How to Improve Dark Souls II

How to Improve Dark Souls II


Dark Souls is a pretty great game, isn’t it? At the time of this writing I’ve sunk several hundred hours into it, and still manage to have fun experimenting with different builds or attempting to speed through areas as quickly as possible. There’s a lot to love about this game, but there’s a lot that’s not so good too; things that weren’t quite fully realized, whether due to time or budget constraints or simply because the developers didn’t realize how the game would evolve to be played hundreds of hours into it.

With Dark Souls II well off on the horizon, now seems like a good time to look back at the first game and point out those places where maybe the game wasn’t so great, or even just ways to make the game even greater than it already was.

1) Fix Covenants:


The Covenant system was a great idea. It gave players something more to work for in endgame, PVP and numerous New Game + playthroughs. Unfortunately their design and reward payoffs are very uneven. Many Covenants either give poor rewards or simply stop giving you anything after the first two tiers. The various methods of invading/summoning the Covenants provide seem like neat ideas in theory, but in practice it can be difficult to find a match if you belong to a more obscure one.

The Blade of the Darkmoon and Gravelord Servant Covenants are the biggest examples of really neat ideas that fail to succeed because of how specific the conditions for getting into PVP with them is. The Darkmoon in particular get the short end of the stick, as the item needed to advance their covenant is in extremely short supply outside of engaging in PVP. The Gravelords’ role of trying to kill players indirectly by invading their world with powerful monsters seems cool as hell, but I wouldn’t really know as I’ve only ever seen the message that one had invaded me twice, and it seemed to have failed both times, as I never managed to find a single additional enemy lurking about.

The ideas behind these two Covenants should absolutely be kept for Dark Souls II in some form, but they should be reworked to make it easier for them to find matches. Having to carry around Indictments to place Invaders in the Book of the Guilty severely reduces the pool of players the Darkmoon can invade, as many players either won’t bother to carry them or won’t feel the need to report a player unless he was hacking, exploiting, or being obnoxious in some way. Maybe indicting players could be something all players could do without the need for an item, perhaps on a cooldown of 30 minutes or so? Alternatively, take marking players as guilty out of the players’ hands altogether. Provide more opportunities to make the player commit a sin through normal play, such as killing Gwynevere. Maybe even require such actions be taken in order to get certain powerful armor/weapons?

As for the Gravelord Servants, their problem seems to rest heavily on server-side issues from my experience. As I said, I hardly ever see their Black Phantoms, let alone their summoning sign. There are all sorts of connection issues and bugged mechanics associated with this Covenant, which is a shame because on paper it holds the potential to make NG+ much more interesting. There is also the issue of their Covenant advancement relying on Eyes of Death, items that are very easy to obtain through offline play, giving Gravelords little incentive to actually do their job if the Covenant rewards are all they’re after.

In general the other Covenants seem to work well enough, though the reward tiers are often either lacking or mysterious nonexistent after tier two. The Chaos Servant Covenant is particularly underwhelming, offering no real payoff beyond access to a shortcut and two disappointing pyromancies, yet allowing you to offer humanity all the way up to 80 for no real reward.

The Darkwraith Covenant is probably the best-developed of them all, offering rewards at all tiers and even its own distinctive armor set. Members of the Path of the Dragon are likewise very easy to identify for what they are. I think ideally all of the Covenants would benefit from having a unique armor set to be unlocked at the highest rank, or a weapon, or anything significant to strive for in the long term really, beyond the things that are handed to you right off the bat for joining and ranking up once. And this is just nitpicking here, but the process of turning in items for covenant advancement could do with some speeding up. Instead of having to spend twenty minutes offering individual Humanities/Medals/Souvenirs/Scales/etc, why not just prompt me “How many X would you like to offer?” and be done with it?

2) Make Armor Matter


There is a massive variety of armor in Dark Souls, so much that it could instill envy even in MMO players. But what makes one set distinct from the next? Not all that much to be honest. The two key factors are the defense the armor provides and how much it weighs. In PVP a player will likely pick an armor set based on whether it will let them roll at a decent speed with their allotted stats, while in PVE… it honestly doesn’t serve much purpose, at least not after the first playthrough.

Once you start getting into New Game Plus, armor of any sort becomes more of a hindrance than a protective measure, with enemies eventually growing powerful enough to one shot you regardless of what you are wearing. The poise supplied by wearing heavy armor is useful, but really it’s best to just not get hit. This leads to a lot of running around naked with a greatshield and a long reach weapon.

So in PVP armor is generally kind of boring, while in PVE it is eventually useless. What could be done to fix this? The answer might lie in giving armor stats and utility beyond your basic defensive stuff. I’m talking strength, dexterity, endurance and such, as well as some unique characteristics of the armor itself (spiked boots that deal increase damage when kicking, slight movement speed buffs, etc.) These stat bonuses could be used to allow the player to continue to invest in an attribute beyond the diminishing return cap of 40 without wasting points that would be more valuable in other stats.

Perhaps even incorporate the concept of set bonuses. Maybe, for example, if you equip the full Shadow Armor set, you gain the flipping ability of the Dark Wood Grain Ring, freeing up one of your ring slots for something different. Set Bonuses would generally have an equivalent ring that doesn’t stack with it, giving you multiple paths to having the same benefits and allowing for more build creativity.

Maybe even introduce enchantment to armor in the same way that it works with weapons. Enchant your armor to reduce physical defense to be resistant to fire, or maybe deal a small amount of fire damage to enemies when they hit you, actually igniting them if they hit you too many times in quick succession. Perhaps a new weight reduction enchantment could make heavy plate more viable, trading some defense to make a piece of armor 10-20% lighter? These sort of new features would hopefully encourage more diversity in PVP builds AND provide utilities to help overcome NG+++++++++++++++ without having to take on Ornstein and Smough in the nude.

3) Give More Bosses “Hard Modes”


Speaking of Ornstein and Smough, wasn’t it a nightmare the first time you tried to kill Smough first? Focusing down Ornstein while keeping Smough at a distance isn’t all that tough, but locking your camera on Biggie while Smalls is dashing around stabbing at you from out of sight is significantly harder. And once Smough is dead, you now have to deal with a lightning-charged Ornstein, who is far more intimidating than lightning-charged Smough.

The natural instinct is probably to kill Ornstein first for an easier fight, but in this case intentionally seeking out the more challenging fight yields the greater reward in the form of the Leo Ring. What if every boss fight was like this?

It sort of is if you consider the number of bosses whose tails you can cut off, but the way it works now, successfully doing this is enough to get the weapon. That’s a little weak. What if cutting off the boss’ tail just made him angrier and faster, and you had to then survive the entire fight as well to get your extra loot? What if luring a giant monster into ramming through a brick wall revealed a SECOND giant monster, and you then had to fight both at once? The masochistic possibilities are limitless!

These “Hard Mode” encounters would have to be enabled each time a fight was attempted, and the mechanism for triggering them wouldn’t be so obvious that a first time player would be likely to accidentally set one off, leaving their discovery to the community. The gear rewarded for defeating these encounters would be among the very best you can get, serving as status symbols for the truly badass (and the hackers).

4) A Wider Array of Viable Weapons in PVP


When it comes to PVP, a small section of the vast array of weaponry has come to dominate. Katanas, spears and the occasional greatsword, halberd or dagger seem to be the popular weapons of choice. Other weapons make an appearance here or there, but these are mainly seen in gimmick builds or to gimp oneself in order to show off.

Whips, rapiers, hammers, maces and swords smaller than trees should have their place in both PVP and PVE. There are a crazy number of different weapons in Dark Souls, but the ones that win out are usually the ones with excellent stat scaling or a useful moveset. The more exotic weaponry should almost always fall into these categories, or they are never going to see serious use.

Unless your opponent is packing some particularly dangerous magic, PVP tends to devolve into what is known as “backstab fishing”, with both combatants circling around each other with shields raised, rolling around until lag inevitably allows one to backstab the other.  This sort of tactic could be discouraged by providing more weaponry that either breaks guards or attacks around shields.

Ranged weaponry could do with some expanding on as well. Making bows and crossbows fire faster and making it easier to move around while firing them might encourage players to make more use of them beyond taking a couple potshots while waiting for their enemy to close the gap. They shouldn’t be TOO easy to use, nor should they deal more damage than a melee weapon for obvious reasons, but they make for a different sort of encounter every now and then to keep things interesting. Adding slings, boomerangs, and a wider variety of consumable projectiles would also be cool.

5) Random Events


Remember how I said I loved the idea of the Gravelord Servant Covenant? Dark Souls is a game that is meant to be played through over and over, clearing and running through the same areas countless times to get to your current destination. Anything that can be done to keep things fresh with a game designed like this is worth exploring.

Did you know that if a player dies and loses a large amount of humanity, a rare monster called a Vagrant will spawn in another player’s world? I didn’t, until I spotted one randomly chilling by the lava on a recent trip to the Demon Ruins.  Mechanics like this are awesome, and it’s a shame that they are so rare.

They're like walking treasure chests... with crab claws.
They’re like walking treasure chests… with crab claws.

Let’s keep the idea of Vagrants for Dark Souls II, but take it to the next level. Instead of a fairly weak little tentacle crab, what if a powerful NPC Black Phantom based on a dead player spawned in randomly to block your progress, regardless of whether you are in human form? What if, if you died while holding a certain amount of humanity, there was a good chance that your bloodstain would morph into a Black Phantom of yourself, and you would be forced to kill it to reclaim your souls?

At the very least, let’s make the Gravelord Covenant (or it’s DaS2 equivalent) a little more active during normal play. Enemy placement in Dark Souls is consistent to a large degree because memorization and identifying threats is key to its difficulty curve, but some insertion of random dangers would help provide continued challenge to veterans without posing too much trouble for newbies.

6) Grappling


It worked for Dragon’s Dogma AND Shadow of the Colossus  so why not Dark Souls? While it might be kind of a cheap tactic, some of my favorite moments in Dark Souls’ boss fights were the rare opportunities to drop down from a high place to stab the boss right in the face. Maybe for fights against particularly large bosses you could have some opportunities to cling onto the boss’ back, arm or head to get at a hard to reach weakpoint?

7) Better Enemy AI


The AI in Dark Souls is serviceable as is, but presents all sorts of opportunities for exploiting your way through difficult areas. There are a lot of situations where enemies can be tricked into running straight off of ledges with very little effort. That should probably be fixed. And rather than look around dumbstruck if you start sniping them with arrows, enemies should charge in the direction the shots came from, even if it’s outside their typical patrol area. If I’m obviously attempting to circle around for a backstab, maybe the enemy should catch on to this eventually and roll away rather than oblige me? Make me work for my backstabs.

8) The Return of Stealth Components


The closest thing we have to a stealth playstyle currently exists in the form of the Ring of Fog and the Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring. The two together render the player nearly undetectable in PVE, but have very little application in PVP thanks to a series of patches that have rendered the Ring of Fog basically useless once the enemy has spotted you. Yes, there are players who manage to make stealth work as-is, but to me it seems like it is far too easy to be caught, and once you are caught your options are very limited. You can run, but the environment offers few opportunities to get back into hiding.

An option for silent invasions would be a nice start, like the Red Eye Orb worked back in 1.0. Such an item would obviously have to be fairly costly or come with some big drawback (invade with reduced Max HP?), or else everyone would use it.

What about some actual built in stealth mechanics? Could new mechanics like crouching, sneaking, and –dare I say it– taking cover fit in with the existing gameplay model, or would they clash too much? Maybe a new stealth-oriented magic would be enough? Something that renders the user completely invisible and silent but disables attacking while active, and takes a few seconds to go into and come out of? And throw in some other spells built around hunting the sneaky little bastards down of course. There’s all sorts of weapons and armor sets that seem visually oriented around the stealthy assassin archetype, but the actual playstyle usually turns out to be more along the lines of KATANA NINJA FLIPPING AROUND WHOOSHY WHOOSH.

9) Let Players Redistribute Their Stats


This will probably be a point of contention, but should I REALLY have to completely remake my character and spend another 8-10 running through the game all over just because I accidentally put a few too many points in Vitality and not enough in Endurance? If I want to try out a few different spells or miracles but otherwise like my current build, why can’t I just slightly adjust how I’ve allocated my Intelligence/Faith? There is dedication and then there is wasting eight hours to move some numbers around.

It shouldn’t be something you can access at any time of course. Make it costly; requiring either a ton of souls, a lot of humanity, or some rare item drop. Maybe have the cost scale with your soul level, like absolving your sins does. Even having to grind for that would take far less time than starting a whole new playthrough.

Well, that’s it for now. As we learn more about what Dark Souls II will be like I’ll certainly be interested to see what From comes up with to improve on the weaknesses of the original. Like these ideas? Hate them? Leave your thoughts below.

  1. AdamTM says:

    “There is dedication and then there is wasting eight hours to move some numbers around.

    It shouldn’t be something you can access at any time of course. Make it costly; requiring either a ton of souls, a lot of humanity, or some rare item drop.”

    Whats the point of that then?
    Either you are going to grind for the stat-reset item for 8 hours or you are going to roll a new character and build it from scratch.

    But nevermind that.

    The first thing how to improve Dark Souls (2) is to fix the horrible camera and auto-lock on that places your viewpoint somewhere between the larger mobs legs instead of treating it like one hitbox.

    The lock on mechanic and camera is completely useless in battles with large mobs or bosses, especially in close quarters where it goes all retarded and provides cheap deaths.

    If/when From fixes that, we can talk about the other “improvements”.

    • Respeccing should carry some kind of cost because otherwise there would be no sense of having to invest yourself in your build. Respecs should be for situations where you want to use something that already sort of fits your playstyle, but oh shit, you are a couple points too low in one stat to equip it. There should still be some desire to just start a new character if you want to be something completely different, so you grind for an hour or so to respec versus eight hour to make a new character.

      • AdamTM says:

        We have a dilemma here.
        How do we make respeccing have a cost that is not too cheap and one that is not equivalent of grinding?

        One mechanic would be “stat try”, the same way Torchlight 2 handles skill resets.
        You can roll back your last 3 levels but not beyond that for money (souls i guess).
        This would fit your “if i only had 3 more str. i could use that claymore” wish.

        Personally, I don’t see a point in it.

        Skyrim doesn’t do respeccs for the same reason DS doesn’t, all skills/stats can be specced into at one time or another and “breaking” your character is highly unlikely.

        DS is a very gear-focused game anyways, stats are only there for hardcore min-maxing and a gear prerequisite.
        Making “builds” is impossible up-front without reading wiki or having beat the game at least once anyways.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hell no to grappling. I’m more or less okay with everything else. Grappling is a horrible mechanic, all it did in DD was you’d grapple and mash the attack button until your stamina ran low. SoTC is a puzzle game anyway. Although If they did add it it’d probably be viable for like one boss, and the rest would just smash you into a wall when you grab onto them.

  3. Mal says:

    Given the release date the game is looking to be as rushed if not more than Dark Souls was, which is bad news for anyone looking for deep content and all that.

  4. Red says:

    I’m not too sure about the idea of tying specific things to armor. It was annoying to run into Family masks and the Dusk Crown all the time, and it narrows down customization too much. I dislike the idea of being tied to armor in the first place.
    Rapiers get their use in PvP, although sadly it’s usually just the Chaos Rapier for backstabbers, and the Balder Side Sword and Sunlight Sword tend to get quite a bit of praise from the PvP community anyways. But we do need more use of other weapons, as Great Clubs are only really used for the rolling attack, and whips could of been used for more than just gimmicks.
    I would like respeccing to be like it was in Demon’s Souls, but I’m probably in the minority on this.

  5. conlac1 says:

    i agree with everything, and also they should make it impossible to do ninja back flips with the heaviest armor in the game just by having on a ring

  6. Bones says:

    Respeccing in Dark Souls? No thanks, the game is supposed to be hardcore. Everything else sounds nice though.

  7. Dakota Smith says:

    They should put dinosaurs and better magic/magic mechanics. seriously, i want to freeze shit then kick them over and shatter them or something.

  8. Finbikkifin says:

    I disagree on the armour – the joy of Dark Souls is in dressing up in cool-looking gear and not being afraid to switch out of your helmet because you found a sweet new hat.

    Respeccing? Sure – just pay a nominal fee to drain your highest stat by one level

  9. Boo says:

    Disagree with the armor. One thing I hate the most in action RPGs is being tied to a single armor set only because it has the best synergy with my build. I like having style.

    Now if there was “main armor” and “cosmetic armor” I’d be okay with it, however I think that idea meshes with Dark Souls at all so I’d rather not have that.

  10. Feel says:

    I think your article was done with PVP in mind and most of my critisicm will come from that point :

    1° Convenant

    I don’t think Chaos Convenant was useless; It was here to strenghthen the world and helping you during your playthrough, by giving you powerful Pyromancies and opening a shortcut that would ease the way if you gaved enough humanity, and that was quite a thing to do before PtDE in the chasm of the abyss.

    Making random offering is not a good idea. That would break the game in so many ways, getting x99 of a lesser Item for Max Convenant level is the easy way out.

    2° Armor

    Whats great about Dark Souls is its armor diversity. If you incorporate Stats bonuses on sets or particular gear, you get whats currently ruining PvP and even PvE with Dusk Crown and the forgotten Family Masks. This is an RPG not an MMO; Everyone wearing the Same pueces of armor because it gives bonuses would be boring, and would make the online uninteresting; I don’t want to run that set because of some stats, but because it looks cool, and I should be ready to pay up by having a greater deal of endurance or wearing a specific ring.
    Bonuses should stay with rings.
    Leave stats Efficienty to tryhards Min-Max players, don’t ruin mechanics because you want to be “efficient” in a game. Learning pattterns and mastering your favorite weapon is being efficient.

    3° “Hard Modes”

    Agree. But the reward should stay symbolic and not some All-Mithy-wreck-some-shit item.

    4° Weapons and PVP

    I understand your point, but you Can’t really fix that. Its been proven that all weapons are efficient in PVE, doing the same against a human player is different. There will always be weapons more suited than others for player vs player encounters. Either because they are fast, unpredictable, or deal a great deal of damage. I mean crying to From about how you finished the game with the whip, but can’t seem to repel invaders can’t be helped.

    5° Events

    Completely agree. The lack of extra-ordinary events is why the PVP scene in Dark Souls is so big; PvP became the only thing that gave the player some sort of difficulty, since NG++etc is just a matter of memorisation after a while, sure eneemies do more damage, but so what if I no where they are, when they’ll attack and how to counter it ? Again, That should be central in the Next DS Game.

    I think here you wanted to express an idea on how to speed up gameplayin Dark Souls, but I don’t think grappling is the answer. It doesn’t feel right.

    See 5°.

    Meh don’t really see the point here. More PvP options ?

    Absolutly not. Thats the equivalent of an easy mode. If you want to have a certain type of character have to work for it.

    I do think this article was written wir far too much PvP in mind, but ideas like random events is what Id like to see in the next Game.

  11. Wazoo says:

    You misspelled “Darkwraith”

  12. Jekken says:

    We need the ability for shields on the back to reduce backstab damage.

  13. Plok says:

    Surprised you didn’t mention Monster Hunter when talking about armor.

  14. Alex says:

    Archery and ranged-combat isn’t even much of an option in DaS. Many ranged weapons lack the potential to do as much damage as melee weapons at as well as having a slower attack rate and hit chance.

    This really needs to be addressed in the sequel.

    • Alex says:

      And in response to #7, a great example of enemy AI that does more than just run and charge you is in Dead Space 2 and the Stalkers. Enemies who would hide from you taking strategic peaks at you, communicating with other Stalkers (in decipherable sounds) about your location and how to flank you. Usually in a warehouse level design with plenty of cover to hide in.

      A situation like this would work great in Dark Souls, enemies hiding in and around trees until you’re at your most vulnerable.

  15. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Spending
    some time and actual effort to generate a good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

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