Future Press made the guide for the original Dark Souls. It was probably one of the most helpful strategy guides I'd ever used. The layout and design made it user friendly, but more importantly, the strategies and info contained within the guide were invaluable. As far as strategy guides were concerned, very few could compliment their game the way the original Dark Souls guide did. So I was very pleased to see that Future Press made a guide for Dark Souls II. And I was even more pleased to see that they stuck to the same design they used for the first guide. That is to say that this guide is very user friendly and has A LOT of information for the player. It is an encyclopedia for Dark Souls II. If you need a leg up in Dark Souls II this guide will give it to you.
The guide begins by explaining all the basics and the game system. Even Dark Souls veterans might want to start here as there are a few major changes from the first game. While combat hasn't changed much it is worth reading about things such as the Human Effigy system and how dying works in this one. Beyond that all the basics are still there. If there's more that you want to learn about combat, you can find it here. But the most useful stuff is all the preliminary things. The guide not only fully details combat and everything there is to know about it, but it also talks about all the stats and attributes. It also gives a run down of all the classes and how to best develop them. More than that, it even helps you get started by suggesting a gift for veterans (or non veterans) to take. If you are confused about anything in Dark Souls II you should most definitely start with the game basics section of this guide. Without it you'll be lost. It also gives you basic tips about exploring. Basic tips on how to utilize some stats to the best of their ability. These are all things to take in. Most guides typically tend to focus on the most basic of basic stuff, but Future Press really seems to want you to understand the game you're playing. Being that Dark Souls II doesn't really explain anything to you (such as advanced combat) it's probably a good thing. Even returning Dark Souls veterans have a lot of learn from this section.
Once we get beyond the basics, the walkthrough begins. Here it is known as the area guide. It's very complimentary to the game itself. Each section begins with a list of items in the area you can find as well as the enemies there. There are also neatly drawn maps that are easy to read and understand. The maps will point out items, bonfires and points of interest. The walkthrough is laid out in a wave point like fashion. That is to say that if you see "1" on the map you need to look for "1" in the text so that you can see what you need to do at point "1". This makes for a really well organized guide. It's a very text heavy guide, though. One that tells you everything you need while also pointing out how things may change upon you doing it. It's very specific, direct and to the point with everything it says. And it will show you everything. It won't really "spoil" the story, but if you're the type that likes to explore on your own the guide most definitely does not leave any stone unturned. Every area is covered in full detail.
The walkthrough is also easy to use because of how well organized it is. When reading the text it will always tell you which screen shot you need to look at to make sure you understand what they mean (each screenshot is numbered). There are also "position points." These are markers to tell you exactly where you need to be standing to get to certain items or where to find very specific enemies. If you are one who insists on not reading the walkthrough, you can make do with just the maps alone.
It is what the text is saying that's also important. They tell you when powerful enemies are nearby (and sometimes if you're strong enough to take them) and it tells you how to go about things in clear detail. The walkthrough is exhaustive, though. It's absolutely huge. It can be a lot to take in, making the game come across as a lot more intimidating than it is. But the walkthrough is also precise, which is nice.
Each section of the walkthrough ends by detailing the enemies you encounter. In the original Dark Souls guide there was a separate chapter just for talking about the enemies that made for some needless page flipping at times. Here all new enemies are detailed when you first encounter them. If you used Future Press's first Dark Souls guide then you know this is probably one of the most important portions of the guide. Every enemy is given a short profile. After that the guide details a strategy to defeat the enemy. Their attacks are also detailed in a chart that also tells you whether or not you can block those attacks. Bosses get a lot more attention, however. Instead of just a chart, there is a detailed explanation of each attack, including screenshots to show you what the attack looks like. The guide also gives you tips on how to block or evade the attack. Again, this may be one of the most important things to take from the guide. Reading about your enemies is one of the biggest keys to survival in Dark Souls II.
The walkthrough also has other tiny aspects that make it good. It will give you a rating on how difficult a section is, as well as suggest a soul level for you to be at for the area. All this makes for such a comprehensive walkthrough that it becomes more like a companion than it does just a set of instructions. It's very detailed and has a lot of depth.
After the walkthrough are the appendices for weapons, items, armor, spells and shields. Everything is given exact stats. You can also see what everything looks like. This is a huge portion of the guide, but still rather helpful in a lot of ways. The spells are especially nice to read about because it's more than just a description, it actually gives strategies on how to utilize them. The same goes for some of the times. It isn't just reprinting the flavor text you see in the game, you'll actually learn about the stuff you're using and sometimes how to use it.
After all this is done with, the guide jumps into all the extras. Here you'll learn about the various NPCs and covenants. The guide will tell you how to progress NPC stories. If there are any rewards to be obtained the guide will tell you how to get them. The same goes for covenant characters. You'll learn about the covenant, learn about how to level that covenant up and you'll learn where to find them. The guide also lists all the merchants you'll find. You'll learn what they sell, how much of it they carry and how much it'll cost you. NPCs that can be attacked also have their stats listed. The guide also goes into any optional areas in the extras chapter, providing the same information you saw in the walkthrough.
There's more to the extras than just the optional stuff. The guide also makes sure to provide you with a lot of info concerning New Game+. This is very valuable for players who intend to go through the game in this fashion. What may strike some players as quite cool, though, is that there is an achievement/trophy guide in the guide. For some trophies it'll provide strategies on how to get them. If you're someone who likes achievements and trophies you should certainly give this section a look.
With all this information, the guide is definitely exhaustive. At 464 pages that's a lot of info scattered throughout. No doubt you'll be page flipping for a long time (it's a shame there's no ribbon bookmark or anything). There's an index in the back that can direct you to just about anything you need. But needless to say there will be a lot of page flipping in this guide.
The only word of caution about this guide is a simple one. The data for some monsters, weapons and armor is likely to change should FromSoftware ever decide to update the game in any fashion. It will NOT make the strategies and walkthrough useless at all, but it might affect how many souls an enemy drops or how strong a piece of armor could be. The inherent data could change, but it isn't likely enemies in and of themselves will. The first Dark Souls guide was never useless, but when the first patch came the data provided about monsters (soul drops, in particular) was no longer needed. The strategies were still top notch, the maps were still top notch and enemy strategies ceased to change. The data was more or less the only thing that did. Should Dark Souls II receive a patch it could potentially change some of the data contained within the guide. The introduction in the guide even mentions this, and thus this may be why there's less emphasis on the data about your enemies and more emphasis on strategies about how to defeat them.
All that aside, the Dark Souls II Official Strategy Guide is a must have for Dark Souls fans. You will still surely die in your journey. Several times. But at least with this guide by your side you'll be prepared for some of the worst Dark Souls has to offer.