Written by G. Russell
One Game A Week is a bunch of words from my brain to yours about whatever game has been occupying my time the most over the last 7 days. Once a week, EVERY week for the duration of 2015. God help us.
One of my most memorable moments from when I originally played Dark Souls 2 over a year ago was that lone Heide Knight in the Forest of Fallen Giants. Discovering him a few minutes into the game created a striking and unforgettable image. Following a skirmish alongside a river with a few undead soldiers you emerge, after ascending a tall ladder, into a woodland clearing with a large oak tree in the centre of it. The bodies of fallen enemies are strewn about the floor and the Heide Knight sits alone, slumped against the trunk of the tree. With his head bowed and his elbows resting on his knees he looks exhausted and, uncommonly for a Souls game, he doesn’t attack initially; only becoming hostile if you strike first. His white cloak and silver armour are bloodied and caked in dirt but he still stands out clearly against the muddy browns and leafy greens of the forest. It stops you in your tracks. Shit, you think, who is this guy? Followed by and how fast will he be able to kill me?
It’s your first reminder that the fear of the unknown is one of the biggest threats in the Souls series.
In Scholar of the First Sin or, Dark Souls 2 Redux, he’s gone. Deleted from his place underneath that tree. Deleted from the area entirely. Why? Are From Software saying that they weren’t happy with where he was placed? That given the chance they’ve leapt at the opportunity to remove him? It seems odd to me how something that become a bit of an iconic image would be wiped away. In his place is a swarm of regular enemies that ambush you once you step off the ladder. They’ve transformed an eerily calm and suprisingly poignant (although also kinda threatening) scene into a chaotic brawl.
This Heide Knight switch-up, a seemingly small one but one that shifts the tone of that area of the game dramatically, only helped to reinforce the opinions I’d heard from other seasoned Dark Souls 2 players who were wading into Scholar. They were saying how the changes made to the game felt like tinkering for tinkering’s sake. Tweaks and adjustments from the school of Geroge Lucas. I was apprehensive about going back into Dark Souls 2 after burning myself out on it when it originally released and, to be honest, illogical changes really weren’t helping.
But a few hours in (and 3 defeated bosses later) I’m slowly learning to love Dark Souls 2 all over again and embrace some of these changes. There are still some adjustments that have me thinking “why, From, why?”, like the ones made to Heide’s Tower Of Flame, an area which has been rendered outright unpleasant by the addition of an abundance of patrolling, respawning Heide Knights. Conceptually, it works that they’re there, but they feel forced in with little thought given to balance. It feels like From are saying “ha! Have that! Too easy was it?”. Also confusing is how there’s still things left in that, given the chance, I’d assume From would have wanted to tighten up. The army of Royal Swordsmen that pour out of a door in Lost Bastille, I’m looking at you. But there’s been plenty of tweaks and new enemy placements that have either raised a knowing smile (the Syan Knight standing guard outside of the inaccessible King’s Door in Forest Of Fallen Giants), caused me to stop in my tracks (a certain Ironclad Soldier on the way to The Pursuer) or roar with sadistic glee as I’m brilliantly and shockingly incinerated (the surprise dragon before the Old Dragonslayer boss). Spending all of my time in human form has also drawn my attention to a few new NPC summons who are on hand to explore with you, the best of the bunch so far being a guy you meet in the pitch black tunnels in a section of Forest Of Fallen Giants who lights up the area with an aqua-blue magical glow and helpfully sends Soul Arrows screaming through the gloom to knock enemies on to their arses. He was a lot of fun.
I’m also having a lot of fun with my build. I’ve gone for a focus on dex for the first time in a Souls run, inspired by my nimble character in Bloodborne, and have also jettisoned a shield in favour of a secondary sword. At the moment I’m currently pouring souls into dex and stamina and two-handing a +6 rapier. My character is very stabby and is putting out an astonishing level of damage at such an early part of the game although I do keep forgetting I’m not quite as sprightly as I was in Booodborne, leading to more than a few spears being thrust into my guts as I try to dash away following my attack.
So, thus far, it has been a bit of a mixed bag. I’m looking forward to eventually finding all the included DLC, the highly praised Crowns trilogy content, as it was the main reason I picked this up. I just hope I don’t get too bogged down with the strange little changes that From have made on the way there.
To be fair, I’m probably not doing myself any favours by coming at this straight off the back of Bloodborne. Straight off the back of completing Bloodborne twice in one week, no less (all optional areas and bosses in my first, steadily paced run then another quick run on NG+ just doing the essentials. It got rinsed, mate). Heading into a game as glacially paced and meditative as Dark Souls 2 after the visceral, lightning-quick and outright horrific Bloodborne is perhaps too much of a shock to the system for me. Also, my tolerance for punishing difficulty is perhaps not what it normally is having spent the last two weeks getting tortured in Yharnam. Maybe I just need a break from the focus that Souls requires from you. Perhaps a little rest will do me the world of good. Maybe I need to play something peaceful. Something gentle. Hey, I’ve still got that The Evil Within DLC on my to-do list. That’ll be nice, won’t it?