Dark Souls told us to “Prepare to Die” in its marketing campaign. Purists who revelled in the PlayStation 3 exclusive precursor Demon’s Souls have said that despite enjoying the game, they felt that Dark Souls was an easier game.
Now, this could just be a simple case of experience proving to be an asset in those gamer’s skills. Dark Souls II tells us to “Go Beyond Death”, but does this sequel transcend all that came before it?
There is a plot hidden in Dark Souls II, setting itself up with your character seeking to lift a curse set upon them. You’ll meet several interesting fellows along the way, some mad from the years of torment, while others are more whimsical about the whole thing. Either way, it’s an interesting world to try to explore when you can.
You can immediately tell that more polish has gone into the environments this time around, while character models seem crisper and on occasion more grotesque. Some textures look a little off in places, but given that you’re always on edge with Dark Souls II, it’s not a major concern.
In case you’re wondering if Dark Souls II has gotten any easier, that’s a matter of perspective. Teleporting between bonfires saves time, but doesn’t massively make things easier as souls can only be spent in one place, much like Demon’s Souls. My time was spent with the Sword Master class, gradually building up our strength and reinforcing weapons via the Blacksmith to wield the biggest swords imaginable with one hand, then beating things down with it. Some foes drop like flies, others take significantly longer. It all depends on your class really, with ranged attacks being effective against some and useless against others.
Boss fights in particular are memorable thanks to the design of each fight. One early example is fighting a being called The Pursuer, who is a floating knight with a sword and shield on the side of the keep. Timing dodges to perfection is the key to a number of boss battles, meaning you need to learn restraint with the stamina bar.
If there’s one thing that seems fundamentally unchanged it’s how you play the game; the control scheme is exactly the same as well. Given that it is the third ultra-masochist RPG that FromSoftware have released on the now previous generation, it’s almost unheard of to change the mechanics too much.
You still have light and heavy attacks, parrying and riposting is immensely important for similar sized foes, while frantically rolling to dodge larger foes swings is perilous. Targeting seems a lot more accurate, but still doesn’t change the gameplay a great deal. In making the game almost play the same, it’s difficult to see why this is a full-on sequel as opposed to an expansion pack.
But thankfully, for better or worse, tweaks here or there to the formula have been made in an attempt to change the dynamic. For example, if you are dying too many times to either a particular enemy or a boss fight, after a while the enemies you kill along the way will be permanently erased – thus making it easier for you to get where you need to be at the cost of potential soul farm. Levelling up can now only be done when speaking to the maiden near the bonfire at Majula, while the range of healing items have expanded to Life Gems which gradually restore life. The game also feels more open as you’re able to venture wherever you can survive more than a few seconds.
One interesting thing of note was that by activating a light somewhere in one of the large areas, it was possible to pen in the most lethal monsters of the area, as they had an aversion to bright lights. It’s a little touch, but a vitally important one to keeping alive and developing tactics. This is when the game is most rewarding and we’re certain that this isn’t the only example of external influences having an effect on enemy AI. Same goes for bosses when you exploit a certain weakness and finally overcome your adversary despite the overwhelming odds. Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls did this to players before, but there are more moments of jubilation in Dark Souls II as a result of discovery.
Dark Souls II is probably the most divisive game of the year, due to the intimidating nature of its predecessor. It goes without saying that if you hated any previous games from FromSoftware’s ultra-masochistic RPG “franchise”, then you’re going to hate this one as well. Those who like it, including what seems like the vast majority of The Guardian’s Chatterbox Community probably won’t be disappointed, though even they might find something to complain about.
My time with the game thus far has been a love/hate relationship. Hate the fact I died 40 times, only to discover I was heading towards a dead end. Love the moments where I discovered an awesome technique or beat a hard boss. It certainly looks better than its predecessors and feels more polished, with online segments a major boon to the game, but only you can judge for yourself as to whether this is worth dying for, repeatedly…