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 18 that explores Brightstone Cove Tseldora.
“Tseldora is a place burdened by terrible misdeeds, and those who remained there were transformed beyond recognition.”
After fighting through so many locations that feel short or in some way truncated, it’s nice to come across somewhere that feels larger in scope. This is because Brightstone Cove Tseldora is made up of several districts that span from its desecrated countryside to the infested bowels of a former Duke’s sanctum, and the resulting journey is an arduous one for sure.
Starting from the army campsite that’s stationed hillside, we travel inland towards a corrupted chapel that soon gives way to the destroyed town of Tseldora itself and the mining complex that once brought it prosperity. Along the way we see the consequences of the Duke’s mania; a terrible curse that has seen the town overrun by giant spiders and the denizens of Tseldora themselves metamorphosed into arachnidian creatures.
It’s not just the locals who are undergoing a change because this location also features some of the most significant alterations that FromSoftware would make in the Scholar of the First Sin revision. The revamp adds soldier enemies to help defend the army encampment, which is fitting, and tweaks the positioning of many other enemies on a level-wide basis. There are some big changes to central Tseldora that drastically alter the flow of the level and they also prevent a once infuriating sorcerer from always zapping your character off of the town’s upper zip-line. I always hated that guy.
These structural revisions make it harder to rush past everything and it has to be said that the new lighting system makes those gloomy spider lairs look a lot more menacing than before. You could argue that the remastered version makes the Parasite Spiders more passive; it’s certainly noticeable, but a lot of that once again relates to the lighting upgrade as the arachnids are deathly afraid of torchlight. All in all, it seems a tad more polished than before even if some of its clumsier encounters are still present.
One clear low point in that regard would be this area’s first boss that puts the players up against a warlock and his parade of undead cronies. As I said before in my appraisal of the Covetous Demon, here is a situation where the whole boss concept was simply not needed. Prowling Magus and Congregation has all the same problems by being bland and far too easy to beat. There is no real test of skill going on here unless it’s the skill of how best to wrestle with the target lock as you cut down several weak enemies at once.
Again, it’s important to remember that the boss battles in these games break up co-op parties (summoned players return to their own world when a boss is slain) thus forcing players to reconnect with each other after every instance. This would be fine if the Prowling Magus and his entourage offered anything new or exciting, but they don’t. The battle even recycles the same music that was used for the Covetous Demon, which aside from being repetitive, wasn’t even a rousing theme to begin with.
This is a boss battle that, once again, could so easily have just been a regular encounter without hurting anything. Dark Souls has plenty of memorable scenarios with unique enemies who are not labelled as bosses and the reason for that is down to a simple case of dilution. Bosses are labelled as such for a reason and whilst they’re arguably not as easy to beat as the Covetous Demon is, Prowling Magus and Congregation should still be considered the worst boss in Dark Souls II for their utter lack of worth. There are no special weapons or items associated with this “boss”, no unique music, no particularly interesting morsels of lore, and the battle even features those infernal undead humanoids that I’m absolutely sick to death of at this point.
Fortunately there is a lot more to discover in Brightstone Cove Tseldora not least of which being the culmination of a lengthy sidequest involving two rival NPCs. When you first meet Mild Mannered Pate and Creighton the Wanderer, both characters profess their distaste for the other because of prior betrayals they both swear to have suffered at the other’s hand. If you choose to aid both of them during your travels then you’ll soon be encouraged to take a side in the war when you find both NPCs crossing swords in a Tseldora dwelling.
What’s nice about this quest is how FromSoftware frames the characters themselves. Both NPCs claim the other to be a backstabbing bastard, but whether it’s Pate or Creighton who is “good” is never explicitly revealed. Players have lots of clues and incidental evidence when coming up with their own answers and that’s sort of where the story is left, no matter whose side you’re ultimately drawn to. It’s indicative of the wider storytelling techniques in Souls games and makes for one of the better sidequests in Dark Souls II at that.
Another weird and oddly compelling secret involves the army campsite way back at the beginning of the level. Eagle-eyed players will notice that one of the undead pigs that a farmer kept in the camp is actually friendly towards those who come within a certain distance of it. This piggie can be led a great distance from its starting location and indeed, should players manage the difficult task of escorting the swine through Tseldora to an innocuous patch of mushrooms, the pig will unearth a collectible pickaxe weapon hidden in the ground. What a reference to truffle hogs is doing here is anybody’s guess and the mere fact that the pickaxe is a pretty horrible weapon only makes this taxing easter egg even more bizarre.
In the most prominent of Tseldora’s buildings is a mess of webs that players descend in complete darkness. This section is another one of those rare moments where a torch is really useful because the Parasite Spiders here will otherwise enjoy ambushing you when you least expect it. Upon reaching the deepest sanctum, players will come into contact with the final area boss for this episode; a hideous spider creature known as The Duke’s Dear Freja.
On the plus side, it’s easy to commend Freja’s art style. A massive two-headed spider that shoots laser beams out of its mouth is quite far removed from the armoured humanoids that we’re used to seeing and the whole production in this sense looks appropriately grim and terrifying, especially when you take in the room’s cocooned dragon who was assumedly the remaining Great Soul’s former owner.
With that said though, there are not many positive things to say about Freja. This is an awkward fight where players must contend with her erratic movements whilst sparing a thought for the numerous lesser spiders who emerge to protect their queen. Players can hurt Freja by striking either of her two heads, which sounds like it might work well in cooperative play, but it only ends up weakening a challenge that wasn’t really strong to begin with. The music also disappoints due to it being a clear arrangement of the Dragonrider theme previously heard during the run through Heide’s Tower of Flame.
Easily the most noteworthy thing about Freja is her sudden in-game appearance during subsequent playthroughs. Dark Souls II is known for having the best New Game+ offering of any Souls title because of its tweaked enemy placements and brand new red phantom invasions, but easily the most stunning moment is where Freja unexpectedly emerges from the campsite chasm to attack players in an entirely new fashion. Her early placement here feels dramatic and exciting and whilst you can’t kill the overgrown arachnid during this cameo, any damage you deal will be carried over into the full encounter, which is a nice touch of continuity.
Whilst her 3D modelling and general aesthetic deserve some additional praise, Freja still disappoints in the most important area: gameplay. It was a similar case with the Armor Spider in Demon’s Souls, but considering the five year gap in development, it’s disappointing that FromSoftware couldn’t improve on what is otherwise quite an exciting prospect.
Afterwards, players are treated to the sorry sight of Tseldora’s Duke who has since hollowed inside his study. There are some very nice lore flavourings to dwell on here amid the Duke’s old books, but now that we have the final Great Soul it’s high time we moved on.
In the next chapter we’ll be returning to the Ruined Fork Road and taking the path that leads directly to Drangleic Castle and the throne of King Vendrick himself.
Continue to Part 19 »