Areas previously barren are now dotted with yellow glowing artefacts, and as a result the game is somehow funnier, easier and more stressful all at the same time.
The first thing I did when the servers went live was leave a message near the monument in Majula: a simple, celebratory 'Praise the Sun!'. The monument does, after all, offer a splendid view of the low sun over Majula. The comment is useless but it was rated half-a-dozen times within the space of an hour. Everyone can agree that praising the sun is nice.
My most hated message so far is "Try Backstepping and Then Jumping Off". It is one of dozens of misleading messages I've discovered since last Friday. I'm in The Gutter, an area strongly reminiscent of Dark Souls' Blighttown, and there are several areas where leaping to distant platforms is possible.
Not in this instance though. I died.
Having played Dark Souls 2 for a week before the servers went live, I'm surprised how much I missed them. There's one area in Harvest Valley for instance, where I might have broken every knuckle in each of my fists out of rage and despair, had it not been for a message advising me to burn a windmill circulating poison throughout the building.
The other benefit of having the servers switched on is cooperative play. With the help of strangers I have beaten three bosses, and for the most part I've just lingered on the sidelines during battle, taking an easy slash whenever the stakes are low. I like interacting with people in Dark Souls 2, because without the help of these other players I would probably never complete the game. I always bow seriously when someone enters my world. I get stressed out when they don't bow back.
The Real Dark Souls 2
It's safe to say I'm up to the real Dark Souls 2 now. I am getting very angry with this game. There is one area called The Iron Keep which is heavily reminiscent of Dark Souls' Sens' Fortress, except it also has lava. I don't think I really need to be here right now.
Instead, I discover that I'm now able to de-petrify the woman in Majula using some item I can't remember ever picking up. The Scottish guy with the big blue sword nearby is impressed, but he doesn't cough up anything of value. And anyway, I'm soon killed by seven poison monsters and one of those curse frogs from Dark Souls. The woman seemed nice and I even gave her some clothes, but she was also killed by the poison monsters so whatever nice bonuses she was destined to provide are blocked off to me.
Dark Souls 2 is not a good game for my mental health
Speaking of this area, it's incredibly depressing. Not only does it lead to a foggy forest with invisible enemies, but there is also a version of the No Man's Wharf boss just standing there like he's a regular, run of the mill enemy. I go in the opposite direction into the foggy forest. There is literally nothing to see here. The enemies are invisible and the fog is thick. I run desperately and, thanks to blind luck (heh), end up in the next area's bonfire.
Dark Souls 2 is not a good game for my mental health. My girlfriend sometimes sits and watches me as I play. She is worried I might have a heart attack or stroke or something. "You are very tense," she will say, "maybe you should stop for a while." I know she is right, but I still played Dark Souls 2 for six hours straight on Saturday, and ever since I have been unable to focus on a book or even string a sentence together in conversation. The game ruins me, it consumes me, it is all I ever want to think about.
I never get this with any other games. If I am doing particularly badly in Titanfall, for example, I can just switch the machine off and go and make dinner and forget about it immediately. Dark Souls 2, on the other hand, triggers a sense of brute determination that only results in self-loathing when I fail to penetrate the game's gauntlets. This happened to me when I entered Blighttown for the first time in Dark Souls, and it's happening again. How did I forget this?
I don't like this feeling. I remember it first reared its head in No Man's Wharf. After a half-hour slog to a room with two chests and an NPC, I opened the first chest and a trap arrowed me to death. I'm pretty sure it killed the NPC too.
So because I've hit a brick wall elsewhere, and because I can't seem to stop playing this game, I head on over to No Man's Wharf, slash my way through the horde of light-averse trolls near the NPC's home, and lay down a message for my friends. I notice no one has yet signalled the trap with a yellow message, so I am a pioneer of goodwill here. I can't remember exactly what my message said, but it very explicitly indicates that the chest will kill you.
Within the next fifteen minutes, desperate warriors the world over rate my message. My screen lights up regularly advising me so. I feel a warm glow of mateship, and then I enter The Gutter again, feeling a surge of confidence.
And then I die.