Dark Souls 2 Review
- Updated: 11th Mar, 2014
There is a single line of dialogue – right at the start of Dark Souls 2 which beautifully encapsulates the entire Souls series. “You will find yourself there, without really knowing why” perfectly sums up what people love most about the franchise. Sure it’s a difficult game and the hand-holding is kept to a minimum but once you grasp the idea of high level monsters potentially being around every corner and figure out that button mashing just won’t cut it, there’s only one overriding feeling left – wonder.
It’s the wonder of the Souls games that keeps you moving. What’s going to be around the next corner? What’s the next area going to look like? What will the next boss be? Dark Souls 2 gives you that sense of wonder in a much more approachable package than ever before.
The story, the enemy types, the bosses or even the locations are all things that Dark Souls players yearn to discover for themselves so I shall not discuss them here. If you’re a newcomer to the franchise then the game will allow you to enjoy a universe that many of us have battled through since Demons Souls back in 2010.
New Blood – Coming in fresh
So, you’ve never played a Dark Souls game before and figured you’d want to try this out? Maybe you saw that wonderful TV ad and thought ‘I want some of that.’ Welcome to Dark Souls 2 – probably the most accessible game in the entire series. Now, don’t get me wrong – you’re still going to die, and that’s not some misguided sense of superiority.
Dying is a fundamental part of the Souls games so don’t be deterred if you find yourself throwing yourself at a boss dozens of times or struggling to break through a group of enemies to even reach the boss. We’ve all been there – chances are that you’re in a section that’s too advanced for you. Try exploring. In Dark Souls 2 there appears to be a natural progression path that wasn’t always present in the previous games. More often than not you will find an area or a type of enemy that you can easily kill and this will lead you through that specific area to the inevitable boss.
Roughly the first hour of the game is broken into a tutorial section which and, even though it contains secret areas and unknown paths to explore, it feels very by-the-numbers for people who have played a Souls game before.
So what has changed within Dark Souls 2 to keep things fresh? Most noticeable for previous players is how Hollowing works. Hollowing is the process that previously saw your health bar being capped at 50% upon death until you used a certain item called Humanity to restore your human form. The Humanity item is now replaced with Human Effigies in Dark Souls 2 and you now only lose a smaller percentage of your maximum health cap but this stacks with each subsequent death, leading to a maximum penalty of 50%.
This whole process is also represented by your character’s physical appearance. Die once and your skin will change colour to an undead green; die several times and your character will become extremely thin and lose most of his/her hair – it’s a nice touch. On character creation – you do have the option to play as a new class, the Cleric. All the other classes are representative of previous classes from the other games but the Cleric now focuses mostly on healing magic and debilitating spells.
The Estus Flask (the main source of healing in Dark Souls 1) makes a return but is now much more vital. Only starting with a single charge you must secure Estus Flask Shards from secret areas, bosses and the like to upgrade it for more uses. In the meantime however you have the ability to use restorative items much like in Demons Souls but these offer a much slower rate of healing. Meaning that you now have to carefully judge when and where you will use them.
Also like Demon’s Souls the game now centres around a hub location (much like the Nexus) where you can access things like shops, blacksmiths, item storage and your main source of levelling up. In Dark Souls you have collect souls from fallen enemies and must choose to either spend them on skill points or items/weapon modifications. One massive and exceptionally welcome change to Dark Souls 2 is the menu and general interface. Previous games suffered from a horrendous menu system with complex statistic markers and confusing item prerequisite displays.
The menus now have a more manageable approach, even to the point where the Select/Back button will give you a synopsis of the stat and what it means to your character. There are a lot of numbers in the background of Dark Souls 2 and any help in this area is always a nice thing to have. The statistics are relatively the same as previous games with the addition of a new stat – Adaptability – which mainly affects your character’s movement speed.
New additions to Dark Souls 2 also include the ability to manipulate a bonfire. Being your only source of rest, these bonfires also respawn the enemies in that area but there are certain items in the game which allow you to change your gameplay. Burning Human Effigies in your bonfire will make it more difficult for other players online to invade your game (a very real probability) whereas burning items such as Bonfire Ascetic will increase the level of nearby enemies, allowing veteran players to give themselves a greater challenge.
A key change in enemy respawning has me somewhat concerned however. Traditionally in Dark Souls (and Demon’s Souls) when you rested at a bonfire you would regain your health, fill up your Estus Flask and respawn all the regular enemies in the area. In Dark Souls 2 it appears that once you have defeated an enemy a certain number of times they will actually stop respawning.
This concerns me not only because it feels like it goes against the general grain of the Souls series but also because this places a finite number of souls in the game world. One of the best things about the previous Souls game was that if you felt an area was too hard you had the option to go to an easier section and earn enough souls to level up or buy that new sword you had your eye on. With this change in place that option is only open for a certain amount of time.
Conversely I have to admit that the game is in no way as hard as previous titles. Maybe these two aspects go hand in hand, I don’t know. The game is certainly still unforgiving and even a simple mistake against a merger enemy can mean trouble but I personally didn’t have as much trouble with Dark Souls 2 as I did with the previous games.
Online – Wandering In The Dark
At time of writing this review the Dark Souls 2 dedicated online servers are unavailable. Whilst the online aspect is an important one for the Souls games, I can only tell you the clues I have discovered in the game in regards to the different aspects of online play. Other players can invade your world at any time (much like previous games) and potentially screw up your progress. This is now handled in a less random way. Specific matchmaking for PvP has been set up separately but players who still insist on bombarding players with invasions will now accrue “Sin” which will mean that these players (much like an online ranking system) will now more likely invade other players with high Sin.
Also mentioned throughout the game are the different Covenants which you can join. In true Dark Souls tradition, as this is a new feature, there is very little information about it. I have joined both the Covenant of the Champions – which simply told me “This will set you on an arduous path” though didn’t change my game at all – and the Covenant of the Blue which also hasn’t done anything in my game.
Dark Souls 2 is still a cruel and unforgiving mistress of a game, ready to deal out death for stupid mistakes you are certain to make along the way. Perhaps I have gotten a little better at playing these games since the original Demons Souls but I doubt it. Dark Souls 2 feels easier – but only slightly.
It’s a difficult rationale to identify; it could be that the AI is very slightly more forgiving or that your characters deal that tiny bit more damage with each attack. Perhaps, but spending a few days switching between the three games that make up the Souls series has shown me that if you’re looking to continue a Dark Souls experience then this game will let you explore a whole new world with brand new options.
If you’re looking to be introduced to this strange new world which gamers revere so passionately, then Dark Souls 2 will give you a great introduction into it. Take the game, play it and give it a chance. You’ll be rewarded with one of the best franchises in recent gaming history.