Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dota 2 Next Level Meta: Support Bloodseeker

This one's a jungler! I estimated Bloodseeker to fall into the "poor" category - something I would not try in an actual pub game. Let's take a look:

Hero analysis

First of all, Bloodseeker is melee - and that's bad news for supports. He is actually kind of unique, primarily due to his third ability Thirst. It gives vision of enemies below half health, and true sight of enemies below a quarter. On top of that, it also gives Bloodseeker bonus movement speed and damage for each enemy below the threshold - and he is allowed to exceed the hard movement speed limit while under effects of Thirst. With Thirst active he is ridiculously good at chasing. Because the vision it grants is global, it always helps your team which makes it an amazing utility ability. It also allows him to hit pretty hard when enemies get low, even if he has no carry items. His first skill is a good silence on early levels or a hefty damage buff at later levels. It's also a decent early game damage over time nuke. Since it's no longer removable, it's a very powerful silence against certain heroes - you just have to be mindful of the damage buff you're giving them with the silence. Early game it really works a lot like Skywrath Mage's Ancient Seal. It's also his carry ability in a sense, but just like Vengeful Spirit's aura, it can just as well buff another carry instead.

So these two skills are not actually that bad for supports. What about the remaining two? Bloodbath has great synergy with Thirst as Bloodseeker regains a substantial chunk of health whenever he finishes off an enemy hero - this means you can dive even under towers and live to tell the tale. If you're a support, then you can feel free to take even more risks. Bloodbath also allows Bloodseeker to jungle, although he is horribly slow at it because he doesn't have any skills to accelerate farming - he can merely survive it (and even that is a bit tricky). However since he is absolutely useless in lane, he should probably be played as a fourth role jungler when played as a support. I seriously do not recommend playing a core Bloodseeker in the jungle, the farm is just way too slow. Finally there's his ultimate Rupture, which is good for making enemies stay where they are. This is obviously a good ganking ultimate, allowing him to show up in a lane and get a kill with his allies. Its cast range of 1000 units makes it really easy to use - and also safe.

As a core Bloodseeker, prioritizing Thirst is the obvious thing to do. If, for some god awful reason, you're lane supporting, I guess you should also go for it. However, in jungle you need to prioritize Bloodbath in the early game in order to sustain your farm. I would not straight out max it, but one level is clearly not sufficient. Even as a support I still think maxing Thirst first is worth it. In the early game it's also usually better to leave Blood Rage at one point to get that sweet 6 second silence without buffing the enemy too much. That is one hell of a value point. Since Thirst level 2 is significantly stronger than level 1, it would be ideal to have 1-2-2-1 by level 6. However at this point I'm not sure if you can jungle with only two levels of Bloodbath. Whether you grab the first point in Thirst level 2 or level 4 depends on the laning situation. If you think you can get a kill with your safe lane on level 2 with Blood Rage, I'd go for that instead of Thirst - but if not, picking Thirst might help your team or help you farm a bit faster while enemies are low.

Items

Here's what you will build: Mekansm. This is going to raise some eyebrows in the pub scene, so let me explain. Mek is often built by the team's jungling support because they can get it with decent timing - this most people know. On the other hand if you look at cores who commonly build a Mek - heroes like Viper, Doom, Razor or even Troll Warlord - there's a clear pattern. All these heroes get their early and mid game damage primarily from their abilities and by staying alive in teamfights. They also aren't particularly mana-starved. Guess what? Bloodseeker fits this pattern perfectly. I realized this when I was watching a replay of my friend's team (shoutout to VSP!) where they pretty much lost because they didn't have a Mek early enough. I think they tried to build it on their offlane Centaur but he also really needs a blink. Since other heroes were not suitable Mek carriers, Bloodseeker would have been the best choice. The more I  thought about, the more it made sense too.

Sure, Blade Mail is amazing on him, but if your team needs a Mek and none of the cores are getting it, your jungling support Bloodseeker definitely should. As for other items, well. People usually scoff at Force Staff on Bloodseeker because it's such a quirky build (it makes your ultimate a stronger nuke in a sense but the damage is honestly not that hot). However, as a support, Force Staff provides amazing utility - and since that's what you're here for, its synergy with your ultimate is just a bonus. The 10 intelligence it gives is also enough to solve any remaining mana problems. I don't see any reason to rush a boots upgrade when playing Bloodseeker as a support. That makes my suggested build: brown boots, Mek, Force Staff. After that the build becomes more situational. When you eventually upgrade your boots, I would go for either Power Treads or Phase Boots. Treads are good if you still experience some mana problems, whereas Arcane Boots would be overkill.

I guess you can pretty much build anything in the late game. Diffusal Blade should be good, or you could even go something like straight Hex if you're getting a lot of gold from kills. Maybe even a Rod of Atos so you can prevent two targets from running away - although since he's an agility hero Diffusal is probably better. Blade Mail is also still a very good item (think support Wraith King) because you will become stronger when enemies take damage by hitting you, and can also regain your health when they die. Honestly though, just like a core Bloodseeker, after getting your basic items you can build pretty much anything. Finally a word about starting items. Quelling Blade is a necessity because it's the only way to accelerate your farming speed, and it also makes jungling more sustainable (remember that Bloodseeker only gains health when he kills something). You should not buy wards because you're going to need every bit of gold to stay alive - either grab a Stout Shield or just a bucketload of Tangos.

Game plan

Get your starting items, grab a level of Bloodbath and head into the jungle. If you're not familiar with chokepoint jungling, you really need to get that shit down to have any chance. You also really need to start by stacking the pull camp once, pulling the creep wave into it and farm the double stack while making sure to deny the entire creep wave. If you are on the Radiant side, you can also try the pull-through into the medium camp instead of stacking the small camp, but it's a lot riskier and you might not be able to clear the camp anyway. I would play it safe because Bloodseeker's jungling is just really weak. Once you hit level 2, take a look at your safe lane or mid. If there's a possibility to get a kill with either Blood Rage or Thirst, try and go for that. Otherwise just keep farming towards your Mek. I would grab boots first though, because they allow you to get kills when there's an opportunity. Getting an early TP scroll is also recommended.

With a level of Thirst, boots and a TP scroll you can easily show up to early fights and secure a kill or two for your team. Don't ever be hesitant to do so, even if you might get killed in the process. If there is no opportunity though, then feel free to use the Thirst bonus damage to accelerate your farm a bit. Once you have your Mek and level 6, you should start putting them to good use by ganking whenever Rupture is up. Since it's not such a long cooldown, and using it along with Mek and Blood Rage blows all your mana, I'd expect you will mostly be ganking and returning to base to regen. Farm the occasional creep where able to work toward your Force Staff but remember that most of the money should come from kills and assists from now on. Since you're the Mek carrier, you should always be with your team when they go for pushes or Rosh.

Don't be greedy with your Force Staff - use it! Always saving it for a Ruptured target is honestly not worth it. Often pushing a Ruptured target also does get them away from your teammates, possibly allowing them to escape. Remember that it's a utility item: you can save your allies or push yourself to initiate from even further with Rupture. Even better, you can pull an enemy into your team when they're facing the right way and then Rupture them to prevent escape. If you really want a nuke, it's probably better to just build a Dagon. A late game Bloodseeker actually has a lot of utility with these items, so you should aim to stay alive in fights. You provide healing, positioning, vision, silence and bonus damage to your carries - just make sure they don't need to use their skills for a while when you buff them! The buff from Blood Rage has particularly strong synergy with stat-based carries - and of course Tiny. Your ultimate also does its damage through BKB, which makes it a strong late game skill.

Experiences

I actually tried this build twice. First against bots and they got absolutely smashed - they're not very good at playing against Bloodseeker in general I think. Encouraged by this, I actually picked Bloodseeker in a single draft game and went to the jungle. My team had no objections to me building a Mek, so I decided to try this build. The early game, especially between levels 2 and 3, is horrible. I got particularly unlucky both times, as my chokepoint camp spawned centaurs - by far the worst medium camp you can get as a Bloodseeker. I was literally down to dying from one hit multiple times. In the bot game I actually had to even go back to base once to regen. In the pub game I just kinda had to hang out a bit while healing with tangoes. I tried two starting item builds: stout and a pack of tangoes, and just three packs of tangoes - I figured that since I'm mostly chokepoint jungling, the damage block from stout has diminished utility and having more healing might be better - but I'd really need to do the math.

One thing I noticed is that even a level 4 Bloodseeker is surprisingly strong when he shows up to help clean up an early fight. The 120 damage from a 6 second silence is nothing to scoff at, and it often helped in putting targets below the Thirst threshold - and then I just dived them. Yes, with a level 4 support Bloodseeker sporting nothing but brown boots. However if you never get those opportunities, the early game is going to suck - especially if the enemy team has the mind to look for you in your jungle. After getting my Mek at around the 12 minute mark things got a lot easier, and at this point Bloodseeker honestly becomes a perfectly legitimate utility hero. In the pub game I had some good synergy with my teammates as I found it particularly effective to give Sniper some of that sweet bonus damage - we also had a Tiny who ended up hitting buildings for almost 700 damage.

Bloodseeker's biggest weakness as a support hero is his horrible early game. He is often played as a solo mid because he really benefits from having a level advantage. When farming the jungle, his experience gain is diminished severely, unless you get some kills. A 12 minute Mek is also not the fastest, and you might not even get it if you get no kills or get ganked once or twice. However if you make it past the early game, I think he's actually quite strong as an unconventional support. Sure, you cannot solo kill anyone, but if you bring even one ally who has a stun, it's really easy to kill heroes: force them into your ganking squad, use Rupture and possibly silence (or buff your partner) - that's a kill. If you can initiate a teamfight with this combo, you're also off to an amazing start.

My initial ranking for Bloodseeker is clearly off. I think he is at least playable as a support, and perfectly legit if you can get off to a decent start. So if you're ever stuck with four core heroes as a Bloodseeker and head to the jungle, try to play him like a support. Get that Mek, and get those early TP scrolls to show up in lanes and cause trouble! It will be way more fun and useful than afk jungling.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dota 2 Next Level Meta: Support Anti-Mage

Going in alphabetical order, I think it is fitting to start with one of the most iconic carry heroes in Dota 2: Anti-Mage, aka. Anti-Fun. Well, this time he's bound to be fun - I predicted him to be in the trash tier of supporting potential.

Hero analysis

Let's look at what we have to work with. Anti-Mage is very mobile, with quite a bit above average movement speed and a blink ability. Supports love mobility, so that should be a good thing. The problem is, supports generally love mobility and build mobility items because they have spells that they need to land. AM is kind of limited in the spells to land department, what with him hating magic and all that jazz. His ultimate is a decent nuke for kill securing and it can cancel channeling abilities and it's usually available in team fights with its 70 second cooldown.

Beyond that, well... his two passives are not great for supporting. In theory Mana Break is okay, but he is melee and rather squishy. Not a whole lot of mileage to get out of this one when supporting. It sounds decent for lane harassment against melee heroes at least. Spell Shield is probably even more useless because who wants to throw spells at a support Anti-Mage anyway? It can keep him alive in teamfights against AoE spells a little longer I guess. Not that it really matters.

I would probably start with Mana Break and grab Blink at level two, then max both of them before touching Spell Shield. Grabbing Mana Void at six is a no-brainer because it allows him to actually do something beyond right-clicking. He should start out in the lane and either pull or harass with Mana Break. I guess you can do that against ranged heroes when you get Blink.

Items

Well he is not going to need a Blink Dagger or any other positional items. Unfortunately nukes and disables are rather expensive to build from items. Especially since Mana Break overrides Orb of Venom which would have been fantastic otherwise. I would probably go with either Eul's or Atos. He can blink initiate with Eul's provided that allies have some follow-up, or he can chase really well with Atos. Dagon is also an option if you need damage, and within the same price range. He could also build a Mekanism because he certainly has no mana problems. The problem with Mek is that then he really doesn't do anything with the blink ability (except instant delivery healing, whooo). Orchid and Hex are both a bit too greedy.

I guess Sange could be decent, but Atos is probably the better choice. A final option could be Necronomicon, since it kind of synergizes with Mana Break and Mana Void. Nevertheless, all of these items are rather expensive to build, and won't be available to a support AM in the early stages of the game. Another option is to just go full ward bitch, and maybe upgrade boots to Power Treads at some point. He can place wards in good locations with his blink at least. General support items like Urn of Shadows and Medallion of Courage could also be decent pickups. Mek and Urn are kind of good because support AM should be rather survivable because he has a blink, and he's not really a primary target.

Game plan

Uh... well... I guess you can try harassing at lane as much as possible. You could roam, but since you have zero disables, the lane you roam to needs to provided that. Once you hit level 6 you can maybe look for potential ganks with your ultimate. Honestly since you are going to be very useless, a lot of the game plan depends on what other heroes can do. If there are some mana-intensive heroes, stick to them in teamfights to draw some focus. If for some obscure reason you can snowball from kills, Atos is probably the best choice to keep getting those kills.

Experiences

I tried this a couple of times with very poor yet not unexpected results. You are basically just a blinking melee creep most of the game. It's also really hard to get levels unless you just stay in a lane and leech experience from a core. I tried to roam a bit but since AM's gank contribution is next to nothing, not much came out of that. In the first game I just bought wards and stuff, having literally nothing the entire game. In the second one I tried to be greedier, but failed to obtain an item once again. It is not a surprising in result in the least, considering how much early game Anti-Mage in general contributes.

In a typical teamfight you can get in a couple of attacks and hopefully you live long enough to get off a decent Mana Void. With his ult and a blink skill, AM is decent at stopping channeling ultimates like Fiend's Grip and Black Hole. So basically you get the contribution of a hard carry early game, and nothing in return. Which means your team will be playing 4 vs 5 all game. I predicted AM to be absolute trash as a support, and after attempting that a couple of times, it's safe to say that I was right. What a shock, huh?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dota 2 Next Level Meta: Introduction

From time to time it's fun to write something else entirely. This new Dota 2 blog post series is mostly for entertainment. In all honesty, it would probably work better as a YouTube series, but I don't really have the resources to do that just now. In short, I will be writing about how to play various core heroes as supports, regardless of how poorly they fit the role.

Background

When playing solo queue pubs in Dota, every now and then you're bound to encounter a game where everyone picks a core hero and no one wants to support. Some of us, myself in particular, usually take the supporting role in these scenarios. This usually results in some rather weird plays but also leads you think about some heroes in new ways. It's also a fun thought experiment to just think about supporting potential of each hero. Of course this business usually ends badly, but at least sometimes it's surprisingly fun. I can also take some pride in discovering three cores' supporting potential before it was picked up by the professional teams.

I was playing support Mirana, Wraith King and Naga Siren over a year ago. Mirana and WK are now both commonly picked in the support role, and Naga support was a huge factor in Alliance's The International 3 championship. Admittedly my ideas of how to play these were slightly different from how they ended up being used but hey, called it! I have in general played various unconventional supports throughout my pub career.

About this series

I will only include heroes that to my knowledge have not been considered supports in the pro scene. Wraith King for instance is not included because he is already recognized as a totally legit support. The same goes for heroes like Axe and Doom, and even more recent discoveries like Juggernaut. The format is as follows: in each post, I will first write an analysis, trying my best to think about how the hero might play as a support; then I will try it out in a bot game and finally write about my experiences.

The reason I'm doing bot games is quite simple: some of the heroes I'm going to support with will be absolutely horrible in the role, and I don't really feel like ruining a teammate's game by trying it out in an actual pub game. Besides, bots play more consistently. I would need to probably also mute all teammates if I suggested playing support Faceless Void. For this series the hero needs to be played with no lane farm; jungle farm is ok as long as the hero is still active like a real support should, in the first ten minutes of the game. I will not necessarily buy support items like wards on all of these heroes (even some actual support heroes are also greedy like that).

The heroes and predictions

This section incudes the heroes I'm going to go through. I have also made some initial predictions about how I think they will turn out. For this purpose they've been divided into four ranks: trash, poor, playable and legit. Anything that's playable or legit I would play in a pub; anything below that just really, really should not go without farm.

trash: Anti-Mage, Broodmother, Clinkz, Huskar, Lifestealer, Lone Druid, Lycan, Medusa, Outworld Devourer, Phantom Assassin, Shadow Fiend, Spectre, Terrorblade
poor: Bloodseeker, Brewmaster, Bristleback, Death Prophet, Drow Ranger, Ember Spirit, Faceless Void, , Legion Commander, Luna, Morphling, Phantom Lancer, Razor, Riki, Slark, Sniper, Templar Assassin, Timbersaw, Tinker, Troll Warlord, Ursa, Viper, Weaver
playable: Centaur Warrunner, Chaos Knight, Dragon Knight, Night Stalker, Storm Spirit, Tiny
legit: Magnus, Puck, Queen of Pain, Slardar, Spirit Breaker

As you can see I'm not terribly optimistic about this - but at least it should be fun! I will explain my predictions in the post for each hero.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dark Souls 2

It should be no surprise that I really waited for this game. Following the weeks it got out, I played it for quite a respectable amount of hours. In fact I'm still not done with it, but I'm taking a break from it for now. It's summer in Finland and it's bright throughout most of the day, even inside my living room. Shockingly, this game is quite dark (who would've thought) so I can't actually play it because of screen reflections. Even if it is significantly less dark than its predecessor. It's just not really a game where you'd want to miss seeing something. I mean that something might just get you very, very dead. Even though it's probably one of the best - if not the best - games this year, there's not much to say. It's mostly more of the same with slight tweaks. That's enough though right, because it's more of the same best gameplay out there.

1. The tweaks

Because sequels are effectively massive iterations of the original concept, they tend to tweak things in a better direction. The basics have been largely left untouched as there really isn't much of a reason to change them. Some things have clearly been changed as an attempt to improve them; others have been changed more for flavor. Take dual-wielding for instance. It used to be pretty useless, so they've given it a buff. Wielding two weapons of the same type and having high enough stats grants access to power stance. This stance offers new moves featuring both weapons at the same time, which increases damage output quite nicely. The tradeoff, not being able to use a shield, is still significant - although I have to say less so than I'd expected. Don't know whether it's just a matter of enemy design or me having enough confidence in my own abilities, but I have mostly been playing without a shield. I do like that lighter weapons are now more useful in PVE.

One of my biggest gripes with Dark Souls has received some much-needed attention. I'm naturally talking about poise - the stagger resistance mechanic - that used to be just bonkers. This in the sense that with high enough poise there were next to no attacks in the game that could stagger your character. That's particularly stupid in PVP - which is another subject I've touched in quite some detail previously. Well, that's in the past because poise has been heavily nerfed. I think it's fairly balanced now actually. If you choose to go that route, you can still shrug of staggers from most mobs and some attacks from bosses, but not nearly everything. It is pretty useless in PVP. As a bit of a step backwards though, there now seems to exist a rather definite sweet spot for equipment encumbrance. In the past, there was a notable difference for having less than 25% load, and another huge step at 50%. Now it scales more linearly, but load only affects roll distance (almost useless) and stamina recovery speed (somewhat meaningful). The only hard limit is at 70% where normal roll turns into the fat roll.

This means that most builds can wear almost any armor without getting punished because there's very little point in carrying around anything below 69.9%. Sure, the roll distance was useful for my bow only run but that's not really an optimal way to play in any regard. On the other hand, if you're really good at not getting hit, might as well go naked for maximum stamina recovery speed I guess. Still, I feel there's less factors involved in picking armor in this game. There is however some choice involved in rolling, because rolling speed and invulnerability window length are now determined by a derivative stat. This actually caught me be surprise at first a lot because rolling away after making an attack has a longer delay than it used to (even with high stats, but especially at the beginning). I died a lot because of this. Admittedly I still die a lot because of greedy attacking, but at least now it's no longer a surprise when it happens - just the usual facepalm. Then again that's probably the biggest reason I die in a lot of games of this genre in general.

Speaking of stats, there's now more of them. Endurance has been split into two stats: one for stamina and another for equipment load. Then there's adaptability which is a new stat that affects the derivative agility stat I just mentioned, and resistances. Stat-based damage bonuses are now derivative stats, and as a bigger change, there's not just the original four but also three new ones: fire, lightning and dark damage. Well, really just two new ones, because lightning replaces faith-based damage. Yes, elemental weapons do scale now, based on different stats. Dark damage is the most demanding type, because it's defined by whichever of magic or faith is lower. Another curious scaling type is the new mundane scaling, which scales based on how high is the character's lowest stat. Interestingly enough, almost all weapons in the game can be imbued with any scaling even if they already have that damage type built in (in which case that damage type gets more emphasized). Even more importantly, elemental weapons can now be enchanted with spells.

All this means that different scaling types actually make a lot more sense now. Previously even casters often wanted to use a physical damage weapon because it would get a much bigger damage buff from a spell. Now you can cast the buff on any weapon. I think there's simply more viable builds this time. Scaling can also be imbued into shields now to change their damage blocks. Status effects, most notably poison, can also be imbued into melee weapons for some interesting options - especially since most bosses aren't actually immune to poison. Other tweaks include changes to backstab and parrying, both of which are now less dominant (bugs aside). Backstab has less invulnerability; parrying now knocks the attacker on their butt, and to get a riposte you actually have to wait a bit (and can be interrupted by other enemies in the meantime). There's also a new magic category, hexes, based on dark scaling which makes it the most demanding magic type stats wise. Pyromancy is less broken and the flame now requires materials to upgrade so you can't rush it.

Limited respecs are also now available. Matchmaking has changed too. Previously it was based on soul level, which caused an anomaly where players would focus all their souls into upgrading gear, then invade low level games with godlike equipment. It's now based on soul memory, which is a measure of all souls obtained instead, making this method of griefing impossible. The matchmaking has other issues, and pure invasions are actually very rare because the player now needs to belong to a specific covenant in order to do so. Even then it's not really worth it, and as a side effect another covenant is useless. I guess they wanted to protect players a bit more because now the only way to fully avoid invasions is to play offline. There are however certain PVP focus areas in the game where invasions happen a lot so if you really want to fight, it's easily possible. Most importantly, network code is much better now, and I've experienced a lot less lag issues - and no lagstabbing at all.

The biggest issue with this system as far as I've heard is the fact that soul memory caps at 15 million, after which you can face anyone above the threshold. This means you can end up fighting fully maxed out characters once you hit that 15M souls. I don't remember where are my characters' soul memories at so I cannot say how high is the threshold exactly. All in all I feel the tweaks are welcome, and as soon as they fix a few bugs that are getting abused, the game should be more balanced than Dark Souls.

2. Extinction

There's one tweak that's worth its own section. Partly because this is something I forgot to include in my Lightning Returns post. The biggest and perhaps most vocalized change in reviews is the limitation on enemy spawns. Whereas before there would occasionally be enemies that were there only once, in Dark Souls 2 all enemies can be killed only a set amount of times after which they will no longer respawn. This change affects the game in two ways. In one way it makes the game easier because areas can be cleared so that around the fifteenth attempt against the boss the player just runs through empty corridors to get there. In another way it makes the game harder  because everything now comes with limited availability. By everything I mean items and souls dropped by enemies. This only really applies if the player relies on farm. This was also the most discussed and criticized change.

At first it felt a bit like cheating because by now I'm used to repeating sections in Souls games. In the end though by the fifteenth attempt the section is mostly routine anyway, so going through it is neither challenging or interesting. Sometimes you might not even make it to fifteen kills on all enemies if you figure out a way to bypass them. Which is what we used to do in previous games when killing the same enemies for the umphteenth time got a bit too tedious. Now there's a choice to purposefully clear an area before a difficult boss instead of bypassing the enemies and sometimes I did opt for that. Most of the time it's still more convenient to just run past mobs, especially if you don't particularly need their drops. For new players this change can make things tricky if they are not careful with their souls. Let's say you make it to the boss fourteen times and always succeed in reclaiming your souls - except on the fifteenth run you lose them. Now you're facing empty corridors with no souls in sight, and the boss hasn't gotten any easier.

It is true that in offline play you can get screwed by this, theoretically at least. However, infinite souls are still available in the game. There's no limitation to how much you can go out as a white phantom to help out other players, and get your share of their soul rewards. If I remember this right, the reward is half of the normal amount of souls you would get. At the same time, it's a good way to scout out bosses and to avoid nasty surprises. The game also has one other tool to help players with this limited availability of souls. There's a ring that prevents losses at death. It does break when triggered, but can be repaired for about 2,000 souls. Since you always spawn at a bonfire and warping is always available, you can go back to repair it infinitely. Sure it's a bit of work, but it's a great safety net when you have massed a lot of souls. Similar rings existed in Dark Souls, but they could not be repaired.

I guess it's still possible to get screwed, but I don't really see how the mechanic in itself could be that bad. Its biggest impact is on drops if anything. It is now impossible to farm equipment upgrade materials indefinitely. it does put some weight on upgrade decisions early on in the game. Eventually, most materials will still have pretty high availability. It is also worth remembering that highest tier materials and things like demon titanite were also very limited in Dark Souls, so this is not exactly new either. In fact, the limited availability of drops is probably more consequential in Lightning Returns because of the way the ability upgrades work (i.e. you need to fuse together many copies of the same ability). In Dark Souls 2 you can still easily fully upgrade several weapons and a set of armor on one playthrough, which to me is hardly limited availability. All in all I don't know if it was a necessary change, but I am not really feeling the claimed negative impacts. I guess you could say it's against the Souls principle in a way because you are being denied learning possibilities after fifteen attempts. Color me indifferent.

In Dark Souls 2 the extinction of enemies is clearly just a game mechanic with no thematic implications. In Lightning Returns it's thematically more appropriate - at the end of days, even monsters feel it. This is further signified by last ones - special bosses encountered when every other member of a monster species is defeated. In a way it makes killing monsters feel less pointless as you can go on a crusade to truly defeat every last one of them. Of course, being able to slay an entire monster species would also have rather interesting moral implications in a different context. Even in LR you can ask yourself are all of these monsters truly malicious. In the end though, you will still go ahead and kill them for your precious loot and achievements. As a concept extinction has a lot to explore - not just as a meta-commentary, but also as a farm-limiting game mechanic.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, Dark Souls 2 is almost the same game as Dark Souls, just in a different environment. For me this is more than enough. Even if the design does seem a bit weaker at times, it's still more awesome than any of its competitors. Changes have been mostly rather cautious and for good reason. I guess I'm just not hardcore enough to see how DkS2 is so obviously inferior to DkS. Even if it was slightly weaker (and I'm not even sure about that), it's still an entirely new game with new challenges and environments. I mean, we used to play sequels made with exactly the same engine in the past (and I guess we still are). Sometimes I feel people are a bit too eager to declare "more of the same" in a negative tone. At times, "more of the same" is exactly what's called for. For me, Dark Souls 2 was a reason to get back to the gameplay system I have learned to love.