some rooms, and salamanders breathing fire. It's not hard, just tedious to fight or run through. Otherwise, this is a pretty solid battle.


On to the final DLC area! Once again we have a conditional thing because if you go to this boss fight immediately, Aava is fucking invisible and will tear you apart. Exploring the area will get you an item to see invisible things and then you can fight Aava. I like the design of Aava; they're a giant ferocious snow tiger and that's rad as shit. Most of the "monster" bosses in this game have been wanting, but Aava is mostly solid. The key to winning is rolling into Aava's charges and swipes and then counterattacking. The boss jumps back a lot, which gives you plenty of heal time... but then there's that one attack. In addition to all the swiping, Aava has a goddamned homing icicle sorcery spell. This whole area isn't short on things with ice sorceries, but this time they're ice knights. It once again reeks of "OH SHIT UHH HOW DO WE MAKE IT HARD?", and I found Aava's icicle attack impossible to roll away from due to the number, speed, and lack of invincibility frames on my roll. Turns out you can just crabwalk away from it? Whatever. I liked this boss a lot.


Interesting concept, not the best execution. You could go to this boss immediately after Aava, but it's another Mytha/Fume Knight thing of "it would be fucking impossible if you did this". What you're supposed to do is explore the area again and access places that were frozen over before, finding and freeing some knight friends. You can have up to four of them, and here's the deal. The boss arena has a bunch of portals that spawn fire knights. Infinitely. After a bit of time, your knight friends will start sacrificing themselves to freeze the portals over and block them from summoning more fire knights. Once they're all frozen over, the boss spawns. I'm not fond of this because it's just a solid two minutes of running around dealing with fire knights every time and waiting for the portals to freeze. More than that, even though there's four goddamn knights in the arena fighting, the fire knights are 100% hell-bent on running to your ass and overwhelming you. I was mocking them as I played. OHH NOOO! PLAYER CHARACTER! THAT'S THE PLAYER CHARACTER! WE GOTTA KILL HER! GET HER GET HER EVERYONE GET HER! Oh yeah, and they have pyromancy. It's not sorcery! The Burnt Ivory King himself is the same goddamned "big guy with sword" concept we've seen over and over. Same sort of deal, same sort of attacks. Multi-hit combos, an impale move, a  dash... hell, he even buffs his sword to make it stronger and longer! Having all four knights means that you'll still have one left to draw his ire at the start of the fight, and my knight friend lasting as long as he did helped distract Burnt Ivory King long enough for me to do good damage to him and whittle his health down to survive our one-on-one. The fight itself was okay, but having to deal with those fire knights every time was tedious. That's all for the DLC, though, aside from two more of those co-op designed bosses. They're a 3v1 and a 2v1 respectively, from what I can gather, and I feel no remorse in having skipped them.


Back to the main campaign, and... holy shit. You fight this guy in a flashback world where there's a war between people and giants. There's explosives being catapaulted on your rampart, and a goddamn statue head rolls at you to kill you in one hit. Survive all that and you get to Giant Lord. Remember The Last Giant? The first boss in the game? This is him with a sword now. I tore through him like tissue paper, only losing a few attempts due to some shit. Compared to Fume Knight or Burnt Ivory King, this was ridiculously easy. It was meant to be the next boss after Guardian Dragon, after all, so that would explain a lot. Oops, I hecked up the difficulty progression by doing all the hard postgame shit before the postgame. Oh well.


This is an optional fight that you could do right after Velstadt if you wanted... but you don't want to. He's just a defenseless old king who's gone insane and paces around  a room in his loincloth with a giant sword. You have to be the one to attack first for him to get mad. Beating him unlocks an extra boss for you to fight at the endgame, so I went for it. He seems tough and has good reach with his swings and does a lot of damage. I'd have a hard time with him... if my friend hadn't told me that you can just hang out behind him and be safe from every single one of his attacks. Once I knew that, he was easy. He's tanky, but easy. Sorry, old king dude.


The endgame of Dark Souls 2 has an honest to goodness final boss GAUNTLET, with two bosses to beat in a row (three if you killed Vendrick). Our very first one is another gruesome twosome, a 2v1 in which a big guy with a big shield and a smaller guy with quick swords come after you at once. Everything suggested that this would be a tough fight on the level of Ornstein and Smough, but... this was easy as all hell. They buff their sword at about half health, but I killed the big shield one without too much fuss. Of course, they do have one mean trick that will drive you bonkers. If you beat one, the other can and will cast a spell to try and revive his pal. From what I can gather this will bring the other guy back at full health. Holy shit. Thank goodness I killed the other one before he could finish his cast. I beat one of the final bosses on my first try. I think the DLC made me too good.


Oh, I really love the design of this boss. Creepy skull grim reaper type with a big scythe. There are a few tricky attacks from Nashandra, like putting up weird cursed energy fields which curse you and drain your health. Or her big laser attack! Still, though, she has the fundamental problem of being made of tissue paper. I was straight up one hit away from killing her on my first try but her last attack beat mine out and I died. Throne Defender and Throne Watcher don't come back, so Nashandra was toast. That would have been the final fight, had I not killed Vendrick... but one creature remained.


This whatsit has been showing up throughout the game, exploding bonfires to rise up and talk to you about prophecy and destiny and other cryptic bullshit. Now they're trying to kill you and... oh my god, another easy one. Aldia is also made of tissue paper and was nothing compared to my Greatsword. There are some tricky attacks, like lighting the area around themselves on fire or making roots pop up. Hell, there's even a homing pyromancy attack because how else could we possibly make this fight hard??? I tried just crabwalking from this one, it didn't work. Nevertheless, Aldia leaves you plenty of opportunities to hack away at it with your big sword. With little bullshit, Aldia was down and I was the victor. Dark Souls 2 had been bested. Roll credits. Oh thank god.

Well, that was the game. I liked it, overall, but as you can tell I had plenty of misgivings. It 100%
needed more varied ideas and scenarios for the challenge level it was going for. There were just enough instances of the same ideas spammed over and over for shit to officially become stale for me. The parade of bosses that were "big guy with sword". The endless addition of sorcery attacks to areas and bosses just for that extra addition of challenge, variety be damned. The multiple boss fights that raised challenge solely by mobbing you with bullshit or adding in some deck-stacking detriment. The equipment degredation gimmicks which I didn't mention but were spammed one too many times as well. It really all just felt like one too many things were being relied on, rather than creating other ways of making areas and bosses difficult. Paradoxically, the endgame bosses were then laughably easy! I don't know what the hell happened but that was Dark Souls 2. It drained me, that's for sure. I know now that I'll go back to it one day, and I might even appreciate some of it more. In a year's time, what I cite as misgivings I might cite as strengths. Who can say for sure? In any case, I hope you've enjoyed this. Go pick up a Souls game if you can. They're fun as all hell. Just remember one thing. You will die, over and over. The snarky self-awareness is right in that regard. It's what you learn on each death that's important.

Prepare to die, and then seek Enlightenment from that rebirth.

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