Dark Souls 2 beginner's guide: how to stay alive (longer)
Ben Griffin knows his Dark Souls 2. His veins don’t so much course with blood as Rouge Water, and his skeleton consists entirely of Homeward Bones. He sees the world through Cracked Red Eye Orbs. He feels it in his Soul Vessel and he processes it in his Petrified Lump. Who better in all of Drangleic, then, to guide you through its perilous first 10 hours? If you want fewer reminders that ‘YOU DIED’, read on for 14 tips, tricks and secrets worth their weight in Gold Pine Resin.
Picking the best starting gift
I recommend either the Seed of a Tree of Giants or the Petrified Something. The first is a unique online play item that makes enemies attack invaders, while the second can be traded for a number of valuable items (that’s something I’ll get into below). The other starting gifts are unremarkable: a Life Ring boosts HP by a measly 5% and the Bonfire Ascetic raises the level of nearby foes - that’s one for the hardcore. Meanwhile, the Human Effigy (returns the hollow to life), Homeward Bone (warps to the last bonfire used) and Healing Wares (a package of items containing ten Lifegems, three Radient Lifegems, one Old Radiant Lifegem and five Poison Mosses) are consumables found in number throughout the game.
Changing your gender
In Things Betwixt, venture down to the water’s edge to find a casket. Interact with it and your character will hop in. When they hop out, they’ll have swapped gender! Careful, though - the casket is guarded by two massive, sexist Ogres.
Trading for high-tier items with Dyna and Tillo
Remember Snuggly and Sparkly from Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls? These trade-happy crows are your ticket to some serious loot. Like in the first two Souls games, leave an item in a bird’s nest and get a better item in return. The nest resides in Things Betwixt (it’s high up on a righthand ledge in the tutorial area—you’ll have to pass through the first fog door on the left to reach it).
Upgrading your Estus Flask
At first you can only swig from your Estus Flask once, but trade Estus Flask Shards with the Emerald Herald in Majula (she waits by the bonfire) to get up to 12 more uses from it. Find your first Shard by hitting the stone well by the large house in Majula (the one near the massive hole). Get your second by looting the basement of the mansion itself. Speaking of which...
Unlocking the mansion
From the bonfire in Cardinal Tower—the second bonfire in the Forest of Fallen Giants—head left through the hole in the wall (if you can’t see the hole, that’s because you haven’t destroyed the wall yet. Simply throw a firebomb at the kegs on the other side to destroy it.) Run straight ahead, then take a right and drop down into the courtyard area overgrown with tree roots. Work your way to the top right corner of this area and enter the cave. Sprint straight through the intersection to avoid being flattened by a boulder, then walk back up to where the boulder came from to meet Cale the Cartographer. He’ll give you the key to his mansion in Majula, which contains, among several items, a Pharros’ Lockstone and Estus Shard.
Grabbing the Ring of Binding
The Ring of Binding is the most important early ring in the game. Whenever you die, your health lowers until it gets to around 50%, but this ring stops it dead at 75%. Get it by defeating the Old Knight at the end of the left-hand path in Heide's Tower of Flame. This raises a switch. Press it to lower the drawbridge, then walk up it and open the chest at the top.
There are many good spots to farm souls, but the most effective for the longest period is in Heide’s Tower of Flame. Looking at the mansion in Majula, it’s through the stone doorway on the right. There are ten Old Knights, they’re slow, and they drop 400 souls each. You don’t even need to fight them. Simply lead them around to the narrow outcrop near the boss door (the one with a metal chest on it) and you can get them to fall off. The best technique is getting close and making them swing for you, then backing away and putting the gap between you and an Old Knight. Get it right and he’ll plunge into the water.
Farming your souls the hardcore way
Tougher players can boost their farming by burning a Bonfire Ascetic (it’s a starting gift) at a bonfire, which makes all the enemies in the area harder and causes them to drop more souls in return. Be wary, though. The effects of a Bonfire Ascetic permanently raises the area to New Game+ levels, and this effect stacks. In your next run through the game, for example, the area you burned the Bonfire Ascetic at will be New Game++.
Improve your Estus Flask recovery
In Heide’s Tower of Flame, defeating the second Old Knight (up the first set of steps after the bonfire) gets you some rare Sublime Bone Dust, which improves your Estus Flask health regeneration if you burn the dust at the Majula bonfire.
Nabbing the best weapon for strength builds
Going for a melee character? You’ll want to buy a wooden club. Its scale rating is A, meaning that the more souls you inevitably invest in strength, the more damage it will do. It’s the best strength weapon around for a good ten hours, and can be brought from Merchant Hag Malentia, who sits by the Cardinal Tower bonfire, for 800 souls.
Uncovering the secrets of Merchant Hag Melentia
Blacksmith Lenigrast is locked out of his workshop in Majula. Talk to the Merchant Hag Melentia to buy the key for 1000 souls. Also, after exhausting Merchant Hag Melentia's dialogue and defeating The Last Giant, she moves to Majula and sells an infinite supply of Lifegems. She also sells a Pharros’ Lockstone.
Finding Pharros' Lockstones
You can find two Pharros’ Lockstones early on. The first you can buy from Merchant Hag Melentia for 4000 souls. The second is in Majula’s mansion, looted from a corpse in the library behind the bookcases. You’ll need these to bypass Pharros’ Contraptions, of which there are two in the first ten hours. One is under the ballister room in the Forest of Fallen Giants—putting the Lockstone into the contraption reveals a fake wall, which you can hit to make disappear. Inside are two chests containing a Titanite Slab and Chloranthy Ring (this accelerates stamina regeneration). The other is in No-Man’s Wharf. Triggering the contraption here shines a bright orange light over the level and causes Bloatheads to back off, softening the difficulty.
Sliding down ladders
A quick one, this. To slide down ladders rather than laboriously descend them rung by rung, simply hold B and down on a controller or space and down on a keyboard.
Running from the pigs
There are three pigs next to the mansion in Majula. They look harmless, but don’t mess. These vicious little porkers deal shockingly high damage for their size and offer paltry few souls in reward. Someone’s having a little fun at your expense. Oh From Software, you swines.