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 3 that sees us descend into the Forest of Fallen Giants.
“They say these trees grew from the remains of the giants. From each carcass sprouted new life growing into what you see now. But you know what they also say? Don’t believe what an old hag says!”
Welcome to my favourite location in Dark Souls II. That comment might instil trepidation considering this journal is only on Part 3 of like twenty-something, but chin up because this low level area has a surprising amount of good content on offer.
After a quick jaunt through an aquatic passageway we find ourselves battling zombified infantry among the trees that lead up to the main fort. This task will either be a nice introduction to the real rigours of combat or a gank-fest nightmare depending on what version of the game you happen to be playing. This is because the Scholar of the First Sin edition rather welcomely tones down an early zone featuring a throng of enemies by making them all spawn in a prone position, only rising up to attack when the player gets close. Dark Souls II originally received criticism for encounters like these, so it is nice to see that FromSoftware made an effort to tweak them for the remastered version.
Shortly after we arrive at the Cardinal Tower bonfire and are treated to views of the main fort where King Vendrick and his army once battled gigantic invaders for control of a mysterious artefact. At numerous locations within the level we can see the remains of the defeated giants as their tree-like bodies rather pitifully fertilize the ground beneath them. There’s not much we can do with these immobile hulks for the moment though, which is good because our time will be taken up learning the subtle tweaks to the combat system.
Whereas many enemies in Dark Souls could be soundly whipped by a circle-strafing player, things are not quite the same here. Perhaps FromSoftware got a bit defensive about this and decided to make adjustments. You can see differences in the attack patterns of several enemies across Dark Souls II; swipes and lunges that can ‘track’ the player to quite an effective degree. It’s not enough to make certain enemies invincible or anything, as careful timing and tuned weapon damage is still the priority for any player’s offence. And yet there are certain enemies that you can look at and come away feeling that the developers went a bit overboard.
In the flaming pit at the very bottom of this level is a nest of extremely hostile flame salamanders. You can learn a lot about this flaming pit as a huge chunk of what’s great and what’s not so great about Forest of the Fallen Giants can be seen there. Those giant salamanders that call this place home are among the most obnoxious enemies in the entire game. Their ability to track the player’s location with their powerful fireballs is utterly insane as is the hyperspeed shuffle they seem to do should a player try dodging around their vulnerable flanks. Their damage output can be instantly lethal even to endgame characters and those looking to collect key items can’t avoid travelling to this lair either. And all of this in only the starting area!
Luckily, reaching the flaming pit requires the sort of finesse intended for more developed characters, which brings us to one of my favourite features of the wider locale; it’s a place that stays relevant right up until the end of the game. The salamander pit is just one small area here that players are encouraged to return to later in order to snag some extra goodies and in the case of the remastered edition, an important DLC item too. Defeating the first area boss awards a key that unlocks even more optional parts of the level to explore (with harder challenges awaiting those who do) and you’ll also meet a host of NPCs who have their own stories to share.
Looking into the flaming pit reveals even more than that, even if it is just a distinction concerning the visuals. Indeed, Forest of the Fallen Giants is probably the area of the game hit the hardest by the pre-release graphics downgrade, mainly because so much preview footage exists of a player wandering some beautifully lit hallways in Cardinal Tower. The flaming pit looks especially awesome running on the old code with huge pillars of burning fire roaring up from beneath the ground. By comparison, the inside and outside areas of the vanilla game look regrettably drab with a lot of dull greens and greys replacing the beautiful scorched yellows of the preview build. It’s a shame to keep thinking about what could have been, but with this level in particular it’s hard not to.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Well, gloom maybe, but that’s only because Scholar of the First Sin introduced a new lighting system and once again you can see a nice difference here in Forest of the Fallen Giants. The skeleton-infested tunnel leading to the Soldier’s Rest bonfire practically requires a torch in this edition as the shadows are much more cloying here than before. It’s nice because the previously superfluous sconces in this area become vital tools for increasing visibility and the surrounding interiors look much nicer when lit at that.
It seems that I’ve been talking about a lot of things that aren’t boss battles, so without further ado I present you with what lies at the very base of the tower: one very pissed-off giant. The Last Giant is who many would consider to be the first boss of the game and yet he’s a bit of a pushover despite his scary roar during the accompanying cutscene. Saying that, this boss has some powerful punches that can catch newbies unawares, but for the most part it’s a simple fight against a large humanoid enemy with particularly vulnerable ankles. All players really need to do is avoid getting stepped on and the rest is pretty straightforward.
Design-wise The Last Giant fits comfortably into that ‘brute’ archetype that so many first bosses in video games fall into. No doubt this approach was taken to keep things as straightforward as possible for new players and as such you’re not going to see anything overly special from this one. Except maybe for an amusing, yet unfortunately rare attack where the giant falls flat on its face in attempt to crush nearby players!
I quite like the rod that runs through the middle of its body. Clearly King Vendrick’s forces must have had great trouble in slaying the hulk, so they chained it up and impaled it with a massive spike instead. You can’t fault creativity like that. There may be a pinch more to say about this boss, but as tends to the way with the level in question, it’s something that we’ll need to revisit later.
Meanwhile there’s one more boss to see before moving on and that boss is the Pursuer. Not a great deal is known about this enigmatic individual and aside from an odd early encounter that you can have with him, this battle is another fairly standard fight against an armoured foe who levitates above the ground like a possessed suit of armour.
As a hunter of cursed undead, who carries the weapons of those he defeats as trophies, the Pursuer is another humanoid enemy with fairly straightforward attack patterns that can nonetheless be quite hard for newcomers to deal with. Overall the boss is still quite easy to defeat and actually becomes a cinch should you be skilled enough to activate one of the siege weapons on the battlements behind him. Ouch!
In Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, the Pursuer is notable for his frequent reappearances in other areas across Drangleic, doggedly pursuing those who would elude him. Being dead is no excuse for slacking off, I guess.
Whilst much of Forest of the Fallen Giants can be considered optional content, the generous amount of things to do make it an ideal place for new players to get lost in. Unlike other areas of Dark Souls II that seem to end before they’ve begun, this one has plenty to keep you occupied. It’s not overly hard or annoying to conquer either and some of the sights, like those huge statues overlooking the bay, still look fairly impressive today. I’ve always been a mark for opening areas in Souls games, literally without exception, but it shouldn’t take away from how fun and varied this one can be.
With the forest’s secrets raided and its optional bosses slain though, it’s time for us to move on. Our next location on the roadmap is another starting area close to the coast, but this place is going to be a lot less inviting than Majula.
Continue to Part 4 »