Dark Souls 2 Review – Praise the Sun

I’m going cut to the chase right away: Dark Souls 2 is just as incredible as both prior games in the Souls series.

It’s the rare 50-plus-hour game that never feels padded, never feels like it is wasting your time, and constantly provides the player with unforgettable moments of both triumph and failure. It’s the rare sequel that manages to retain all of the core aspects of what makes the series so spectacular, while changing nearly everything around that core to allow the game to have its own unique identity.

And all of these changes come without compromising the brutal difficulty for which the series has gained such a notorious reputation. In fact, in many ways, Dark Souls 2 is even harder than its predecessors. It’s certainly not for everyone, and that’s a shame, because Dark Souls 2 is a prime example of how rewarding and satisfying playing video games can be.

Dark Souls 2
Platforms: PS3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: March 11, 2014
MSRP: $59.99

First off, let’s talk about the ways that Dark Souls 2 is similar to its predecessors. For one, if you were expecting a more straightforward storyline with traditional cutscenes to explain what’s going on, well, that’s not what you’re going to get. Like its predecessors, if you want to find out what’s going on in the world of Dark Souls 2, you’re going to have to do some digging.

At the beginning of the game, you get a cutscene narrated by a creepy old lady who explains that you have been afflicted by an undead curse that causes you to slowly lose your sense of self and turns you into a soul-starved “hollow.” She also speaks of a place that may mend your ailing mind. That place is the kingdom of Drangleic, and as she says, “One day you’ll stand before its decrepit gate, without really knowing why.”

And that quote sums up a common theme when it comes to the story of Dark Souls 2. You do a lot of things without really knowing why. Upon first arriving at Majula, the hub area of Dark Souls 2, you’re tasked with collecting four great souls for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. In fact, pretty much everything will be unclear to you until you start diving into the lore. That means talking with NPCs until they have nothing new left to say, piecing together environmental clues that tell the story of what happened in an area, and sometimes even reading the descriptions of key items.

Combat will also feel mostly familiar to Souls fans, but there are a couple of changes that From Software obviously threw in there to force veterans to alter their strategies from prior games. Backstabs and parries have been completely changed, with neither offering the lifesaving invulnerability animations they once had; spells now consume stamina, forcing spellcasters to manage their stamina much more closely; and players can now duel-wield weapons effectively, thanks to a new power stance that allows characters to perform special attacks that utilize both weapons at once.

The key to the success of the Souls series as far as combat is concerned, though, has always been the aggressiveness and diversity of its enemies, and in Dark Souls 2, that aggressiveness has been cranked up to 11. Enemies are fast, often attack in great numbers, and are constantly lying in wait for you to step unknowingly into their territory.

The move sets of most enemies are also enormous, making it tough to know when it’s safe to attack, when to dodge, which way to dodge, and when its better to just block. They’ll oftentimes feint the end of their combo, goading you to come in, and then swipe as soon as you think its safe. Needless to say, you’ve always got to be on your toes when it comes to fighting even the most insignificant of enemies in Dark Souls 2. Underestimating your foes is a surefire way to get yourself killed.

But regardless of how hard you try, let’s face it: You will die in Dark Souls 2. You will die a lot. And that’s okay, because dying is truly the best way to learn from your mistakes. And you better learn from your mistakes, because the game will punish you if you don’t.

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7 Comments on Dark Souls 2 Review – Praise the Sun

Dach

On April 3, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I’ve just never been able to enjoy these games, no matter how hard I try.

I a huge fan of medieval fantasy and Action-RPGs in general; yet every time I play one of the games in this series I end up feeling agitated and as if the game was wasting my time with cheap repetitive deaths.

I guess they are just going to be like fighting games have become to me, something I will watch in passing but never get to experience the joy that others seem to feel . . .

paulyg

On April 3, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Man oh man do I love love love this game. I too am a fan of all rpgs, fro mass effect series to the fallouts. Elder scrolls series particular Skyrim (which that and mass effect 3 were my favorite games ever). I dont know why I love this game. I only started with the first Dark souls and it took a little time to getnjnto it. Man I’m glad I did. As a 33 year old full-time career guy with 2 kids, this game sets apart alomost into its own genre of rpgs. THIS IS WHAT GAMES SHOULD BE! It’s the feeling of 1 mistake and your dead. The walkjng off cliffs, and the all around theme of darkness. Around every corner is death, and i invite it. I am being challenged. The character build is second to none, and I don’t have the time or words to describe hkw to go about it, but it is easy to get a hold of (with some help from the internet). But I believe what sets it apart is the online factor. The help you get from other players as they leave limited hints to help you on your journey. The white ghostlike phantoms of other player in your same area as they struggle the way you do. The blood stain from fallen players as you touch their blood stain you get a few seconds of thekr lastm moment before they parrish. And you feel lime you are not alone in your frustrating journey. The way you can ioin other players and they cann join your world tongive a hand. It is the feeling of accomplishment as you remove your sweatty hands from the controller and try to lower your heart rate. Younjust barely made it. Noww you can rest a fire that are far between eachother. Give it another try and don’t be afraid of looking on the internet for guidance.

Gundestruup

On April 4, 2014 at 2:29 am

Exellent review Mitchell!

Dach

On April 4, 2014 at 9:12 am

See. . . Paulyg you just said the same sort of thing that everyone tells me why I should play the game.

“Because it kills you and it’s really difficult”

But here’s the thing; from the ten or so hours I’ve put into the series I feel like the difficultly is not spawned from a game that wants me to play it.

My deaths were always centered around the character responding too slowly for me to combat an enemy [when said enemy wasn't hitting me by clipping through a wall] or a trap that went off that is pretty much unsurvivable on the first instance you encounter it. These [to me] are not good types of difficulty, these are cheap deaths that are wasting my time.

For a bit of perspective, I’ve played many Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry games to completion on some of the higher difficulties. The few times I died were because I lost the rhythm to the combat and I never felt cheated or tricked by the game. It’s the same reason that I enjoyed the difficulty of Super Meat Boy: the controls to all these games are very precise, rather than requiring three bloody buttons to simply make your plodding clod of a character jump.

There were many a time in Dark Souls I & II where I would input a simple command [jumping-stab or rolling-dodge] and the game either ignores it or takes to long to execute the maneuver, resulting in instant death.

I could keep going but I have a feeling that it would just spawn more hatred and vitriol towards my opinion than what I’ve already done because of this post. . . .

Spleh

On April 4, 2014 at 3:50 pm

You can regain you humanity by grouping in multi-player. I use helping other players with the small, 5 minute soapstone, as the most convenient way to regain humanity. This series is by far my favorite RPG, though I found this one significantly easier than its two predecessors. NG+ is closer to the difficulty of the previous games. When an area is all farmed out, multi-player allows you to grind souls and items in the host’s world.

jon

On April 4, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Get to say to the people who say characters are slow or fail to react to button presses in a timely manner, it probably because you built them that way. Heavy weapons, and heavy armor will all slow you down but character built that way are more about standing your ground and blocking enemy attacks. It’s completely possible to build a fast nimble character who can dance around most of the enemy’s in the game. It all depends on how you choose to play, and learning how to develope your character properly. And if your dieing because of traps or suprise enemy’s it because your not taking your time, this is not a simple hack and slash. It’s a game about caution, and tactics. It attempts to be realistic in how a real warrior would have to deal with this situation, not just running and jumping willynilly.

kizaro

On April 28, 2014 at 2:53 pm

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