Thursday, 29 May 2014

Dark Souls 2 - Reflections and Musings

This may sound weird but I want to thank the people who helped me defeat bosses in co-op, most particularly on my first playthrough, although they would never see this.  My skills aren't as good as someone half my age and twice my talent, but having played for ages now (every day since release) but I find my skills are getting better.  Maybe it's a mix of skill improvement and confidence.  I tend to put myself in the place of my character and use every survival tactic available to me.   That is to say I find the game to be very immersive, contrary to the opinion of some who say this isn't the kind of game to be "immersed" in.

Where my confidence falters is with bosses.  I can handle the mobs in the outer world, and in fact have killed some bosses solo, but when I pass through some of those fog doors, my focus goes to hell.  I can often maintain my composure until the boss is almost dead, then something pings in my brain and I make some stupid mistake. I guess I'm not alone there though and it's often a matter of timing or a slip in concentration, or more likely the most aggravating death happens from stupidly falling off a ledge.  I don't mind trying again of course, it's part of the experience, but sometimes it's the tedious trek back to some of the the bosses that is more annoying then anything.

Now, since I have summoned players to help out, I have also returned the favour over and over again helping others do the same.  I've recently started a Dex based character and this time I'm going to join the Sunbros and become a golden phantom.  "Praise the Sun."  My other characters, (melee strength and a sorcerer) are near the end game and I don't know yet if I will take them to NG+.    I might be making it harder on myself than I will ultimately enjoy.  We'll see when the time comes.

It's fun and rewarding and those Smooth and Silky Stones have the potential to net something nice from Dyna and Tilo.   But, please guys, no more Demon Great Hammers....I can't use them on any of my characters, but they do bring a nice price from the great Gavlan so that's a plus.  I also have a collection of Tokens of Fidelity.

I summoned a Shade for the first Pursuer fight with my new character and the guy shot me with the ballista, so that was one try down.  And we nearly had him beaten too. I had to laugh though and I don't know what the phantom thought after he killed me.

Something people who look down on others for using summoned help may not realize is that it can also make the boss fight longer and more unpredictable, gives the boss more health, especially if two phantoms are summoned, and I believe less damage is done per hit.  Three players hitting on a boss can really mess with their AI though and confuses them as they aren't programmed to be able to handle attacks coming from multiple sources.   Something like that would be near impossible to program though I imagine, which is probably a good thing depending on your point of view.

This brings me to the fact of summoning help in the first place.  Some do it because they may feel they need the help, (ie me) others because it's fun to co-op (also me) and for the person being summoned there are rewards as well as feeling good about helping, (me again.) I watch a few Let's Plays and it pisses me off no end how some over zealous (to put it mildly) viewers dictate how others should play the game.  This happens with most games of course, but the Souls fan base is particularly and ridiculously extreme.  Who bloody cares if a player wants to use a summons, be it another player, or an NPC, who by the way, except for a couple are mostly useless.  It's supposed to be fun not an exercise in masochism for the masses, unless the player really wants to go solo and has the skill.  However, a couple of LP'ers I watch tried summoning and were reviled for it in the comments.

As far as NPC summons go, Lucatiel keeps falling off the walkways and drowning in No Man's wharf, every single time I've tried to use her there, so her quest is over before it starts.  I clear the place of every living thing, except for Gavlan and Carhillion, before summoning her and she still drowns getting to the ship.... Her summon sign needs to be on the ship, but then she'd probably drown in the hold on the way to the boss.  Either that or she gets stuck coming through the fog gate and never arrives to help anyway.

The best NPC phantoms I've discovered so far are Jester Thomas for Mytha the Baneful Queen and he can solo her if you let him.  The other was Pilgrim Bellclaire, a mage who also holds her own against the Ruin Sentinels, a fight I always dread, at least until I have a shield that blocks 100% and plenty of stamina.  My mage character had less trouble though as I could keep my distance. 

To my dismay I met these freaks of nature again in Drangleic Castle in a small area where there are statues with spears who come to life and can quickly "ruin" your day if they are all woken at once by mistake, which is easy to do.  They are just about my most hated enemy because they are impossible to backstab and their spears go through shields, seemingly even if I dodge and roll like a boss.  One on one isn't too bad but it's an area with several doors and behind all except one is a Ruin Sentinel.  You're out of luck when all the doors are open because you'll be fighting them all any time you pass through there....and they respawn.  I just run past them now, I don't care about the loot.

Anyway, back to what I was saying about Co-op which along with being able to invade another player's world is build into the game and is explained in the Lore by Saulden.  If people have the skills and patience to solo bosses, even after many tries, or on the first try, I say good luck and congratulations to them.  It's the fanbois who seem to feel it's mandatory to handicap yourself so they can feel superior for beating a boss solo and then berating others for not being able to do it, or not having the patience that really irritate me.  It's a game, not a life or death simulator in real time.

I had a funny invasion the other day with my strength character who had just killed the Demon of Song with the NPC summoned phantom.  I had teleported to the Forest of the Giants to check something and was invaded by a red phantom fully encased in Havel's gear and carrying the Dragon Tooth.  Now, as far as Covenants go I joined the Blues at the start of the game and never really thought about it after that so a Blue Sentinel arrived to help me out.  I don't know what level the invader was but he or she didn't stand a chance being slow and fat rolling.

I wield a fully upgraded lightning infused Murakumo and wear very little armour, so I'm very mobile.  The invader threw Lightning Spears at me which I just sidestepped, not even dodging, and with two or three hits from my sword they were defeated.  I think The Blue Sentinel might have gotten a hit in, but he or she took awhile to find us as the invader actually ran away from me after I took half their health down and as invaders can't heal, it was all over soon after.  I got 133,364 souls from that which had me worried as I've read of instances where people get huge numbers of souls from hackers and because of Soul memory, their game can be ruined from a Co-op point of view.  I also read that players of a very high level who do a lot of PvP can have enormous amounts of souls on them because it eventually costs 100,000's to level, and successfully repelling an invader nets a percentage of what it cost them to level.  Anyway, I used the souls to level a few times and to upgrade weapons. 

I've had a couple of invasions with my latest character, who had basically just killed the Old Dragon Slayer at the time, that seemed sketchy to me.  One was a guy who lagstabbed me repeatedly from across a large room, but maybe that was a connection thing.  That was the first time that's happened though as I've been invaded before with no weirdness going on.  The other was similar, also with a lot of lag, but I'm sure it was a cheat because he stunned me so I couldn't even retaliate, from across the river in the Forest, and he kept rubber banding all over the place while he was doing it.

Not much to do do about it though unless something is done developer side but grin and bear it, and so far it's only been those two that were problems.  A fair fight is good fun even if I die, but cheats are just failures with low self esteem, so I just carry on regardless.  It's not worth getting worked up about. Unfortunately, from what I've been reading the cheats and hackers are coming out of the woodwork as in previous Souls games, so we can expect more of it I imagine.

My most advanced character has just reached the Undead Crypt entrance so I haven't seen what comes after that, but I've enjoyed most areas, except maybe Black Gulch and The Shrine of Amana.  The first is a poison pit, even worse than Harvest Valley which I quite enjoy strangely enough, and the second is a pain in the neck, at least the first time through with the mages and their homing Soul Arrows, although I believe they were nerfed a bit in a patch.

Then there's the deep water you have to wade through slowing you down while things attack you with abandon, aka the lizard like stealth assassins hiding in it.  Then there are the bottomless drops in the water that are very hard to see until "YOU DIED" appears on screen.   I'd advise using a torch to explore the outer areas so you can see the depth of the water, preferably when everything is dead because there are some treasures and other things to be found.  It's a very pretty area though.

The Gutter is like a vision of hell the first time as well, but isn't so bad on later visits.  If you have Arachnophobia, then you're in for a treat in a certain area as well.   I'm looking forward to seeing the dragons though, even though I foresee many deaths.

Onward I go for now though, ever the intrepid adventurer(s).....I have three poor souls with very different experiences as they traverse this dangerous world.   And having a blast doing it.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Dark Souls 2 PC - My Impressions

Let's start by saying this is not a review as such, just my impressions, so if you want a proper pro review it's probably better to go elsewhere.  However, I will be talking about what I like and dislike and a few of the issues that need to be fixed, but probably won't be.

So, here goes:

I've been playing this game every single day for hours upon hours since it was released and I was able to activate it on Steam.  If I'm not playing I'm thinking about playing and what I'll do next, where to go, what upgrades I want to do, different strategies for a boss I'm having difficulty with etc, etc.  I think I've already played this game, and will play in the future, more than any other game I've ever played before. 

I currently have two characters.  One a pure strength build, although I am now leveling her to add some magic, ie Lightning Spear, to help deal with the harder areas now she's reached Castle Drangleic.  My +10 Claymore and Great Club do amazing damage, but my reflexes aren't what they were years ago and having arthritic hands doesn't help sometimes.  However, I take things carefully and I'm ultra aware of my surroundings and having an upgraded bow using poison arrows has saved me many a time.   I will admit that I bypassed one main boss because it was so irritating, but I had the requisite number of souls to enter the Shrine of Winter so I could progress.  More on that boss later.

Now I've started a second character, a mage/melee hybrid, my melee skills have improved which I've taken to my strength character with more success.  Playing a mage makes me paranoid as any enemy, even the lowliest hollow can one hit me if they get close enough.  I use Hexes and Miracles as well as a +10 magic Bastard Sword but I may upgrade to another weapon later.

I don't do PvP. I'm not good enough, although I have managed to kill most invaders, which in fact have been very few.   I think I've only been invaded half a dozen times in all the time I've been playing, except when I've wandered into PvP zones by mistake, for example The Grave of the Saints, or the Belfries.  Going there is asking to be ganked by not just one, but two or more players so it's not worth the effort unless I choose to play offline or burn an Effigy and they aren't easy to come by.   It's just annoying to me not to be able to investigate an area because I'm continually being summoned as a gray spirit or invaded in those areas.

I played Dark Souls 1 for many, many hours and loved it, but I'm finding I like Dark Souls 2 even more and I don't miss GFWL(Windows Live) and it's issues.  So far on only one occasion have I not been able to login to the Steam servers and that was a global problem.  There are so many cheats and hackers playing Dark Souls 1 now that it's become unpleasant to say the least being in human mode and trying to reach a boss because you'll just be invaded and ganked either by cheats or low level players with high level gear.  There are cheats making their way into Dark Souls 2 which, I believe was blocked by VAC, Steam's anti cheat function, but for some unknown reason VAC had been disabled for the game allowing more cheating.

The second half, or more the last third, of Dark Souls 1 was more of an annoyance, for me, in some ways though.   I didn't much like the Lost Izalith levels which even the developers admit wasn't well optimized.  I'm not a fan of red and black lava levels for ages and the bosses in that area were just irritating and reiterations of previous bosses in numbers, rather than challenging.

I don't own a console so haven't played Demon Souls although I have watched some Let's Plays.  I like the way some things were brought forward to Dark Souls 2, although at times having to travel back and forth to level up so I don't lose a ton of souls can take me out of the game, so to speak.  I'm not sure how I feel about being able to fast travel from the start, but since the levels aren't connected in the same way as in Dark Souls 1 it's become a necessity.  Not to mention as I said, carrying around a lot of souls is asking for trouble, so it's always back to Majula to level or buy and upgrade gear to be safe.

A word about summoning help.  I know a lot of players look down on people who summon help for bosses.  Well, good for you, get over it.  It's part of the game, and in the Lore, just like invading other players, and I have summoned help several times, usually after trying it for myself first.  After I do though I always spend a lot of time paying back by helping others with those same bosses.  It's rewarding as well as a way to get rewards and souls.  The boss I will always summon for, even if it's just the NPC, is the Ruin Sentinels, this games answer to the New Londo Archers.  It's an optional boss but that area has a lot of hidden stuff to find otherwise I would avoid them altogether.

There is so much I love about this game but here are just a few things that stand out:

A minor thing maybe, but I love that the game never crashes, unlike others I could name, and I personally have had no issues at all with stability.  I use a SweetFX Preset to give the graphics just that bit more depth and richness, otherwise I think the graphics are pretty good, if perhaps faded looking. 

I like that I now have to watch my weapons durability and have other weapons upgraded and in my inventory just in case.  I always carry repair powder, but except for the very early parts of the game on my first playthrough I haven't really had a problem with a weapon breaking.

The changes to the "Lock On" mechanic.  I much prefer the way you have more freedom of movement while being locked on and not only being able to circle the enemy.  I can still keep them in view while being able to direct my blows the way I want.  It took a little getting used to early on, but it's become instinctive.

There are no useless stats.  Adaptability is an essential and getting it to at least 20 is a huge bonus to resistances as well as faster usage of consumables and dodging i-frames.

You can't farm indefinitely now as enemies stop spawning after a certain number of kills.  But, you can use an item at a bonfire that re-populates an area, including bosses.  However, this makes the enemies harder and is permanent.  I haven't neeeded it yet as I haven't de-populated all areas but by this stage you know what you're dealing with so it shouldn't be that hard.

Exploration is rewarding.  So many hidden things to discover.

You can aim spells with the binoculars although they don't have a cross hair, but you get used to it.  The binoculars are in the weapon category as well so that's a plus.

After a critical you can now hit enemies while they are down instead of waiting until they recover. 

After the first playthrough, as in Dark Souls 1 you can got to New Game + multiple times where new items, enemies and other events happen.  I haven't got there yet but am looking forward to at least NG+ once. 

Anyway, there's so much to like, in my opinion, I can't list it all, but there are a few annoyances, as with most games.  No game is perfect.

 A few Cons:

One of my biggest bugbears, and this included Dark Souls 1, is the way collision boxes on geometry block obvious visible paths to fire arrows or spells, especially when sniping, how an enemies weapon will pass through walls to hit me but my weapon hits the geometry, (as it should,) and other attacks, especially things like the beam attack from one boss in particular, kept passing through brick and rock walls to hit me.  It really frustrates me when I'm sniping an enemy above or below me, and I can see them clearly, but my arrows hit a wall or the floor.

Next most annoying...Irritating cheap bosses with extra minions that are often the cause of death before the boss even has a the Dukes Dear Freja.  The bonfire is so far from the boss and you have to kill so many enemies to get there, but then it has all these minions that swarm you.  That can be dealt with though with care, but having to trudge though all these enemies just to get to the boss isn't actually hard,  but is damn tedious when all I want is to get there and fight the boss.

Input is sometimes (often) unresponsive, for the 360 controller at least, creating dead zones where input is not recognized.   Jump attacks and Block Break are so inconsistent as to not be worth trying because they only work erratically, if at all.  The controller doesn't appear to recognize the input which can result in a quick death.  Chaining actions doesn't always work either.  There are a lot of complaints about it so it's not just me.

The big one that everybody hates...Soul Memory.  Why they did this I'll never know.  Supposedly it was supposed to stop high level players from preying on low levels ones as in Dark Souls 1, but all it does is prevent co-op and people who want to play together being able to connect at the same time.  There are a ton of threads about this so I'm not going into detail except to say it's a pain and is not stopping cheats which are the ones who need to be stopped, but that's probably impossible.

Some areas of the game absolutely require the use of a torch or some other light source, eg the Light Spell if you're a magic user, but torches cannot be purchased from vendors.  The only way is so get them from enemy drops or sometimes in chests or other loot, so if you run out before going to The Gutter (hellish place, second only to Black Gulch and it's poison spitters) you'll be running around in almost pitch black darkness.  And that is a real nightmare.

A couple of very minor things that should be mentioned are the NPC's who continually repeat the same lines of dialogue when you go to them.  The worst offender is the Emerald Herald, someone you have to speak to to level up.  Vendors do it as well so it becomes a clicking race to get through the repetition to actually do what you wanted.

When exiting the game you have to once again go through logging into the servers and another menu.   It should be a simple return to the Menu and "Do you wish to Save and Exit"  Yes/No and that's it you're back at your Desktop.  It's totally unnecessary.  Maybe there's a reason for it, but I don't know what it is.

In general though, this game is the best I've ever played and the complaints, except for Soul Memory can be overcome.

Thanks to FROM SOFTWARE for a great game.  Looking forward to the next one.