In a time when casual gaming is what brings in the big bucks for most companies, it is said that making a game that is too difficult is quite risky as it may not sell very well. However, games like Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, tons of indie action platformers like Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, and I Wanna Be The Guy, and many others showed that there are plenty of gamers who are still up for difficulty in their games. The days when “Nintendo Hard” was the norm may be long past, but there is still a place for a game like Dark Souls II, which is taking up what its predecessor left off.
Dark Souls II is the much anticipated sequel to the critically acclaimed action role-playing game Dark Souls, which was the spiritual successor of Demon’s Souls and is infamous for its mechanics and difficulty. The first game wasn’t really impossible to finish, far from it; but it required patience, thoughtful play, a bit of luck, and a lot of dying in order to complete. Almost three years later, we have been faced with another challenge by From Software that promises to be even more sadistic in its delivery, and yet more accommodating as well.
What makes the Dark Souls series good is how it teaches people that having committed mistakes helps you become better in whatever you do. When you die in this game, you get to learn from it and apply that knowledge to your future decisions. The same could probably be said about other games, but this game was designed specifically to foster that way of thinking. Death here is not really that cheap since what kills you are hulking beasts and imposing armored warriors with weapons of mass visceral destruction.
As always, you are someone who carries the Darksign that curses you to an undead existence, and you must find the cure. Aside from a brief rundown in the intro sequence and perhaps some flavor text here and there, everything else in the story is up to you to fill in. This game is all about finding things out for yourself and learning about what you are able and not able to do. You then come up with the specific tactics and overall playing style that help you survive and achieve goals in the game. The mechanism for learning all of that is death, letting you know if you overextended or didn’t pay attention by outright killing you.
Serious Dark Souls players tend to be really big sticklers for detail, which makes reviewing this game a bit difficult as every player experiences this game differently. But for starters, it really does look and feel like an improvement of the original Dark Souls, including adjustments to the combat and exploration to make the experience more rewarding, and also potentially painful. The different weapons have been tweaked, so there’s more of a distinction between a strength weapons from a dex weapon, and so on. There are less classes than in the first game, with 8 instead of 10 (Hunter and Pyromancer have been removed), but the ones that are there have been fixed to make more sense in gameplay.
The biggest worry that fans had when this game was about to be released was that it was going to get “streamlined”, which is another way of saying that it has been dumbed down and made easier. Since the name of the game in Dark Souls is brutal adventure, that streamlining would prove fatal to the franchise, but the fact here is that they’ve put in things that make it even more difficult. For instance, there are no more invincibility frames in rolls, so rolling around won’t save you anymore and you have to avoid blow perfectly every time you roll or you will get hit.
This does mean that it reduces the amount of viable builds in this game, so whatever worked for you in the first Dark Souls may not work in this one. A lot of the tricks that may have worked previously could work in here as well, so you can cheese your way to progressing further if you know what to do. But if you really are hardcore though and want both challenge and the potential of coming up with the best possible character in the game, then you can just play the Deprived for maximum punishment.
Online mechanics are improved in this game as well, yet they retain their fundamental functions like bloodstains of other players and seeing those who are playing in the same area and being able to guide each other through to make things just a bit easier, although they still can’t help you directly but just accompany you. There is also a tracker in the game that shows just how many deaths have taken place since the release of the game (which is at the millions as of this review). Stuff like these add to the unique feel that’s fitting with a Dark Souls game.
However, while the visuals are pretty good and retain the style from the previous Dark Souls, right down to the interface, the graphics could have been better, but that’s how it is being released for the PS3 and Xbox 360. There are things like the underwhelming lighting that fails to show off the details on models and textures. It just seems like this would look really good if released for the next-gen consoles, so perhaps it may be released for them in the future. The first game did get a PC port (although that was rushed), so perhaps there is hope there.
There is a lot more to this game that are too many to mention, and players will find them in their own way. It’s fortunate though that this game does not suffer from the usual sequel-itis that afflicts most follow-ups to successful titles. Even though it has its differences from the first game and some fans may not be completely pleased with the results, the effort put into Dark Souls II to live up to and surpass the legacy of its predecessor is quite earnest and deserves merit, making this perhaps one of the best game franchises in recent years. Here’s to hoping that the PC port will be much better this time around.
Tested in PS3. Final Score: 9/10