Dying is easy: great game design is hard. Arriving like a bolt out of the blue back in 2011, the original Dark Souls possessed enough excellent ideas and stellar design work to stock over 20 titles. Instead, developer From Software crafted just one hellaciously difficult, yet consistently addictive adventure.
Now, the little joypad-smashing title that could is back, with a hotly anticipated sequel, and a brand new man in the director’s chair – but will this tactical slash-em-up still be able to cater to fans while also attracting a less hard-nosed audience?
For a more in-depth appraisal of Dark Souls 2, check out these choice reviews:
NOTE: The following reviews were conducted using pre-release copies of Dark Souls 2, i.e. without the benefit of the game’s full multiplayer suite. Scores listed below pertain to the game’s single-player campaign only.
Videogamer (Andi Hamilton):
“From Software really did master this gameplay experience with Dark Souls, so for this sequel they’ve just sharpened all of the ideas to a razor sharp (and deadly) point, but have given more players the opportunity to get stuck in. Dark Souls 2 is a refined, slicker version of what I consider to be the greatest video game ever made, and it is a title we’ll be finding more and more about post-release as its genius is fully uncovered.”
IGN (Marty Sliva):
“Dark Souls II is a smart, massive, and incredibly rewarding sequel. It’s crammed with deep systems, tense encounters, and enough clever multiplayer and New Game Plus elements to make me want to restart the second I saw the end credits. Not all of the tweaks and additions worked out for the best, but with such great enemies and levels to fight and explore, Dark Souls II made 60 hours of pain and agony so much fun they flew by in a heartbeat.”
EGM (Eric L. Patterson):
“…as good as Dark Souls II is–and as much as I came to appreciate [its] blend of Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls–I didn’t like it as much as its precursor. […] While some of its features and design decisions might not sit perfectly with all fans of the franchise, Dark Souls II once again proves how enthralling and engrossing From Software’s formula of skill-focused combat, demanding challenge, and bleak ambience can be.”
Game Informer (Daniel Tack):
“… a dark, atmospheric adventure that assumes that players don’t need their hands held throughout the experience. Dark Souls II respects you enough to assume you can figure things out, despite having perhaps lost some of these sensibilities by playing other titles that walk you through on tether from start to finish. As a result, the rewards and achievements are that much more satisfying. It’s only March, but Dark Souls II stands tall as a potential game of the year.”
Destructoid (Chris Carter):
“Rest assured if you liked Dark and Demon’s you will like Dark Souls II. I was skeptical at first given the proposed changes, but ultimately I had an enjoyable time as I was aimlessly exploring its world and dying over and over to its bosses. Although the loss of [Dark Souls director] Miyazaki stings a bit (particularly in the boss design department), I think this new team did an excellent job without him, and I’d love to see yet another Souls entry as soon as possible.”
Eurogamer (Tom Bramwell):
“Overall, Dark Souls 2 probably isn’t quite the same masterpiece Dark Souls is, but then neither is anything else, and the fact it comes so close is remarkable. From Software has delivered on its goal of opening the game up a bit to more daunted players without breaking the heart of Souls […] – but this is still an iterative sequel, so many of the old routines and patterns of discovery inevitably sparkle a little less the second time around. Only a little, though, and when the worst you can say is that a game is only nearly as good as Dark Souls, that’s still a pretty strong recommendation.”
Edge (Edge Staff):
“…for all its little tweaks, Dark Souls II is, foremost, a game made for Souls players. It is a game that asks everything of you and gives so much back, keeping its cards close to its chest, and revealing them only to those prepared to die and die again. It is made to be played for hundreds, if not thousands, of hours as you try new builds, explore PVP and experiment with covenants, all the while slowly peeling back the layers of its lore. Some of its ideas work better than others, and Drangleic is no match for Lordran’s intricate design, but Dark Souls II is, like its predecessors, brilliant, beautiful, and absolutely essential.”
CVG (Matt Sakuraoka-Gilman):
“Whether or not you come to believe that this is better than its predecessor will likely depend on how blindly you accepted the former game’s faults. Dark Souls 2 irons out those flaws, and its world expands in ways that fans won’t expect, but will undoubtedly appreciate. Its layers of depth, and colossal scope for challenge, community and discovery, is a gaming event of such impact it’ll be referred to time and time again for years to come. Dark Souls 2 is a landmark action RPG that is unforgettable for so many reasons, not least its immensely deep challenge framed within a sprawling, beautiful world.”
Polygon (Philip Kollar):
“The Souls games have rarely been about fun, but Dark Souls 2‘s smart tweaks and concessions brought out positive emotions even amidst the pain and exhaustion. It’s still a stressful experience, but it’s easier than ever to recognize the brilliance in those moments of triumph that make it more than worth the struggle.”
Gamesradar (Ryan Taljonick):
“Dark Souls 2 […] takes everything that made the original so great, but expands on them in its own unique ways. Sure, not every single boss fight will impress, and you might be resistant to the world’s hub-like structure, but these are minor notes in an otherwise phenomenal journey. Dark Souls 2 is an incredible game, one that demands alert play and rewards perseverance. You will die many times in many ways, but push on and you’ll find this to be an excellent sequel that not only captures the essence of the original, but is a memorable experience in its own right.”
Do you agree with the critical consensus? Can Dark Souls 2 elevate the franchise from cult status to global phenomenon? How will the title’s success affect attitudes towards in-game difficulty? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check in with all of the latest Bandai Namco news, right here on Game Rant.
Dark Souls 2 is now available for PS3 and Xbox 360 platforms. A European release is scheduled for March 14. The game hits PC on April 25, 2014.
Follow Sam on Twitter @GamingGoo.