10 Things I Wish I Knew About Dark Souls 2 (Before I Started Playing)

Although the beauty of Dark Souls 2 lies very much in its sense of discovery, the series has been known for being a bit obtuse and newcomer unfriendly. If you listen closely, the game will tell you almost everything you need to know in one way or another, but still, there were some things I wish I knew going in. I made it about halfway through Dark Souls (Sen’s Fortress eventually defeated me) but I have been much more successful in my Dark Souls 2 run, thanks in large part to the knowledge I gained from the first one.

Here are some facts that could come in handy if you need some basic hints, but want to really explore the game on your own. There are very minor spoilers here obviously, but nothing that I wouldn’t have minded hearing before I started playing.

Watch Out For NPCs

While most of the NPCs in Dark Souls 2 are made pretty clear, it turns out traveling in a world purely designed to murder you can have some adverse effects on your psyche. The thing about NPCs in this game is that they are a limited resource. They are all helpful in some way, yet must be managed right. If you, for example, see one and think it is an enemy, that NPC won’t take kindly to your attacks and will go aggro, and the only way to fix that is to find a character named Cromwell. The problem there is that it is insanely expensive, so you really don’t want to have to do that.

Thankfully, there are a couple of things you can do. First, simply pay attention. Sure, nobody wants to get killed unawares, but take a second to really check things out. If a character looks new, or is just kind of hanging out, they may be friendly. You also can’t lock-on to friendly NPCs, so take that into account as well. Take special note of this tip when entering the Shaded Woods, because I managed to ruin the day of not one, but two NPCs there.

He...is probably safe to attack.

He…is probably safe to attack.

Clear The Area While Talking

This one seems like a gimme, but it is important. While chatting with a new NPC, the area doesn’t pause. You, and the character you are talking to, do not get a reprieve. I was chatting up the mage in No Man’s Wharf when a hollow came in and attacked me, killing me. When I went back, he was no longer there, but he didn’t make the trek to Majula like he was supposed to either. Few things are as frustrating as losing progress just when you think you are in the clear. You are most vulnerable while talking or in the menus, so make sure you are absolutely safe before doing one of those things. Dark Souls 2 does not discriminate with its death.

How To Use The Torch

This is one of those things that makes you feel like a complete idiot for missing, but I get the feeling I’m not the only one who has asked “How do I light the torch in Dark Souls 2″ to my friendly neighborhood Google. The answer is simple: Walk up to a bonfire, and before you sit at it, press the button right below it that says toggle. Voila, you can now light your torch. If you are against toggling, than you can also use a Flame Butterfly. It’s really your call.

The monocle is for pro players only.

The monocle is for pro players only.

Use, Don’t Burn, Effigies

Most people figure this out rather quickly, but it is a bit obtuse. Human effigies allow you to regain your humanity, which is necessary for regaining your life and summoning help for boss fights. However, despite the prominent option to burn them, that only stops you from being invaded by enemy players, something that isn’t a major threat early on. Instead, you need to use them as an item to get their full benefits. Don’t go all willy-nilly on them though. Use the hint below concerning the Ring of Binding to ensure that you are only using your Effigies when you need them, mostly right before a boss fight (that you hopefully prepared for while hollowed).

Get The Ring of Binding

One of the first things you will notice, especially if you were a Dark Souls player, is the fact that your max health goes down every time you die, up to 50%. Luckily, there is an item you can get almost instantly to negate that. One of the very first areas you can access (although it is still very dangerous for a low-level character) is Heide’s Tower of Flame, available right next to the cat’s shop in Majula, through the stone tunnel. You can check out the video here for the exact location, but basically there is an item here that raises the ceiling on your health lost from 50% to a much more manageable 75%. This is a huge boon in the early game, and it is worth a few deaths to try to obtain it. Even if you aren’t quite ready to take the rest of the Tower on, it will certainly help you in the Forest of Fallen Giants.

How To Burn The Windmill

This one drove me crazy. There is a mid-game area called Earthen Peak, accessed through Harvest Valley. After completely clearing this area out, it became clear that I would somehow need to drain the poison in the are before I could do what I needed to do. Although the game never explicitly tells you this (as far as I could find), to do this you need to burn the giant windmill, which makes these two areas much easier to traverse (and helps immensely with a certain boss fight).  It is overwhelmingly easy to do this, and is absolutely necessary.

All you have to do is travel to the second bonfire (Central Earthen Peak). Right outside, there are three enemies which need dispatching, and a curious little rock ramp right by the windmill. Simply walk up to the bonfire, light your torch (as we discussed) and walk up to the windmill. It will give you the option to burn it, and you will make your life infinitely easier.

Right about there should do it.

Right about there should do it.

Check For Hidden Doors

In the first Dark Souls, hidden doors could be accessed by striking them with your weapon. While there are a few areas like that in Dark Souls 2, most of the secret doors require you to tab a button (A on Xbox, X on PlayStation) to open them. Do this often, there are a ton of hidden doors throughout the game, and almost all of them lead to something you want, in some cases even a bonfire. If any alcove looks suspicious, or any part of the wall seems off to you, run up to it and start hammering the button up and down it. There is no telling how many secret areas I’ve found this way, and the game does little to let you know how to get to them.

Don’t Be Afraid To Upgrade A Weapon

Whenever I see an obtuse upgrading system (like Dark Souls, or Final Fantasy XIII) I always get terrified of using my resources. I learned this the hard way in the first Dark Souls, as I ended up upgrading an inferior weapon and regretting using all my Titanite. While these resources certainly aren’t limitless in Dark Souls 2, you get enough of the base Titanite material to do a bit of experimentation. Be careful if a weapon uses something odd like Petrified Dragon Bone or Twinkling Titanite, but if you are attached to an early game weapon (like I was with the Falchion) don’t be afraid to beef it up a bit, especially if you really like the move set (which can be more important that the stats themselves.)

Don’t Roll In Poison Pools

It just makes it worse. If you need to get through a pool of poison, just run as quick as possible. Rolling covers you form head to toe, and makes it last longer.

Just, don't.

Just, don’t.

How To Use Magic

Magic, which includes miracles, sorceries, pyromancies and hexes, can be a great equalizer, but the game doesn’t go into great detail about how exactly you use them. No worries though, because it is quite simple. To use any magic, you need a catalyst. This means you need to equip either a staff (hexes and sorceries), a chime (miracles and some hexes) or a pyromancy flame first, and then attune a spell. You need at least 10 points in attunement to have a spell slot, and by attuning at a bonfire, you can put a spell into that slot.

Every couple of points will give you another slot, letting you carry around more spells. Magic can be tough for beginners, but once you get the hang of them they can be a ,ot of fun. Keep an eye on your weight (at 70% you start to fat man roll everywhere), particularly if you are focusing on more than one magic, and don’t be scared to experiment with your stats. You can always respec later (although not indefinitely).

The Bow and Pyromancy Flame Are Your Friends

While sorceries, hexes and miracles take more of a specialized build to master, bows and pyromancy provide great ranged utility that almost any character can use. All you need is a bow, or a pyromancy flame. You can find a bow in the blacksmith’s shop (assuming you buy the key from the merchant), and you can find a pyromancy flame near the end of No Man’s Wharf, accessed through Heide’s Tower of Flame, along with a handy spell for it.

They are both worth checking out, especially if you are new. If you like them, you find an even better bow, and flame, relatively early on as well, and arrows are super cheap.