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Dark Souls II - title

I've been trying to get myself hyped up for Dark Souls III by playing through the Scholar of the First Sin edition of Dark Souls II. I made myself a knight character as well as a sorcerer character. I hadn't played as a dedicated caster in the original release, so I made the sorcerer my primary character for Scholar.

So I put myself through the misery of trying to farm the Lizard Staff for my sorcerer character. This staff is one of the three or four best staves in the game (for Int-based sorcerers), but it's extremely rare. It is only dropped by the two Hollow Black Mages that accompany the Executioner's Chariot in the Undead Purgatory. So it's only even possible to acquire in this one, specific location in the game, and once you beat the boss, the mages don't respawn. So it's even harder than trying to farm the Sea Bow or other such items, because you can't simply go back to the area later and farm the enemies.

To make matters worse, I didn't realize that this staff could be acquired here, so I made the mistake of killing the boss early in the game (before I had equipment to raise my item discovery rate). So the only way for me to acquire this staff now would be to warp to the Undead Purgatory bonfire, use a Bonfire Ascetic to respawn the boss, fight may way back through the Huntsman's Copse, and hope to get the rare drop. I had to fight harder versions of the Purgatory Executioners. It was tough, but doable. I was able to lure them out one at a time and easily dispatch them. It's only if they ganged up on me that I had problems. But then I also had to get past the Red Phantom Tower Knight (who now respawns because of the Bonfire Ascetic). I died several times trying to run past them all, as the Tower Knight's weapon tracking was pretty spot-on. Eventually, I resorted to spell-sniping him from just outside his pursuit range. It was cheap, but I wasn't here to fight, I was here to farm a staff.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - Lizard Staff
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - Sea Bow
The Lizard Staff and Sea Bow are among several items in Dark Souls II that are extremely rare drops.

Then I made it into the Executioner's Chariot boss fight, and I died. And then I died again. And again. This was getting tedious.

Bonfire Ascetics, Soul Memory, and grinding / farming in Dark Souls II

I hate grinding and farming in games. I really do. It's something that I really don't think games need to have anymore. It was something that worked fine when games were relatively short, and grinding or farming for obscure items and secrets was a challenge reserved for the most dedicated players. But Dark Souls II is already long enough without including grinding for hours for rare item drops. It's one thing to hide items behind secret bosses or particularly tough challenges, such that the item is a symbol for overcoming a challenge. It's a totally different thing to hide items behind random drops from enemies that appear literally in one spot in the entire game, and who despawn after beating them.

In Dark Souls II's case, there's even mechanical reasons why this sort of grinding or farming should not be in the game. And that reason is Soul Memory. Since every soul that you ever acquire is stored permanently in Soul Memory, and since Soul Memory (not level) is used for co-op and PvP matchmaking, the game should not put players in situations in which we're spending hours grinding or farming for random drops. That's all time spent artificially inflating our Soul Memory. And since enemies can eventually stop respawning, all that time - and all those extra souls in your memory - can potentially be in vain.

Dark Souls - Tail weapon
Cutting off the tails of certain bosses in Dark Souls 1 would grant unique weapons.

Sure, the first Dark Souls had some "hidden" items and rare drops, but I'm not aware of anything that was hidden behind a non-respawning enemy. The various "tail cutting" weapons are probably the most esoteric item drops in the game, as they required players to specifically attack and cut off the tails of certain enemies in the game (such as the Helkite Dragon, Bell Gargoyle, and Gaping Dragon). These could be easily missed if you didn't know about them, or if your summoned help kills the boss before you have a chance to cut it off. But at least it's a guaranteed drop if you know about it, and the ground in these boss fights are usually littered with "Try tail" or "Weakness: tail" messages.

But the very existence of the Bonfire Ascetic just goes to show that farming and grinding was actually a design goal of Dark Souls II. The developers wanted to encourage grinding and farming for hard-to-find items, even though they punished players for doing so with the implementation of Soul Memory. What a dick move! In the Scholar of the First Sin re-release, they were kind enough to include the Agape Ring, which absorbs souls instead of the wearer, so that you can control your Soul Memory growth while grinding or farming. I guess they thought that making players have to work for their gear (in the most horridly "game-y" way possible) was a more important design consideration than ensuring a competitive field in which competing players are matched up based on skill and knowledge of the game rather than blind luck or rote repetition of asinine challenges. And that doesn't even take into consideration the fact that both the Bonfire Ascetic and the Agape Ring kind of fly in contrast to the game's established lore regarding the process of hollowing, but whatever...

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - Agape Ring
The Agape Ring absorbs souls instead of you.

What really grinds my gears about this sort of thing in Dark Souls is that the game already has New Game +. If the developers wanted us to grind and farm for rare items, then they should have just locked those items behind New Game +. That way, the people who want to grind for them can stick around through NG+ to get them, and players in their first playthrough aren't teased by the prospect of a rare drop that they probably aren't going to get. And for the record, I'm OK with the idea of farming being a viable way to acquire gear early, as long as it's guaranteed to be available later in the game.

Using the PlayStation Cloud to farm

Eventually I got sick of dying at the hands of the Tower Knight, or the Chariot, or the respawning skeletons, and I got sick of having to Homeward Bone myself back to the bonfire and run through the Huntsman's Copse again after failing to get the drop. I also didn't want to run out of Rusted Coins or Amber Herbs. I was wearing the Agape Ring to prevent Soul Memory inflation, and I was wearing the Jester's Cap and Covetous Gold Serpent Ring +1 to raise my item discovery rate. I still wasn't getting the drop.

Save Cloud
Yep, I save-scummed using the PS Cloud. If the devs are going to put cheap, time-consuming grinds in the game,
then I'm going to use cheap, time-saving tricks to avoid it.

So instead of having to run through the level, I decided to try a slightly different route. After beating the Purgatory Executioners, making my way across the bridge, and defeating the Red Phantom Tower Knight, I equipped the necessary equipment and then quit the game and saved it to the PlayStation Cloud. I've been using PlayStation Plus's cloud storage ever since my PS3 died and I lost my original Demon's Souls save, and I've found it quite handy. The PS3 had an annoying restriction in which you could only download a cloud save once within 24 hours, but the PS4 has no such restriction. So I re-loaded the cloud save of my character standing right in front of the Exectuioner Chariot fog gate and tried to kill the mages.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - distracting skeletons with Yearn
I used the Yearn spell to distract the skeletons while I approached and killed the Mages.

I used the yearn spell to distract the skeletons and made my way directly to the two mages. Once I got the Lizard Staff, I intended to Homeward Boned myself back to the bonfire, since I didn't really feel like fighting the boss. The enemies ended up killing me while I was trying to use the Homeward Bone, but it was no big deal, since the Agape Ring meant I didn't have any souls to lose. It also doesn't matter that I didn't kill the boss, since I had already beaten him earlier and had lit the Undead Purgatory bonfire. I could always warp back to the Undead Purgatory bonfire if in order to talk to Gren.

Gaining this item took three hours of repeatedly playing the same boss fight, and not actually trying to beat this boss. This is the kind of thing that has no place in modern video games - especially ones with competitive multiplayer components. It's barely better than the "pay-to-play" or "pay-to-win" micro-transaction models that other games have adopted. It's providing rewards and advantages to players based - not on skill or knowledge of the game - but on sheer luck or the willingness to sink obscene amounts of time into a specific tedious task. It's one of many examples of how Dark Souls II's designers made a whole bunch of really bad decisions, and got a lot of the little details wrong with this sequel. I really hope that Dark Souls III learns from Dark Souls' and Bloodborne's successes, and from Dark Souls II's failures. The good news is that Hidetaka Miyazaki is back in charge, and that's the best news that any Souls fans could hope for.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - Lizard Staff
Now I need to grind some more for upgrade stones to make the staff worth the time and effort it took to acquire.

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