This week I completed an almost entirely naked run through Dragleic and I have emerged from my vision quest with a new-found respect for the Souls games and no desire to play any other games in this franchise. I figured I would document some of my feelings on this improbably popular game, and perhaps give some tips to help future naked runners.
First things first, my run was 99% naked because I was forced to wear the tattered rags that my character spawned with for a short portion of the Forest of Fallen Giants. I chose to make a deprived character since I was going to play naked anyway and the deprived offers the greatest level of customization for the later game. When I created my character I did not realize that my level 6 stats across the board would prevent me from equipping ANYTHING beyond a dagger for my first couple of levels. With a dagger and no shield (I wouldn’t use a shield anyway, but it wasn’t even an option early on) the mobs of 3-5 enemies that are found early in the Forest of Fallen Giants were a real problem. Over time I learned to deal with the basic soldiers, but the limited damage and reach on my dagger made dealing with multiple hollow knights a near impossibility. It is with this experience in mind that I recommend choosing a real starting class for your naked run (or perhaps don’t make your first run through the game a naked run). The combination of the terrible dagger reach with my 0 armor and low health made the run up to the Last Giant a frustrating test of patience that I would never like to repeat. Not to mention that I couldn't even grind once the enemies de-spawned. That is why I donned those damned rags and ruined my naked run. I continued my naked run before the Last Giant fight, but the damage was done.
I found that the key to my naked, no shield, no blocking run was to pour as many points as possible into strength and just make sure that when I hit an enemy they stayed hit. That meant that my run really was a tale of two runs; pre-great club and post-great club. Before I found the great club in the bottom of the Gutter I was using a combination of a regular club and a greatsword. The poor strength scaling on the greatsword made its slow animation unacceptable. It just didn't hit hard enough for its slowness, and I found its dual-handed heavy attack to be very unreliable when locked-on to enemies. It would often just swing and miss an enemy right in front of me, which in a naked run means certain death. Finding the great club and its 3-hit heavy chain was the tangible turning point in my run from a difficulty standpoint. That club let me break poise, hit hard, and get away, which was exactly what I needed.
I picked up another key lesson in my run during a dark period against the Belfry Gargoyles. That fight taught me how terrible the lock-on is in multi-enemy boss fights (which make up the majority of boss fights) and boss fights with environmental obstacles (the other recurring theme of DS2 boss fights). Locking on in that fight, and really in almost every fight, just eliminates your peripheral vision, which is terrible in a game that loves bottomless pits and attacks from the blind-side. I can attribute a bunch of my deaths to locking on to an enemy, trying to strafe around it, and then either falling into a pit I couldn't see or getting attacked by something off camera. Honestly the sooner you learn to control the camera the better (though I really wonder how many of my problems would be fixed if the camera was pulled back a few feet). Once I mastered the game’s camera (to the extent that camera is master-able, I still can’t see anything when I am backed up against a wall) I was able to fully appreciate how powerful running is in Dark Souls 2. Honestly running around a boss or running away from a boss is so effective that I had almost no issues with my no-block strategy after the Belfry Gargoyles beat locking-on out of me. Most bosses just can’t catch you if you run, and very few of them can effectively target you if you run. This made darting in and out my preferred method of beating bosses.
After beating the four Great Ones and getting my strength above 50, I realized the value of one hit kills and one hit stuns in Dark Souls. Most of the enemies in Dark Souls 2 can really hurt an unarmored character with any attack, but they also leave themselves wide open after attacking. Therefore, the best course of action is to bait one attack and then make sure your enemy can never attack again, either by stun-locking them or one-hit-killing them. The soft cap on strength does mean that putting points in strength beyond level 50 is inefficient on a pure value level; however, the difference between needing one hit or two hits is so huge that I think it is entirely worth investing beyond the soft cap. By the end of the game I was able to kill the final boss in 3 3-hit combos, which just meant less exposure to risk and less room for crazy Dark Souls stuff to happen. I don’t know half of the bosses attack patterns because they did not live long enough to repeat, which is just the way I like it.
I can respect what people like about the Souls games, but I found fighting with the game’s camera, gotcha deaths (opps! I guess there was a boulder rolling down that hill you were climbing. How weird!), and general reliance on overwhelming you with multiple enemies at once to be un-fun. I was mostly upset while playing, and that is just not something I look for in my games. I can appreciate the catharsis that comes from beating a difficult boss after trying a bunch of times, but I also know that the difference between winning and losing is often a matter of the boss picking a few crappy attacks in a row rather than world-enders. If they fix the camera I might reconsider, but these games might not be for me. But hey, at least I got to make my own Captain Caveman, and that’s pretty dope.