Game Reviewed: Dark Souls II Release Date: March 11th. 2014 Developer: FromSoftware Publisher: Namco Banbai Platform: [Reviewed: Xbox 360], PC, PlayStation 3 Genre: JRPG, Action/Adventure Rated: T for Teen
One playthrough, over one hundred hours in, and an estimated 180 deaths; this was my time spent in the land of Drangleic as I searched every crevice, joined every covenant, and slayed each boss. A game like Dark Souls II is a rare specimen that requires unyielding attention when soaking in all that it had to offer. The seemingly tantalizing, but richly rewarding victories after numerous grueling defeats only made the fact more obvious that this game is beyond ordinary and is far beyond anything I have ever played.
The lore of Dark Souls is drenched in tales of lords and wars, but as it has always been, your tale centers around an all too familiar curse – the curse of the undead and its plight. Set into the far distant future, where the events of the original Dark Souls are now whispered as legends, players are conflicted with the soul –draining curse of the undead and have sought out (or been drawn into) the kingdom of Drangleic. Rumors have spread that the land is brimming with souls to soothe the undead of their affliction, but those who enter it will find out that only those endure the punishment of death can even hope to retain their very humanity.
What is so brilliant about Dark Souls II’s opening sequence is that it teaches you nearly everything that you will need to know going forward. Looking carefully at your surroundings may reveal hidden paths to take or that any enemy, large or small, can easily take out reckless adventurers. Overconfidence and natural curiosity is the driving force that will teach players the most important lessons in the game – death is inevitable and to learn from it. Like a moth drawn towards a flame, your wings will burn over and over again, each death providing knowledge, but the curse of the undead means you will begin to “Hollow”. With each and every subsequent death your hollowing is represented by your total health dropping from 10% up to a total of 50% of you maximum HP. Using a Human Effigy is the main way to regain your humanity and reverse the hollowing process.
After learning some harsh truths, you are given a chance to make a unique character and choose between 8 starting classes, all of which favor certain stats depending on how you would like to play the game. Every time you acquire enough souls by killing enemies, you can trade those souls for one point on any stat you wish. Each stat benefits you character in one way or another and once that time to level up does come it makes you take a moment to really think and consider which one should be upgraded. Certain stats raises physical defense while others can provide protection against magic, so knowing what stats you need to use a certain weapon or to protect yourself better is crucial. And later on more souls can be acquired so you are able to boost stats even further, allowing you carry heavier weapons or use magic when you previously couldn’t, so you can become a more well-rounded character that is well adept in every discipline.
Every weapon and piece of armor requires your character to be at a certain stat level before you can use it effectively. If you have 20 STR (strength) and your weapon requires 30, you can still use it, but its damage output is greatly reduced unless you two-hand the weapon which basically doubles your STR stat, but leaves you vulnerable defense-wise. Equipment also includes stat scaling which determines how powerful your armor or weapon becomes when you upgrade a certain stat. The letter raking for scaling goes from E, D, C, B, A, and S (lowest to highest respectively); if your weapon has S rank scaling based on STR that means the higher your STR stat goes the more powerful your weapon becomes, and that includes armor and staves.
As you reach Majula, the game’s main hub, you are free to roam to any destination as you see fit. There is a recommended path to take, but I didn’t figure that out until I was already fighting bosses that players normally face much later into the game and I paid for it with fights that punished and pushed my poor underdeveloped character to her limits. But again, that is the beauty of this game.
Dark Souls II’s gameplay is highly influenced by that of old-school titles like Castlevania where you simply can’t rush into a situation and hope for the best – that just won’t fly here. Well over 100 enemies and bosses inhabit the world, all with their own strengths and weaknesses and you must take your time to learn your enemies moves and patters while figuring out how to deal the most damage
Another aspect that has set Dark Souls II apart from any other game is its multiplayer. Players connected online will always be moments away from cooperative play or player vs. player set-ups. As you go on about your quest you will notice spectral form walking about and words written on the ground; these are other players that are sharing your world in their dimension. Players can help others out by leaving helpful hints or offering aid in the form of a white phantom, which you can summon into your world. However, there are players that can hinder your progress by invading as red phantoms. When a player is invaded they must protect themselves as the only reason one is invaded is to be killed. Covenants are groups that players can align themselves with to offer more multiplayer options like duels or summoning players as grey phantoms if they “intrude” in designated location. But for those who don’t want any interruptions will have to disconnect before being able to play offline, thought there is no feeling quite like that rush of fighting for your life or joining in jolly cooperation!
Reaching the end of the game does not mean that your adventures end. Once the credits stop rolling you do have the option to return to your current playthrough to finish some unconcluded business. But if you’re feeling up for the challenge you can go into New Game+ where you will start the game from the very beginning of the game with all your gear. Excluding keeping all your stats, the main difference in New Game+ is that all the enemies receive a massive 150% damage output, higher HP, and you will only deal 50% of the normal damage, but you will discover new or more potent versions of some items to help you. On top of that, new enemies like powerful red phantoms will populate every location, meaning places you thought safe before will more than likely have a nasty secret waiting for you. The more you clear the game the more challenging your next playthrough will be.
The moment you emerge out of the darkness for the first time you will stare out in awe at the gorgeous setting sun over an expansive ocean. From the quaint, sunbathed village of Majula to the horrifyingly tenebrous depths of The Gutter, every location is remarkably detailed and every creature you encounter is wonderfully designed to the point where you can literally tell how much of a threat they pose by simply looking at them; If they look like they will ruin your day, they can and will! A new mechanic has been implemented into Dark Souls II and it’s more intriguing than I thought: torches. Obviously used as a light source, the torch also features FromSoftware’s new lighting engine that demonstrates impressive lighting and shadow effects. I found myself lighting up my torch whenever possible for practical and unpractical uses.
For most of you adventure there is little to no music and you are left to ponder your predicament in quiet solace and that’s a good thing. The atmosphere is laid on thick and it really allows players to really focus and take in the environment. As you cautiously venture forth subtle noises can be picked up that alert you to traps being set off or enemies coming up from behind; music during these crucial moments would tarnish an otherwise magnificent game and I am glad that FromSoftware continues this trend. The only moments where you hear the game’s beautifully composed score is during boss battles and each boss is accompanied with chillingly haunting themes that help players truly realize what they are up against.
This sequel needs to be taken seriously and that will intimidate people. Dark Souls II is not a casual game and demands its players to dedicate effort and time to overcome the many obstacles that stand before you. Every path you take will lead to your inevitable death, but death is only a tool used to help you; if you can persevere you will learn from your mistakes, and you will be rewarded with an ineffable sense of accomplishment. Dark Souls II isn’t just more of what made Dark Souls amazing, Dark Souls II is a true sequel that takes those same elements and improves them greatly while adding so much more. It is so rare for a game to meld all of its components together to form a nearly flawless experience and Dark Souls II delivers on every level.
Overall Rating: 5/5