The world of Dark Souls II can be awfully unforgiving, resulting in death upon death for even the most strategic and careful of players. To make matters worse, little more than a brief tutorial is offered as an introduction, leaving the player to figure out menus, stats, mechanics and more for themselves. That obscurity is all part of the fun and challenge but, sometimes, a few helpful hints can go a long way.

That’s where I come in, a shadowy figure reeking of decay, cloaked in tattered rags and eyes wide with the knowledge and terror my time in Drangleic has wrought. If you’d like to go into Dark Souls II blind, by all means, stop reading now. If, however, you’d appreciate a few helpful (and as spoiler-free as possible) hints for this fantastic game, then you’ll find them just below.

- It’s often difficult to tell which direction to go in a Souls game, especially since many sections of the map are frequently open to the player all at once. If an enemy obliterates you in a single blow, chances are pretty good you should abandon your current quest and seek adventure in another realm. From the onset, though, there’s one direction that you’ll likely want to travel to get things started. After you’ve created your character and exited the tutorial, the first location you’ll find yourself in is the sleepy town of Majula. After you’ve done some exploring, you’ll want to light that first bonfire down by the giant statue that looks kind of like a lighthouse from a distance. From there, follow the shore down, toward the burning torch, and into the cave. A little spelunking later and you’ll exit into the Forest of Giants. This region is a safe (so to speak) place to begin your journey.



- You remember that first bonfire we were just talking about? Next to it you’ll find a curious woman wearing a green cloak. In the first Dark Souls, you could level up your character at any bonfire. In Dark Souls II, you’ll need to keep returning to this lady to complete that process. She’ll give you the option after speaking to her several times, which you’ll want to do with basically every friendly NPC you come across. Some conversations lead in unexpected directions, flesh out the story or even reward you for your curiosity.

- Another big change is that resting at a bonfire now replenishes your weapon’s endurance. If your gear ever breaks, you’ll need to visit the blacksmith and pay a hefty number of souls to undo the damage. Rest at a bonfire from time to time, however, and you’ll never have to worry about a busted sword in the heat of battle. Your weapon’s endurance is actually shown in the HUD, too, as a small red line underneath the weapon. If it’s getting low and you’re not too close to a bonfire, maybe switch out to another weapon for the time being. Or, better yet, use a homeward bone to take you to your last visited bonfire and take a rest.

- Explore every nook and cranny of the game. It’s ridiculous how much work went into crafting the world of Dark Souls II, a twisting maze of interlocking buildings, corridors and sections. Even more impressive is how much sense these designs make. You feel like they were designed for actual use, rather than just pulled together to make a game. From gear and handy items to side missions and more, there are countless things tucked away in every corner of the game. You might even find contraptions that’ll help you fight a boss or make your way through a particularly tricky section of the game.



- Very early on, players have the ability to join the Covenant of Champions, though it’s never really explained what that actually means. Various covenants in the game allow the player to play a certain way, either constantly being called on to help their covenant brethren or to defend a certain area from intruders. It turns out the Covenant of Champions makes the game quite a bit more difficult. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the key factor that I would have enjoyed knowing before sinking 15 hours into a game that, while manageable, felt a little more difficult than other reviewers were letting on. Unless you’re feeling especially frisky, maybe don’t join this particular covenant right at the beginning of the game.

- Finally, and only because it surprised me when it happened the first couple of times, some enemies will stop respawning after a certain number of kills. Partially to keep players from farming too heavily and partially to make retreading the same ground a little less tedious when you’re returning to the same boss for the dozenth time, some of the minor foes will stop respawning after you’ve killed them 15-20 times. I thought that would upset me at first but, like I said, you need to kill them quite a few times for it to actually matter and it really does make some of that running about a little less tedious. You can also pick up items later in the game that return those bad boys to their original places, so don’t worry about running low on things to stab.

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