Published on May 25th, 2014 | by Jordan King0
Review: Dark Souls 2
Death in games is normally a sign of your own failure, resignation of the fact that you made a mistake and need to try a different strategy in order to succeed, but oftentimes death can feel cheap, frustrating and no fault of your own despite your best efforts. The “Souls” franchise uses death as an innovative yet punishing gameplay mechanic that never feels cold or unwarranted, instead each death feels like a lesson, as you slowly master the intricate precision required to overcome your enemies. Each death feels like a lesson learnt, and rarely does Dark Souls 2 feel like it is treating you unfairly, as with the right mindset and approach almost every obstacle can be tackled and overcome so long as your strategy is sound and you are prepared to fight. If the idea of facing the land of Drangleic alone seems too daunting for you then you’re in luck, and Dark Souls 2 does a much better job at easing you into the experience, slowly spoon feeding you tutorials in the opening minutes before thrusting you into the unforgiving threshold of its inhabitants, and that is where the real masochistic fun begins. If you consider yourself a newcomer to the Souls games then this is the ideal starting point, as the challenge is still insurmountable at times, but much more approachable thanks to better multiplayer integration and an altered world layout that feels more linear than From Software’s previous effort, but has allowed them to inject an impressive sense of variety into the world, as this is easily their grandest and most ambitious title yet.
You begin your journey as a mysterious undead being, finding yourself in the beautifully gothic land of Drangleic, and spend some time in a safe haven named “Majula”, the location where you’ll find yourself returning to again and again in order to level up, reinforce and upgrade your equipment and learn new abilities. Having a central hub is a departure from the previous game but allows the world to feel more varied and alive, but somewhat less cohesive as a result. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, allowing Souls 2 to differentiate itself from its predecessor in a surprising way, and has given From Software more breathing room to experiment and refine new and existing gameplay mechanics. Having the ability to fast travel between bonfires from the start also makes exploring the world much more enjoyable, meaning you no longer need to grind your way through hordes of deadly enemies to revisit an area in search of extra secrets or loot.
Gameplay remains largely untouched, with some subtle changes mostly fine tuning the foundations of the previous game, instead of innovating or introducing something completely new. More Dark Souls is never a bad thing, but From Software seem to be playing it safe for the most part, focusing on the precise movement and combat that made the first title such an enjoyable challenge, whilst making the experience itself more forgiving without compromising on the abundant difficulty the franchise is so infamously known for. One of the major changes implemented by the developers this time around is that after roughly 12 defeats enemies no longer respawn in certain areas, allowing safe passage through difficult areas whilst also negating any opportunities for grinding the player could have had, enemies can be brought back with a certain item, but they now have twice as much health and deal even more damage, forcing you to think before carelessly condemned yourself to an impassable area. This introduces an extra layer of strategy for experienced players, offering an abundance of content even after the initial first playthrough which took me just under forty hours, and I immediately went back for more.
Drangleic is a beautiful place, if a little inconsistent in its visual execution as you explore a variation of vast gothic castles and dank dark and often poisonous ruins ripe with traps that want nothing more for you to fail. Dark Souls 2 has an startling amount of variety in its level design, easily outpacing the previous two games in terms of scale and visuals. However the cohesive nature of the world is often sacrificed, meaning the world feels less connected than before, and much easier to get lost in as a result. You still feel as if the world slowly opens up the more you discover, leading to several incredibly satisfying moments as you find a cleverly hidden secret within an area you already thought had been exhausted. The shortcomings don’t stop the world from being awesome to explore, as it remains one of the more immersive and atmospheric experiences on any platform, and arguably sets the benchmark for future games of its kind.
The PC release is easily the definitive version of the game, boasting a superior frame-rate as well as significantly improved visuals, with a slew of customisable yet unfortunately limited graphics options. Considering how poor the PC port of the original Dark Souls was the improvements this time around and more than welcome, and bode well for future iterations in the franchise. The online components of the game feel as if they play a bigger role than before, as I found myself summoning players from other worlds to assist me in difficult boss battles, as well as doing the same for them in return for items and souls. Other players still have the option to invade your world and ruin your day, but successfully defeating them is worth it, as you’ll gain a portion of all the souls they were carrying. During my playthrough I was disconnected quite often from the online servers, which meant I had to restart the game before I could play online again. Issues like this should be ironed out in future updates but I can’t deny that they lead to some unwanted frustration.
Dark Souls 2 is one of the best games of the year, plain and simple. From Software have crafted a bleak and hopeless world that possibly surpasses the original, whilst refining the precise and rewarding gameplay to an immaculate degree. Some of the changes made have allowed the experience to be more forgiving for newcomers, but still maintains the challenge veterans will be looking for. Multiple playthroughs only further the appeal of exploring the desolate and beautiful land of Drangleic.
Summary: A challenging and fantastically satisfying role playing adventure that refines an already excellent formula to near perfection, producing one of the best role games yet of 2014.