Impressions: Dark Souls II

Hey, Kaushik here with some more video game action. This time with the highly-anticipated Dark Souls II. I’ve been looking forward to this game for years, and now that it’s finally out it I’ve been playing it as much as I can. That probably clues you in a little bit as to what I think about this title, but I’ll explain in detail very shortly. Now, I’ll commenting only on the PS3 version of this game. I’m not sure if the  360 experience is significantly different, but I can only speak for my own experience. Dark Souls II was released on March 11, 2014 on both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles, and will have a PC release on April 25, 2014. I understand a lot of people are passing on the console release of this title and instead waiting for the PC release, which I can understand, since the PC platform allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of modifications and such to make the game last even longer than it already does. But without any further ado, let’s go~

Dark Souls 2 Cover Art

So, Dark Souls II. If you’re familiar with the Soul series up to this point, the transition to Dark Souls II will be fairly simple. Not easy, mind you, but at least a somewhat familiar situation. If you’re not familiar, then fear not. I’ve got you covered. Dark Souls II is an action RPG. It’s got a fantasy theme, with its own world and lore. The lore is actually quite deep and interesting, but like previous Souls games you have to take some proactive measures to find out about it. It’s mostly hidden in the descriptions of the various items in the world, along with whatever connections you can make with the dialogue given to you by NPCs.

But I’m sure that’s not why most people find the series intriguing. The Souls series, and Dark Souls II in particular is known mostly for it’s unforgiving difficulty. Enemies deal high damage, and you can die incredibly easily. There are traps, giant monsters, and all manner of environmental hazards to face on your quests, and all of them are doing their damnedest to stop you dead in your tracks. In my personal opinion, once you get past the initial learning curve, these games are no longer all that difficult. Still, there will be many frustrating deaths and difficulties you will face on your journey, but stay positive and you can overcome. The main mechanic of the series is the concept of “souls”. You pick some up for every enemy or boss kill, and they are your main source of currency throughout the game. Additionally, however, they are what you use to level up. So you have to make some decisions every time you get a suitable number. On items? On weapons? On levels? On magic? The decisions can be difficult at times. Of course, it wouldn’t be Souls if there weren’t something that made the concept difficult. When you die, you lose all of your souls. You also leave a bloodstain. Make it back to your bloodstain, and you can recover all of your lost souls. Die before reaching it, however, and kiss all those hard-earned souls goodbye. So be careful about walking around with a fat purse, because you could lose it all in an instant.

Dark Souls 2 Gameplay

Dark Souls 2 does little enough to change from this basic Souls formula. In fact, for the week I’ve been playing it I’ve been thinking of it as less of a sequel and more of a fully-fledged expansion to Dark Souls I. The reasoning behind this is simple. If you replaced the environments in Dark Souls I with the environments in Dark Souls 2, and made a few minor mechanics changes, added a few weapons and spells… Well, you’d have Dark Souls II. Now don’t get me wrong. This is by no means a bad thing, and honestly the thing I wanted most from From Software, the team behind the Souls series. So in that respect, they are really looking after the veteran players of the series. The minor mechanic changes make the game much more enjoyable as well. Now, when you die, you lose “human” status of course. Additionally, you lose 10% of your max health with each successive death, to a maximum of 50%. So if you die a lot, you’ll be walking around with essentially half health, so you’d better be careful! There are ways to mitigate this loss of course, but I’ll leave that to the player to find out. There are some pretty technical changes as well. For example, instead of being a dead stat in Dark Souls I for the most part, attunement now increases casting speed (instead of dexterity). Lots of little things like that really spice up the experience.

Dark Souls 2 Bonfire

Of course there are some minor graphical changes. The game in general does look a lot better than the first Dark Souls, and of course there aren’t any major frame rate issues like the first Dark Souls. I’m not sure if that’s a point to praise since major game releases should not have these issues to begin with, but there it is. Mind you, I didn’t say there were no frame rate issues, just no major ones. Get enough objects flying around on screen and you’re sure to see the game slow to a crawl. Luckily, that has not happened all that often for me and probably won’t for most people on a normal play through. Other than that, I’d say the Dark Souls II has a few more cinematic scenes in it than past Souls games did, which might have something to do with making it more accessible to a wider audience. Since you really have to dig in most instances to get all of these games’ stories, adding a few more obvious cinematic scenes should make it easier for new players to delve in. Other than that, however, not much has changed. In terms of difficulty I would say this game is no more difficult or easy than any of the other games in the series.

Dark Souls 2 Boss

I’ve always been fond of the art direction of the Souls series. There are some really gorgeous set pieces in the titles, and this one is no exception. From the floating ruins of the Heide Tower of Flame, to the poisonous mill of the Earthen Mound, each area within the game has its own place and identifying characteristics. I would say that unlike Dark Souls I, Dark Souls II has less of an open world in some respects, because a lot of the areas are not interconnected like they were in Dark Souls I. This is offset by being able to teleport to any bonfire (these can be considered your “continue spots”) you have sat down at, so every location is in actuality just a short distance away. I have to say the music is mostly nonexistent in this game, as it generally was in past titles in the series. It doesn’t play very often, and when it does play you’re more worried about not dying than paying attention to the music, so it’s hard to get a grasp on how good it is. The sound design is excellent though, from the satisfying metal scraping sounds as you swing your weapon, to the thunk as you block an enemy’s strike with your shield. Audio cues can also be very helpful just going throughout the game, so it’s definitely important to pay attention to the sound as you play.

Dark Souls 2 Concept Art

One last point of comparison I’ll make between this game and other games in the series. It is long. Much longer than Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls I. I have over  40 hours and have only kindled one of four Primal Bonfires. I wouldn’t say I’m at  25% progress, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still under 50% progress. For an action-rpg title, this is somewhat surprising as the previous games I had done in about the amount of time I’ve put into Dark Souls 2. So in short, if you’re a Souls fan and you’re looking for a similar experience in different packaging (I sure was!), then look no further. For any new fans, if you’re looking to get started on the Souls series, I would consider this title the best Souls title to date. No better place to start!

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Kaushik

I write about anime and stuff. Giant robots are pretty cool, too.

Kaushik

I write about anime and stuff. Giant robots are pretty cool, too.

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