Game Review: Dark Souls 2 – A Nostalgic Challenge
Cursed undead. The Hollow. Souls. Human Effigies. Bonfires. Death.
These are the words key to the host of players that digitally roam the fantasy lands of Drangleic in Dark Souls 2. Built around that age old gamer mantra of trial and error, Dark Souls 2 has become one of gaming’s gateways between casual and hard core gamers. One does not simply give this game a chance. Once action RPG fans dig their gritty claws into this difficult and harsh game, they must have unwavering dedication in order to enjoy and follow through in ultimately conquering this game.
Though this dark and gritty game is the 3rd the Demon/Dark Souls trilogy, the ‘story’ within is not directly related. As in the first game, the theme, the ‘region’, and the struggle are the same. At its core, Dark Souls 2 is an action RPG game. You control your ‘Hollow’ customized hero or heroine from a third person perspective so that you get the full effect of every decision you make for your voiceless avatar. This go around, you are granted a few more character classes to choose from that will dictate the primary way you will play the game. Each have a specific playstyle that includes everything from dual-wielding, shield toting, two handed swinging, archery, and spell casting. While equipment isn’t restricted to a class, the attributes that you have will allow or prevent you from using that shiny new armor or sword you found.
You will groan, jump, yelp, and expletive your way through a host of encounters and that is just describing you with the controller! Your avatar, however, will die again and again as you wander cluelessy into ambush after trap after overpowered enemy encounter. The catch is that developer From Software EXPECTS for this to happen and has integrated it into the mechanics of the game.
Unlike any other game, From Software, once again, has paid close attention to the whole die, respawn at the nearest save location, and try again mechanic. In Dark Souls 2 (as in the other games), every enemy defeated is worth a certain number of souls much like experience in past games. This pool of souls acts as your currency AND your experience pool. You must use these allocated souls to pay for better equipment, to sometimes repair equipment, and to improve your character’s attributes.
That’s right people. Attributes and stats are a HUGE component of this traditional RPG. From the beginning of the game you are bombarded with numbers, stats, and the like on the character’s various inventory and status screens. Just as if the game was a digital table top RPG, Dark Souls 2 is deep into optimizing your character for your class (whether you’re a brawler, an archer, or a magic user basically).
Once you get past that hurdle, the brilliance of the game shows. There are plenty of JRPGs that are stat heavy experiences that turn into simple battle after simple battle searching for higher experience levels. Most of these games have little to no difficulty or penalty for dying. Simply reload from a recent save point and redo.
Dark Souls 2 throws you into the deep end of the unknown and forces you to discover, die, and struggle. Everytime you die, you lose all unused souls that you had stored. At that point, you are then respawned at your last bonfire (savepoint) and given one chance to recover those souls at the same location that you died before. Reach and recover it and then you can continue. Die again before recovering them and you lose them all! This forces you into a desperate cycle of searching and hunting for something to either help you get past that enemy or to avoid them all together. Thankfully secrets and items are a plenty in this game. You’ll find random knick knacks laying about in easy to reach but hard to notice places. Other times you’ll find items on defeated enemies. You’ll have to walk around cautiously and attentively as you look above, below, and all around in order to find them. Of course the next trick at times is figuring out what the item does or is used for. Reading is fundamental here as the item description sometimes may leave a clue.
If played while connected online you are treated to the only little bit of help this game offers in the form of short messages and what are called blood spots. The messages are from other players who may lead you to some of these secrets. Others will lead you to your doom. The blood spots are little ghosts of other players replaying their moment of death. This will at times alert you to ambushes and other times simply make you laugh at instances where someone else maybe dodged the wrong way in battle falling off a nearby cliff!
Still, all of this dying and struggling sounds grueling though, right? Well, that same theme translates to the current-gen graphics. Gritty, ugly, bland colored foes slowly lumber about. Humanoids, creatures, ogres, dragons, and other things have varied levels of detail that are typically far from appealing. On the PC version (compared to the PS3 version that was played for this review) the graphics can certainly be alot more crisp. Still, the end result is still just a dreary. Don’t look to have too many beautiful screenshots like say Skyrim where you ‘ooo’ and ‘ahh’ at the wonders of both your equipment and your enemies. Here, you will simply say ‘eww’. Not to say that the graphics are bad because they aren’t, but some of the character models just aren’t on the level of most other current generation action games on the market. Thankfully, this doesn’t take away from the experience…much. One thing is for sure, when there are big baddies about you must take on, you’ll probably still jump or exclaim, “Oh *$&%!”.
Instead, the appeal of this game is purely within you mastering your character’s strikes, dodges, and equipment and defeating each massive boss and creature that could hold the next great item, armor, or weapon you need to get further along in the game. This drive to move on dwarfs the seemingly non-existent storyline. The constant stopping and starting when playing this game might make you forget what the last cut-scene or discussion was. There are those who take pleasure in the deep and involved story line that these games have offered but others (like myself) just want to get to the next boss fight. Again, somehow this doesn’t really take away from the experience much since the sheer joy of achievement is the dominating appeal for this core-gaming experience.
Even the co-op and multiplayer aspect of this game is confusing and challenging in the grand scheme of playing the game. The state of your character (as a human or undead) defines when you can or cannot be ‘invaded’ and… well, let’s just say that its complex and the game explains it a bit better than its predecessors! Simply put covenants are new and improved. Joining one determines whether you want to play with and assist others or if you want to ‘invade’ and destroy others. Pick your poison!
Enjoyment of this game is totally dependent upon your personality. Those who enjoy a well planned challenge will appreciate all that From Software brought to the table. Dark Souls 2 is just as unforgiving and difficult as its predecessors. While the game is difficult, it is not impossible. The experience teaches patience, use of strategy, as well as attention to detail as you must use all you have (including the occasional Youtube vid or Twitch.tv session) to figure out how to survive and move on. While it is challenging, Dark Souls 2 is a reminder that difficulty can be fun… as long as you’re not scared!
(rather than give a series of scores that cranks out an average, I decided to present this game with a straight up score. The attention to detail and immense presence this game has in gaming culture today is a huge testament to the skill of From Software)