Welcome to Drangleic, the awful, wonderful kingdom you explore in the fantastic Dark Souls II. It is a downright fearsome place; there is no hostess to greet you, unless you count the two-torsoed monstrosity down at the wharf that greets with its two powerful maces and its two equally powerful swords.
Consider this photo gallery, then, as a safe guide to Drangleic, offering you many (but not all) of its diverse sights without the need to conquer dragons to stand between you and its stark beauty. Of course, one of Dark Souls II's strengths is its ability to surprise and impress you, so if you wish to discover the game's numerous settings on your own, you may wish to avoid these screens for fear of spoilers. Otherwise, enjoy this photographic journey through the forests and caverns of Drangleic. (All screens captured on the PlayStation 3 with all interface turned off.)
It is here that your adventure begins, and here that you encounter the sinister women that croon their vague warnings about what may lie ahead. They ask you to peer closely at a small effigy and tell them what you see, thus initiating character creation and setting you on your way. A tutorial of sorts follows--that is, if you choose to enter the nearby fog doors and not venture past them.
Majula is the hub that connects you to the rest of Drangleic. In this dim kingdom, the orange sun lends vital warmth, and a towering monument tracks your many, many deaths. Many vendors you encounter will end up here--and several of them are key to entering new areas. Make sure to keep chatting with the people you encounter until you exhaust your conversation options; you'll be glad you did. Yes, you may murder them in cold blood, and there may be rewards for doing so, but there may also be far-reaching and irreversible complications. Assassinate the peaceful only if you are willing to accept the risk.
Forest of Fallen Giants
This is where the fabled giants once roamed, though the fallen trees and crumbling stone edifices remain as reminders of their power. This is one of the first regions you visit--but also one of the last. In Dark Souls II, the giants may have (mostly) disappeared, but they are far from forgotten.
Heide's Tower of Flame, Cathedral of Blue
You must torture hulking guardians to make your way to the Cathedral of Blue, but don't let their size intimidate you: the guardians are not as destructive as they initially look. The boss you battle within the cathedral, however, is not so vulnerable, so proceed through the fog door carefully. You might be tempted to murder the blue knight you meet afterwards for his insolence, but if you do, his spirit shall remain, along with a tombstone marked in his honor.
No Man's Wharf
You see the boat in the distance. Perhaps it will take you to distant shores? The only way to know is to make your way there, cutting down archers and skittering salamanders before boarding.
The Lost Bastille, Sinner's Rise, Belfry Luna
The Lost Bastille is one of Dark Souls II's most intricate concoctions. Make sure to bring at least one Pharros lockstone, for it grants you entrance to Belfry Luna, where a rooftop boss fight and a subsequent invasion are clear nods to several of Dark Souls' most memorable battles.
You've probably heard of acid rain, but Huntsman's Copse suffers from poison rain, which drizzles from above and complicates any vicious battles you might be engaged in. The rushing waterfall you encounter might seem to wash away your troubles, but the skeletal demons that strike at you beyond it are unwilling to let your sins be cleansed.
Harvest Valley, Earthen Peak
So much poison, so many windmills. These two things are linked; figuring out how to unlink them may ease your pain.
Oceans of lava have appeared in many video games, but the fire and brimstone that first appear to be terrible curses can actually assist you in the Iron Keep. Fire hurts--but it hurts friend and foe alike.
Here you reach a fork in the path. Which do you choose? One path leads into a forest so thick with fog, you can feel it pressing against your skull. Another leads to a temple with stalwart door. How do you open this door, and what secrets lay beyond it?
Doors of Pharros
In Doors of Pharros, there are all sorts of contraptions to activate, but not all of them work in your favor. Pharros lockstones are rare, so give pause before giving one over to the many activators found in this region.
Brightstone Cove Tseldora
Wizards and amphibians have overtaken the cove, and their constant threat looms large. Also, beware of falling boulders!
The Gutter, Black Gulch
So dark. So dangerous. Light sconces with your torch as you make your way up and down The Gutters' ladders: you'll be happy for the light it brings. The green caves of Black Gulch, on the other hand, offer a different kind of danger. Either run as fast as you can, or take each step one at a time. Meandering only leads to tears.
Reaching Drangleic castle is a triumph, but your trek is not at an end just because you have discovered the seat of the king. Greek myth has taught us that flesh can be turned to stone; Dark Souls II teaches us that stone can be turned to flesh. Beware of rigid sentries, for they may not be just for looks.
Shrine of Amana
A shrine may seem to be a place for prayer and respite, but in Dark Souls II, it's a signal of frustration. Indeed, this might be the most vexing stretch of the game: wading through water slows you down, homing magic missiles find their mark really easily, and it's remarkably easy to walk off a ledge and sink to the depths below. To master this domain, use cover to your advantage.
It's an undead crypt, of course. It is not, however, devoid of "life," such as it is. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
What has died does not necessarily remain dead. Keep this in mind when you enter Aldia's Keep, where mirrors do not just reflect your visage, but also spawn their own kinds of frights.
Dragon Aerie, Dragon Shrine
Here there be dragons. Dozens of them, though thankfully, most of them stay in the sky and thus out of reach. But as we all know, dragons guard great treasures, so unless you want to nab valuables under their very snouts, you'll need to go toe to tail.
As you play through Dark Souls II, grab some screens if you may, and share with us in the comments section. We'd love to see your favorite sights from Drangleic!