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 2 that explores Majula.
“It is a kind of settlement. A place where life is almost normal. And in Drangleic these days, there are very few places like that.”
Situated near the edge of Drangleic lies the coastal shanty of Majula; the hub zone for Dark Souls II and the central area that players will return to whenever they wish to level up, speak with NPC vendors, or chillax near the bonfire. The soothing background music makes it clear that we’re in a safe place, though it’s recommended that players don’t test this quality by venturing into that one basement or by aggravating the undead pigs behind the mansion. Seriously, the health pool on those things is ridiculous.
Majula is bathed in a perpetual orange hue owing to the brightness of the sun that always shines over the area, but if anything the abundance of light only shows just how dilapidated the place is as wanderers have travelled through, dumping their waste down a huge well in the process. Among its permanent inhabitants are a grumpy blacksmith, an armourer who’s down on his luck, and an enchanted cat who is only too happy to sell you magic trinkets or dispense the latest gossip.
Many other NPCs you meet on your journey will end up here too whereupon their quest threads and wares can be negotiated at your leisure. This does lead to certain NPCs feeling more like terminals to be logged into rather than believable characters who might wander around a bit, but most players will enjoy the company in what is otherwise a lonely settlement.
We’re also introduced to the Emerald Herald who watches over the only bonfire in the area. Shanalotte, as she comes to be known, is a mysterious woman who recognises you as Bearer of the Curse. It is at her insistence that we “seek the king” by finding the four great souls that will grant us an audience at Drangleic Castle. This main quest has the same setup that it did in Dark Souls and Dark Souls III; kill four big bosses found in disparate parts of the kingdom and bring their souls to a conduit or door in order to unlock the final areas of the game. This isn’t a quest that’s made abundantly clear to us, admittedly, but more on that another time.
Like the haven of Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls, Majula acts as a nexus for players to venture off and track down the Four Old Ones. There are five different exits leading onwards from here meaning that before the gates to the castle are opened for what essentially becomes the game’s second act, players have quite a lot of freedom in where to travel.
Some of these paths are understandably harder to tackle than others and it’s clear how FromSoftware nudges you towards the easier locales first. For instance: accessing the switch in the Cleric’s tunnel first requires the help of an NPC, dropping down the well requires an expensive ring in order to survive the fall, and opening the door near the northern ruins requires a special item too. By comparison, the other two starting areas have no requirements for entry and will naturally be the places that most new players seek out first.
The genius here is that all of those extra requirements I mentioned are incredibly easy to meet if you’ve played the game once already and are familiar with how everything works. Thus you’ll find that experienced players have a greater opportunity to get creative during repeat playthroughs. Have you always wanted a character wielding the Bandit’s Greataxe as their main weapon? Simply get your hands on that Silvercat Ring, drop down the well, and go find it early. Would you rather experience what fighting that one particular boss is like at a low soul level? Prioritise travel to that place and you can find out. This is one of the little unsung boons of Dark Souls II because the accessibility of its world can easily make your new campaigns feel fresh.
By comparison, Dark Souls III has a much more linear route of progression and whilst Dark Souls has quite a few locations open at the start of the game, your travel there is going to be very slow until you acquire the Lord Vessel. Dark Souls II unlocks bonfire teleporting from the beginning and whilst this does make bonfires feel closer to checkpoints rather than glorious safe havens, the kingdom of Drangleic opens up to you a lot quicker.
Other attractions in Majula include a monument that displays the number of player deaths recorded online (presumably on a per server basis), you know, just to remind you of Bandai Namco’s obsession with their “Dark Souls is hard, yo” marketing angle and also curious is another nearby monument called the Victor’s Stone. This ominous slab remains tucked behind an obscure path in the centre of Majula and approaching it offers players entry into the Company of Champions. This covenant, as is typical of Souls games, is hardly well explained. The stone offers some vague warning about the treacherous path that lies ahead and insists on three separate confirmation pop-ups before the player can accept, but otherwise it’s clear that pledging will make the game even harder. Goody.
Remarkably though, the Company of Champions is a fantastic idea that I sorely missed in Dark Souls III. The setup is extremely straightforward: joining this faction immediately makes the game artificially harder by boosting the health and damage of enemies, but interestingly it also rescinds all access to cooperative play and ensures enemies will never go “extinct” when they’re repeatedly killed. This pretty much activates a challenge mode for solo players and whilst the tangible rewards for undertaking the ordeal are token at best, this Covenant remains a very nice way to spice up a subsequent playthrough. What a shame then that like every other Covenant in Dark Souls II, it can still be abandoned or rejoined at will and so you’re only ever bound by honour to keep it running for the entire game. Ah, well.
We can’t rest in Majula forever, so next episode we’ll trek through the nearby woods towards a decaying fort where evidence suggests a great battle once took place.
Continue to Part 3 »