Dark Souls 2 is a perfect swan song for the last generation of consoles.
Even after putting in over two hundred and fifty hours into this franchise, I still get intimidated by anything ending in “Souls”. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone the sequel to Dark Souls is a very challenging game. If you take anything away from this review, don’t shy away from Dark Souls 2 because it is a difficult game.
From Software has infused even more life into their latest action RPG, giving us an even larger world to explore and get lost in. Players are once again dropped into an open world and left to fend for themselves, with little direction and equipment. It’s unlike any other game, and is a breath of fresh air in this day and age when the audience is ushered down corridors by a guiding hand.
The challenge still remains, and Dark Souls 2 has been distilled into a better experience than the previous installments. Veterans will notice a much tighter game within the new expansive world, and if you were scared off by the previous titles; then new players rejoice because this is much more accessible and the best Souls game to date.
The strength of Dark Souls 2 lies in the exploration of both the world and the story. Although it takes place in the same world as Dark Souls, the story and setting are new and inspired here. Unlike the predecessors though, the tale lies in the people you speak with and not hidden behind the flavor text of items. This story feels more realized as NPCs are more than willing to tell you what’s on their mind and why they exist.
Once again you play as a hollow - a cursed being who has transcended death. Slowly your character degrades away from humanity, becoming closer to the undead as time passes. Early on it’s found you must traverse the world of Drangleic and track down the four great souls all while discovering why the kingdom has gone to hell. As you move forward, the story will naturally piece together the history of this land but doesn’t explicitly spell out what is happening. It is an
eerie way to tell a story, but gives the player the freedom to craft together their own story in their mind using the bits and pieces scattered throughout Dark Souls 2.
Drangleic is a beautifully crafted world, much larger than Lordran and with a variety of scenery to take in. Each area sets to tell a story, and even though they are not as interwoven as Lordran they all feel tied together in some larger plot. A major difference players will first notice is fast travel being is available from the beginning of the game and each bonfire acts as a teleport point. Think of Dark Souls 2 as a hybrid of Demon Souls and Dark Souls in the sense that you can be at any level you want, as long as you make it there first.
The Souls games have a reputation for being difficult, yet fair, and this is fully apparent in the combat. Dark Souls 2 carries this torch forward and supplies us with the tightest combat in the series. I won’t go into small details but there have been slight tweaks to the combat which make perfect sense. The style remains intense and punishes the impatient while rewarding players who execute well and think before acting. Some people may call this drastic, but what it does is make the rewards for good play all the more sweeter. There is nothing like finishing off a boss with a sliver of health left, lighting a bonfire, and then cashing in your souls for levels, new gear, or spells. You will not smile or frown more with any other game.
Even though I have paid my dues with this series, it doesn’t mean I haven’t made mistakes. I died a ton in Dark Souls 2, and trust me when I say you will do the same. From Software has added a monument that tracks public deaths. At the time of this review, the toll is well over twenty three million deaths worldwide. Instead of getting angry and frustrated, I used every death as a learning experience to figure out how I could perform better in the next run. Death is as important in this game as life, as it allows the player to figure out environment layouts, traps, enemy patterns, and boss strategies. If anything, dying will fuel your (bon)fire and give you the strength and knowledge to overcome the incessant obstacles the game throws your way.