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 16 that explores Shaded Woods.
“All I ever knew was war, and I can imagine no other way to live. What a fool I was.”
From an aural standpoint, Shaded Woods is arguably the most immediately impacting location in all of Dark Souls II, and perhaps even the entire Souls franchise. Visually it starts off looking quite drab because of the thick mist that envelops everything from the forested canopy right down to the uneven ground, but it will usually only take seconds for that all-important first impression to be made and on this occasion FromSoftware nails it.
This is because the area is home to forest guardians much like Darkroot Garden was in Dark Souls, only the enemies here are almost entirely invisible. Finding your way through the choking fog is tricky enough and so navigating your way through whilst fending off attackers that can’t be seen makes for a stressful first time experience. With no clue how far the fog stretches or how exactly you’re meant to combat a foe that you can’t target lock, Shaded Woods makes an aggressive early statement. It’s the kind of atmosphere that will scare clueless newbies half to death, which aside from just being entertaining, is probably a good thing considering what other dangers lie ahead.
If it sounds unfair on the player then it is, but I would say that in a good way. The invisible guardians are pretty weak when you do manage to land a hit and there is even a hidden interaction you can discover by striking the nearby sentient trees; as their anguished moaning attracts any guardians in the area just long enough for you to either counter-attack or make a swift retreat.
This forested section is mercifully brief (assuming you don’t mind skipping the loot) and soon players will be ascending into the heart of the level itself. From here players can now enjoy a stroll through mossy ruins whilst admiring a sunny skyline, though even with visibility fully restored, the awkward design of this location won’t endear itself easily.
In the original Dark Souls II you could very quickly find yourself surrounded by the anthropomorphic lion enemies who are exclusive to this area. These warriors are sluggish and have short range, but their high health and resistance to magic makes them tough opponents when presented in the sorts of numbers you’d commonly see them in. The petrified bodies that players find dotted all over the game are quite common in this area too although their placement didn’t always make sense and in one case could be ignored entirely due to wonky placement.
By the time of Scholar of the First Sin, the lion population had been culled and a few of the enemies previously seen – or rather, unseen – in the forest had shown up in their place. Although in broad daylight the forest guardians are merely ghostly apparitions as opposed to the invisible reapers they were before, their incredible similarity to benign player projections here can easily lull you into a false sense of security, which is a very cool gameplay mechanic.
These are slight changes in the grand scheme of things, but they are good ones for giving Shaded Woods a greater sense of character. There are still plenty of amusing NPCs to find too including the Head of Vengarl (who is literally an undead head without his body), a friendly Manscorpion, and everyone’s favourite anthropomorphic bird woman, Weaponsmith Ornifex.
Whether it all comes together as an entertaining experience though is harder to say. There isn’t anything overly special to see here and the sheer speed at which you can devour its content, secrets and all, leads to the conclusion that Shaded Woods is merely posh filler.
It’s a conclusion that’s easier to draw after facing its one and only boss, Scorpioness Najka. Anyone who has played Dark Souls will immediately spot the visual similarity to Chaos Witch Quelaag, not that a giant half-woman, half-arachnid beast whose massive breasts obscured by luscious locks of hair is anywhere near subtle, mind you. The repetition of such lurid art design holds no impact beyond a quaint visual reference and so this boss only has gameplay with which to earn its merit.
And sadly, Scorpioness Najka just isn’t that memorable. Her range of bright sorceries and severable tail is worthy of mention, but the fight is frequently broken up by her burrowing move that forces players into standing motionless atop a stone slab before she resurfaces. Thus the battle can be unnecessarily slow and whilst it’s not an easy feat when playing by yourself, a cooperative party won’t have any trouble – or much fun – in circumventing her cumbersome laser beams and tail swipes. It’s far from the worst boss in Dark Souls II, but as is the case with so many others, it’s another one that you probably wouldn’t miss either.
Delving further into Najka’s burrow soon leads to a flooded area which marks the transition to our next stop on this final first act trek.
Continue to Part 17 »