Dark Souls 2 takes two steps forward, and one step back, but even then it’s moving forward for the series.
((The following review was composed with a 1000 limit and represents an example of a review I would like to pitch in the future. Criticism and notes would be helpful. Please note that the following is an example of work on my own without an editor or more experience with professional reviewing.))
Dark Souls 2 is the highly anticipated sequel to the critical and cult hit that seemingly carved a new niche in action RPGs. Dark Souls, and its spiritual predecessor: Demon’s Souls, received much critical acclaim because of the unforgiving gameplay, tight controls, eldritch medieval world, and inconspicuous storytelling. I’m happy to say that Dark Souls 2 gets most everything right, and when judged on its own, is an unquestionably great game. Dark Souls 2 feels like a culmination in the Souls series, as the game feels like a mix of both Demon’s and Dark, for better or for worse.
In Dark Souls 2 places you in the role of an individual cursed with being an undead. Like others you will meet along the way who share your fate, you’ll find yourself in the land of Drangleic where you will die again and again, to the laughter of old women.
Demon Soul’s had a similarly streamlined story, and your mileage may vary for the veiled storytelling. Many who will play this game will likely miss out on 80% of the lore because it’s simply unreasonable to assume a player will be able to pick up all the items, much less follow along the several narratives and legends. And as a sequel to Dark Souls, there is an increased focused on tying items and lore to Dark Souls, so if you’re jumping into this sequel, even those references will be lost. What new players will be left with is an incomprehensible plot from beginning to end, but for those that have been there from the beginning, your efforts will be rewarded. Another glaring fault in the storytelling is the lack of motivation for the player to continue the journey other than the simple reasoning that there is a world to explore and bosses to kill.
A lot of controversy has been brought forth due to the fact that the fantastic visuals of the game was lowered from the trailers to the actual gameplay. This is nothing new in video games, but it’s just a shame that a lot of the atmosphere in the trailers is lost in the gameplay. Shadows aren’t as dynamic, and corridors no longer as dark. It’s jarring, because the new torch mechanic is nearly useless with the change of dynamic lighting. While playing, I was disappointed in what I thought was a lack of diverse environments. The first half of the game seemed to be nothing but disjointed castles and forests, broken up by the occasional sunset. Luckily, the second half of the game was much better, featuring sprawling mountains with dragons swooping and bellowing, and a large tree shading a perilous lake.
There is minimal back ground music, instead favoring the low ambient noises and sounds from the fiends before you. During bosses, and some key areas, we’re treated with fitting Greek opera. All of the ambient noise and visuals combine to continue the pressing depression drawing into the setting.
The Souls series has separated itself with its tight combat, and in Dark Souls 2, it has generally stayed the same, which is one of the best compliments I could give the game. New additions like a dual wield “power stance”, new combo animations, new weapon types and enhancements, and new spells add flair to an already interesting and solid combat experience. Back stabbing and parrying still exist, but magic has received a needed boost, allowing spells to home easier and be actually used in PVP.
But then we get to the armor, and it’s here that we see the cracks in the beauty. For some reason, encumbrance was altered so that so long as you have less than 70% equip load, you’ll still roll nearly as well as someone with less, which favors a more armored build. The difference between having 70% and having 25% seem minimal, seemingly to affect movement speed to a small degree. With a system that favors armor, one would think that armor would play a bigger role. Frequently, I would fight a boss fully armored with as much physical defense as possible, only to get hit twice and die. After switching to a more agile armor set, seeing if I could outmaneuver the boss, I died after two hits. This pattern would repeat throughout the game, which seemed like the only point of armor was for aesthetics and PVP builds.
Another major annoyance was what seemed like an increased focused on pitfalls and environmental hazards, specifically poison. The previous Souls games had their share of natural hazards, but the bottomless pits and poisonous floors seem much more apparent in Dark Souls 2. When a death comes about by an enemy or by another player, it’s likely because you didn’t know better, or approached the situation wrong, but in some of the levels where the ground is obscured, the deaths feel cheap and infuriating.
But when your journey has come to fruition, and there are seemingly no new titans to conquer, Dark Souls 2 is there with actual end game content as opposed to the tradition of doing it all again with New Game +. With Dark Souls 2, there is a larger focus on factions, some specifically in helping the player, and some designed to battle other players. These new factions open up things such as 1 on 1 PVP arenas, gauntlets players can set up to test other players, and an optional dungeon and boss. With the ability to change your appearance, stats, and refresh areas with bonfire ascetics, there’s little reason to make new characters.
Dark Souls 2 is a great game with some flaws, but in today’s standards of checkpoints, quest markers, and extensive tutorials, Dark Souls 2 stands out as an excellent game that makes you work and put effort into it, and the result is an unparalleled sense of victory.
I give Dark Souls 2 an 8/10.
I’ve got to disagree with you on the story part. Like the previous game, Dark Souls II delivers another great narrative in a format that I fell in love with in the first game. There is a desire in Dark Souls to discover the story for yourself and not simply get spoon-fed a story by a bunch of voice actors. The motivation to play the game for story is to explore the story, and to me that’s one of the best methods of storytelling; using the minimal amounts of evidence to create a story, this is why all those speculation videos on YouTube are huge hits because loads of people – including myself – love to hear what people’s opinions are on the story. It’s a true adventure game that encourages the player to explore, other than other “adventure games” that treat you as if you’re an idiot. In terms of the “graphical downgrade” stuff, I will have to admit that it’s sad to see. However, I accept the point that it impedes gameplay (in Dark Souls 1 my most hated area was the Tomb of the Giants for obvious reasons). Also, you’re points on poor level design confuse me a little. Dark Souls 1 had just as many environmental dangers than 2, maybe even more! Blighttown, Sen’s Fortfress, Crystal Caves, Tomb of the Giants all had major environmental dangers while in 2 the only two that stick to mind are Harvest Valley and Black Gulch. I do though, agree with your stance on armour. Heavy armour does not feel as if it does much (it’s mainly the new poise system that ruins it for me), there is a difference however in roll speeds/stamina drain/mobility with a guy with 70% weight than 30%, but it’s not as dramatic as one would expect. A good review but the point you make about the narrative bewilders me.
Hey, thanks for the read! Even if you don’t agree, I appreciate the input and discussion.
I personally enjoy the hidden lore, which is why I said that the mileage may vary. This, however, isn’t the story of Dark Souls 2, it’s the lore background information. The main problem with the story is that it begins with what seems like a motivation and reason for the player to go to Dragaleic, but this tapers off into a “seek the king” shortly after and for no real apparent reason.
The problem isn’t that it does this, but that the story in the beginning is streamlined, and the rest isn’t. It’s just inconsistent, and I wanted to go more in depth in the review, but I was sticking to a 1000 word limit.
I actually like the fact that the armors aren’t as protective as before. I’ve always played a dex build in Dark Souls and consistently aimed for mobility rather than protection, now tank bulids are less of an option. It especially makes me smile because I know a bunch of players that clad themselves in the most poise giving armor (Plus the ridiculous defense qualities they had) and would just blow through bosses (also made for some really annoying encounters in PvP), now that option is gone and they HAVE to rely on their own skill rather than the ability to mitigate damage.
I’ve yet to play through a whole lot of DS2 myself, but it sounds like it fits perfectly with my play-style. 😉
Thanks for the read! I’m sure some people will absolutely love the new armor system. I myself didn’t appreciate it because I didn’t feel like the previous system was so flawed that it needed complete reworking.
I really enjoyed Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, but felt Dark Souls 2 started off really slow. I didn’t think the first portion of the game was very interesting at all, but it’s definitely something you have to stick with. I actually played the first day for about 7 hours and grew bored enough of the environments and clunky controls that I didn’t pick it up again for a few days.
My main annoyance with DS2 is in the mass amount of ranged enemies that sit back and pelt me with arrows while I fumble with its broken lock-on system to fling spells in retaliation. I’m used to the “trial by dying” method in the previous games, but I found that a large majority of my earlier deaths were either due to archers or the clunky controls/camera.
Still, I enjoyed the review and it’s nice getting some solid impressions from someone else who is familiar with the previous games in the series.