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Eight Ways To Improve Your Dark Souls II Experience

by Jeff Marchiafava on Apr 15, 2014 at 12:58 PM

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...

Don't Get Weighed Down
Most RPG fans have dealt with encumbrance in video games, but Dark Souls II handles your equipment load a bit differently. The weight of your equipment affects a number of different attributes of your character. The more you've got equipped, the slower your stamina will recover and the shorter distance you'll roll when performing a dodge. Once your weight is over 70 percent, your roll will slow down as well, making you even more vulnerable to attack. Breaking 100 percent slows your walk, run, and sprinting, and makes rolling virtually impossible.

In order to remain swift on the battlefield, consider investing in endurance, vitality, and adaptability. These stats may not seem as important as strength or dexterity, but they'll help you perform more attacks in a row, avoid enemy assaults, and prevent you from staggering when blocking more powerful strikes. If you're having trouble keeping your weight down, look for rings that increase your maximum equipment load. A good early game choice is the Royal Soldier's Ring, located in No-Man's Wharf.

There's Hidden Power In Upgrading Weapons
Normally, upgrading a weapon increases its damage by 10 percent of its starting damage. However, as Dan Tack discussed on our Dark Souls II special podcast, the rating of a weapon also periodically increases, which can have a big effect on what kind of bonus damage you get from a weapon. In short, all weapons don't upgrade equally. Before you sink a ton of souls and titanite into upgrading a weapon, use an online guide (my favorite is this Dark Souls II wiki) to see how it scales.

Before that, however, you should first find a weapon that fits your play style. Each weapon type has its own move set, and some more powerful weapons even have special abilities. A list of stats won't tell you how long the reach is on the Drangleic Sword's thrust attack, or that an overhead swing of the Large Club can knock some enemies off their feet. Even if a weapon doesn't seem all that special, it's a good idea to experiment with it a little bit.

Finally, one more important thing to consider is the material needed to upgrade your weapon of choice. Some weapons require twinkling titanite or petrified dragon bones to upgrade, as opposed to the standard run-of-the-mill titanite. While these weapons will ultimately be more powerful when fully upgraded, the ore they require is a lot rarer. Upgrading a weapon like the Heide Knight Sword can get you a good way through the game without devoting any finite resources to it.

Sometimes Getting Hit Is Better Than Dodging
This tip may sound counterintuitive, but it's true nonetheless; sometimes taking the brunt of an enemy's attack to your shield will leave you in better shape than trying to avoid it. The reason is that blocking attacks with a decent shield converts the damage to stamina loss instead – and sometimes that stamina loss is less than what you'd expend rolling out of the way.

I discovered this during the Lost Sinner boss battle in Sinner's Rise. Dodging the lost sinner's successive slash and thrust attacks often completely drained my stamina bar, leaving me vulnerable. Even worse, the sinner's thrust attack can be particularly tricky to dodge, and cut my health in half when it caught me trying to roll out of the way. Once I started standing up to the punishment, things went a lot easier – each of the weaker slashes only took off a fraction of my stamina bar, and staying on my feet gave me the time needed to sidestep her more powerful attacks. For early level players, I'd recommend going with the Large Leather Shield (obtained in Forest of the Fallen Giants), a surprisingly light shield that negates most physical damage. Later in the game I switched to the Drangleic Shield, which blocks all physical damage.

Coming Up Next: The virtues of preparing to die...

Embrace The Flame
If you're a melee fighter in need of a decent projectile attack, consider dabbling in the art of pyromancy.

Bows add extra weight to your character and also require you to constantly acquire arrows. Magic projectiles like Soul Arrows require a heavy stat investment in intelligence and attunement, plus you also need to acquire and equip a staff, which also contributes to your equipment load.

Pyromancy is a cheap alternative to both of these options. You'll get a Pyromancy Flame for free from a chest after the No-Man's Wharf boss fight, along with a basic fireball spell. The Pyromancy Flame doesn't weigh anything, so you can equip it without affecting the balance of your loadout, and pyromancy spells also don't have any intelligence or faith requirements – all you need to worry about is boosting your attunement a couple of levels. Finally, you upgrade the power of your pyromancy spells by finding or buying fire seeds, which becomes considerably cheaper than upgrading a stat like intelligence or faith later in the game.

Think About Where You're Going To Die
Players don't normally plan on dying in a game, but for the Souls series, it's essential. The souls you acquire from defeating enemies act as your XP for leveling up and your currency for buying items and upgrades. When you die, you drop them, and if you can't get back to them before you die again, they're gone forever.

Because of this, you always want to make sure that if you're going to die, it's in a place that you can get back to without too much resistance. Find yourself up against a particularly deadly enemy you've never encountered before? Try luring them back to a safe area so if you do die, you won't have to dodge their attacks while trying to retrieve your hard-earned souls.

The Executioner's Chariot boss battle in Huntsman's Copse is a great example of a situation where a little end-of-life planning can go a long way. The battle requires you to make your way down a long circular hallway full of regenerating skeletons, while also dodging the deadly chariot as it dashes its way around the perimeter. Flipping a switch eventually triggers a battle with the chariot's horses, which present their own set of challenges. As soon as I flipped switch, I hightailed it back to the beginning of the hallway; even though I died in the ensuing showdown, I had at least ensured my souls would be waiting for me at the entrance of the arena on my next try.

Dark Souls II also contains two side locations – Belfry Luna and Belfry Sol – where other human players will frequently spawn and attack you. Luring these PvP foes back to the entrance of each location will minimize the sting of losing to a human invader in battle – at least you'll have an easy time recovering your souls before the next human shows up to torment you. Which reminds me...

Don't Wait To Participate In Covenants
The Souls series features a unique approach to multiplayer. Instead of teaming up with buddies for co-op or competitive play, you are matched up with random characters for short periods of time. Some players are on hand to help you with difficult boss battles, while others may invade your world and mercilessly hunt you down.

You'll gain access to a number of different multiplayer covenants as you play – don't put off experimenting with them until late in the game. Matchmaking is determined by how many souls you have acquired throughout the course of the game, so the higher level you are, the harder it may be for the servers to find a suitable match – and the more difficult that opponent will likely end up being. Covenants also offer up some good rewards, providing added incentive for joining them. My favorite is the Bell Keepers covenant, which tasks players with defending the previously mentioned belfries from "invading" players. Defeating these players won't add to your sin level (which affects how often other players randomly invade your game), and rewards you with titanite chunks that can be used to upgrade high-level weapons.

For more helpful Dark Souls II suggestions, check out Dan Tack's Tips & Tricks, or listen to our special edition podcast devoted to the game. You can also learn from my own humorous failures, outlined here.