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 17 which explores Doors of Pharros.
“Those who choose to serve the Rat King must have the courage to face His challenges.”
There is a rare collectible in Dark Souls II named Pharros’ Lockstone. These mysterious chunks of rock are actually a sort of key and when they’re inserted into a recognisable wall device, they’ll unlock all manner of strange secrets. When used in the wild these stones gift the player equipment that lies hidden behind glowing illusions whilst others trigger special events including the ceiling illumination in No Man’s Wharf and the openings that lead to Belfry Sol & Belfry Luna. Their core purpose, however, is to activate the various traps and sealed doors in the Rat King’s lairs, both in Grave of Saints and here in Doors of Pharros.
Similar to the concept of Insight in Bloodborne, the Lockstones are an interesting mechanic that I don’t think FromSoftware developed to its fullest potential. The idea of a limited universal key to unlock special secrets is a sound idea for an RPG like this. The very first locking mechanism you come to in Forest of Fallen Giants hides a rare crafting material and a magic ring, which is an excellent way of communicating the Lockstones’ value to new players.
The Lockstones are almost never available to buy from merchants and must typically be found in hard-to-reach places; thus already FromSoftware had given these items a special meaning. When a player activates a contraption anywhere in Drangleic, there will be this expectation that something noteworthy is about to happen and for the most part this quality remains true.
It’s a minor mechanic that adds atmosphere to the game and yet the presence and impact of these special keys does seem to diminish the further you travel. What should have remained an important item worthy of rationing eventually becomes too common for players to covet and there’s nothing to stop you from accidentally activating traps with them in Grave of Saints and Doors of Pharros. At the very least you would have expected the traps to be reserved for covenant members only as in Doors of Pharros players can actually make their life irrecoverably harder without even meaning to.
Doors of Pharros is another area for Rat King covenant members to harass their victims, so already it’s a location with a certain level of infamy attached to it. The awkward geometry and samey colour palette don’t help things stand out either and the many stylised wall carvings can make it difficult to locate the doors leading forward.
In actuality the area is deceptively small, but its labyrinthine qualities make it tough to appreciate the attractive architecture that creates an overwhelming sense of verticality. Of all the weirdest things, this place almost reminds me of the Fortified Residential District from Jet Set Radio Future; a nightmarish level whose design amounts to a tremendous hodgepodge of awkwardly situated dwellings stacked on top of each other until their apex rises clear out of sight.
Doors of Pharros is a place that’s not totally devoid of atmosphere, but whereas Grave of Saints provided a clear path towards the areas below it, Doors of Pharros sits in its own separate partition and is thus easy to ignore as well as easy to miss completely. When coupled with the already mixed blessings of the covenant that represents it, this is not likely to be one of the more popular locations in Dark Souls II.
And speaking of unpopular, so enters another of the Rat King’s faithful subjects; the boss known as the Royal Rat Authority. Perhaps no single boss in Dark Souls II receives as much criticism as this one and sadly, most of that criticism is well-deserved.
Make no mistake; this is not one of those bosses who disappoints due to ease. The gigantic canine-rat hybrid is extremely aggressive with the majority of its sweeping attacks being equally hard to dodge. Shield users will have their stamina completely drained when trying to block one of its immense tackles and even if you do have a weapon with long range, the beast has a tendency to leap away from danger with alarming agility.
All of this is quite typical of Souls bosses of course, but the Royal Rat Authority shares its lair with a pack of lesser rats, who if not dispatched quickly, will wreak havoc by interrupting your movements with toxic bites which are not easily healed when a boss is bearing down on top of you. Because of this it’s not uncommon for players to die before the battle can even properly start. The addition of regular enemies feels cheap and the lack of cooperative play in the area only compounds the frustration further. The only positives about all of this is that the fight is optional and the bonfire respawn point is located directly opposite the fog gate, so at least players don’t have a long trek ahead of them when falling prey to the gank.
Another minor point of contention stems from the fact that this boss shares character model data with a similar Dark Souls boss called Great Grey Wolf Sif. I’ve seen amusing comments from players where Sif and Royal Rat Authority are brought up as representatives of the game they star in. For Dark Souls you have Sif, the majestic wolf with a code of honour and striking silver fur, and in Dark Souls II you’re lumbered with this unscrupulous and mangy vermin who vomits a tremendous pool of bile when low on health. That’s quite the comparison!
Now that we’re finally done with the Rat King and his subjects, it’s time to continue on towards a more substantial area whose entry point lies adjacent to an army encampment not far from our current location.
Continue to Part 18 »