Finished this up last night, and it definitely stuck the landing, with the late-game areas being just as fun to explore as the early ones. I think I did a few things out of order, and wound up having to check the wiki a few times to find out where to go toward the end (and to jog my memory on where various locked doors and such were that I had passed a few weeks ago). As everyone has said, the DLC areas were the highlight.
My build was probably sub-optimal, as I tried to go with a hybrid Str/Faith approach, but the miracles didn’t play a big role in most of the battles. Even with 50 Faith, the offensive miracles didn’t seem to do enough damage to rely on, and the buffs were helpful, but probably less impactful than just ignoring spells and having another 40 points in physical stats all the time would have been. I experimented with a bunch of the weapons that I picked up, but nothing ever supplanted the Battleaxe I was using from pretty early on as my primary weapon. Somewhat annoying that the vast majority of cool/special weapons seem to be huge greatswords and hammers, which just feel too slow to me, and still weren’t quite consistent enough about staggering their targets to be relied on. I did use a Grand Lance for the second half of the game, and it was pretty impressive, especially with the ring that boosts counterattack damage with thrusting weapons.
But it was enough to get the job done, and I managed to do it without summoning other players (I treat that as a last resort because it seems to wind up trivializing fights that I’d rather learn and master, and the couple times I tried, nobody was around). I did use the NPC phantoms for the Charred Ivory King fight, after dying on it repeatedly, and getting tired of fighting the first phase over and over again just to have the chance to learn the second phase.
But for the most part, I was definitely too parsimonious with consumable items, and ended with a bunch of them in reserve (including 90-odd Human Effigies). I wound up doing most of the game and bosses in holllow form with the Binding Ring equipped to keep my HP at a decent level. It’s not that I was opposed to using the consumables per se, just that I hate to use up non-renewable resources against something that’s just going to come right back if (when) I screw up later. So I would tell myself I’d do an area/boss a few times telling myself that I was just learning it and would use the consumables once I was ready to do it for real, but wound up not actually needing them.
Most bosses took around 3-6 tries, which feels about right to me (enough to have some enjoyable friction and growing mastery, but not enough to get really frustrated). But there were outliers on both directions – A decent number went down on the first attempt (including the final boss gauntlet), and a couple took a ridiculous number of tries (Smelter Demon, Charred Ivory King, and Fume Knight in particular).
Until the last few hours, I avoided looking anything up, but managed to explore pretty thoroughly. Looking back at the wiki now that I’m done, I missed a few optional bosses (Ancient Dragon, Darklurker, Gargoyles, Royal Rat Vanguard, and the three multiplayer-focused areas from the DLC). And I botched or missed a few NPC quests, as well as a smattering of items, secret doors, bonfires, etc.
Anyway, highly recommended! Now to decide whether to move on to Nioh immediately of play something from another genre as a palate cleanser first.