Dark Souls 2 is the one thing keeping me preoccupied in anticipation of Elden Ring’s DLC

Drak Souls 2 hub world Majula
(Image credit: FromSoftware)
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Elden Ring recently unveiled an exciting (and somewhat terrifying) look into the story of its forthcoming expansion, aptly called Shadow of the Erdtree. Filled with symbolism on war, strife, and godhood, the Elden Ring DLC story trailer did exactly what it set out to do: hyped me up with incredible fury for that next dance within those breathtaking lands. 

With Shadow of the Erdtree a mere month away and with practically every conceivable thing I could achieve in the open-world wonder long wrapped up in my several playthroughs of FromSoftware's masterpiece, I knew diving back into Elden Ring wouldn't be enough for me. 

Sure, I could start totally fresh with a whole new character and get prepared for the DLC, but I'd much prefer to wait for its official launch — plus, where's the fun in starting so early? 

Instead, I've been preoccupying my long wait with yet another FromSoftware experience, one that more often than not gets the tail end of the stick in many discussions, painting it as the black sheep of the franchise. It's never going to be ranked among the best PC games by any stretch of the imagination. However, Dark Souls II still deserves its day in the limelight, as it's totally unafraid of going in a different direction.

Whatever problems you might have with Dark Souls' second entry, whether it be the number of enemies in a particular area, the lackluster bosses, ADP, or the like, these very concerns are what gives DS2 its underlying grandeur. Its setbacks, though aplenty, are what makes me appreciate Dark Souls II all the more. 

In the run-up to Shadow of the Erdtree's release, it's proven particularly interesting navigating the unruly lands of Drangleic once more — this time totally in aid of my friend's first playthrough. 

The best co-op Souls experience

Dark Souls 2 co-op

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

No one has ever said it was easy to co-op in the Souls games. Out of From's entire library, I think both Elden Ring and Dark Souls 3 are the ones that get it the most right, despite still making you sit there and wait for your friend's sign to appear with bated breaths. If anything, the co-op experience in DS2 is even more head-scratching and annoying — but it's made all the simpler thanks to the Name-Engraved Ring. 

In place of using a conventional password system like later outings, Dark Souls 2 instead opted to use a more narrative approach to co-op play. While you are sacrificing a ring slot in using the Name-Engraved Ring, which works as a way of filtering online players with both wearers choosing a particular god to follow, it streamlines the entire process making co-op an absolute breeze. 

Without said ring, my friend and I would have to rely solely on a rather annoying mechanic introduced and existing only in Dark Souls 2, called Soul Memory. In essence, Soul Memory pertains to the total number of souls earned by a player. It also directly correlates to who you can co-op and invade worlds with, primarily on a tiered basis of about 10,000 or so. 

Thus, if I'm around 60,000 Soul Memory and my friend is just 50,000, we probably wouldn't be able to play together until either of us met at a similar threshold. There are plenty of handy Soul Memory calculators out there, but why even bother with all of that when there's the trusty Name-Engraved Ring that bypasses it all and makes co-op all the simpler? 

Dark Souls 2 co-op

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

But beyond its narrative interweaving, co-op is also so much more entertaining in Dark Souls 2 than in many of its other entries. Remember, one of the biggest complaints spat on the grave of DS2 is its unruly amount of foot soldiers and enemies that are constantly dotted around areas. With an extra friend on hand, these clashes of steel are perfect tests of combat readiness in anticipation of the apparent brutality steeped in Elden Ring's Shadow of the Erdtree DLC.

Dark Souls 2 also has its fair share of NPC invasions. Although bosses might be plenty forgettable in this experience, the invasions are where the true memories are made and, alongside a friend, prove extraordinarily entertaining. Add to that the constant return of the Pursuer, a boss that literally chases you across Drangliec at particular locations, and you've got a recipe for fun that few other Souls games so aptly bring to the table. 

Souls combat evolved

While Elden Ring definitely enabled a robust and more fluid combat system thanks in large part to the newly-added jump mechanic, it still wouldn't be Elden Ring proper without Dark Souls 2 before it. Case in point? The return of power stancing; a mechanic that allows you more attacks and control while using two of the same type of weapon, which was first popularized in Dark Souls 2.

Though I do love dual-wielding scythes, Dark Souls 2 also had plenty of other combat-focused elements that make it truly unforgettable. One such concept was the ability to utilize buffs, like Dark Weapon or Sunlight Blade, on weapons that were already infused. This way, I could have a lightning spear and still buff it even more with Resonant Weapon to get that stacked effect.

On that same note, magic took a whole new turn in Dark Souls 2 through the introduction of hexes. Mirroring the pyromancies before them, hexes likewise scaled with both Faith and Intelligence builds, allowing you to use particularly strong spells, like Dark Orb and Whisper of Despair. Not only are these quite powerful, but hexes look pretty awesome, too, and who among the Fashion Souls community doesn't love looking cool while also being nearly unkillable?

Dark Souls 2 dragon

(Image credit: Fromsoftware)

And finally, while a stain on its image, ADP still brings to the table something no other Souls game does: literal player-fed adaptability. Detested by many bearers of the curse, ADP is a player attribute that determines your agility, status defenses, and even invincibility frames — otherwise known as "I-frames." This last part is what drives many players up the wall, but having the knowhow and ability to directly influence your invincibility while rolling is pretty awesome. 

The joke still stands: having trouble in Dark Souls 2? Just level up ADP! 

For all its many faults, DS2 still serves as a perfect escape in the wait for Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree. Sadly, the PS3 and Xbox 360 servers were pulled offline this past March, which means online co-op and invasions are no more on those systems, but at least you can still play across PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, and PS5. It still has a pretty healthy player base and is made all the more enjoyable when the punishing combat is experienced alongside a friend. 

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Ryan Epps
Staff Writer

Ryan Epps is a Staff Writer under the TV/AV section at Tom's Guide focusing on TVs and projectors. When not researching PHOLEDs and writing about the next major innovation in the projector space, he's consuming random anime from the 90's, playing Dark Souls 3 again, or reading yet another Haruki Murakami novel.