12 Buildings built in the ruins of the past.

  1. A small clump of buildings have grown up like weeds up the marble steps of a theater. The ancient steps wind up to the semicircular top where a few buildings overlook the town below. The stage vanished long ago.
  2. The remaining vaults of a temple serve as the roof of a tavern, golden light shining out onto the street between the bottom halves of tall pillars.
  3. A pier built upon the sunken pillars of an old church, its spire makes a fine watchtower at the end of the planks.
  4. The portico of some long gone courtyard makes up the wall of a garden, pillars standing free of roof serve to lead vines upward.
  5. The exposed tiers of an old cistern have filled up with new life as merchants put up their stands. The tall vaulted ceiling is perfect for hanging tapestries.
  6. Inner chambers of a palace, covered in new soil, has become the hidden vault of a prince. It’s marble decorations and painted frescos now only shine when lanterns pass to add to his hoard.
  7. The foundations of houses upon a hill became perfect garden walls and benches for the garden-loving noble women. Their villas open onto the remains of a dead city.
  8. An ancient prison oubliette appeared holy to those who worshipped the chthonic gods. A descending ladder reaches the inverted altar.
  9. The peasant squats lean up on splendor they could never imagine, a marble facade faded and softened yet taller than all around it. The poor pry some loose to burn in their kilns to make lime.
  10. The curving walls of a church still stand long after the altar is pillaged and the roof torn down. Now it stands tall enough to make a perfect orchard. It’s wide door now a simple wooden gate. The farmer’s house shares a wall with the edifice.
  11. An ancient bridge once crossed the valley. Now the thick, yet porous, supports serve as perfect bolt holes. A stack of shanties climb the sides.
  12. The long tall buildings of a ship yard once served long galleys. Now in times of war their walls are perfect for filled barracks.
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Thing I’ve Learned From… Dark Souls II

New Things Are Scary

In the Forest of Giants the game plays with your expectations. You are fighting infantry men, short zombie like guys who pose a threat in a group but not much one on one. Then at the end of a long corridor you see something new. It’s thin and tall and look like it has a large sword. Immediately you start thinking about what this new thing will do. It’s tall and skinny – probably fast. Terrified I used up my throwing knives and barely survived the fight. Ten minutes later I’m slashing identical enemies apart with no thought. The initial moment of something new made it scary. It felt pretty badass later being able to ignore that threat.

Combination of Circumstances

Difficulty in Dark Souls is infamously high. But in some places its surprising how little it increases – instead it combines. In the dark cavern of a pirate den you face two main enemies. A weak infantry man who you’ve seen before. They flail around and sometimes shoot arrows – in this zone the arrows are on fire. The second is a bandit, bigger and quicker than the infantry. When far away they throw bottles of oil. Neither enemy is too hard. But when you’ve been splashed with oil and catch a fire arrow, you suddenly lose all of your health. Difficulty then is increased not because of a harder enemy but because of a combination of factors.

Let Players be Clever, but Make it Cost

Dark Souls is difficult, but it also lets you remove that challenge in many ways. In the pirate den there are blind creatures that flee light. Using a high cost item you can light a huge lantern that will make the creatures run, removing them from your path. Otherwise you have to conserve your torch fuel and scare them off by hand. Either way you can manage to scare off some of the most dangerous monsters in the area. But it costs. Dark Souls is always about choices, use up an important item here, or keep it for later. You can be clever, but you’ll have to use your resources to do it.