It’s been a while coming, some 100 hours or so but here’s how we got on with Dark Souls II
Dark Souls II isn’t a sequel, more a refinement of the previous title. A lot of the content is recycled: enemies, moves and locations from the last game will be familiar as will the bleak atmospheric game world peopled by solitary moping NPCs in shady corners - often with unexplained northern accents. Graphically Dark Souls II is fairly similar to its predecessor (on PS3 at least). The levels are less generic and open up to more fresh air making the game less claustrophobic at points.
There is still bin-loads of unexplained content (look out for illusionary walls) you’ll spend hours trying to work out, hidden traps, monsters spawning on your head and similar blanket nastiness to before but now with a few considered tweaks to make things that bit easier. Whilst Dark Souls II hasn’t progressed a great deal from the last game there is a sense that it’s become friendlier. It’s almost like this game is a version of Dark Souls for all the newbs that didn’t play it but knew someone who did that said it was awesome.
It’s shocking how many reviews of Dark Souls II will very early on say something along the lines of, "be prepared to die a lot," well, yeah, but isn’t this the premise of most games? I find it a little saddening to think that people have got so conditioned into not dying a lot to make dying a lot such a big thing. I can all-too-well imagine people reading such sage advice and saying, “hmm, well maybe I’ll not try Dark Souls I don’t like dying a lot”
The thing is that by dying you learn better how not to die provided you are absorbing things. Dark Souls II is a game that requires your full attention: watch your opponents moves and your own to figure out the range and timing of your weapons/spells, listen out for the sinister footsteps and thwack of arrows that signal attack, watch the distance from which monsters aggro you and work out safe points to pull them to away from others.
Many of the reviews you’ll find come across as if the writer skimmed through a review copy died a lot and concluded the game is hard. Dark Souls II is a challenge and it is brutal but the brutality you’ll be able to dish out in return if you stick at it is worth all the death.
One of the biggest changes in Dark Souls II is that by killing mobs enough times they will eventually stop respawning guaranteeing that with persistence you’re going to be able to clear through a level however badly the monsters are spanking you.
I can kind of appreciate how playing a review copy puts you at a disadvantage. Dark Souls II like the titles in the series before it shouldn’t be thought of as a game played by individuals, it’s played by the community and in true old school RPG style it’s via the community that you find out about the game. This isn’t just from the textual hints that players leave for you in-game. Players will share spawn points, drop rates, character builds etc and carry on the fascination when you’re not playing.
It’s exactly for this reason that Dark Souls II is deliberately ambiguous. There’s no quest logs, no handy shining beacons above the heads of NPCs, no 3 hour long tutorials showing you every conceivable button press and showering you with prezzies - although Dark Souls II has brought in tombstones with a few pointers. Playing can build a picture of the game’s story (remember I said this game needs your full attention) but the history of Drangleic isn’t laboured via NPC dialogue detailing who begat whom.
It's noteworthy that the images shown in this article are from PC screens and a hefty PC at that. There was some annoyance from the community about the screens that circulated prior to release, the graphics aren't anywhere near this good in reality but seriously don't let that put you off
Dark Souls II is a veritable stats fest. Learn which stats scale with which weapons and how they work with your character, get a handle on which enchantments to use and you can make a weapon that hits like a train.
PVP in Dark Souls II is still a bit out of whack but there’s been attempts to balance things better. If you go with a spellcaster your nukes are now harder to dodge and you’ve got some better melee options. Likewise melee builds don’t make for such good nukers any more. The convention of steamroller PVP warrior mages with massive hammers has been a little diluted. You’re likely to see a lot of cheesy Moonlight Greatsword champs but now all builds seem useable and you can compete with an overpowered faceroll build with some practiced skill.
Dark Souls II has also introduced Soul Vessels, there’s only a few available to you with each playthrough but these will let you respec stats, whereas before spending souls on stats points was final and could break your toon if you specked things wrong.
What From Software have done quite successfully I think is to hone the way players can approach character building making the whole thing a lot more experimental and opening it up to some, dare I say it, actual role-play!
Below is a video of a great example of what this means and the perfect antidote to anyone saying this game is too hard. Check it out, this guy is taking down a boss using no armour or weapons. Too hard? People are finding ways to make this harder!
Playing Dark Souls II feels like From Software have been trying to perfect the same game since Demon’s Souls and to a degree I think it’s working although in the tweaking the game is getting easier. Especially so since the 1.04 patch that just came out, "be prepared to die a lot less."