Last night, I spent a good portion of time frustrated at the Ruin Sentinels - Not so much because of the difficulty as they’re not so bad and my weapon does a ton of damage to them (Dual cestus powerstance, if you must know) but rather because while I was struggling, I literally could not go anywhere else. Also, I love the “Dark Souls of X” meme more than most.
And it’s all because of this stupid item.
Even in the beginning, Dark Souls 1 was a lot more open ended. You could either go to the New Londo Ruins (which would end up with you dead if you didn’t know what you were doing thanks to Ghosts), the Catacombs (which would end up with you dead if you didn’t know what you are doing), Blighttown via New Londo shortcut (if you’re a thief or picked the Master Key as a gift) or Undead Burg. That’s a lot of places to visit!
Dark Souls 2 starts the same way - You can go to the Forest of Fallen Giants or Heide’s Tower of Flame. However, both will lead to the same place - Lost Bastille. (There is a third possibility when a certain NPC moves into Majula from Heide’s Tower, but that’s something that’ll take a lot more time to discover for someone on a first playthrough.)
Lost Bastille’s progress is gated behind a Fragrant Branch. And that’s where the game lost me. I’ve looked into this and there are exactly the same amount of Fragrant Branches of Yore as there are petrified statues in the game. In addition, it is entirely possible to lock yourself into a specific given path because of these branches. I, personally locked myself into Lost Bastille and had no other way to progress other than going through the Ruin Sentinels. Who routinely handed me my ass.
I remembered when was the last time I had to backtrack due to collecting an item. It was during collectathons. Not even what came to be known as Metroidvanias, as those require certain abilities. In Dark Souls, what you have at the beginning is what you get. You are always able to perform anything you might want to do at the beginning of the game, which is one of the reason why the series is appealing. You don’t “gain” new abilities like a double jump to traverse the world further.
Still, looking for Fragrant Branches, I was reminded of the gatekeeping in many N64 games such as Super Mario 64 (gotta find them stars, or, y’know, use the game’s jumping mechanics to bypass certain stuff, which I didn’t know as a youngun’) or the Rare platformers (literally all of them). I was mostly reminded of how it annoyed me.
However, in those games you were not limited by what you used an item on. Dark Souls 2 limits you in that - If you use the Fragrant Branch on the NPC in Lost Bastille, you can’t use it in the Shaded Woods to progress there. You have to find another one (There is one, but you have to defeat a Pursuer to get it. Pursuer was easy for me but perhaps not for you. It’s build dependent, as is everything in these games) and if you used that, well too bad, you need to proceed further, possibly through Belfry Luna and then Sinner’s Rise for another branch.
In my opinion, this doesn’t make the world disjointed. It makes it limited, and that is the real weakness of the game so far. Mechanically, I dig it far more than Dark Souls, so I’ll be sticking with it until I finish it and hopefully with the DLC.
Just wish it’d can it with some of the wonky AI and dual/triple boss fights. Here’s a question for you - What tiny infinitesimal mechanic turned you off a game recently?