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 22 which explores Undead Crypt.
“Many castle servants and the like have come to fetch their lord. But they rest here now, put to death by the King’s own guards. Perhaps he’s not in the mood for company.”
The later stages of Dark Souls II aren’t just where the game becomes tedious, it’s also the point where the adjustments made in Scholar of the First Sin frequently become controversial as opposed to strictly better. We caught glimpses of this in Drangleic Castle and Shrine of Amana where the remixed enemy placements offered little improvement to their original states and in Undead Crypt it’s once again hard to say whether such changes make things better or not.
One of the central concepts that gets established early in this level is, unsurprisingly, related to light. Early on an NPC informs you that the creatures of the crypt are adverse to light and he hints at the consequences which await anyone who would dare ignite their torch. From what I can recall, this warning only applied to a single encounter in the original version of Dark Souls II and since the level itself remained perfectly navigable without a torch anyway, it made the whole concern feel pretty pointless.
Thus it was quite welcome to see Scholar of the First Sin introducing a pseudo side quest involving sconces which spawn dangerous phantoms upon ignition. The final path leading towards the fog door was also tweaked to be more interesting as before it merely contained a hallway full of soldiers and little else of note. Less welcome, however, is the addition of rocks and headstones that make traversing the graveyard area even more of a slog than it already was.
The remastered version of Undead Crypt still has enough merit to be considered a net positive and it’s also worth highlighting the central crypt’s rather helpful shortcut. Unlocking shortcuts has always been one of Dark Souls’ hallmark thrills, so it was a shame to see the design concept be neglected over the past few levels.
Overall though this place does not present many exciting set pieces to make up for its late placement in the campaign. Players will likely be getting quite tired at this point and fighting violent spectres and yet more humanoid hollows doesn’t exactly freshen things up, no matter how short the level might be.
What saves Undead Crypt from feeling like an afterthought is, remarkably, its two boss battles which are both rather good. The first of these encounters has players fighting against the King’s faithful bodyguard, Velstadt. The Royal Aegis is a more competent rendition of the Looking Glass Knight previously fought in Drangleic Castle, but visually the boss most resembles Garl Vinland from Demon’s Souls; another of FromSoftware’s famous knights who also stood guard in a realm of horrors.
Unlike the Looking Glass Knight, Velstadt ignores gimmicks to focus on more varied offence involving the massive hammer which he wields with both hands. In the first phase this involves a fairly standard repertoire of melee attacks and in the second phase players will also need to watch out for magical buffs lest they be squashed with a single overpowered swing of the boss’s huge weapon. When you combine all of this with some suitably unsettling music and a well judged bonfire run, Velstadt has the potential to be an enjoyably intimidating boss.
The only problem is with the difficulty because Velstadt is unfortunately quite easy to defeat. Inexperienced players who aren’t carefully crafting an optimized character will have a tougher time of things here and you can maintain that challenge by fighting the boss alone rather than summoning extra help. Cooperative parties will trivialise this encounter, especially when you consider the boss’s long wind-up routines and the second phase transitions which lock him into a benign animation that grants lots of safe hits to the players. Nevertheless Velstadt has a substantial place in Drangleic’s world and the full extent of that is realized when you see who he was protecting down here.
In some ways it’s a shame that players meet King Vendrick this late because the fatigue of so many gameplay hours risks spoiling what is perhaps the most dramatic moment in Dark Souls II. Seeing the hollowed King shuffling mindlessly about his tomb is a quiet revelation to be sure, but for those who have managed to keep up with the story beats so far, it’s a pretty wondrous thing to see your quarry reduced to this freakish sideshow. Dark Souls II deftly subverts expectations with this little cameo and it’s an effect that’s only enhanced by the beautiful dirge that plays over it.
For a thematic reason that makes little sense to me, players are prevented from attacking Vendrick until they collect several key items later in the game and even then the combat remains an optional one. Vendrick may be a walking corpse, but the power of his greatsword is immense. Where he lacks agility and finesse, his raw power and tremendous range is enough to put pressure on the most seasoned Souls combatant. If it wasn’t for the existence of a somewhat cheesy leg-hugging strategy, Vendrick would sit among the toughest bosses in the game, especially when you consider the lack of cooperative summoning in his tomb.
Whether you ultimately decide to fight Vendrick or not though, the only remaining thing of value in Undead Crypt is the vital King’s Ring item which rests on Vendrick’s crumpled armour. At the insistence of the Emerald Herald we retrieve this coveted relic and travel east towards the locked gate bearing the King’s own seal.
Perhaps there we can finally learn who our real enemy is.
Continue to Part 23 »