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Dark Souls II Review

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On 04/09/2014 at 03:30 PM by Chris Yarger

The curse is real; now prepare to die over and over

An incredibly deep world that is ready to be explored by anyone who is ready and willing to pay the price to do so.

Masochistic is a word often associated with the Souls games. Though they’re known to be incredibly difficult for anyone who may be new to the series, they’ve become only mildly challenging for veterans. However, Dark Souls II is no pushover, proving to be difficult as soon as the journey begins. Even in the most basic tutorial area, players will find death waiting for them. Whether you fall into a hole you overlooked or walk past an enemy who is able to catch up to you for an easy backstab, Dark Souls II isn’t afraid to kill you mercilessly. Although the game never feels cheap, it always finds a way to lure me into a well sprung trap in which I am ill-prepared for. Difficulty isn’t the only thing in which the Souls franchise is known for though, and Dark Souls II gives us another beautifully crafted world that’s perfectly ripe for exploration with rippling lore waiting to be uncovered and dissected.

Taking place in the kingdom of Drangleic, Dark Souls II introduces a whole new world to openly explore. The game starts you off face down on a stone slab, with no equipment and no sense of direction. All you have to guide you is an ominous light in the sky that draws you like a moth to a flame. This area of the world, known as Things Betwixt, offers up an optional tutorial before the real quest begins in the central hub, Majula. Within Majula, you’ll find NPCs passing their final days as the curse wears away their soul, yet they always try to offer assistance via mercantile support and lore-riddled dialogue. But the most important NPC found in Majula is the Emerald Herald, the modern analog of Demon’s Soul’s Maiden in Black. Like the Maiden, the Emerald Herald serves to level up your character and upgrade your health-restoring Estus Flask.

Upon setting out from Majula, you may be overwhelmed by the number of branching paths available. Unlike Lordran’s tiered world in the first Dark Souls, Drangleic is much like a spider’s web: each path you take only branches off into other divergent paths. While this isn’t necessarily a problem, it definitely complicates traversal. Do you follow the rabbit hole all the way down, or backtrack and find a new path that’s easier to overcome? These are the kinds of choices you’ll constantly need to make throughout your quest

Though this might sound tedious, the ability to fast travel from the get-go helps eliminate the footwork necessary to backtrack. However, its addition does leave a bit of a void in terms of finding shortcuts, which were often a focal point in the past Souls games. As mentioned earlier, this is no longer a tiered world, instead you’re left to explore the spider’s web and avoid ensnarement. While the ever-expanding layout and means of travel is reminiscent of Demon’s Souls, it really makes the world feel hollow. The withdrawal from the surrounding areas due to the webbed layout really drove home the feeling of solitude, but they also make you miss the intangible connections made through the tiered world of the original Dark Souls as you were able to locate and discover hidden short cuts.

Most of the fighting mechanics have managed to remain the same, and they feel more fluid than ever. The graceful and wide arc swings are still present for the great swords, the vicious stabs are back and as rapid as ever for the rapiers, and spears are still capable of jabbing opponents while you turtle yourself behind your shield. Stat scaling also continues to be one of the most important facets of weapon selection, as you will always want to pick the weapon that best suits your build.

As per the norm with any Souls game, builds are crucial to your survival. Whether you want to specialize in melee, ranged combat, or magic, it all boils down to how well you can allocate your stats. With new stat slots such as Vigor and Adaptability, specialization is crucial to survival in the beginning stages of the game. As you progress though, turning your strength build into a hybrid that uses a few magic spells is easily accomplished with a bit of grinding and precarious foresight. Another new and interesting aspect to building your character is the fact that stats are now linked together. If you want a higher poise stature, you now need to raise Adaptability and Endurance accordingly, or you’ll be wasting your points. But fear not, for any allocation mistakes can easily be forgiven by the ability to reallocate your stats by using a certain item found within the game. This specific item is also great if you are getting sick of your current build and want to overhaul it completely.

Past Souls games have always been about learning from each of your deaths and perfecting your strategy accordingly. Dark Souls II carries this same mantra, though veterans of the first release may be taken aback by the new death penalty. Continuing to die and failing to learn from your past mistakes will take a considerable toll. Each death chips a small sliver of health from your overall life bar, all the way until you hit 50% of your total health. While this new design may seem unfair to new players, it’s entirely new since Demon’s Souls had a similar, but harsher system in place. In some instances, players may even find the ‘penalty’ useful due to the way some weapons and items scale in power.

As you progress through the kingdom of Drangleic, you will encounter many boss battles. Initially, I was extremely pleased with the presentations of these bosses, each with some sort of a gimmick to them. Whether there was a lever to expand the arena to make it less treacherous or a ballista that has the potential to do massive damage, each battle truly felt as if there were more to them than simply grinding away the boss's health. Eventually though, the ploys faded, and bosses simply turned into a mindless grind. While it’s a minor gripe, it really wore on me that the initial inventive battles didn’t extend throughout the game. In some instances, bosses are nearly a copy-paste of a boss in a previous Souls game, which is disappointing to see yet again.

The true shining point of any Souls game isn’t really within the game, but the incredible community that surrounds the series. Finding small messages left behind on a floor from an unknown player that would warn me of any impending traps is incredible. While it breaks the fourth wall in a sense, it’s an integral part of the Souls experience. Whether they were truthful hints, or trolling traps leading you to your doom, the messaging system always finds a way to pique your interest and push you forward.

On the other side of the coin, invasions are back and they’re more brutal than ever. By a human or AI, you can be invaded at any given point in time. While this can be offset by joining up with the right covenant and summoning a friendly player for help, it still makes for a more stressful ambiance.

Speaking of covenants, they’ve made a spectacular return in Dark Souls II. With nine different covenants to choose from, Dark Souls II offers something for everyone. Whether you want an enhanced co-op experience, deeper PVP involvement, or you simply want to expand the game by making it harder (yes, there’s a covenant that makes the game harder) or adding bonus dungeons, there truly is a covenant for everyone.

The downside to the covenants, however, is how unbalanced certain covenants can be at times. For instance, the Rat King covenant sounds absolutely glorious since you get to summon players into your world and kill them with environmental traps and the aid of enemy AI. While it sounds fun to be in this particular covenant, it’s not too fun to be on the summoned side, in which you often find yourself in an unfair fight against a covenant member as well as numerous traps and environmental enemies. It’s always possible to topple the challenge, but it feels more like a hindrance as opposed to being a good time when you’re just trying to make it through a Rat area.

No Souls game is complete without incredible atmosphere either. Though it took a significant amount of time to truly awe me, I’ll never forget the simultaneous feelings of dread and joy as I first gazed upon Drangleic Castle standing out in the open, illuminated by moonlight and fronted by a bridge laden with fire light. Nor will I ever forget the foreboding feeling as dozens of dragons flew above and below me as I slowly made my way through the Dragon Aerie. Atmosphere has always been key in the Souls universe, and although it feels like it peaks a bit later than normal, Dark Souls II is simply dripping with ambience. I still walk into well-lit areas with meager baby steps and a shield clutched tightly to my chest.

You may find yourself questioning whether or not it’s worth the hassle as you stare down a particular hallway littered with the bloodstains of fallen comrades, and you may sometimes feel as if there is no possible way to push onward and keep going, but this is what Souls is: a test of your mettle. This game is going to pound itself into your head, leaving you wanting more as you finish your first playthrough and enter New Game Plus, which has even more replay value than its predecessors.

Though it may have taken a bit longer to feel the emotional tugs of the atmosphere, and taken some blind love to overlook the recycled bosses that have been present since Demon’s Souls debuted in 2009, Dark Souls II somehow reinvents itself despite rehashing old ideas. The combination of Demon’s Souls and the first Dark Souls give Dark Souls II a fresh face and its sheer replayability make every lesson-filled death seem worthwhile. Don’t be afraid to go beyond death and jump in to the atmospheric world of Drangleic, and experience an unbelievable continuation of a superb series.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

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All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

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Remy LeBeau

04/09/2014 at 04:45 PM

Great review! My brother has been going on and on... and on about this game. He already got the platinum, but is attempting a no death / no bonfire run. I can't imagine the pressure involved with doing something like that. I still say Battletoads is harder though. Tongue Out

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/09/2014 at 06:18 PM

no death run?  jeez. 

Chris Yarger Community Manager

04/14/2014 at 06:25 AM

Thanks man!

That no Bonfire/Death run is crazy, but I've seen a few people complete it so far online. The rewards however are kind of blah since they only give you a ring allowing for the items in your left/right hands to be invisible.


04/09/2014 at 06:20 PM

Well I'm glad you were finally able to get a copy of the game. I would like to know where this game stands compared to others? Do you think Dark Souls 1 is better? or Dark Souls 2? You called it a continuation, so it's just more of the same? Will you be playing this game a lot like you did Dark Souls 1? I'm still afraid of it. I want to play FFX or Lightning Returns first. Then I'll wash all the candy down with some the Harry Potter death potion that is Dark Souls 2. Cry

Nick DiMola Director

04/11/2014 at 08:55 AM

I don't want to answer for Chris, but I'd rank them something like this:
Dark Souls >= Dark Souls 2 > Demon's Souls.

From a mechanics perspective, I think Dark Souls 2 is easily the best in the series and that smooth frame rate really makes a big difference. However, I don't think that Drangleic is quite as interesting as Lordran was. The lack of shortcuts really bugged me - you're always on a march to the next bonfire, rather than exploring the environment to create shortcuts between areas.

Also, there are a lot of parts of Dark Souls II that feel like they're engineered to be annoying. It's like they made them harder just to say that the game is even more unforgiving. There's no real reason that certain bonfires need to be as far as they are from certain bosses, or that certain bonfires already have enemies in attacking distance.

All that said, I still really loved the game and definitely plan to go through New Game + after I finish up the Dark Souls 1 DLC. You shouldn't be too scared of this one. It's got a tough opening, but once you get over the hump, it's a real breeze.

Chris Yarger Community Manager

04/14/2014 at 06:26 AM

Nick pretty much nailed my thoughts on this one.

As for how much I'm going to be playing it, well, let's just say that this game hasn't left my disk drive for well over a month now!


04/10/2014 at 06:50 PM

Great reveiw Chris well you got me through Darksouls im sure you will help in Darksouls 2 so wich system do you think is better for Darksouls 2 ps3 or 360 and like asrealasitgets said which is your favirite..

Chris Yarger Community Manager

04/14/2014 at 06:28 AM

The game seems to be the same on both consoles (I actually have the PS3 AND 360 versions and beat both), so really it all comes down to personal preference on which version to buy. The online community seems to be more active on the PlayStation version though.

And so far, Dark Souls 1 is my favorite, but Dark Souls 2 isn't too far behind it! I can definitely see myself playing this game for quite a while!

Blake Turner Staff Writer

04/15/2014 at 05:25 AM

Yep. The as much as I love the souls series, they REALLY need to stop the recycling. They recycle areas and bosses like it's no tomorrow. I mean it was cool to see connections in Dark Souls to Demon's Souls because it seemed to be From Software giving Sony the middle finger. Now it just seems like they're running out of ideas.

 That said, I am still really enjoying this game. I think I'm about halfway through? I just unpetrified that woman and got raped by a baselisk and 6 of those tree things after pulling the switch.

Chris Yarger Community Manager

04/15/2014 at 06:25 AM

Funny enough, I know exactly where you're at, which is grabbing the Four Great Souls. And depending on how far along you are with the Four Souls, you're probably halfway through, there's still a lot of the game though!

And yes, they do recycle a lot. Like I was telling Nick a while ago:

Tower Knight - Iron Golem - Last Giant
Man Eaters - Gargoyles - Dark Lurker
Penetrator - Artorias/Gwyn - Pursuer

etc, etc, etc.

It constantly feels like I'm fighting bosses from 2009 yet.

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