Dark Souls 2, the hotly anticipated sequel to From Software punishing RPG landed in the UK on Friday, and with a quick check on the online death tally, we're looking at over 52 million deaths worldwide already, so it's definitely starting where it's fore-bearer left off in terms of difficulty and unreserved harshness.
With this in mind, I've devised a list of survival tips that should assist you in at least dying less in your first few hours of this epic adventure. There's a mix here of mainstay Dark Souls tips, but also new insights that are specific to the sequel. Hopefully they will help you Go Beyond Death that little bit more. As usual, potential spoiler alert.
1. Pick Warrior or Mage
Picking your class doesn't have a significant impact on your character later in the game, as your ability to level up and alter your stats gives you lots of flexibility. However it does impact your early game as you will be restricted to the opening stats and available equipment much more.
So to that end, I would ask yourself one question, do you want to get in up close and personal in combat as a melee character or prefer a ranged magic user? If you want to be a melee character, then I would advise picking the Warrior character, as they have decent stats and start with a shield. I opted for the Knight, and regretted the lack of shield in the Tutorial - but if you can cope without it, and buy one later, the armour set as a Knight is pretty useful for early game.
If you prefer magic, then opting for a Mage class is pretty self-explanatory as an option. It's worth noting that if you don't select Mage class you won't get a catalyst to cast spells until much later in the game, so it might be that you opt for a Mage simply to give you options of magic, rather than just close-quarter combat. The choice is yours.
Oh and don't worry about your starting gift either. No item you get cannot be obtained normally throughout the game, so pick whichever feels like it might help you out the most early on.
2. Give yourself a Ranged Option
It's important to have options in Dark Souls 2, as the odds are against you in most situations. Therefore if you opt for a Knight or Warrior class, then I would recommend you supplementing your close combat options with a ranged weapon or two. The obvious and simplest options is a bow or crossbow. Bows in particular do require a certainly level of dexterity to use, but this investment is well worth it so that you have another weapon in your arsenal to tackle all situations.
Make sure that you are well stocked with arrows, as they are not unlimited, although carrying them does not affect your Equipment Load (more later) so don't be afraid to be well stocked if you can afford it. Different options of arrows (like poison tipped or fire arrows) will give you additional options for sniping, although won't become available for purchasing and experimenting until a bit later in the game.
3. Use the Help You Are Given
Dark Souls 2 is a bit more accessible than it's predecessor, with the former just throwing you straight into the action, with the sequel giving you a much more gentler difficulty arc (for a Dark Souls game). As a newcomer or even returning player, it is advisable to make the most of this to give you a fighting chance. As such, you should really embrace the tutorial even if you consider yourself a Dark Souls veteran - control tweaks make the game feel slightly different to play, and it's better to get used to these before you start proper. For newcomers, it's a great setting to understand the dynamics of combat and movement (and also understanding that falling off a ledge can mean instant death), so practice, practice, practice until you feel ready to take the game on properly. Particular focus should be placed on timing your attacks, and nailing evasive maneuvers such as rolling and back-stepping.
Similarly Dark Souls 2 has lent a hand with the mind-boggling statistics that can affect how your character plays, how effective your attacks are, how good your defence is against different elemental attacks, and even more complex relationships like how your weapon performance scales with various stats being levelled up. Rather than jumping straight on the game's Wiki site or trawling a game forum - like you had to with Dark Souls - this time around From Software have offered topline explanations of each metric to help you understand what the myriad of statistics are showing you. Take time to familiarise yourself with what each piece means, as this will help you make decisions about upgrading your weapons or armour or levelling up certain stats. There are even changes from the first game, so this exercise is recommended for all players of the game.
4. Keep Equip Load below 50%
Following on from understanding your stats, one important one to bear in mind is that of Equipment Load. Every piece of equipment, be it a weapon or armour, has a weight that if you choose to equip it, will be added to your Equipment Load. Your can only equip items as long as you doing so doesn't cause you to go over your Equipment Load total. It sounds straightforward, but there is an additional layer to consider.
At over 75% Equipment load (i.e if your Equipment Load maximum is 40, you have a total equipped load of over 30) your character moves around like Drangleic - the game's world - is operating double gravity. Movement is heavily restricted, giving you horrible mobility and making you more of a sitting duck. The movement restriction between 50 and 75% is less, but an ideal situation is to be below 50%, as it gives you a good balance of equipment and mobility, which you need in sticky situations, especially in boss fights. The necessary dodge roll becomes so slow and cumbersome at over 50% Equip Load, that it leaves you wide open. You can go below 25% Equipment Load and get the best speed and movement benefits, however the equipment you may have to forego to achieve this may prove too much for some, and is something to dabble with when you have much more experience with the game.
5. Watch Your Durability
Each weapon and armour piece has a durability number that decreases every time it is used (i.e a weapon is swung and makes contact, or an armour piece is struck by an enemy). The amount it loses is dependent on various factors, such as what armour the enemy was wearing when you hit it, or how forcefully your armour was struck by an enemy. Weapons and armour don't lose anything by losing durability over time, however if their durability ever reaches zero, then they become broken and must be fixed before they can be used again. This weapon fixing can only be done at a Blacksmith (more later) which greatly restricts your plans.
Durability of equipment is restored back to full for free every time you rest at a bonfire, however to compensate for this the durability of weapons in particular have been reduced versus the original Dark Souls, making it ever more important to keep an eye on it. For reference, it's the little red bar underneath your equipped item on the onscreen display. You'll want to make sure you've either got some Repair Powder to restore your durability back to a maximum, or alternatively, make sure you are carrying some additional weapons that you can swap between to make sure you can make it to the next bonfire. That way your progress won't be hindered by having a broken weapon, and you won't have to pay to get it repaired.
6. Blacksmith Early Access
Linking to the previous point about getting your weapons repaired, the only place to do this is at a Blacksmith. The first Blacksmith you encounter has foolishly locked himself out of his own workshop and he won't be able to help you with anything until you find his key. Whilst this very Zelda sounding quest may causing the rolling of some eyes, it's critical to help him out as soon as possible.
The Blacksmith is not only for repairing your items, but is also a great source of new weaponry and armour, and is the only place to upgrade your current equipment to make it stronger. Such upgrading is essential if you wish to improve your defence despite the slim pickings the game offers you at the start. As such ensuring your access to this Blacksmith quickly is important. Locating the key from a travelling salesman near an early bonfire will allow you access to his workshop, and you should make it a priority to purchase said key, to ensure the Blacksmith's assistance.
7. Be Flexible With Bosses
The good news is that there is a lot more bedding in time into the game before the first boss fight, compared to the original Dark Souls, which threw you into a boss tangle almost straight away. There's a bit more time in this game to settle into proceedings before you reach the first boss door. However because of this, you may notice that once you've finished this first boss, that a second boss is approached very quickly afterwards. You will also notice that the difficulty between these two bosses comparatively skyrockets.
As such, it's also an idea to not think of Dark Souls and it's areas and bosses as levels that need to be completed in a particular order. But as different parts of the same world that can be tackled in any order. Therefore it is recommended that if you are struggling with a boss (or an area leading up to a boss) feel free to abandon that particular endeavour, and seek alternative routes into new lands, with new challenges. In such new areas you may not only find a challenge more suitable, but you may also come across new items or equipment that may prove invaluable to previously difficult tasks that you can return to with a new sense of purpose. Do not see this approach as defeat, but merely as gaining more experience in the Dark Souls 2 world.
8. You Are Not Alone
Due to the single-player design of the game, and the very brutal nature with which you will die, over and over, Dark Souls 2 can feel like a very lonely experience. However if you are to truly feel it's breadth of experiences, then embracing other people is vital to your success. Firstly there are plenty more NPCs this time around compared to the original, and not only does each of their story further enrich the lore and history of the gameworld, but these characters can also serve as sources of vital information and even give you useful equipment. Keep talking to each character you meet until their conversation loops, and you will benefit greatly from the rewards.
But the true benefit from other people, comes from joining up online in jolly co-operation with other players. Using the White Soapstone you can lay down a sign that will be visible to other players (as long as they aren't hollow) who can then summon you to aid them in their quest. The normal idea being that the summoning player will either need support in clearing an area, help with a boss or both. Helping out another player is a great way to earn extra souls, and also to understand and learn group tactics for certain tough situations. Also if you succeed in beating an area boss, you will receive a special token proving your support.
You can then either use this experience you have gained to beat an area that was troubling you, or alternatively gain help yourself by summoning others, by standing over white summon signs on the ground when you aren't hollow and activating them. You can call up to 2 phantoms to your world to help at any one time, and this can sometimes be the difference between success and defeat.
9. Beware of Ambush / Traps
By now you've probably realised that Dark Souls 2 is tough. And you will die constantly. However that doesn't mean you can't get a bit clever with how you play the game and keep an eye out for tricks the game may have up it's sleeve. More than its predecessor, Dark Souls 2 is a fan of drawing you into a trap or an ambush, which with the element of surprise can kill you very quickly, and losing you all your hard earned souls.
So another great tip for survival is to learn to be wary. Don't go rushing into things head first, because you'll be caught out again and again. Look for the tell-tale signs of something shiny being in plain view, and then resist the urge to sprint over to it. Think about what could be lurking to the side or behind you ready to strike at you when your back is turned. Controlling the camera is key here, whenever you enter a blind area, and your peripheral vision is limited, rotate it around to see what is about without launching your character forward into a potentially dangerous situation. It may seem slow and steady, but it's the sensible option, given how hard you will work for the souls you accrue.
10. Cheap is Good
Perhaps the biggest piece of advice I can give you for Dark Souls 2 is to not think of any tactic you come across as cheap. Dark Souls 2 certainly doesn't care when and how you die, so long as you do, so why should you care how you stay alive? Whether it be sniping enemies from afar from a safe zone, or luring out multiple enemies one by one to deal with them safely, or simply spamming your favourite magic spell, nothing should be seen as a cheap trick, but moreover a tactic that you have discovered that helps overcome the desperate challenge the game throws at you.
Dark Souls 2 is a game that encourages experimentation. You die, so that you can learn, improve, and ultimately succeed. People will figure out tactics that make certain situations easier, other people will get incredibly lucky, other will find it very tough, but that is all part of the package when you play a game like Dark Souls 2. Remember there is no embarrassment at beating a boss, however you do it, and there is no shame in asking for help, be it physically online, or going to internet forums to ask a question.
Embrace this game for the difficulty that it is, and enjoy the experience it offers, guilt-free.
So hopefully those tips will help any newcomers to the game get through the first few hours, and really grab the game by the scruff of the neck. And I hope you do because when you get into it, Dark Souls 2 really is quite a great game to play. All that's left for me to say is good luck, try not to get too angry, and Praise the Sun!