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Eight Ways To Improve Your Dark Souls II Experience

I've sunk about 60 hours into Dark Souls II, and although I've loved my time with the game, I do have some regrets. From Software doesn't provide players with a lot of explanations or direction, and although the sense of discovery you get from experimenting is often rewarding, there are some aspects of the game that shouldn't be overlooked. Here's a list of things I wish I had known from the beginning.

Hidden Moves
From Software has an affinity for including some handy moves in the Souls series without actually telling players about them. While the basic tutorials in Things Betwixt provide you with some guidance, they don't outline everything. Just last week, I realized I had completely overlooked three valuable moves:

Shoulder Push: Forward + R1. I originally thought this move was the same as the shield bash (performed by pulling the left trigger), but it's a separate move that can break an enemy's guard or knock foes off ledges. In order to perform the shoulder push, you need to tap forward on the analog stick (don't hold it in) while simultaneously pressing R1.

Jump Attack: Forward + R2. Here's another embarrassing oversight on my part. The jump attack is one of the most powerful attacks you have at your disposal, and can take down many weaker foes in a single blow. Like the shoulder push, the key to performing the jump attack is to tap forward on the analog stick instead of holding it forward.

Dash Attack: O, R1. Here's a move I know a lot of people overlook, because most of the online descriptions of how to perform it are wrong. Tapping O (or B on 360) without pressing a direction on the left analog stick causes your player to hop backward. Immediately pressing R1 afterward causes your player to spin forward with a counterattack. It's not quite as powerful as some of your other moves, but it's a speedy way to follow up an enemy's attack with some damage of your own.

Additionally, new players will want to know about one final move, the all-powerful Backstab, which is performed by pressing R1 when standing behind a foe. The important things to note here are that you cannot be blocking with your shield when you perform the attack, and you shouldn't be pressing a direction on the analog stick – just stop, let go of everything, and tap the R1 button. Doing so will unleash a powerful combo on your enemy that deals more damage than several normal attacks. However, the backstab cannot be performed on all enemies.

Finally, don't overlook the power of two-handing a weapon. Pressing the triangle (or Y) button switches out your shield on the fly. While you are more vulnerable when two-handing a weapon, your attacks will also do more damage, and perform different moves. If you've already figured out an enemy's attack patterns, consider switching out your shield and dishing out some extra pain.

Don't Overlook These Items
Within a few hours of starting Dark Souls II, your inventory will be overrun with random items. Most of them are consumables that you'd be forgiven for neglecting. However, there are a few items you'll want to use immediately. Sublime Bone Dust is an item you'll get from certain treasure chests, as well as a hammer-wielding Old Knight in Heide's Tower of Flame. Sublime Bone Dust will permanently upgrade the power of all your Estus flasks; to use them, you must burn them in the bonfire at Majula.

Estus Shards are another important item, which are thankfully harder to overlook. Each Estus Shard gives you a new health-replenishing flask, which can be restored at bonfires. Estus Shards should be taken back to Emerald Herald – the red-haired woman who hangs out by the bonfire in Majula. Selecting the option in her dialogue menu will activate the shard.

Finally, despite their name, Human Effigies should not be burned in bonfires. Doing so will disable invaders from entering your game for an hour, which isn't really a concern unless you've been invading other peoples' worlds. Instead, you'll want to eat them like any other item, which will turn you human, removing the penalty to your health bar that you receive from dying. However, you should do this sparingly – human effigies are also used late in the game to open up certain portals. Most boss fights can be overcome while hollow with a little practice.

Instead of wasting effigies, you can use the Ring of Binding (received from a chest in Heide's Tower of Flame) to limit your total HP reduction at 75 percent when hollow. If you really need to be human, slip on the Ring of Life Protection, acquired in No Man's Wharf. This ring will save your souls and humanity on death – it also breaks, but can be repaired at a blacksmith for a paltry 3,000 souls.

Coming Up Next: Some important things to keep in mind when upgrading your character and equipment...

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