Co-Op Critics Podcast: Dark Souls II

In the latest episode of the Co-Op Critics podcast, Brian is joined by Nick Merritt to discuss Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. It’s Nick’s first Souls game, and they talk about the game’s learning curve, the risk-reward nature of its systems, and the joy of multiplayer.

You can listen to the episode right here in the player above, and don’t forget to visit out YouTube page, for the Dark souls 2 videos we’ve put up over the past month.

For our June podcast, we’ll be doing a special episode on E3 2015, so look for that mid-month.


Check Out Our Dueling Dark Souls Let’s Plays!

This is a very exciting month for me. For those of you that follow the blog and our Co-Op Critics podcast, you know we spotlight one game a month for the show. This month’s game is Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, and I could not be happier.

I am a HUGE Souls games fan. I’ve put over 400 hours into the first three games, and I’m currently making my way through Bloodborne (in a Let’s Play series you can check out here). I’m also an evangelist for the games, so when Nick agreed to take the Souls plunge and play Dark Souls II, I was ecstatic. I’d played through once on the PS3, but with the Scholar of the First Sin edition, there are some changes that make the game challenging even for returning players.


Clearing My Gaming Slate for Bloodborne

I usually have three or four games that I’m playing at any given time, seeing as I play on pretty much every platform out there. But there are certain releases that I know will be taking a huge commitment of my time, so I try to clean out my gaming slate before I start them. Dragon Age: Inquisition was one of those games, but that was just a warmup for the game that comes out tomorrow–Bloodborne.

I will be writing, talking and making videos about Bloodborne for the next several months, so I’m not going to talk too much about the game itself here, except to say it’s my most anticipated of the year by a country mile. I’ve put at least 400 hours into the Souls series of games, and I expect I’ll put no less than 100-150 into Bloodborne. That kind of time commitment–especially when I don’t have a ton f time to game–requires sacrifices to made.

I won’t be picking up Borderlands: The Handsome Collection tomorrow, as I know I won’t have time for it (but Nick’s grabbing it, so expect to see some videos here and on the YouTube page). I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition, Dying Light and The Order: 1886. The only other game I have going right now is Battlefield: Hardline, and that will be mainly for multiplayer with my Xbox friends over the next couple months.

But the end of March and all of April will be about one game–Bloodborne. And I can’t wait to dive in. Expect a ton of let’s plays, highlight videos and blog posts about the game over the next several weeks.

What was the last game you cleared out your gaming slate for? What’s coming up that you need to make room for?

I Can’t Wait to Die Again: Dark Souls II is Coming to PS4/XBox One in April 2015

One of the reasons this blog has been so barren over the last month or so is that I’m working on my next novel and participating in National Novel Writing Month. I have had no time to play games (well, I did create a character in Dragon Age: Inquisition), and I have barely been able to keep up with what’s going on in the gaming world.

BUT, anytime an announcement involving the Souls games (or Bloodborne for that matter) is made, my spider-sense goes off. Just as it did when Bandai Namco announced that an enhanced edition of Dark Souls II was coming to PS4 and Xbox One in April 2015.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin will feature visual upgrades, some tweaks to gameplay and most importantly, all three DLC expansions.

I “finished” Dark Souls II on PS3, although I have been trying to beat the Darklurker boss forever, so I haven’t started NG+ yet. I also haven’t played the DLC, and now I’m thinking that I’ll wait for the PS4 version to start a new playthrough and dive into that stuff.

Despite spending well over 100 hours with Dark Souls II on PS3, I still am just scratching he surface of that game. I’ll gladly but the enhanced edition for PS4. The only problem is that it’s coming out just a couple weeks after Bloodborne, so my guess is I’ll be getting Scholar of the First Sin a while after it’s April 7th release date.

Dark Souls II’s Informal Quest System

One of the many things I love about the Souls games is the organic way that quests emerge during a playthrough. There’s no quest system per se, but as you figure out your character build and playstyle, you will find yourself questing for items, spells and upgrades to complement how you are approaching a particular playthrough. This will lead to gaming session where you are not trying to complete a particular level, but rather find an item, or battle an enemy over and over in hopes of getting an item drop.

I have been playing a Hex build for my first time through Dark Souls II, and it’s been an interesting challenge. Because of the hybrid nature of the build (Faith/Int), you don’t really start to become powerful until later on in the game. Hexes require either a certain Faith score or a certain Int score, and certain hexes require different catalysts to cast. These factors are what led to the quest I was on last night–to get a Black Witch’s Staff from the Leydia Witches in Undead Crypt. The Black Witch’s Staff allows you to cast miracles, sorceries and hexes, meaning I would no longer need to switch between spell casting items during combat, and I would only need one equip slot for spell casting.

And so, I ventured back into the Undead Crypt, a very difficult area of the game that I’d completed recently, but needed to revisit, as it is the home of the Leydia Witches. The Leydia Witches are very cool from a lore standpoint. They worship the god of disease, and they can cast multiple forms of magic. They were once good, but abused their power and were killed, their spirits now forced to serve as guardians of the Crypt. From a gameplay standpoint, the witches are very powerful, casting spells that can make quick work of you if they land. When you kill them, there is a chance they will drop a Black witch’s Staff, but no guarantee.

So, my quest was to battle the witches in hopes of getting a staff. Luckily, there is a room not far from the first bonfire in the undead Crypt that houses three Leydia Witches. It also contains four Undead Prisoners, and is an absolute deathtrap if you don’t approach it carefully.

And this is what’s so great about Dark Souls II. This one room became a 45-minute quest for me. Because my character is a spellcaster, running into the room, dodging attacks and meleeing everyone was not an option. The witches are all lined across the far end of the room, and they begin casting Affinity (like homing magic missiles of death) as soon as you enter. Each time I battled them, I had to first lure out the four Undead prisoners and kill them so it was just me and the witches. I then actually had to run past them, dodging attacks along the way, and get to the room behind them to get better position. From there, I used Lightning Bolts and Soul Spears to take them out one by one.

Each run through that room took me about ten minutes, and it wasn’t until my fourth try that I finally got one of them to drop the staff I needed. It was worth it, though.

That’s just one example of the informal quest system that emerges while you play through a Souls game. There will be times where you make suicide runs into areas that are way to difficult, just to grab an item or weapon before dying. The hunt for items, weeapons and upgrades brings you back to areas you’ve already completed. And the type of items or weapons will depend on your build and style, so each playthrough will involve different quests.

This is just another aspect of the brilliant design of the Souls games, and the reason they are so replayable. Over seventy hours in, I’m still questing for odds and ends to perfect my build.

I love this game.

In the video below, you’ll see someone play through the room containing the three withches. This eprson had a much stronger bow than i do, and they smartly used a ranged approach with the witches. The Affinity spell they are casting is awesome, and the reason this person is not taking a lot more damage is beacuse they never take a full hit from one of an entire group of projectiles.


Dark Souls II–Son of A…

The first time you die in Dark Souls II, you unlock an achievement/trophy called “Welcome to Dark Souls.” I got a good chuckle out of that, because of course it’s a nod to the fact that in the Souls series, you die–a lot. For me though, the moment when I achieve the true Souls experience is the first time I want to quit in frustration. That moment happened to me today, at roughly my 60-hour mark into the game, when I face the boss called The Rotten.

The Rotten is a pretty much a giant corpse golem, who attacks you with a giant meat cleaver in an arena filled with burning pools of oil. He’s slow, but extremely powerful, and all it takes is one good swing of that meat cleaver to take me out.

I have died trying to beat this boss three times now, and that’s including when I’ve summoned in help. But what turned my frustration into controller-throwing rage was the way I’ve died the past two times. On each occasion, I had The Rotten down to a last sliver of health, and I’ve died before being able to land the killing blow. I’ve never been so close to beating a boss twice in a row, only to die both times.

I’m actually writing this as I take a break, because I had to walk away from the game. I’ll be diving back in momentarily, but I had to mark this occasion, as it’s the moment in Dark Souls II where the game became a true Souls experience for me.


Dark Souls II–The Plateau

As I approach the 50-hour mark into my first playthrough of Dark Souls II, I’ve hit what I like to think of as “The Plateau.” My character is level 76, and I’m at a point where levels cost enough that I have to really think about where I’m spending my souls (the game’s currency). I’ve also unlocked the ability to really start upgrading some of my gear, which is also an investment that requires a lot of thought.

It’s this point in the game where my character build really starts to come together. I’ve gone with a Hex build, which requires an investment both in Faith and Intelligence, as it’s a hybrid spellcasting class. So, my “go to” spells are getting set, and I’m zeroing in on the armor and weapons I will most likely use for the rest of the game.

During this period, I do a lot of exploring, going back to areas I’ve already cleared and grabbing items I may have missed, as well as dropping my summon sign and letting people bring me in for co-op.

While some players might feel like this part of the game is a grind, I really enjoy it. There aren’t the big and quick jumps in level like the early game, but that’s fine with me. “The Plateau” is where I really get to know my character, and ready myself for the push through the rest of the game.


Dark Souls II–A World of Co-Opportunities

After putting twenty-five hours into Dark Souls II, one of the things that stands out the most to me is how much of an emphasis has been placed on cooperative multiplayer. As someone who really grew to love the co-op in this series, it’s been a great experience for me so far.

From Software has made it easier than ever to engage in co-op, and to customize the type of co-op experience you want to have. From the covenant you join, to your “Soul Memory” (the total number of souls obtained regardless of your character’s level), the game’s goal is to match you up with people who are about as powerful as you so you can play through a level at the appropriate challenge.

For those that don’t really want to deal with summoning or invasions, you can actually “turn off” the multiplayer features by Burning a Human Effigy (a consumable item that can turn you human) at a bonfire. For me though, the multiplayer is one of the most interesting aspects of the Souls series.

I’ve actually been using co-op as a chance to preview a level before I go through it in my own game. I’ll help a few people through the level as a kind of practice, and then make a run through myself.

You can also use co-op as a way to farm for souls, as the developers pretty much did away with the type of farming you could do in the previous game. I actually like this way better, as I’m helping others while I grind to get enough souls to either improve my gear or level my character. The only thing you have to be careful about when doing this is that your Soul Memory continues to increase, and you will eventually move past the level range of most players who are summoning or being summoned in a particular area.

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed is that very few people are taking advantage of the ability to voice chat in Dark Souls II. I haven’t used it, and I haven’t encountered anyone who is using it. I really love the gesture system of communication, and the anonymous nature of the co-op. The gestures this time around are fantastic, and for me voice chat would ruin the atmosphere of the game.

So to recap, thus far I’ve been engaging in a ton of co-op, building up my character and practicing in areas before I make my boss runs. I am getting to the interesting part of my character build now, which I’ll talk more about next time.


Dark Souls II–The First Few Hours

Oh, it’s good to be home again. I have spent so many hundreds of hours with the Souls series over the past few years that there is a familiar comfort in slipping into the world of Dark Souls II. As much as Drangleic is a new setting, it shares so much with what has come before. The biggest difference that I have noticed in my first ten hours with the game is in the approach that I’ve taken to playing it.

I’ve been conditioned by the previous Souls games to know up front that I will be dying regularly in this game, and use each “life” to learn something. The only waste of time in a Souls game is dying needlessly without learning anything new. And I decided before creating my first character in Dark Souls II that I was going to challenge myself to play differently than in past games and explore this game in ways I had not explored the previous one.

So, I started with the Deprived character class, as you are spawned into the world with nothing, and you have no pre-spent levels. It’s the “clean slate” class of the Souls series. Normally, I would start with a spellcaster, because I prefer ranged attacks and the spell you start with makes low level play a bit easier. Not this time. The first enemies I defeated in Dark Souls II were with my bare hands.

The tutorial level is known as Things Betwixt, and for the most part it’s a place to practice with the controls, but there are a few optional, more challenging enemies (Ogres) in the area that you can either brave early, or come back and fight alter. I lured one of these to its death but decided to come back for the others after I had more than a dagger with me.

After the tutorial area, you find yourself in Majula, the main hub area of Dark Souls II. Much like the Nexus in the original Demon’s Souls, this is an area you constantly come back to for leveling, blacksmith access and merchants. NPCs move to this area as you progress through the game. The area itself is beautiful, and is a stark contrast to the murky nature of most levels in the original Dark Souls–it’s bright and wide open.


The first area I decided to trek through from the hub is the Forest of Fallen Giants, and it became immediately apparent that the combat in Dark Souls II was going to be more challenging than its predecessor.

The biggest changed I’ve notice so far are the roaming enemies, and the variety of enemy mobs. In Dark Souls, most enemies were standing in place, waiting for you to aggro them. They were always in the same place, and you knew exactly how close you needed to get in order to pull them to you. In Dark Souls II, many of the enemies are patrolling, which adds almost a stealth element to the game, especially when multiple enemies are present in an area.

And speaking of multiple enemies, there is much more variety to the mobs already in Dark Souls II. You are often facing off against two or three enemies at a time, each with different weapons and attacks. These encounters are much less predictable than what you’d see in the original Dark Souls, and you have less control over the battle itself. This means a smaller margin for error and a bigger emphasis on timing attacks, blocks, etc.

Right now I’ve cleared the way to the boss of the first area, but I’m still exploring the Forest of Fallen Giants, grabbing items and trying to level up a bit. As a deprived, I’ve had to get my Strength and Dexterity up enough to wield basic weapons, and I’ve not leveled my Intelligence up enough to even cast basic spells yet. It makes for more of a grind at the beginning of the game, but so far I like the challenge of having to scavenge for everything as well as having full control over what stats I invest in from the start.

What I absolutely know for sure about Dark Souls II is that I will be putting a few hundred hours into this game, and I’ll be writing a lot more about it on the blog here.

Stay tuned.

‘Return to the Nexus’ Community Event Starts Today at 4PM EST

YouTube user Peeve Peeverson has set up a pretty cool community event leading up to tonight’s late night server test of Dark Souls 2. At 4PM EST, he’s inviting Demon’s Souls players to come back to the game and start a new playthrough. The event is called Return to the Nexus, and he put together a cool video to promote it. Check it out:

Peeve will be live streaming some of his playthrough over on Twitch TV at http://www.twitch.tv/peeve.

I’ll be jumping in and starting a fresh playthrough, as I will take any excuse I can get to keep playing either of the Souls games.