The lights are on
Being a fan of both Demon's souls and Dark Souls I have been waiting for this game ever since its first mention on Spike's Video Game Award show. It has quickly become my favourite video game series and has prevented me from fully enjoying other games due to From Software's addictive gameplay. This review may contain spoilers for some.
Dark Souls 2 is undoubtedly a great game. It has excellent reviews all across the charts so don't expect me to be different, but what makes this game so great? Well, everything really. The game starts you off at a seemingly random shrine where you make your way to a bunch of old hags that talk about death, souls and a supposed "cure" for your eternal curse. This is all classic Souls series lore; a filling of ripe dark fantasy and mystery coated by a seemingly unobtainable objective that continually lures you to progress. It is in this manner where Dark Souls 2 begins the recipe of a great game. Perhaps you have seen the Dark Souls spoon feeding meme...oh but how could you have? In short it doesn't spoon feed you anything, not the story, key items, direction, nothing. You are on your own, the only thing helping you throughout this game for the majority of the adventure are other players, blood signs (visions of how they died) and messages laid on the ground, probably by the same player you watched get killed during an estus chug. The story is the foundation of how all the souls games begin and end. It is purposefully difficult to follow which allows players hungry for lore to seek it out, dig out as much meaning as they can and progress through the game.
Regardless of lore searching (which by the way is probably still occurring for Demon's Souls and Dark Souls) the game has, in my opinion, some of the best gameplay mechanics ever made. If you are familiar with any of these games then you know how satisfying it is to overcome a boss and beat an area and continue on your journey. It is hard to put into words. The online play is a vast improvement from the predecessors. Summoning your friends is easy with a little communication and the purchase of a particular ring. One can quite easily co-op throughout the entire game. I personally went through about 2 of the later areas with my roommate who had been playing the game on his own console in the adjacent room. We were so caught up with playing and experiencing the game individually that we never stopped to realize that we could even do this and that it would actually work. It eventually turned into us fighting each other and then of course the naked fist fights... anyways. Summoning allies for bosses is fairly responsive with some problems around other people summoning them first and their sign continuing to remain visible on the ground just to say that it failed and although I have not come across any cheaters online, I know they are out there. In terms of lag, it is still present, however I have not personally been back stabbed from a mile away....yet (upon editing, yes I have). Overall, online playability has been significantly improved and more straightforward.
The game is essentially an amalgamation of Demon's Souls, Dark Souls and some new spices from the new directors. Comparing Dark Souls 2 with Dark Souls leads to a myriad of pros and cons. First off, the game is just as beautiful as Dark Souls with maybe a little improved graphics here and a little shoddier graphics there, but on average I would say my feeble eyes deemed it better on the whole. The motion capture of the movements leads to some smooth animations albeit some awkward ones, specifically the flourish when two handing the Drangleic and other swords. I have to admit I am extremely disappointed at the lack of ragdoll physics on the corpses and I felt as though it took a little away from the experience. Enemy corpses still remain where they fall but they cannot be dragged around. The art style of Dark souls 2 is very similar to Dark Souls, however I found it to be slightly less gloomy and dark in almost every regard, and overall it has a slightly cheerier feel compared to its predecessors. NPCs seem a little livelier and are in a slightly greater abundance and slaying them does not offer the same sort of permanent penalty as in Dark Souls. Overall it is still a Souls game through and through just not as overwhelming in my opinion.
In terms of game progression and design Dark Souls 2 has a few aspects which I think make it different and much more accessible to new comers, which were the goals of the new directors. Bonfires are in plentiful supply, which make the game easier to progress in short steps. It is also less linear than the predecessor, with many different paths to take quite early. The game gives you a plentiful supply of items to attempt to help you along the way although relatively few are necessary for actual game progression. After repeated farming, (approximately 10) enemies in an area stop spawning. The only purpose I can think of for this is to make the game easier for people who are having a very difficult time against certain bosses in certain areas and I am not a fan of this change. It also limits the ability to farm which shouldn't be an aspect in Dark Souls 2 anyways so that didn't bother me but I am sure other people would argue over that. They also give you the ability to travel between bonfires from the very start which is a breath of fresh air but could have easily been unlocked early through actual game progression.
One area in particular had me truly captivated; progressing through Harvest Valley and then up through Earthen Peak, a vile terrain spewing with poisonous gas and liquid. It is made all the more memorable by the fact that right as you enter the area you are gifted with an imminent gorgeous view of the entire poisonous landscape and a giant windmill on the horizon which you will certainly die trying to fight your way up. The experience was irreplaceable, I felt like a true adventurer fighting my way through this wretched poisonous tower to take on the boss at the top. It was one of the rawest feelings I have ever had in gaming, scaling a tower-like windmill and truly progressing towards a final encounter. I had similar feelings with drangleic castle and the dragon shrine.
Some aspects of Dark Souls 2 were not as impressive to me, mainly regarding the accessibility of the covenants. They are too accessible and obvious when compared to Dark Souls. They don't invoke the same feeling of discovery and reward such as finding the dragon covenant in Ash Lake, or the mysterious dark wraith covenant which hints at the alternate ending in Dark Souls.
I think the future directions for the Souls series should focus a little on story and replayability, specifically with regard to NG+ and on. Don't get me wrong, Dark Souls 2 vastly improves upon on the NG+ aspect compared to Dark Souls but what about NG++ and so on. There is not much drive to continue playing the game past the first playthrough aside from some new weapons and armor and some new enemies (mainly red phantoms) but what if there was? What if Dark Souls 2 had NG++ and NG+++ only areas that were tied to the storyline and you unlock the true ending to a vast undead prophetic cycle by reaching these difficulties. Perhaps change the unlimited NG cycle into a Diablo-esque normal, nightmare and hell playthrough, each with something truly unique to offer that adds to the game design such as areas, enemies and bosses. Furthermore, in these new difficulties enemies should have new move sets and old bosses should become normal enemies. Why they didn't implement this into NG+ is beyond me. I also firmly believe Dark Souls 2 needs leaderboards for PVP as well as an added hardcore mode, where dying results in the permanent death of that character with its own associated leaderboards of course.
These are just some of my thoughts on what is truly a great game. I must commend the developers on making a game so vast and yet so entertaining as to not be overwhelming. It is a marvelous game, and will probably be remembered as a classic in years to come. Overall I give it 9.5 out of 10 because no game is perfect. It would be awesome to get some responses on what other people think of the game particularly on the franchises future directions.
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