From Software’s intimidating Souls franchise has captivated fans with its addictive yet diamond hard difficulty level. As the latest instalment is not released on Playstation 4 and Xbox One, is Dark Souls 2 worth plugging in your old consoles again? Sam Foxall weighs in with his review.
There has been much apprehension surrounding the latest game in the Souls series. Questions about new directors and comments on the game being more ‘accessible’ have swirled around the game’s release. Fans (me included) have waited with baited breath, soapstone in hand, to see if Dark Souls 2 is worthy of the series legacy. I am happy to note that, apart from a few things, Dark Souls 2 is still the brutally difficult but satisfying RPG that everyone has waited for.
The story in Dark Souls 2 is as sparse as ever. You are a cursed Undead, sent to the land of Drangleic and tasked with finding King Vendrick who may or may not know how to get rid of your curse. This involves you killing 4 monsters of immense power and dying over and over and over again. After the first 20 minutes, the game lets you run free and explore the land of Drangleic without any annoying forced story segments or mandatory exposition.
It also keeps to the same standard, as the player must put it upon themselves to learn about the dark and unforgiving world they are in by checking item descriptions, talking to NPCs and thinking about connections between characters and locations. There are some clear nods to the original Dark Souls for long term fans to get excited about, but there is no need to have played the first to enjoy Dark Souls 2, apart from preparing yourself for the sheer amount of death.
The combat has gone through quite a few revisions, with stats being changed and dual-wielding being made viable. There are changes to the ways backstabs and parries work by making them much harder to perform, requiring much more precision to pull off. Gone are the days of the chain backstab as seen in the previous game. The changes to how items work, like how Estus Flasks now heal health over time adds another layer of complexity to the combat system. Players soon get used to this and the combat still feels as weighty and satisfying as ever.
All stats are useful, so no matter what type of character you want to play as, you won’t feel like you’re wasting levels. The game has a gentler start when compared to the instantaneous fight with the Asylum Demon in Dark Souls 1. This allows new players to get to grips with the controls and combat in a separate tutorial level, while veterans can run on through the hub world and start playing.
The world of Drangleic is a different beast to the prequel’s location Lordran. It is much larger in size and has a wider variety of areas to travel through, including a wharf filled with undead pirates, light-fearing horrors and even a caste slowly sinking into a volcano. Unfortunately, the game sacrifices the inter-connectedness of Dark Souls 1’s world. For instance, if you saw a giant castle in the background, you knew you’d be travelling there later on. Now, the world seems like a mishmash of areas, rather than a seamless world to adventure through.
This is partially due to the fast-travel system which is present from the beginning of the game. In Dark Souls 1, you only received this just over half way through the game, so you appreciate the world you were questing in. Now, you just warp from bonfire to bonfire once you have cleared the area once. However, the opening of the game allows you much greater freedom, giving you a variety of different paths to start your quest from and not penalising you with a quick death.
While the game is bigger, the combat smoother and the online functionality better implemented, something has to be said about the difficulty disparity in some areas. Now, this may be because I sunk over 100 hours into the first game, but the difficulty curve of Dark Souls 2 is all over the place. In Dark Souls 1, the difficulty curve was fairly constant, with certain peaks appearing in areas like Anor Londo or Tomb of the Giants. Some areas can be breezed through on your first go if you are careful, while other areas will beat you down until you’re a gibbering wreck. The game alleviates this by stopping enemy respawns after fifteen successful battles, but some areas take the worst aspects of Dark Souls 1, like the poisonous swamp of Blighttown or the archers in Anor Londo, and make it ten times worse.
The boss design is not as refined as Dark Souls 1. Some bosses are no challenge at all, while some bosses are as hard as balls but seem placed in the wrong area. For example, an area called the Iron Keep has two bosses, with the first boss (supposedly a mini boss) one of the hardest in the game, while the second boss (one of the 4 legendary monsters) is a cakewalk.
These problems aside, Dark Souls 2 is still a brilliant RPG which preserves the soul (no pun intended) of the franchise by adding enough new changes to please the hardcore while making the game more approachable to new fans. I cannot think of a better way to end off the previous console generation.