Posted on April 3, 2014, Mitchell Saltzman 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
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.