Note: This is the first article in a series dissecting the good, bad, and horrid of Dark Souls 2. Rebuttals to the arguments presented here will come in future articles, but feel free to disagree in the comments below. These opinions are my own, and are informed by others as little as possible.
Hatred for Dark Souls 2 is rampant, going so far as to infect writers of Forbes. The game is, at its core, inferior to the first Dark Souls in almost every way imaginable. Almost everything fails to meet the high marks set by the original Dark Souls. Are there moments of brilliance? Of course, few games can claim to be completely awful, but Dark Souls 2 fails on so many different levels that you might even consider these bright moments moot. There are any number of problems, three major ones stand out: bosses, map design, character development and plot construction. I’ll cover the bosses today, and the rest in future articles.
The original Dark Souls had its fair share of poorly designed bosses, from the Capra Demon to Bed of Chaos and Nito, among others. Their primary failing was in a lack of actual challenge, and instead of redesigning them to accommodate skill, the induced a sense of artificial difficulty through the use of tight spaces, surprise insta-deaths, and additional enemies. Capra’s dogs and Nito’s skeletons, while certainly relevant in context, add nothing but annoyance to the fights themselves. Bed of Chaos, for its part, forced players to accept that the boss was really just a series of death pits and otherwise served as little bearing on skill (at least on the first few go arounds).
Dark Souls 2 takes these concepts and amplifies them, but not in ways that enhance the experience. Rather, most of the unfairness comes from an exploitation of a faulty mechanic or the expansion on an already unsavory design choice. Three examples come to mind: Lost Sinner, Duke’s Dear Freja, and the Skeleton Lords.
Lost Sinner: This fight is an outright exploitation of the sub-par locking mechanics. Unless you take the time to light the lanterns in the arena from the outside, the battlefield will be almost completely dark. As a result, lock distance is minuscule, easily broken, and, with Sinner’s frequent jumping, almost impossible to maintain. Sinner is an extremely fast boss, with powerful attacks that come in waves. If you can’t keep tabs on her for any length of time, you’re likely to be respawning with a little less total health. Provided you’re fighting her alone, the frustration will be palpable every time Sinner jumps and transitions into a lunge. Add to all this that her weapon’s damage hitbox is larger and wider than the sword model itself, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Duke’s Dear Freja: Like Nito before her, Freja is a chump without assistance. And like Nito, her minions respawn in large enough numbers to be bothersome. In this case, however, the spider mooks are faster, harder to hit, and guarded not by a squishy boss but by invincible spider legs. Moreover, none of Freja’s attacks can injure the little spiders, where Nito would kindly murder his undead allies on a whim. In short, then, Freja is an easy fight in a “difficult” game that they made “difficult” by adding distractions instead of focusing on actual difficulty.
Skeleton Lords: If I can wax personal for a moment, let me just say Fuck you, From Software. No one needed a boss that includes bonewheels, and that you have to kill the fuckers in order to progress. I can’t think of a single person who, when they made it to the Catacombs in the original Dark Souls, said to themselves, “Oh, sweet, now I can fight the bonewheels!” If you are such a person, please commit yourself to an asylum after writing me a personal email detailing your insanity. On a more serious note, like Freja, this fight is more about avoiding the mooks and killing them than actively fighting the boss itself; the boss is mooks essentially, and that’s just sad.