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 9 which explores Huntsman’s Copse.
“The Old Iron King commanded the capture of all Undead, but those charged with the task were overcome by the curse.”
Huntsman’s Copse is one of the three remaining locales that will set us on a path towards another Great Soul and out of those routes we haven’t yet covered in this journal, this route is perhaps the most varied and exciting.
You wouldn’t necessarily guess that by looking at Huntsman’s Copse itself though as once again the surroundings here are dark and oppressive. This is apparently what passes for a natural environment in Dark Souls II; a thick forest turned killing field where roguish hollows and sickle-wielding hunters lie in ambush at every turn. As its flavour suggests, Huntsman’s Copse was a place where undead citizens were brought to be slaughtered en masse in Bloodborne-esque hunts and bizarre rituals of torture. Inevitable in a world without television, I suppose.
As one of the tougher routes in the game’s first act, the player’s access to this starting location is restricted until they clear Heide’s Tower of Flame. It’s still quite easy to prioritise early if players are up for a challenge and there’s quite of lot of content to burn through including an adjoining PvP area, a further two boss battles, and a hidden tunnel network full of random goodies. These qualities stop Huntsman’s Copse from feeling like filler, but it has to be said that the enemy variety lets it down.
Dark Souls II is frequently criticized for its over-reliance on humanoid enemies and this location is indeed quite generic in that sense. Thematically it works; this is supposed to be a sanctioned hunting ground after all. And unlike Dark Souls, there is a denser population of undead citizens/prisoners wandering around these parts which gives credence to the idea that the kingdom was once inhabited by regular people as opposed to just soldiers and hired killers.
That’s all good, but the trouble with these undead prisoners – enemies who as mentioned, show up in many locations throughout the game – is that they are really boring. You’ll see these same skinny enemies cropping up all the time and because they’re almost always hostile to the player, killing them becomes a chore before long. And if there is an enemy in Huntsman’s Copse who isn’t a humanoid then you can probably bet its character data has been reappropriated from the first Dark Souls.
Basilisks and rabid dogs appear occasionally and elsewhere you’ll find a familiar batch of skeletons and their necromancer buddies. The dreaded Bonewheel skeletons from Dark Souls return too, though their power level has been toned down for this installment. Keeping them the same probably would have been a good idea, however, because their sole appearance in Dark Souls II coincides with one of the game’s easiest boss battles.
The three Skeleton Lords certainly look imposing atop those bony thrones and yet their pitifully weak offence and susceptibility to being staggered trivialises this battle more often than not. Each Lord raises a small army of regular skeletons upon being destroyed and thus the only real danger here is in getting overwhelmed should players get too trigger happy. This scenario was actually a touch harder in the vanilla game as one of the Lords would summon a group of four Bonewheels upon death whereas in Scholar of the First Sin that number was reduced to make the encounter even easier for some daft reason. The potential number of enemies should make the Skeleton Lords fun when playing in co-op, but they’re too weak to pose a satisfying challenge and the uncharacteristically upbeat backing music hardly helps as it’s more likely to provoke giggles before any feelings of dread.
Defeating the Skeleton Lords reveals a passageway to the next location, but there is one more point of interest worth mentioning first. Tucked away across a rickety bridge in Huntsman’s Copse is a side area that shares a similar setup to the Cathedral of Blue. Undead Purgatory is its name and it houses the Brotherhood of Blood covenant (which allows devotees to participate in organised PvP duels) as well as another boss fight.
The Executioner’s Chariot is one of the few optional bosses that I never found during my first playthrough of Dark Souls II, which was a shame considering how much it was featured in the game’s pre-release marketing. I can remember seeing the concept art for this boss and wondering how a fight against a chariot would actually work in the first place.
Undead Purgatory is not entirely dissimilar from one of those circular arenas from the seventies movie, Rollerball. The Executioner’s Chariot thunders through mowing down anything in its path and players are immediately thrust into this ritual upon entering the level. Slowly you must creep forwards whilst dodging skeletons and the trampling force of the Chariot itself using only the tight alcoves on either side of the arena for cover as the demonic horse and its demented rider stampede by.
Ultimately your goal is to find the switch at the far end of the arena which lowers a portcullis for the Executioner’s Chariot to crash into. With its rider removed, the true boss (a two headed-horse who breathes hellish fire) is revealed and players must fight the beast whilst trying not to get trampled in the tight space.
The pure chaos makes for one of the most action-packed encounters in the entire game and yet a certain awkwardness remains. The portcullis switch is quite easy to miss and getting trapped in an alcove surrounded by undead will often result in your premature death. The second phase is also fairly routine as the Chariot’s move set is so shallow and you can even bypass it completely should you manage to repeatedly snipe the rider before reaching the gate switch.
The Executioner’s Chariot is certainly one of the more imaginative bosses in Dark Souls II, but it’s also a gimmick that quickly wears thin and isn’t quite as fun as the unique setup would suggest.
Huntsman’s Copse is a bit of a mixed bag then. The inconsistent bosses and gloomy genericness make this a forgettable area on the whole, even if it doesn’t do anything particularly offensive, there isn’t a great deal to get excited about either.
Moving on through the final tunnel leads to our next destination; a place that will finally put all those antidotes we’ve been carrying to good use.
Continue to Part 10 »