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 11 which explores Earthen Peak.
“The Queen sought the King’s affection, even poisoning herself to attain beauty, despite the monstrous consequences. All for the compelling madness known as love.”
Ladders, poison, and lots of pots! That’s Earthen Peak in a nutshell, and even if its level design and artistry is sometimes lacking, there are enough twists and turns to make the ascent a memorably perilous one.
Practically the first thing that players come into contact with is the Covetous Demon; a despicable opening boss who sort of acts as the finale to Harvest Valley despite the creature not technically residing there.
This boss is the prime example for understanding how mishandled the bosses can be in Dark Souls II. Covetous Demon is arguably the easiest of such encounters in the whole game and even if it wasn’t, the creature’s design and attack patterns show off nothing that we haven’t seen already. Triumphing over this thing is as simple as not getting crushed by its huge bulk and that turns out to be a dreadfully easy task considering how slow the thing moves. Savvy players might also discover several undead prisoners hanging from the ceiling who will act as superb decoys should they be freed during the battle. It’s possible to get in a ton of free hits if you go this route, not that you’ll really need to considering how easy the battle is anyway.
The fact that this boss is so insultingly easy is part of a wider problem because Covetous Demon and bosses like it feel like filler content. Giving these enemies that sort of recognition only serves to undermine the instances where it should feel more deserved. Another problem has to do with the nature of the co-op system. Summoned players are sent back to their own world once an area boss is defeated, thus pointless tangents like the Covetous Demon unnecessarily break up parties that might otherwise have enjoyed a more substantial session with one another.
Dark Souls III managed this much better by presenting long and arduous levels that felt perfectly bookended when a boss did enter the picture. Seeing as Dark Souls II introduced Life Gems and similar ways for players to heal their characters other than the Estus Flask, its curious that its levels were shortened in this way. However controversial Life Gems are in the grand scheme of things, Dark Souls II was the first game in the series to extend the lifespan of its co-op sessions by allowing players greater freedom in healing themselves, which only makes these unnecessary and interrupting bosses feel all the more baffling.
Covetous Demon still has a place in the world that makes sense, but it really would have been better served without the boss moniker to begin with. Strip out the health bar and dreary music and the character would have worked just fine as a unique enemy without the expectations that a Souls boss fight naturally brings. This would have extended the cooperative roadmap from Harvest Valley onwards and kept up the momentum when entering Earthen Peak proper. As it is, this level gets off to a rocky start, though things start to improve a bit once players get stuck into the slow climb that will comprise the remainder of their journey.
Earthen Peak is a more vertical affair than the levels we’ve seen so far. Players are tasked with reaching the top of its forsaken windmill and amidst the claustrophobic hallways and precarious ledges are numerous opportunities for both enemies and human invaders to launch ambushes. This is a place where one wrong turn can set your progress back quite quickly, whether that’s by falling off a ledge to a distant level below it or by succumbing to another poison malady.
Among the most notable new foes here are the Desert Sorceresses; enemies whose bare flesh and collective cleavage puts Stone Trader Chloanne to shame (or is that un-shame?). They have plenty of overpowered fireballs to accompany their skimpy outfits and in another addition worthy of facepalms everywhere, they can actually kill players by kissing them. I’m sure the lore enthusiasts will have a fun time trying to explain that one.
Elsewhere you’ll find an army of nimble assassins called Manakins who actually made their debut in the game’s reveal trailer. The Manakins’ imposing masks from that video didn’t make it into the final product though due to a copyright concern which emerged before Dark Souls II came out. In the rush it seems that FromSoftware took the simplest/laziest route it could and simply removed the enemies’ heads altogether! It’s weird because the Manakin mask still exists as a piece of wearable gear, but its remodelled asset looks pretty awful to the one seen in concept.
With their poison projectiles flying every which way, the Manakins also contribute to the major health sinks that are dotted around Earthen Peak. Players who enjoy rolling their characters into crates and other pieces of assorted furniture won’t like the result of smashing pots either as the venomous liquid contained within is a lot stronger than the pathetically weak strains of poison seen in Dark Souls III.
The poison mechanic finds its most infamous application though in the area’s final boss room containing Mytha, The Baleful Queen. This reptilian battlemage offers a well-balanced challenge for lone players and rather surprisingly, is the only boss in the game who has the ability to regenerate lost health. This regeneration is triggered by the waist-high poison that fills her lair and if players don’t take the time to drain the foul liquid out beforehand, they’ll have the nigh insurmountable task of slaying Mytha whilst rapidly losing their own health!
Draining this poison is not necessarily an intuitive task, however, as it involves players finding one of the windmill fans earlier in the level. Approaching the fan whilst holding a torch reveals a hidden command that allows players to burn it down, thus halting the flow of poison to the boss room. It’s similar to the previous torch puzzle encountered in Sinner’s Rise, but because the fan has a metallic appearance, and the simple fact that players are not likely to walk around reasonably lit areas with a torch equipped, it makes discovering this trigger a more unlikely situation and thus the puzzle seems quite reliant on the player messaging system in order to work.
If players manage to discover this then the battle against Mytha will become quite doable, though she’s certainly no pushover. The drained room will still have enough poison around the edges to make players mindful about where they stand, especially when you consider how Mytha herself enjoys displacing her prey with powerful sorceries and halberd cleaves.
Depending on how you feel about the poison puzzle, Mytha is one of the better bosses in Dark Souls II and yet in terms of legacy, Earthen Peak itself will perhaps benefit more from its unexpected appearance in the expansion pack to Dark Souls III called The Ringed City.
In many ways that DLC tells the somewhat meta story of the franchise’s end with visual references of each Souls kingdom melding into a lost playground of distortion and mystery. In its opening area, players come across a bonfire labelled Earthen Peak Ruins and sure enough, looking around reveals there to be many familiar assets on display such as the windmill fan, the poison pools, the little purple bugs, and of course, a cheesecake Sorceress for good measure.
Back in the real Earthen Peak, we now find ourselves at an exit and can make the rather perplexing ascent to the fourth and final area in this second leg of our Drangleic tour.
Continue to Part 12 »