So let's talk about jolly cooperation for a bit?
As some players new to the series might be finding out Dark Souls 2 is part of a series of challenging games. However, this is not a moment to despair, this journey is not merely a solo endeavor. In this guide I will lay out the basics of Souls co-op, invading, and what's new to the series with this title.
First, you shouldn't forget the basics of how the co-op works in these games. You must be in human form, and then you can summon people who are plus or minus 10 levels of yours. Generally you find their summon signs, these glowing yellow symbols on the ground, around bonfires or close to the boss fog. When you look at someone's sign you have a bit to look at their gear they're wearing, that's about all you get in way of figuring out if they'll be useful.
Well, how do you know what's useful anyways? Generally people summon just one other person, but the summoner can get 2. So let's think of this as them getting 2, they know what role they might be, but generally you might want a tank to hold a bosses attention and a physical or magical damage dealer though preferably both.
At this moment people don't have a great knowledge of all the gear, but if you set yourself up looking like a metal turtle people will probably pick you if they need a tank, similarly if you dress like a glass cannon they'll choose you for that role.
Though if you know how tough the boss is, what their strengths and weaknesses are, you should plan accordingly. When co-oping in Dark Souls 2 you know how much health everyone has at all times, so if you see someone is about to be low on health step up in some way so that they can back off and heal.
This is all a lot simpler if you use a microphone. But, some people don't, so you want to make sure your gestures are in order so you can quickly express to players "this is the boss we're attempting" or "don't go that way". So watch other players for cues about what's going on right when you summon/get summoned, and generally bowing as soon as you are summoned is considered good etiquette and let's people know you're not afk.
Always bow when you get summoned, and before you duel someone.
So as the "host" you want to check that you know what your companions are bringing into the fight, what everyone's health is, and maintain a role as a leader. What do those being summoned need to prepare for?
Maybe the host summoned you because they've just been invaded, maybe they want to go grab a treasure before they head to the boss, but check exits for invaders and basically be prepared to play bodyguard just in case. After bowing, of course.
The host might have summoned you and then got into a fight with some unspeakable beastie, or otherwise wandered off, this would be a great time to check your headset, but otherwise I suggest waiting where you were summoned from for a second before attempting to follow a trail of bodies to the host. In Dark Souls 2 there is a serious shudder of the controller when you are connecting to another player so people should know. Don't get impatient after 30 seconds and throw yourself off a cliff.
Wait at least a minute or two on that.
But the other big thing you normally plan on as a person being summoned is where you place your summon sign. There are several soapstones in the game but let's just look at two: the small sign soapstone and the normal one. The small one leaves a much smaller sign, but it's still there.
Where you leave your summon sign is probably the most important thing you do, as there are lots of subtle distinctions in this game over previous ones. Zones are much larger and you can leave your sign in certain spots to make sure you only get picked up by people who have unlocked certain shortcuts-i.e. made a certain amount of progress through a stage.
But there are generally 2 paths for getting summoned, one which is for attempting a boss and one for clearing an area. Based on what bonfire you leave your sign at you can have a say in what you're up for.
While placing your sign next to the boss fog is obviously a statement that you're ready to get to fighting, you might need a different set-up for clearing an area of enemies. Though you can get a great amount of souls from some boss fights clearing areas can be a better way to go based on the gear you have access to, the spells or miracles.
Remember to try and keep the host alive above all else when clearing a section of an area, unless they're carrying a giant shield in which case let them bait enemies then swoop in for the kill.
But be careful about what you're doing, try not to let them open trap chests, keep them from stupid deaths to the best of your ability and you're doing pretty good. And if you don't have a microphone dear god don't let them out of your sights.
The final bit of advice is on changes to the co-op system. Now there's something called "soul memory" which basically seperates out someone who just reached level 60 from another player who has reached level 60 and stopped leveling up but continued playing. This new feature is a bit of contention amongst souls fans right now. It can help prevent lower level ganking, but it has some drawbacks of which people seem to be hitting patches where it's hard for them to co-op.
The previous games have always had a +/- 10 levels rule to decide whether you got matched up with another person. Obviously, if I have a great build and all the right gear at a certain point I might way outclass players at my level, which can lead to ganking. As well, that meant there used to be these expected levels at bosses, if you were at the wrong level it could be tough to find someone to summon. But, at the same time with the new system there are going to be these deviations where you might be in the "right" level range for a boss but your soul memory is off.
Well, there have always been bosses that were unpopular to fight, same as there were zones people didn't want to help clear out. So, if you wanted to do certain fights or areas with help you might have to wait a while.
So don't be afraid to take a break if you're not able to find help for a particular boss, or try another spot for your sign if you're not getting summoned. However, also don't be afraid to go to another area, engage in more cooperation, and see if that doesn't help the situation.
Now if you want to co-op with a certain someone the new game has a ring that helps matters, if you both select the same god you'll be much more likely matched. In the older games we always had to leave our signs in out of the way places, and I imagine mixing both would probably work great-but remember soul memory is also a factor now so they might not be within your range for a bit.
Soul memory might not be a favorite feature right now, but at least it's there and they can patch it as they see what's happening. However, it should help people who like to co-op to get into more games with people who like to co-op.
Lastly we have covenants, almost all covenants in Dark Souls 2 have to do with PvP. I can't give you the information on them, but each has advantages and disadvantages they bring to the mix. Some give useful items for completing tasks, others might give you gear or spells when you rank up the covenant. Look at the options available to you and figure out what fits your style the best, or what seems to help you out the most. As they say, sometimes you have to weigh what you want versus what you need.
So in conclusion. As host you want to make sure you weigh your options in summoning people based on the small amount of info available, as well as making sure you don't go out first since nobody gets a reward if you die(except for some souls, but often there are better rewards). Make sure you let people know where you're going and be careful of...well, just be careful. If you want help with a fight or area Dark Souls 2 has 2 ways to summon people: either use a human effigy, a semi-rare item, or help other people through getting summoned until you turn human(an option I'd at least attempt first).
As a summon make sure you have everything ready before dropping your sign and make sure the placement of it gives you the best chances of doing what you want to do. Have the magic you want equipped, get the rings you want, everything you can think of ahead of time. Planning to upgrade that sword? How about getting that done ahead of time. It might help you more in the long-run than you'd think. But at the same time you probably don't want to jump into a boss fight with gear you haven't tried before.
Once you're co-oping make sure you fulfill your role, whatever that might be, and even the roughest of challenges in a Souls title can be much smoother. And trust me, there are some real challenges in this game.