Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also Available on: Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 3
Reviewed by: William Mabin
Utter pain and anguish wash over you as you meander through the hordes of Hollow dead towards a boss for the uncountable time. There is a sense of doom and despair and being utterly alone. There is also the intense gratitude of the hardcore gamer. There is the feeling of reward and the power of knowledge and the ultimate payoff from learning from one’s mistakes. This could only be the sequel to From Software’s 2011 Dark Souls. Will Dark Souls 2 live up to the intensity of gameplay and dark feel of the original? Let’s find out.
While there is no direct link in continuity between the first Dark Souls game and this one, the game takes place in the same world. The setting is Drangleic, another strange land where the cursed, wondering undead are drawn to. Drangleic was created by the King Vendrick. It is suggested that King Vendrick is the hero from the last game, who has slain the Four Great Old Ones. Once again it is your duty to slay hollow demons and claim their souls for yourself . This prevents the cursed from losing their memories and becoming hollow themselves.
There are a number of interesting characters that you meet on your adventures including the Emerald Herald priestess and a talking cat. There are plenty of the usual knights that you can choose to challenge and talk to as well. Although parts of the story are revealed slowly, the overall narrative remain vague. I can’t help feeling that this is part of making you feel like you yourself are becoming hollow, or maybe that’s just too many perilous hours on the couch. At any rate, whatever isn’t revealed creates interesting immersion in a dark, mysterious world that takes a lot of strength and determination to uncover with your torch.
There is a lot of Internet paranoia that suggests that Dark Souls II has had to have been modified and commercialised for the casual gamer. After dying quite a few times quite early on in the game, it already becomes apparent that the internet hype is lying about the game being too easy. There are numerous traps in the game and you can lose all of your gathered souls in a heartbeat in certain instances. From Software have also added a new feature that lowers your HP according to how frequently you die. This can be countered with Human Effigies, but these are also quite scarce.
There is the addition of some nice new starting classes and sometimes the controls feel a little bit more responsive that in Dark Souls. You can now fast-travel from bonfire to bonfire, meaning that you can retreat to the town of Majula to catch a breath of air and to upgrade your weapons ad armour quite easily. You have to return here to upgrade your class that adds to backtracking. One of my favourite features is simply a monument in the town that puts you to shame by recording how many times you have died. Enemies can be ruthless and bosses extremely difficult as usual. However, defeating them in an optimal manner feels extremely rewarding.
Another new aspect of the game is that if you kill Hollows a certain numbers of time, they no longer respawn. At first, this may seem like it thins the tides of deadly zombies, but it also means that you can’t farm for souls tirelessly. You can also aim down the sight of the crossbows this time around which is a welcome addition.
The graphics of the game are astonishingly polished and the game runs beautifully at a constant frame speed of 30 Frames per Second. There is a little bit of screen tearing sometimes if you are paying a lot of attention, but even when scenes are heavily laden with enemies the game performs well. The lighting is one of the main attributes that make Dark Souls II shine. Its beauty may even make you want to sacrifice your shield for a torch, just to see just what From Software’s new game engine can do. This will naturally make everything harder.
The game-world is a bit more surreal than Dark Souls’ Lordran. I choose that word because it feels like a segmented land with many different areas. Drangleic has swamps and castles and places buried underground resemble hell itself. Fast-travelling to these locations creates the sense that you are travelling to different worlds, rather than a solid, tangible world. I quite liked this element though because it adds to the sense that your character’s predicament is a waking nightmare. There is still New Game Plus that adds intensity and interest to the story and gameplay.
I did notice some nasty legacy graphics issues, like how your shield floats off your back and there was an instance where a hollow ran at me and after I evaded his attack, he disappeared into thin air. Despite these scarce glitches the overall graphic feel is mesmerising.
The sound in the game is very eerie. In Majula, the listless bells make you feel lonely and wistful. A lot of music and sound has been carried across from Dark Souls, including the infamous ‘You Have Died’ sound effect and the heightened boss music helps to make everything as tense as possible.
When it comes to multiplayer, you can still invade other people’s games and terrorise them with booby traps and enemies. In Dark Souls II multiplayer capabilities are determined by the covenant that you are a part of. So you can choose to brutalise people from other covenants, or assist your allies with difficult adversaries.
Graphically, Dark Souls 2 is a vibrant descent into a fantastically dark world. There are few other games that look this good while providing such a difficult challenge. The franchise definitely doesn’t disappoint with its tough enemies and situations. Most of the things that have been tweaked only serve to offer to make the game harder, except for having instant access to fast-travel and the fact that some enemies appear to be terrified of your lit torch. Similar fighting mechanics exist that rely on learning an enemy class’s rhythm and exploiting it.
Phenomenal cut-scenes and interesting new characters make the game an interesting visual experience, while still keeping the storyline minimal, so that the player is driven to find out what he or she can. Multiplayer has been subtly improved as well. The only thing that you have to worry about now is if developer From Software and distributor Namco will slowly steal your soul and time, as you relentlessly battle enemies over and over again, in order to succeed. Oh and if you are faint of heart and can’t handle a real challenge you might want to run now.
Lasting appeal: 9/10