Dark Souls II Review
After three years the wait for Dark Souls 2 is finally over (cue squealing with excitement like a little school girl). Initially shrouded by doubts of an easy mode to open the series to more casual gamers and a potential shift in story presentation Dark Souls 2 still delivered. The game is just as difficult and mysterious as the first and that is a good thing.
For those who have not played the Souls series before, the games are fairly difficult. Do not expect any hand-holding, linear progression, mini maps, or cutscene narrations. From the beginning of the game you know that you are a human that has been cursed and is in limbo between life and death, becoming "hollow". You also learn that you must obtain souls to prevent yourself from going completely hollow and forgetting who you are, lost in limbo forever. That is about the gist of the story. Dark Souls 2 is about mystery and self-interpretation.
You are almost immediately dropped into gameplay after a short introductory cutscene, led through a brief tutorial on combat controls, and told to check out the first area called Fallen Giants. However, you quickly realize that there are no signs or markers guiding your way to Fallen Giants. This is one of the best things about Dark Souls 2, the great unknown. There is no real explanation of what is to be expected when diving into any area of the game, so each area is a dark gloomy surprise or a deceivingly bright open environment. The game is about exploration and trial and error; you may end up taking a path that is meant to be attempted with a stronger character later in the game and won't even realize it until you have died a handful of times.
Do not expect enemies to just roll over because you have magic or a huge sword and shield. They are not scared of you and will pick a fight no matter what, and you will die. You will begin to learn that each enemy has animation queues and a series of specific attacks. Once you have either patiently learned their movements or mastered the animation queues you can exploit them appropriately. Be warned that each of your attacks are also calculated risks. Enemies will easily capitalize on your missed opportunities and more than likely kill you with a single stroke. If by chance you make it through the enemies, exhausting all of your health resources in the process, the game will decide that it's a good time to toss in a boss fight. Bosses also have their share of animation queues and attacks, but of course it may require a few tries to nail a victory because they tend to be a little more unpredictable. One minor detail, die and you will have to start the area all over again, but once you are victorious you will feel triumphant. There is no only feeling like it.
Throughout the game you will be collecting souls from enemies and bosses, which is like an in-game currency for anything and everything. All souls can be used for leveling of armor and weapons for your character. This is always recommended, especially if you find yourself getting stuck in an area or not doing as much damage as you think you should be. Souls acquired from bosses are fairly special. Use them to collect 10k normal souls or turn them in later to a special NPC blacksmith for a boss specific weapon or shield - really awesome concept for those who are collectors like me. Be warned, if you are killed then all of your souls will be left at that spot. You can however retrieve them, but you will need to claw your way back to that spot. Die before reaching your leftover souls and they are gone forever. Much like the RPG genre, grinding and farming souls is key to leveling your character.
Speaking of farming for souls, it is limited to a point in Dark Souls 2. Kill an enemy enough times and that enemy will no longer spawn, eventually leaving you an empty area. The awesome and most difficult part about this feature is that when progressing through an area you are potentially making an easier path for yourself to get to the boss, however you can no longer continue to farm as you used to. But your ability to farm is not completely lost. Once an area is cleared you can burn a specific item at a bonfire which will respawn the entire area, including bosses. Sounds great right? Well keep in mind that for every time that item is burned and an area is respawned the difficulty becomes harder. Essentially you are creating a New Game+ in a specific area. Keep in mind the changes will continue into your New Game + so increase the difficulty at your own risk and do not exceed your abilities.
Those who have played the previous Souls games will notice a few differences that you may love to hate or begin to appreciate. The first noticeable difference is leveling. No longer will you have the convenience of being able to level at any bonfire. For some reason you now have only one specific person you can level up with, an NPC called Emerald at the beginning of the game. Not sure why From Software made the change but it is rather annoying to have to keep going back and forth between her and the current area you are plowing through.
Exploration and memorization of all the areas had been key in order to properly navigate your way through the previous Souls games. No longer will that be necessary as now you can fast travel between all of the bonfires that you have discovered. I really appreciate this new feature as it is super easy to go back into a previously explored area to find anything you may have missed or to farm more souls.
Lastly one of the greatest differences for me is in the multiplayer. Dark Souls had made multiplayer confusing and almost impossible because you had to be human in order to summon someone or be summoned by someone. The process never really worked as intended and you would spend more time trying to connect with people than actually playing with them. In Dark Souls 2 you no longer have to be human, which allows players to always seek help no matter what their current health status. One other change to the multiplayer is the ability to have up to two other people in your game or in the game you had been summoned to - double the pleasure double the fun.
Dark Souls 2 is not for those looking for easy achievements, smooth sailing gameplay, or even a story. Dark Souls 2 is a mountain that has to be climbed at a slow pace. You will die, you will get angry, you will want to rage quit. Don't fret, once you get into a groove and finally learn the tricks of the trade the enjoyment factor will be in full force. Dark Souls 2 is an experience you will never forget and will immediately be in your top ten games of all times. Dark Souls 2 is a rare breed of game and one that most people will stay away from, but those that can handle the high learning curve and difficulty will be in for hundreds of hours of intense gameplay.
Final Rating: 95%. Never has a game so difficult been so rewarding.