When Demons’ Souls and Dark Souls hit the market, they were a unique breath of fresh air that had been long been missing from video games. Although Dark Souls 2 isn’t as innovative as its predecessors, it’s still more of what makes them great, blending elements from both games to create an experience that’s just as challenging yet more accessible to new players.
(For a better understanding of what to expect out of a “Souls” game, check out my Dark Souls Review.)
Set many, many years after Dark Souls 1, much of what was known then has long been forgotten. The player begins the journey in search of a cure to an undead curse, and arrives in the land of Drangleic. A once flourishing kingdom now in decay after giants invaded, and war brought it to ruins. Set in a medieval fantasy world, if DkS1 was the ancient Greeks, DkS2 felt much like the ancient Romans in comparison.
To anyone who has played Dark Souls, the first impression you get is that combat feels a bit different. Rolling to dodge attacks won’t be as invulnerable to attack damage as before, parrying and backstabs aren’t nearly as easy to perform, and attack animations are tighter. Enemies track your dodges, mid-attack, much easier, which a lot of the time feels like a cheap adjustment to difficulty as opposed to a fair challenge. There were many times when I thought I could successfully roll away from an enemy attack, only to be smashed by a ridiculous lock-on animation. Timing during these evasive maneuvers has to be perfect. In short, combat will take some time to get used to for any player.
Once you finally do get used to the tweaks in combat, it becomes deeper than ever. A larger variety of playstyles are now viable. Bows, underwhelming in DkS1, now deal more damage along with faster arrows, and spells are more dynamic with a greater selection. To add another layer to melee combat, dual wielding weapons have been expanded to include a special “power stance”. This stance introduces a new move set that deals more damage with a barrage of pure offense. A consumable item can be used to reallocate skill points which let’s the player switch to a new playstyle at any time, if the old one is unfavorable.
In Dark Souls 1 I did not like the character creation options. Dark Souls 2 vastly improves character creation offering a very deep selection of customizable options. In the end, your character’s appearance won’t matter at all due to your character appearing in an undead/hollowed state for most of the game. Regardless, it’s great to have the option and I wanted to point it out.
Speaking of hollowing, each death in the game will lower your maximum health by a little until you reach 50 percent of your maximum health. A concept taken from Demons’ Souls, this change will greatly add to difficulty as one could imagine. Maximum health can fully be restored with a Human Effigy, but Effigies are limited and should be used sparingly. Also adding to difficulty is the limit to Estus Flask uses. Instead of starting with 5 or 10 swigs, you only get 1. Additional uses can be acquired by finding Estus shards and redeeming them in the hub area of Majula. Life Gems can be consumed to gradually increase health, facilitating the limited Estus. There’s no doubt this one of the biggest obstacles in game.
The level design to Dark Souls 2 is something I’m both impressed and disappointed with at the same time. There are a huge amount of areas to explore both spectacular and mysterious, particularly the entirely optional area, the Dragon Aerie. Just when I thought I was about to reach the end of the game, I would discover completely new areas, sometimes hidden from view entirely. Contrarily, areas feel disjointed, and instead of being woven into one another like Dark Souls, they simply branch out to a different path. Now Dark Souls 1’s level design was perfection, and I understand it’s not easy to duplicate the brilliantly intricate shortcut paths it had, but it’s still a little disappointing to say the least.
Perhaps the shortcuts weren’t necessary because players have the option to warp between any discovered bonfires from the start of the game. At first, I wasn’t sure I would like this because it hindered your knowledge of the games’ layout, something you would know by heart by the time you were finished with DkS1. I soon realized warping between bonfires was a much welcomed convenience, considering I would race to get the ability to warp in DkS1 anyway.
Another area I have a mixed opinion on is the menu layout. The menu has a wider layout, allowing for a broader outlook on your inventory, and I consider it an improvement. However, the icons are way too small, hiding any detail the images might have. If played on a small TV, I don’t know how well items can be distinguished. Playing on the PS3 version, icons sometimes took a few seconds to fully load. This can be detrimental if you need to quickly access your inventory in the heat of battle.
The Souls series has always had some of the most epic Boss fights in video games. Bosses that were so towering and ferocious they seemed impossible to beat on mere sight alone. There weren’t many Bosses of this sort in DkS2, and this was a letdown. I also felt there were too many Boss fights. Getting to the next big Boss in DkS1 was a big event, where the abundance in DkS2 left a fight around every corner. This over-saturation didn’t make the boss fights feel as special, but there was certainly a fair share of memorable ones to encounter.
One of the most enjoyable experiences in any Souls game is meeting the assorted cast of eccentric characters and piecing together the world’s lore through conversations, item descriptions, and layout of the physical environment. This process continues and leaves even more questions as ever, but solving these riddles with the community is what made the series as strong as it is today. DkS2 creates even more memorable characters that will keep people talking for a long time to come, like Vengarl, the talking severed head.
Co-op is worth mentioning to some degree because it is a big part of the game. Players will now be invaded by other players at any time regardless of being in hollowed or human form. It can be a frustrating experience for any new player, but there is an option to join a covenant to protect you from such an occurrence by automatically summoning another player to your aide. This unique form of co-op was my first real experience with co-op, and I really enjoy it even though it’s not my priority. The only problem is it’s still complicated to play with your friends even with the additional methods to facilitate the scenario. Expect to have to jump through a few hoops to make it happen.
Dedicated servers greatly improved my co-op experience. Connection issues and lag in Dark Souls 1 made co-op unplayable for me. It’s hard to beat the thrill of besting an opponent in a one-on-one, evenly matched duel, or the satisfaction of helping a stranger defeat a problematic Boss.
A new engine improves upon the original with better lighting and enhanced cloth physics on armor, but the lighting isn’t anywhere as good as what was advertised on consoles. Frame rates stayed relatively stable for the entire game.
When you’re not busy focusing on staying alive, the soundtrack is actually quite good. It fits the atmosphere well. As usual, the voice acting is top-notch, granting each NPC his or her own personality. The use of various English dialects facilitates the notion that characters are from different lands.
I loved this game from start to finish, and couldn’t wait to discover the next new area and what lays hidden in it. It may be hard for new players to get over the frustrating nature of the game, but there’s always the option to summon aid to get past those points.
With the tons of secret paths in the game, I guarantee you will miss something in your first playthough. Plus new treasures and enemies in New Game + makes a second playthrough a must.
- Strategic combat
- Memorable characters
- Dedicated servers reduce co-op lag
- Menu can load slowly (PS3)
- Graphics aren’t as advertised
- Level design isn’t as strong as previous installment
Style – Single-player/Co-op, Action RPG
Developer – From Software
Publisher – Namco Bandai Games
Release – March 2014
5.0 – Gameplay
4.5 – Graphics
4.5 – Sound
5.0 – Entertainment
5.0 – Replay Value
DARK SOULS 2
Dark Souls 2 is a perfect blend between Demons’ Souls and Dark Souls. There’s so much to this game that I couldn’t possibly cover every single like or dislike; it is a massive game with tons of secrets to uncover.