‘Dark Souls 2′ Review

Published 8 months ago by

Dark Souls 2 Review

Dark Souls 2 is not a pleasant game – at least, not in the traditional sense of the word. It will unapologetically and periodically beat you down and take everything you hold dear. Half the time, you may not even have any idea of who you are, what you’re doing or where you are. Melodramatic or not, this is the essence of the Souls experience.

While the above might hardly sound like an enjoyable experience to the uninitiated, fans of the series swear by the unforgiving atmosphere. These frustrations and their subsequent successes are the carrot on the end of the stick that continue to pull players back after leading them to the edge of quitting. With Dark Souls 2, From Software has managed to tread a dangerous line and not only retain the series’ signature difficulty, but also provide new players with as safe an entry point as is possible within the Souls universe.

As mentioned above and so lovingly reminded in its launch trailerDark Souls 2 is a game about death as much as it’s a game about slaying just about anything that moves. Even the smallest and weakest enemies pose a very real threat for anyone with the gall to rush or approach a situation unprepared. This would be meaningless though, if the combat didn’t feel right. The series’ past installments sported undeniably strong combat mechanics, so while Dark Souls 2 doesn’t represent a drastic shift in the formula, it instead opts to refine the gameplay to its most polished state yet.

Dark Souls 2 Giant

From rolling around in a light set of leather armor to swinging one of the game’s excessively large ultra greatswords, everything feels exactly as expected. While at times this can be what some would call “clunky,” anticipating the weight of a set of items, the player’s play-style and the enemies that lie ahead is a crucial part of surviving the game’s difficult encounters. Failure to do so will find the player locked in their death throes.

Of these countless deaths, only a small handful can be attributed to issues with the game’s mechanics. Rather, death almost never feels unfair and can be leveraged on the poor judgement of the player, whether it be a mistimed dodge, an overzealous barrage of attacks, or failing to inspect their surroundings and being caught off guard by one of the game’s many traps. With death sometimes coming frequently and fast, this ensures that the burden it weights on the player is minimal and instead feels like a lesson learned, urging them forward rather than alienating them.

Dark Souls 2 Forest

This is not to say that death is an entirely positive learning experience though. In a return to Demon’s Souls form, each death will set players’ maximum pool of health back a small percentage until it caps off at 50% of its full capacity. In order to restore their humanity and regain this lost health, players are forced to expend a moderately rare item. The choice to implement this is sure to be one of the game’s largest dividing factors.

While the game eases players into the masochism of the Souls universe this time with a tutorial and gentler intro area, the harsh penalty on death will surely quell the enthusiasm of some would-be adventurers. It’s hardly an insurmountable obstacle and in fact something that longtime fans will be excited to see return but for the uninitiated, it can definitely come as a shock.

Luckily, this is somewhat remedied by the despawning of enemies that have been repeatedly killed by the player. While they can be summoned back into existence with a specific item, being able to run back to a particularly difficult boss hassle-free can be the breath of fresh air a player needs after a series of horrific deaths.

Dark Souls 2 Citadel

Turning to the game’s visuals, the effect is a double-edged sword. While it’s clear that an immense amount of time went into creating a rich open-world environment to explore, last generation’s consoles are beginning to show their age with some muddy textures and rough edges. Despite this, the design of each individual area is stunning and perfectly maintains the desperate tone of the Souls series with settings like a secluded cove inhabited by a ghost ship standing out from the bunch. Unlike Dark Souls’ land of Lordran which saw each area flowing together almost seamlessly, Dark Souls 2′s Drangleic feels much more sectioned-off. This time around, the zones feel as though they are all connected by arbitrary corridors and while it doesn’t necessarily hurt the experience, it does represent one of the only steps backward the series has taken.

The lighting engine is where the graphics of Dark Souls 2 really shine though. Players have the option of shedding their offhand implement in favor of a torch which can be carried to light the way and fend off particularly nasty creatures with an aversion to the glow. While the torch is equipped, the environment is basked in a warm glow and acts as the most impressive part of the visual experience. Sometimes, the risk of eschewing a shield in order to see the world of Drangleic from under the torch’s light can be very much worth its weight in souls.

Dark Souls 2 Knight

What is truly surprising about Dark Souls 2 is how effective the game is at conveying narrative without very much exposition. From the placement of enemy soldiers in a city surrounding a dilapidated jail to the sparse lines of dialog that accompany each new NPC, players slowly develop a narrative for the devastation around them. In particular, one of the earlier bosses comes to mind as an example of tragic desperation bringing about a surprising level of emotion without the need for a single word. As the narrative experience can border on the subjective, players will only be able to take out of the game what they put in.

Between the immense sense of accomplishment that comes from progressing through the game to the subtle but evocative narrative that unfolds as players explore Drangleic, Dark Souls 2 is an experience like few others. It may not take the series’ established form and shatter expectations but rather, it improves on and refines the formula and leaves gamers with a beautiful, albeit dark experience. While the difficulty may serve to push some gamers away, Dark Souls 2 manages to be both the most accessible title in the series and a formidable challenge for returning veterans and is without a doubt an experience that should not be missed despite the allure of next-generation consoles.

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Dark Souls 2 is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360, and will be making its way to PC on April 25, 2014.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @ThatRyanB.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

TAGS: Dark Souls 2, From Software, Namco Bandai, PC, PS3, Xbox 360

8 Comments

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  1. Utterly adoring it. ‘Dark Souls’ changed how I view role playing games forever. So much so that despite falling madly in love with ‘Final Fantasy X/X-2′ years ago I know I cannot return to that classical form of the genre ever again.

    I would say I am not as blown away by the second as I was the first, but I experienced that with ‘Demon Souls’ as well as I came to after the first ‘Dark Souls’. Simply put, the first time you ever play it cannot be replicated.

    But my affair with From Software is bordering on dangerous. I am eternally grateful for these games as I find they help my depression enormously with application of patience to everyday scenarios. It is a test of commitment, something I admit to lacking in many a situation and these games teach me how to follow through.

    Cheers for that.

  2. They should have just named in Demon’s Souls 2. Aside from the overall design which looks like Dark Souls, and some carried over story and weapons it plays like Demon’s Souls. I was so looking forward to playing an expansion on Dark Souls, but for the most part this isn’t it. A lot of people are complaining about the hit boxes being off, but I find the entire control set is off. The character feels sluggish regardless of equip burden, and dodge rolling is sketchy at best. Which is funny considering the game demands such a high level of precision from players, only to hamstring you with an unresponsive character. There were some boss fights, like say the Smelter Demon, where I wish I could have imported a character and their controls from DS1 to fight them. I couldn’t imagine attempting a fight with Manus with this brick of a character. That and the new parry/riposte is a joke. It’s not to say the game is horrible, it’s just not as fun as DS1. And before people complain I don’t know anything about souls games I did go though Demon’s, and logged a little more than 300 hrs into DS1. I guess my problem is I didn’t really like Demon’s, and this one feels way too much in that vein.

  3. its dark souls 1.5… i love how its hardness gets so much love but when other games are hard like a section on god of war ascension people complain. gow had to have a patch because people couldnt complete it. i still remember when games were harder years ago but it wasnt something that was praised, it was just the way it was. i still remember never getting to complete a game because when you died you would be sent way back to the start of the gamme again. think it was tarzan and that was a kids game

  4. Praise the Sun!

  5. Whoever wrote this is a noob. You only need one human effigy and a ring of protection and you can go the whole game as a human.

  6. I am a veteran of the DS games, but whoa, is this one tough! Not so tough the game is unplayable nor unrewarding when you take on the challenges that are in Drangleic. You get a rush when you take out an area of creatures or boss! Unlike some players, I’m an “older” player who does need more than 1 human effigy to go through the game & still haven’t finished DS2, but I’m on my way! As a matter of fact, I’m heading back into Drangleic very shortly.

    This series is, admittedly, nor for any person who does not have the patience to take the time to watch for an enemy that may not be dead, dying several times trying to get through certain areas or, occasionally, taking on boss-like creatures before you reach the boss, looking for illusory walls to find passageways that you need to take to get to where you need to go, and so on… I have told a couple of friends that this is not a game that is going to hold your hand as you progress through it, and there is no “easy” setting, you can only make Dark Souls 2 more difficult (should you desire), which I did, but is definitely not for everyone, as I’d said. I know of certain people that would toss a controller out of frustration. This is definitely a great, but niche game! I know that some hardcore gamers wouldn’t enjoy it either, as it is simply a game that you are on your own (yet with many a player who understands your plight – having already finished the game or are ahead of you, who leave cryptic messages for you to “follow;” giving hints when you feel lost. For the most part, the other players who leaved these messages are on the level, a few do try to trip you up, but overall, most people who play in the DS series are there to help you (excluding those players who may invade your world), then again, I haven’t been overtly attacked by other players, add have some others. I haven’t tried the coop portion of the game yet, but may have to, if just to try the “talk” feature during coop game play, while taking out a boss! Getting the treasure is so worth the fight/challenge, if only to prove you could take out that uber-boss yourself and the souls, sword, ring, etc., that go with!

    Now, I do have a few complaints, which have nothing to do with the graphics, as that is one of the biggest complaints I’ve read about! I think the majority of areas that I’ve been through, thus far, look beautiful! The atmosphere is appropriately bright or dark, given the abilities that the Xbox 360 and PS3 can put out. So, if you want better graphics, I’ve heard that the pc version is great looking versus the console version’s view; try boosting your brightness, under game options, any time). I do feel that there need to be more human effigies in the game. It would be nice if From Software and/or Namco Bandai would add a few more human effigies out there for those of us that don’t have the dexterity we once had, though I’m not “that old,” but old enough (the “new 30s”) to need more. I also would like to see the creatures respawn, more the way they did in DS1! Even if it would be an option leaving the option(s) open to the player; even the human effigy items I’d brought up.

    Regarding player complaints, if you are having real problems in the game, regarding where items are or how to to kill certain creatures and bosses, look to YouTube (I like epic named brother’s [ENB] and/or vaatividya’s walkthroughs and lore), check out the Dark Souls 2 wiki and other sites’ guides or buy the official guide! Don’t complain so much about areas being SO tough that you can’t get through them and complain! You have an idea of what you are getting into, especially when you are told in many write ups, video reviews, other players, and in the game, itself, that you should expect to die a lot! There is even a “death counter” in the game (good touch); but, as I’d denoted, I do feel there should be certain additions that would enhance my, and some other people’s, game(s) but I’ll persevere!

    Good review Ryan, good game From Software and Namco Bandai – though I hope some of the updates, if not all I’ve brought up, will be made, as I continue my trek into Drangleic. For those who play games like the Demon Souls/Dark Souls series, who enjoy this genre of “more realistic” RPG game play, praise the sun!

  7. I love the game! Can’t stop playing since I bought mine at kingiun.net – I found there the best deal online- chceck the price, it’s really low!

  8. Dark Souls 2 is the most intimidating game I have ever played. Its even better to play it with cheats, check them here on gamehostia com

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