Saturday, 11 October 2014

Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Ivory King and Main Game Issues

As much as I love this game it's becoming harder to defend some of the decisions made by FromSoft so here are some questions and complaints regarding the main game and the DLC's in particular The Crown of the Ivory King.

I've seen posts on forums and particularly the developers own forum, where a couple of people don't think broken poise, hordes of enemies, inflated difficulty and bad enemy placement in place of actual creativity and other real problems are fine and we should accept them as part of the game.  That's just short sighted and in my opinion quite ignorant.   I enjoy this game but it has glaring issues, especially since the recent patches.  Anyone who doesn't see that is fooling themselves.

Difficulty does not equal inflating enemy poise and health pools, having hordes of enemies swarm you, faulty hitboxes, and generally making the player weaker to simulate a "hard" game.   That's cheap, not imaginative challenge.
Onto my list of things that need to be addressed in the main game:

1.  Why is it with the plethora of items requiring Twinkling Titanite and Petrified Dragon Bone we cannot get a vendor who sells infinite supplies of both at the end of New Game.  The game was developed so that we couldn't farm ad infinitum due to spawns being limited.  This can be achieved by using Ascetics effectively ascending those areas to NG+ level and beyond depending on how many times you do it.  However, when one progresses to NG+ rotations those areas remain at their elevated levels.

So, you have a number of armour sets that require Twinkling Titanite.  Which one or two do you use all of your resources on?  I wouldn't care if the price was high and it should be, but not limited or requiring farming, which as already mentioned is discouraged.  Farming for hours is boring, so why on one hand limit it and then make it impossible to buy these resources?

There are a lot of Boss weapons, a number of which are inferior to other weapons requiring basic Titanite even when fully upgraded, so why is there no way to purchase unlimited Petrified Dragon Bone?

2.  Why, when FromSoft decides to "balance" the game and entire classes out of reasonable existence do they not ever communicate with their fan base.  I know a lot of game developers don't bother to talk to the people who actually pay for and play their product, (loyal fans by the way,) but a little goes a long way when the game is now so different than it was at release.  And not for the better in many respects. 

OK, some things needed balancing and certain exploits needed nerfing, but there's a point when it goes too far.

 It seems to me they are balancing the game around PvP, and listening more to PvP players, when a very large part of it revolves around PvE.  I have zero interest in PvP but the game was developed with both in mind therefore each have their place, so don't make one inferior to the other.  I'm not the only one who prefers PvE, helping others and getting help myself when needed, and having fun in co-op. 

Stamina regen has been noticeably reduced, but most enemies seem to have infinite stamina, not to mention poise.

Lockon is now at close melee range, if you're lucky and in good lighting.  For mages that's almost a death sentence when enemies in groups rush you.  What is the use of armour when it does virtually nothing for defense and poise?  We may as well run around in rags as many do, for mobility, but also because armour doesn't matter much except for "Fashion Souls." 

The nerfing of Lightning Spear damage, which was supposedly a mistake when reducing the number of casts, has never been fixed, or acknowledged.  However if you pay for the Crown of the Sunken King DLC you get a Lightning Clutch Ring that increases damage at the cost of physical defense. This is a theme over all three DLC's where magic of all types, except for fire, has been reduced, but you have to pay to get a ring to replace it.

To add to that casting speed has been reduced, the number of slots needed for some spells with reduced castings is ridiculous and damage in general has been lowered.  Some say magic was overpowered, maybe it was, maybe not, but isn't playing a mage class about being powerful in their chosen discipline since they can't afford to be hit?  The term "Glass Cannon" came about for a reason.

Enemy resistances have been boosted now, making a mage build even harder and in the DLC's, practically a waste of time.  My mage characters have basically been left to linger as I don't see the point in having to level stats to use a bow which is way more efficient than spells, especially in areas like the Shrine of Amana.

3.  I don't really care because it looks ridiculous, but where is the rest of the set belonging to the Flower Skirt from the Crown of the Sunken King?  If the rest of the outfit was available it may well be worth having even if only to say you have it.  I can't say I've ever seen anyone wearing the skirt either.

4. Why can't we get infinite Repair Powders from a Smith, preferably Leningrast, instead of a functionary at the castle?    Also Leningrast should sell infinite Iron arrows, perhaps if necessary after a certain point in the game. 

Since Majula is the hub for vendors why do we have to travel all over the map to get to the others, some of whom are in dangerous areas.   Straid being a case in point where he is surrounded by exploding mummies that rush you at the bonfire, and could potentially kill him as well, although I don't know if that can happen, but I suspect it's possible.

5. Enemies at bonfires.  As above with Straid, and worse at the Salt Fort bonfire on the way to the Lost Sinner where you could be killed on spawning by crossbowmen if you don't very quickly get out of the way.  I usually despawn them out of spite.  Doing things like this is poor design.

There is also the fact that some bosses have added annoying enemies which for the most part isn't too bad, until you get to the Royal Rat Authority which is a failure of a boss in itself, but to have a group of added rats that can immediately apply a fatal dose of toxin....?  I know Dark Souls 1 had a few bosses with added spawns, but it was done so you had an even chance, except maybe the Capra Demon, but that could be done without so much pain.

6. What is the point of wearing item finding gear, aka the Jester's Hat, Covetous Serpent Ring+2 etc, when drops are so far and few between.  Getting torches and herbs instead of what I'm after is annoying to say the least. This is another problem with farming and limited spawns. I don't expect rare drops every time, but once in awhile in several runs I wouldn't mind getting something useful when I'm using the gear to maximize drops.

7. Fix the hit boxes and ludicrous 360 degree tracking of enemies who spin like tops when you try to get behind them or roll away and you still get hit even though their weapon obviously was nowhere near you.

8.  Many people have complaints about the Netcode.  I haven't had those issues myself except if being summoned by someone for a boss fight who is lagging all over, or being invaded by someone who teleports all over the place, but I've seen the problems in videos.

9. Fix the weapon durability on the PC at 60fps or increase durability overall.  In the Crown of the Ivory King in particular, my weapon threatened to break so many times, and worse it happened in boss fights so that I either had to use multiple repair powders or attune the Repair Spell on a character that doesn't use magic, both of which do not repair nearly enough.

10. This should have been much higher in the list but whatever...Fix poise for heavens sake.  Being stunlocked by rapiers and daggers is stupid especially if I'm wearing high poise gear and the Ring of the Giants.  The DLC enemies, mainly the Crown of the Sunken King have so much poise it's unbelievable.  I cannot stagger the Drakeblood Knights even with two hits from an Ultra Greatsword.

11.  Soul Memory. This has been the most hated and discussed issue since the game was released so I'm not going to go into detail here. I haven't personally found this to be a problem for me, but I don't play with friends who want to co-op together which is one of the things that was supposed to be a core function of the game.  I do a lot of co-op in the Sunbros and I've never had issues finding summons or to be summoned, but that's different to two friends wearing a ring specifically to be able to play together, and can't if their soul memory is too far apart.  This was changed to a degree in one of the patches, but I don't know if it's better now or not.  Having read posts on a few different forums I suspect it's not, but maybe that's due to incompatible internet connections as much as Soul Memory.

12. Finally as far as the main game goes, my pet hate.  It may seem frivolous to some but it should not happen.   The collision boxes on architecture that prevent sniping from safety so you have to totally expose yourself to fire arrows or spells when the enemy can fire back at you.  See screenshots for exactly what I mean.  This game loves to set multiple high damage enemies on you all at once so at times it's an advantage to use a bow if you don't want to be overwhelmed.  When your arrows consistently hit invisible walls it becomes frustrating.  Not to mention playing as an archer build becomes bloody annoying.

Both of these screenshots show the arrow buried in an invisible wall and these are not the worst cases by far.

12a.  Adding to this the fact that enemies can hit you through walls which means staying away from walls when an enemy is on the other side trying to get at you if for example you need to heal.   That's something we can't do so why is the collision so bad that we are at yet another disadvantage. 

Now on to the DLC's and mainly the Crown of the Ivory King where there were a number of things that disappointed me.  I consider myself an above average player, particularly when seeing some of the Youtube Let's Players attempt this DLC, but some things just left me pun intended. 

I enjoyed both the Crown of the Sunken King and the Crown of the Iron King and there wasn't really much that bothered me except for the already mentioned enemy poise and magic resistances in COTSK.  I liked the puzzle elements in both and the level designs in general.

I also enjoyed the level design of the Crown of the Ivory King and I didn't even mind the backtracking as it opened up new areas and had a point.  I was even bright enough to realize that I needed 3 extra knights for the main boss fight before attempting it and that was very well done in my opinion.  I'd go as far as to say it was the best boss fight in the entire game.

Aava was also a refreshing change from the humanoid boss fights and I felt sad to have to kill such a magnificent creature.  The NPC summons have been upgraded nicely as well.   I only used them for that fight with success on the first try.  And they both survived.

The NPC invaders were fine overall, but Maldron version 2.0, with his inflated health, that damned lance and super human recovery times made for a long, boring and unnecessary fight.  After being tricked the first time opening the gate and having him run to hide behind a large enemy, I thought I would leave him to his own devices and not even go to him again.  However, I took particular pleasure in poisoning him, even though that wasn't easy either.  I guess since he was such a troll in the previous DLC From thought it would be funny to do it again, but in a worse way, and I didn't think it was amusing at all.

I wasn't a fan of the Ice Rats, as cute as they are (sort of.)  Being damaged just by touching them and then stun locked into infinity and losing most of my health when they roll into me is beyond annoying.  Thankfully, they have little health and arrows can kill them quickly.  I suppose they are a replacement for the Bonewheel Skeletons.

However, there are things I absolutely hate about this DLC.  OK, I farmed 15 Loyce Souls as far as getting the boots, gloves and chest piece, then discovered I had to get 35 souls to get the helmet.  Really?  In a game where farming is discouraged! It can be done by co-op, but I'm damned if I'm going to farm another 20 souls for a helmet not matter how good it is.  Besides I would never wear it as it looks silly.  The armour itself looks amazing, but unfortunately no other headpiece I have looks good with it.
And surprise, surprise it needs Twinkling Titanite as expected.  Where do we get all of this marvellous material for all of our special armours?   Oh, that's right there's no vendor that sells infinite supplies.

Then I discover I need 50 souls to speak to Alsanna and have a chance to get the Ivory King Set and her soul.   You have to be kidding!

You can shoot her with arrows for her soul without farming, but since she is one of the non evil Shards of Manus I don't see why I should kill her.  She is a tragic soul and doesn't deserve to die for her family's evil doing.

Another thing that's a little annoying about farming these souls is that I am more often summoned to help fight an invader, then get crystalled out.  This happens at both bosses, Aava and the Ivory King so actually getting to co-op a boss fight is not easy.   The Charred Loyce Knights also seem to stop spawning after a time so what is the point of it all?  I'm not going to use an Ascetic just for that.

Most of these things I can put up with or ignore, but the Frigid Outskirts is about the worst area I have ever played in any game.  I didn't mind so much that I'm in a constant blizzard with low visibilty where it clears for literally only five seconds every so often so you can briefly see where you're going.   In fact it adds a bit to exploration and finding something special.

I do mind very much the Ice Stallions with infinite poise that cannot be staggered even with an Ultra Great Sword or the Great Club fully upgraded. It doesn't matter that you roll in plenty of time to avoid attacks, but they still manage to hit you when they charge for a good chunk of health even when I hear them coming.  If that wasn't enough they start coming in pairs and even in threes in a couple of instances and even with the NPC summons, or human ones it becomes a chore.

Not only do you burn through resources at a massive rate, ie health items, repair powders, and others, but then you get to the boss, if you're lucky (?) and find two reskinned tigers that use magic and have AOE's like Aava, in a relatively small arena.  Now this wouldn't be so bad if the camera didn't screw you up, you didn't get caught under one or against a wall so you can't see what's going on, but when one is at around half health the other tiger joins the fight.  Then, he buffs himself so he takes less damage and regains health.  The buff is short lived, but is that really necessary after the trek to get there and having supposedly already killed the other, or not if you're not doing enough damage.

I realize this is a challenge area and optional, but whoever designed it has no idea of real challenge and difficulty.  There's just not enough manoevering room to fight these bosses especially when you have partners, and it just becomes a confusing mess when you can't see what's happening around you.  That's not a challenge, it's cheap and boring.

I've seen videos of people successfully fighting these bosses and most of them were doing it solo, (which is their own fault really) and raging mightily about the same things I am here.  Maybe that would be easier since I did actually get there solo after both my NPC's died, and got one tiger to half health, but I'm not patient enough, or skilled enough I suppose, to do this over and over again 50 bloody times because it's supposed to be "hard."

Despite what I said in the previous post, I am going to try NG+ with my main characters now that I've done everything I want to do, but it already feels like I'm doing them a disservice and should retire them instead of putting them, and myself through that again.

Oh, and one last thing.  After speaking to King Vendrick in his memory the crowns gain the ability to cure the curse for good.  What's the point of that after finishing the main game and the DLC's and finding that bonus doesn't carry over to NG+, or so I've read on the Wiki.  I wouldn't have expected it to, but it seems a bit useless at that point in the game.  I never killed Vendrick and now I can't see any reason to.

I know I'm wasting my time by typing all of this, FromSoft don't communicate their reasons for doing anything and none of it will be fixed, but I had to get it off my chest.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Dark Souls 2: For Better or Worse It's A Different Game Now

Now that the final DLC has been released for Dark Souls 2, as far as we know, I feel it's time I expressed my thoughts about this game.  Some of this will be good and some will not be so great.  The game has a lot of problems some of which have been made worse by the constant "re-balancing," nerfing of weapons, magic and armour, complete classes made almost useless, and other mind boggling changes.    

I bought the game on the day it was released and except for a couple of weeks, I've been playing it obsessively and still enjoy it to a degree.  I will be 60 years old next month and female and I consider myself a reasonably good player.  I do everything solo except for bosses as I don't have the patience to try over and over again to succeed, so I summon and then return the favour by co-oping for people who need or just want to team up to defeat a boss.  I've talked about that in a previous post.  Having said that, I've gotten better and I can solo some bosses or use the NPC's provided, as useless as most of them are.   The Ruin Sentinels don't strike fear into my heart like they used to, although at Drangleic Castle I can't be bothered with them.  It's just a grind.

 The base game is not that hard really.  The so called difficulty is not there by creative, imaginative means, but by bad enemy placement, ridiculous hitboxes, enemies hitting you through walls, sometimes overwheming numbers and one of my personal pet hates, dodgy collision on the architecture.  Why can I not fire arrows around a corner without a huge collision box on a wall stopping me from sniping from safety.  I have to be completely exposed to the enemy, or enemies plural, to do so because there's an invisible wall poking out a long way from the wall or over a ledge.

Another thing about difficulty - Currently I have one character partway through NG+ but I truly don't know if I'll bother continuing with her or my other characters, especially the way things have been nerfed to make melee classes the only really viable playstyle.  Difficulty past NG should not be about adding red phantoms everywhere, which to me look out of place and a bit silly amid the rest of the environment, but about adding more normal enemies, and/or giving the existing ones better AI and being a bit more creative. 

Many people say this game is not a good as Dark Souls 1, but I believe many of those are looking through rose coloured glasses when reminiscing about a lot of that games mechanics.  Yes, I enjoyed Dsk 1 but it was not without it's issues.  Combat in most cases involved fishing for back stabs, magic was overpowered and it also suffered from cut and paste syndrome.  Lost Izalith is a prime example of that.  In general level design was much better and it actually has Lore where DsK2 is all about heroes, places and objects forgotten in time and remembered by no-one.  

In the main the combat in Dark Souls 2 is more fluid and feels more natural to me.  However, I don't appreciate enemies with infinite stamina, instant 360 degree tracking, inflated health as in the DLC's and also many who have infinite poise.  At times controls are unresponsive (I use a 360 gamepad) and the jump attack and guard block is a "hit and miss" affair a lot of the time.  We also lost the ability to cue commands.

The number of times I've been hit by a weapon obviously out of range due to bad hitboxes, or I press a button and get a different response is beyond annoying. The lockon system is flawed so that I'll locked onto an enemy and suddenly I'm facing another, or I want to retreat and I find myself locked on against my will.  I've changed it several times in the options, but it stays the same. And they even nerfed that in a recent patch so if I'm playing a mage I have to be in melee range to cast my spells and since I put points into magic skills for a mage character I don't have a lot of physical defense and can't afford to be hit.   Isn't the point of playing a magic class to NOT be hit, but to use spells against the enemy from distance?  I detest that my mage has to invest points into levels that I don't want so I can use a bow because my spells don't travel across the map as the enemies' spells do.  Even using the binoculars has become redundant.

Then there's the recent reduction of stamina regen making melee classes unnecessarily harder, reducing the effectiveness of heavy weapons which also ties into stamina, the seeming focus on what PvP players want and ignoring the PvE aspect of the game.

Since the recent all encompassing nerfing of magic and faith classes I've been forced to respec my Cleric to a strength build and my sorcerer to a dex build with support spells.  I already have two each of those and while I enjoy them, I also like to play as a different class for variety.  That's become less and less viable. 

Clerics have support spells, but they also use defensive spells, ie Lightning Spear and Emit Force. In the case of Lightning Spear the number of casts was reduced to a 1/4 and the damage was severely reduced.  Supposedly the damage reduction was a coding bug, but has never been addressed.  Some say Lightning Spears were overpowered, that people cheese bosses with them, which is partially true, but to make a whole class pretty much redundant because of it is a backward strategy.

It's my belief that this was done to make way for rings added by the DLC's, which is poor thing to do and it's too bad for the people who don't have or want the DLC's.  This included the Lightning Clutch ring, Sorcery Clutch and most recently Fire and Dark Clutch rings which increase the damage while reducing your overall defense.  Then there are the new spells with stupidly high requirements that would be almost impossible to use in a NG game and which encourage people to go to NG+ and above to be able to use.  I've already mentioned why I probably won't be doing that.

FromSoft do not communicate with their fan base, we do not get any info re why they feel the need to continue this overall nerfing of weapons, spells and other things, yet they open the road to exploits.  Some of the new gear in the Crown of the Ivory King DLC is going to infuriate a lot of people in PvP, at least the victims of exploitable situations.  I have no interest in PvP at all but it seems to me, and a lot of other players, that they are trying to balance the game around PvP and ruining PvE in the process.  They will lose a lot of fans by continuing down this road, but I imagine nothing will change now which is a pity.

I did say there would be some good in this review, but thinking about it I'm finding it hard.  Obviously I still play the game and despite the problems I still get some enjoyment from it, but it's far from the game I paid for.  It states in the Eula that changes can be made at the developers discretion, but they are going entirely the wrong way about it.

All of these things make the smaller annoyances more glaring.   One of mine is the NPC's who repeat their starting dialogue every, single bloody time and block you entering the inventory at the end because they have to get in the last word.  The worst is the Emerald Herald who you have no choice but to speak to and then click, click, click through it after the first time.   At the end of the NG cycle there is no merchant who sells infinite Dragon Bone and Twinkling Titanite which means grinding or using Ascetics.   The problem there is limited spawns, so grinding becomes redundant. Using Ascetics is a solution but also has the side effect of being permanent so going to NG+ and further makes those areas even harder.

On to the DLC's. 
Crown of the Sunken King.  I liked the level design of this DLC and the puzzle elements they added. I could have done without the infinite poise enemies, inflated health pools, the Drakeblood Knights ridiculous,  relentless attacks and Elana summoning Velstadt which was a cheap tactic.  I didn't mind the "gank squad" as everyone calls them as it was of course meant to be a co-op area.  Sinh was a great fight.

Crown of the Iron King.  Two of the bosses were excellent, then they had to ruin it by re-using Smelter Demon and re-skinning him to be magic based with altered moves, as if that was an innovation.  This was another challenge area meant for co-op but to be honest I found it to just be annoying more than fun and challenging, so did it once and never returned.  I thought the DLC  level design was every good and I liked the concept of destroying the Ashen Idols.

One moment that gave me a particular pleasure was using a Seed of the Tree of Giants against that lance wielding asshole as watching him be destroyed from above.  Thank you to whoever it was that posted that hint on one of the forums.

Crown of the Ivory King.
I've gotten two characters partway through thus far.  The environment is beautiful and the enemies weren't all that hard, however I haven't yet gotten as far as Killing the Ivory King.  I have found all the Loyce Knights so that's next on the list.  I loved Aava, the tiger boss and actually felt bad for having to kill such a beautiful creature.  It was a nice change from humanoid bosses and it moved and behaved exactly as a big cat would, except for the magic of course.  Not at all fond of the bone wheel replacements, the stunlocking small creatures with icy spikes.  I don't know what they are called, but they are a pain.

I have not yet attempted the Frigid Outskirts, the new co-op area, but I have seen videos. The crystal horses(?) look amazing, but they constantly respawn and are very strong, you are in a constant blizzard whiteout with very low visibilty, and the run to the boss is a long one.  Not to mention there are two of them, also tigers. 

I'm sad to say I'll probably have a run through to see the area, but I certainly won't be bothering to go back again and again.   There's challenge and there's challenge.

The NPC invader who used Chameleon was genius. He caught me out the first time. In fact nearly all of the NPC invaders have been improved, however why they give some of them lances which are almost impossible to counter, I'll never know.

Anyway, I'm sure I've forgotten to mention a lot of things and this turned out to be more about the game's faults which become more glaring at every patch cycle.  I also expect that many would disagree with some of my comments, but this is my opinion and that's what matters here.