Welcome to See Drangleic, an episodic playthrough journal exploring the world of Dark Souls II. Be sure to check out the introduction post first if you haven’t already, otherwise continue reading for Part 23 which explores Aldia’s Keep.
“Very few, indeed, have come even this far. And yet, your journey is far from over.”
Aldia’s Keep is an archetypal spooky mansion and although the Scholar of the First Sin does not actually star in the level bearing his name, the twisted experiments he created certainly do. Expect to see aberrations, basilisks, mimics, and even a draconic skeleton that briefly comes alive when players walk through the foyer. The many hallway paintings and enchanted mirrors hold secrets of their own and players will be in for some trouble if they dare release the schizophrenic sorcerer Navlaan from his magical prison. Aldia’s Keep is certainly a more colourful area when compared with the dreariness of Drangleic Castle and the laboratory furnishings found further in are more thematically appropriate when considering the remixed enemy placements of the remastered edition.
However, all of this shrewd theming can’t shake the nagging feeling that I always get upon reaching this point in the game. Put simply: I don’t like this level at all. The plodding ascent towards the exit is boring and the many familiar enemies offer nothing new with regards to combat. The actual core of the level is short and easy enough to conquer and yet there are several cheap encounters – like an unseen ogre who can unexpectedly flatten you – that will force you to repeat the same tedious sections. With the experience of three different DLC packs adding even more content, I find myself just wanting the game to be over at this point and a lot of that stems from how samey these later areas feel.
Scholar of the First Sin doesn’t make many major changes here either except for a new mini quest involving the Forlorn invaders. Some players might enjoy finding and lighting sconces again, but your only rewards are a few new fights and a delay to the otherwise awesome-looking dragonliche attack. These aren’t necessarily bad changes, but they don’t strictly improve on what came before either. Players met King Vendrick in the previous episode and despite this the game’s drama and tempo seems to be slowing down again.
And remember when I criticised Scholar of the First Sin for spoiling the appearance of dragons in Heide’s Tower of Flame? Here’s the reason why I hated that change: the boss of Aldia’s Keep is a tweaked version of that same dragon! Regardless of spoilers though, the Guardian Dragon utterly fails to excite or challenge players due to the pitiful ease with which it can be dispatched.
Any player who is crafting even a moderately effective character build will find little difficulty in avoiding its sluggish stomps and lacklustre breath attacks. Nothing about this so-called boss feels worthwhile, especially since players will be fighting clones of it within the opening moments of the very next level. FromSoftware could have at least called this enemy “Guardian Wyvern” not just because of its obvious physical qualities, but because putting it alongside the franchise’s famous collection of “real” dragons is honestly a bit of an insult.
The only thing I can really praise about this closing section is the environment design which I think is a tad wasted here. The birdcage arena is uncharacteristically well lit and the spectacle of the outdoor area with its strange columns of vertically growing plantlife are a sight to behold. Whilst this style of milieu features in the area following this one, I still wonder if the developers could have made more of the bright setting here. It would certainly have bettered the dingy mansion interiors and offered up a fresher look as we proceed closer to the game’s finale.
I also like how the Guardian Dragon clings to the sides of the cage when breathing fire down on the players. There is a great idea somewhere in here; a more exciting setup where players dart between outcrops to escape the dragon’s scorching breath and flanking it when it lands in certain preset locations. As it is, the arena here is vast but empty and avoiding anything the boss throws at you is usually a simple case of dodging aside and then closing in to ravage its meagre health pool. What a shame.
Up next is another of those magical elevator tours up into the clouds where the heady sights and heights of a teeming roost await us.
Continue to Part 24 »