Enter an undead realm
Welcome to Drangleic – a world of lost souls, tormented undead and hideous creatures born of the darkest nightmares. You are the bearer of a deadly curse, trapped somewhere between life and walking death, compelled to travel to Drangleic for reasons you don't understand – except that somewhere, you might find a way to regain your humanity for good.
Throughout these sinister, violent lands, vicious creatures stalk the ruins, plains and forests, mindlessly devoted to destroying anyone who crosses their path. But even the most nightmarish horrors have something that binds them to Drangleic – a soul, which you'll need to harvest from them if you want to claw your way back to the land of the living.
The larger the creature you defeat, the more powerful the soul you'll take from them – and only the souls of Drangleic's most colossal and fearsome inhabitants will be enough to grant you an audience with the King: your only chance of saving yourself from eternal torment.
Choose your lost soul
Your adventure begins by choosing one of eight character classes, each with their own equipment, abilities and attributes. The Warrior has high strength and dexterity and is the only class who begins with a shield equipped. The Knight can take increased damage and is able to quickly block or evade attacks, while the Swordsman has honed his talents with a blade in each hand.
The Bandit is skilled with a bow, the Cleric is able to use his faith to perform miracles and the Sorcerer is able to command powerful magic. The Explorer doesn't excel in any particular area, but comes equipped with many items he's found on his travels, while seasoned Dark Souls players hungry for a real challenge may choose the Deprived, who starts with no equipment or skills and very low stats.
While the overwhelming majority of characters you encounter throughout Drangleic will try – and probably succeed – to kill you in a swift and brutal manner, there are friends and allies dotted around to help you. It's important to talk to anyone you encounter – and to listen carefully to everything they have to say, as hearing them out could result in them giving you a useful item. One of these characters, the Emerald Herald, holds the power to make you stronger in return for the souls you've collected, so be sure to visit her near the bonfire in Majula whenever possible.
Go beyond death
Collecting souls from your slain enemies is essential to face the perils of Drangleic; but be warned – if you're slain in battle, you'll lose all of the souls you've built up. You have one chance to retrieve them; if you can make it back to the point you died and touch your bloodstain, the souls will come flooding back. Fail to do this though, and they're gone for good. Die too many times, and you'll become "hollow" – and your overall health will decrease. The only way to reverse this is to use a human effigy, but be warned – these are few and far between.
Every enemy in Dark Souls II requires careful consideration; there are no easy wins here. Each encounter can prove fatal very quickly, regardless of the enemy's size, so you need to observe your foe and tailor your attacks, defence and strategy. What kind of weapon do they wield – and how do they use it? How quickly can they attack you and do you have enough time to block, parry or dodge their swing? How much damage can you deal before it's time to dive out of the way and plan your next move?
Getting your timing wrong or sticking with a lousy strategy is a sure way to lose souls and end up hollow. Every enemy has a weak spot – find it, and their soul is yours for the taking.
You're not alone
The online connection between the players and worlds of Dark Souls II allows you to assist fellow bearers of the curse in unique and sometimes unexpected ways. Your first encounter with other adventurers will be the messages left on the ground to warn you of a threat, advise you of something coming your way, or to encourage you in your quest. You're free to leave messages for others, too.
Drangleic can be a lonely place, but you'll sometimes see the ghostly forms of fellow players to remind you that you're not alone. You can also touch the bloodstains of your fallen comrades to see how they met their demise in a certain area – and try not to meet the same fate.
By joining one of the covenants that you may discover on your journey, you're able to summon other players to your world to assist you in battle – or join members of your covenant in their game when they summon you. Not everyone will lay down a summon sign with good intentions however, some may use dark magic to create a link between worlds and challenge you to a fight to the death...