Saturday, June 22, 2024

Ranking the Dark Souls 2 Areas From Worst To Best

A game with very low lows and very high highs. The dynamic range for zones in this game is a lot more variable than the rest of the series. I'm one of the few people who likes this more than Dark Souls, and I find it much more polished and streamlined. Well, for the most part. the Adaptability/Agility stat was unnecessary (and never appeared in any other From game) and the rolling wasn't nearly as good as the other games - which probably accounts for the vast majority of people's gripes about this game. Level Adaptability to 30ish to get Agility to 105ish and your rolls are basically as good as the rest of the series, which, essentially, "fixes" this game. It's kinda like triggering all of Alia's speeches and then backup-saving so you can play Mega Man X5 normally after that. Regardless, on with the list.

#33 - Frigid Outskirts (Ice DLC) - Colloquially known as "Reindeer F***land", this is hands-down the worst area in the entire Soulsborne series. It's completely optional and hidden, and you get basically nothing for doing it, so really it's just there to taunt completionists. Most of the time you can't see anything, the reindeers infinitely spawn and are super OP and nasty, and the place is confusing (mostly because you can't see where you're going). If you've ever wanted a video game level where you run through Antarctica's wasteland during a blizzard while being attacked by monsters you can't outrun, this is your jam. And then at the very end of the area is the fight with Lud and Zallen, one of those double-boss gank-fests we all hate. Two giant cats that rend you mercilessly and send you back to the beginning of Reindeer F***land.

Protip: The NPC allies you can bring with you through this area just make the boss fight way harder than it needs to be. Protip 2: You can dismiss them outside the boss room and do a backup save to not have to run across this awful zone again. Protip 3: Burn your consumables like Brightbugs, Green Blossoms, Elizabeth Mushrooms, and Charcoal Pine Resin. The bosses actually collapse quickly if you fight them solo with buffs.

#32 - Black Gulch - The worst area in the base game, this place is full of statues that sling poison at you, respawn on death, and can't be despawned no matter how many times you clear them out. Add in rampaging giant-hand monsters that grab you, and it's just a horrendous area. At least it's short.

#31 - Cave of the Dead (Sunken DLC) - Another awful optional area from a DLC. At least the DLCs put their awful areas to the side as optional. The main areas in the DLCs are some of the best in the game. This, on the other hand, is a short, awful cave where they just sort of threw all kinds of mobs at you in a way that just isn't fun to traverse or deal with, culminating with another stupid gank fight. It's one of the worst boss fights in the game and I won it by simply poisoning the bosses and running them around in circles because they were so cheap to fight normally.

#30 - Iron Passage (Fire DLC) - Annnnd the third of the four optional areas in the DLCs. It's better than the previous two, but not enough for this DLC to break the 75% rate of the DLCs having terrible optional areas. This is just a long hallway full of enemies that spam projectiles and AOEs and whatever else while heavily outnumbering you. The only thing putting it above the similar Cave of the Dead is that the boss, Blue Smelter Demon, is nowhere near as annoying as the Gank Squad.

#29 - Dark Chasm of Old - The home of Darklurker is...well, a dark cave. It harkens back to the Abyss in the previous game. It's uninteresting and full of enemies that are a chore to deal with, like Havel Shades. Just not a fun zone at all, which is a shame because the boss is a super fun fight. The boss brings it up a bit, at least, and this being an extension of the Abyss is interesting from a lore perspective.

#28 - Doors of Pharros - A cavern filled with doors, with an ancient vibe to it. It's flooded now, but you get the impression it used to be something fascinating. Something about this place is certainly thought-provoking...but doesn't have a whole lot to it. I liked the mammoth-giant knights and the very Tolkien-esque dwarves. What I didn't like was the boss, Royal Rat Authority, which is easily the most annoying and obnoxious fight in the game. 75% chance you die immediately upon walking into the room (due to the adds and their Plague procs), 25% chance you take the adds out before they hit you and can have an actual normal boss fight with the big guy. It's like the Capra Demon on 'roids. Just an awful fight. It's optional, at least. The zone itself isn't, and the problem with the zone is that you have all these interesting doors and can only open a couple of them due to the limited consumable nature of the keys. A good idea for a zone on paper that failed in execution.

#27 - Undead Crypt - Very dark zone with lots and lots of heavily-armored knights. The hallway leading to the boss door is a complete gank-fest. Not a fan of the rooms full of statues either. The ghosts, the bells... everything about this place is dark and un-fun. This area is just a general PITA, which is unfortunate because the idea behind the level is pretty cool. RIP to King Vendrick.

#26 - Shrine of Amana - When I started making this list I was certain I'd put this area dead last. Slow, bogged-down movement in this flooded zone isn't very conducive to avoiding all the enemies that can snipe you from halfway across the zone. This place gave me hands-down more deaths than anything else in this game and is a contender for worst zone in any Soulsborne game. However after playing my latest run of DS2, it moved up a bunch of notches. My slog through the zone went fine and I actually found myself kinda appreciating the place. It is very pretty, and not that difficult to get through if you go extremely slowly and carefully, but first time players are gonna find themselves cursing everything about this zone.

#25 - The Gutter - Basically a less-offensive version of Black Gulch in some ways. I did like the idea here though, and it's the one area in the game that makes really good use of torches and light/shadow. Going around lighting all the torches while making steady progress had a nice dungeon crawl feel to it. It still sucks as a level, though.

#24 - Grave of Saints - Basically "rat land", with a bizarre rat army boss fight and a lot of dropping down platforms while hoping to not die. There isn't much else to this area and it's short and un-complicated. Also has those annoying enemies that run at you and blow up. Not a fan of this place.

#23 - Harvest Valley - Kind of a terrible "poison bog" level, but as far as poison swamps go, this isn't the worst in the series at all. It has a memorable look, with Earthen Peak looming overhead and sexy witches stalking you around the hills.

#22 - Huntsman's Copse - The run-up to the Executioner's Chariot fight, and the fight itself, is super obnoxious and unfun. It's also optional. The run-up to and fight with the Skeleton Lords is a better experience (and actually part of the main quest). So this is kind of a tale of two zones. That Executioner's Chariot run single-handedly brings this zone down though. At least it's got some incredible vistas, and the arena on the high cliff is an interesting location / boss room to say the least.

#21 - Shaded Woods - Some of this zone is really cool, namely the mossy forest ruins. What brings it way down is the large foggy section of the woods where you can barely see anything. They decided to mix near-transparent ghostly enemies in with that part and it just makes for a tedious time.

#20 - Things Betwixt - The intro level of the game doesn't have much to it, unfortunately. I really like this place and really wish I could rate it higher. It's the first place you see, it's mysterious, and there are a few things to discover. At least you can get some use out of this place by returning to it to farm Falconers later for medals. Or defeat the local cyclops to get an interesting ring. So there's a bit of depth here. What is it betwixt? I'm not sure. The living world and the spirit world, I think.

#19 - No Man's Wharf - A place that's a little too tough for being so early in the game. When you know what you're doing it's no problem, but on a first playthrough this place is total ass. Way too many foes that ambush you or hide out until you're ahead of them. The place does have a cool aesthetic at least, especially with the ghostly boat at the end.

#18 - Brightstone Cove Tseldora - Cool name, cool zone at first with Falconer camps and a very pretty look. Unfortunately it breaks down in the second half of the zone. Giant spiders everywhere, annoying casters everywhere that snipe you, and a confusing area layout that to this day doesn't make very much sense to me.

#17 - Belfry Luna - A very short moonlit zone without much to it. It looks nice, and the fight with the gargoyles on the roof is a great callback to the previous game in the series. However it's so short that it's barely a zone. It gets some props for bringing back the gargoyles, at least.

#16 - The Lost Bastille + Sinner's Rise - Pretty, moonlit zone with an interesting, prison-like design. Probably the first zone in the game that has a lot of secrets to uncover. The hidden blacksmith found by following an explosive barrel down some stairs was a great surprise that always catches me a little off-guard even now. The boss here is a little weird and I don't like the way it can break your lock-on, but other than that, this is a very middle-of-the-road zone that probably belongs dead center on the list.

#15 - Memory of the Old Iron King (Fire DLC) - The fourth of the four optional areas in the DLCs, and they finally made one that isn't absolutely awful. Short area, but Sir Alonne is one of the coolest fights in the game, and the Eastern knights leading up to him are also a lot of fun to fight with. Could do without the fireball-slinging salamanders though.

#14 - Aldia's Keep - Very cool zone on the outside, a rained-on old castle with damp surroundings. Like you can almost smell the fresh forest air here. Then you get inside the zone and most of it is just this one big hallway full of gank squad mobs ready to ambush. The boss fight with the Guardian Dragon is really good, at least. This game managed to step it up on dragon fights, historically a weak point in the previous two Souls games. Most likely overrating this.

#13 - Earthen Peak - Interesting zone that's comparable to Sen's Fortress in the previous game. Unfortunately, it's just a poor man's Sen's Fortress. Pretty memorable though, with the medusa-like boss and the giant windmill you can set ablaze. I didn't hate this at all.

#12 - Dragon Sanctum (Sunken DLC) - A temple full of hidden passages and switches. Very cool idea in theory, but in practice it's full of some highly-annoying foes like the hex-casters and the ghost knights. Right about now, I'm realizing just how much of the Dark Souls 2 zone list is sub-par compared to the other Fromsoft games. I still like this game and I'm one of the people who thinks it's better than it gets credit for. Yeah though, the areas certainly aren't all hits here.

#11 - Forest of Fallen Giants - An expansive first real zone that teaches you how to play and does it well. There are multiple bosses here, multiple paths to take, and a ton of hidden stuff to find. It isn't extraordinary or anything but it's a solid zone, maybe the first truly solid zone on the list. It has abundant hidden areas, shortcuts, and two decent boss fights that help teach you how to play.

#10 - Belfry Sol - This is a really fun zone to play around in, and it's absolutely gorgeous. Basically a chapel rooftop zone with a red sky and vicious little helmeted gnomes running around everywhere. There are also a number of black phantoms that can show up, which makes for good duels. What this zone is probably most known for, however, is PVP. Lots of people do PVP here, even today, and it isn't hard to find opponents to duel if you start summoning. Between that and the look of the place, I rank this one highly for being basically one big room.

#9 - Giant Memories - Interesting zone(s) that are unlike anything else in the game, showing flashbacks of the war between the Kingdom of Drangleic and the Kingdom of Giants that was brought on by Queen Nashandra's warmongering. Some of these are real set-pieces, like the final one with the Giant Lord and the massive rolling statue head. Very enjoyable, short zones, all of these. I feel they don't get the praise they deserve due to being ostensibly side-zones that are on a timer, rather than regular zones you spend any real time in.

#8 - Iron Keep - Another red fiery zone. One of the more dangerous areas to go through, which is fine as by this point in the game you should have things down and know what to do. Good place to PVP, and it really does feel like a fortress to conquer. There are some weak aspects, like enemies that can strike at range, and an abundance of strong knights that chase you down. The boss is one of the better ones and basically a giant balrog. All in all this is a zone I always like going through. A lot of folks despise it because of the gauntlet-like nature of moving through the keep, but with DS2's ability to make foes stop spawning after ten kills, the gauntlet will eventually clear itself out if all else fails. And I had fun doing it, so this one gets higher placement.

#7 - Shulva, Sanctum City (Sunken DLC) - A very interesting zone that I seem to find something new in every time I go through it. The Mayan temple look is pretty rad, and I love how there are switches everywhere that move various platforms around. Some of them seem pointless, but few actually are. This is usually the first DLC zone people see and it makes it clear immediately that they meant business with the DLCs.

#6 - Dragon Aerie + Dragon Shrine - While Dragon Shrine is one of the coolest areas in the game, the cliff zone leading to it is a chore and a half. The exploding kamikaze zombies are pretty annoying, and can knock you clear off of the nearest ledge. There are a bunch of dragon minibosses which could be cool, but dragon fights are by and large not very good in this game. So why is it ranked so high? This zone looks cool (and some aspects of its design would be reused in Crumbling Farum Azula in Elden Ring) but there isn't much else to crow about. A fairly short area, but it's got an amazing look and an interesting theme. The dragoons salute you at first, but if you do anything that runs afoul of the shrine's rules, they strike. The mega-dragon at the end is probably the most impressive-looking boss in the game.

#5 - Brume Tower (Fire DLC) - A sprawling, challenging tower full of fire and elevators. Not only is the aesthetic here off the charts, the level design is great here and a cut above most of the game. Fume Knight is probably one of the game's more iconic boss fights. The DLCs of this game are actually pretty awesome and single-handedly elevate this game from "worst Soulsborne" to something I hold in high regard. It's still probably the worst Soulsborne, but it's the best "worst thing" ever. And at this point I'd rather play Scholar of the First Sin than Dark Souls 1. It is what it is. The original non-Scholar version of DS2 is definitely a bit lower on the totem pole. Regardless, Brume Tower is a fantastic DLC zone that is worth the price of admission.

#4 - Majula - The best hub zone in the entire Soulsborne series, IMO. A town on the edge of the sea, with eternal sunlight, where the few people left in the kingdom gather to trade wares and overlook the flooded world. It's pretty unsettling when you think about it. Any way you slice it, though, there's something majestc about Majula.

#3 - Heide's Tower of Flame - A series of towers poking out from the sea, with bridges traversing them. This area is also interesting and unsettling, especially when you realize that you're basically moving around the rooftops of a once-great city that was completely consumed by the waves of a flood. Perhaps a distant memory from human history, and one the species will someday have to revisit again multiple times over. As for the zone itself, it's basically a gauntlet-like series of battles with knights. A poorly-placed dragon does drag this zone down a bit, but it's forgivable given how fun and damn scenic this place is. My favorite zone to grind levels in in DS2, maybe the whole series, with some clever tricks to employ to knock your foes into the sea even when outmatched.

#2 - Drangleic Castle - High in the mountains, the palace of Queen Nashandra, destroyer of the kingdom. Once the greatest kingdom in all the land, brought to ruins in mere moments by a queen full of utter contempt for the place. The shambling husk of King Vendrick will tell you all about it. The zone itself is kinda brilliant, with pouring rain, flashing lightning, and all manner of deadly golems and other un-living thralls trying to keep you from meeting the Queen and putting an end to her reign. Once you get inside the castle itself and out of the storm, there's a palpable sense of relief. The whole place is just insanely memorable. It's both a middle zone of the game and the last zone of the game, getting a lot of use.

#1 - Frozen Eleum Loyce (Ice DLC) - A frozen city, yet another once-glorious place overcome by cataclysm, which seems to be the theme of DS2. Supposedly this area is a repurposing of the 6th Archstone that was cut from Demon's Souls, and looking at the themes here and the level layout, I can see it. It's got very Demon Souls level design and giants play a role in it. Late in the level you can de-frost the entire place which opens up a lot of new stuff to find and explore, basically making it a level on top of a level. Also it is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The DLCs of this game got their main zones very, very, very right, while also giving us some of the worst clunkers with their optional zones. It's kinda weird. Maybe the optional zones were just the castoff content? I don't know. Regardless, I have no trouble at all putting Frozen Eleum Loyce in the top spot for this game, and it'd most likely be in one of the top spots for the entire series. Hard for me to believe that video games have locations that look this good at this point... and later games in the series actually surpass it.

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