Dark Souls 2 Review | A Solid Second Showing

As the third (ish) entry into the “Souls” series, fans should know what they’re getting into with Dark Souls 2. As a direct sequel to Dark Souls, you can expect a lot of the same elements in this game: Pyromancy, i-frames, and Havel’s Armor… the list goes on. This isn’t to say the two games are interchangeable though. There are many aspects of Dark Souls 2 that set it apart from its predecessor.

First and foremost though, I want to give a concise summary for those that don’t want the in depth analysis (and want to prevent a questionable spoiler or two):

  • Multi-player is good, but there are balance issues.
  • Single player is larger than either of the previous games, with more items, gear, and bosses.
  • There are problems with some of the games visuals.
  • The world design, both spatial and narrative, are the weakest in the series.
  • Dark Souls 2 is simply less challenging, and rewarding, than either of the two previous games.

That said, I’ll get into the specific areas where the game shines and falters.

The Good:

Dark Souls 2 is a competent hybrid of some of the better parts of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls:

Lets start with acknowledging that Demon’s Souls is a part of this series, because Dark Souls 2 sure does. Not technically tied into the same narrative world (though there are a few items that DO hint at some Demon’s Souls people and places… Like the Ring of Restoration mentioning the House of Osteria… Ya know… like Ostrava of Boletaria. Ost-eria.),

Dark Souls 2 takes a lot of gameplay elements from Demon’s Souls and sort of mashes them together with some familiar Dark Souls elements. For instance, the game revolves around teleporting to dangerous areas from a hub (like Demon’s Souls), but all these areas are actually connected in game (like Dark Souls). Like Demon’s Souls, weapon types also seem to matter a bit more than they did in Dark Souls, Strike damage in particular being great for most of the game. Magic is very similar as well. While the game retains the “number of uses” system that Dark Souls implemented, there are now items to replenish these uses without stopping at a bonfire (much like regenerating your magic bar in Demon’s Souls).

A bit rundown, but Majula is an area that players will be spending a lot of time.
A bit rundown, but Majula is an area that players will be spending a lot of time.

More Dark Souls:

There is just… more. More items. More spells. More content. More areas. More bosses. More ways to PvP. In short, -more- Dark Souls. Can’t argue with that. No one ever wanted -less- game for their money. If players like great swords, there are tons to choose from. Even niche weapon classes like whips have 4-5 options throughout the game. There are tons of armor sets as well as a slew of unique items. These are all easier to access as well. A merchant in Majula (the main hub area) will sell a variety of boss armor after the corresponding boss has been defeated. Couldn’t be more convenient than that.

Improved Combat Actions:

Now I don’t play “dex” characters, but dual wielding seems like a solid success. It feels good and lets the “no shield” crowd feel like they’re rewarded for their gameplay choice. Bows are also improved, which means that taking a “ranger” type character up might be viable. We’ve got backstabs, and riposte crits for more “technical” fighters. Overall, there are more ways to fight in Dark Souls 2 than in either of the series’ previous titles.

More Builds are Viable for More Things:

I tried a sorcery build in Dark Souls. Same thing in Demon’s Souls. I could never finish them because they just felt so weak in comparison to tougher melee builds. I know Dark Souls sorceries got strong for PvP towards the end of the game, but the earlier in the game was so much worse than equivalent heavy armor builds, that I always ended up going the great shield route. This is not the case in Dark Souls 2. Pretty much everything works at all stages of the game.

Sorceries still get pretty broken at the end of the game, which might mean that some of the other builds are trivialized in PvP. For instance, you’ll see a lot of invaders with a Moonlight Great Sword and some variant of Magic Missile, but that’s no worse than seeing someone in the heaviest armor and an Ultra Great Sword ninja flipping your way. At least spells have limited uses.

Duel wielding has always been in the series, but it's never worked as well as it does now.
Duel wielding has always been in the series, but it’s never worked as well as it does now.

Easier to PvP / Co Op With Friends:

A small feature, but Dark Souls 2 features an item that players can wear that makes it “easier” for them to be paired together for the game’s online features. Players select the “name of a god” which essentially equates to a lobby, and they’ll supposedly be more likely to interact with players that chose that same god. I never had problems Co Oping with friends, and am not sure as to the specifics of how this ring works, but this WAS something that was on people’s wish lists and it definitely made the game.

The Bad:

Meaningless Object Placement:

This one depends on why you play the Souls series. If you play for PvP, or strict difficulty, this one may not be an issue for you. However, for me, this was pretty off putting. What I have enjoyed most out of each Souls game was the story. Being placed in an epic and deep world where I had to find out where I am. Questions like: Who came before me? What happened here? were all answered through environmental queues, enemy placement, NPC dialog, item descriptions… and so on.

When Rhea moves to the Parish, and then disappears, only to be found Hollow in the Duke’s Archives? All that tying back to Seathe using the priestesses for experiments? Hence the Squid head people? I love that sort of story telling and Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls were great at it.

Dark Souls 2? Not so much. Items for instance, unique items, are found in random treasure chests with no hint at how they got there. I found Ricard’s Rapier off a random spider mob for crying out loud. What? That’s not the Souls style story telling I signed up for…

These bosses may seem cool, but when their lore consists of: "They've waited a really long time", they become a bit less intriguing.
These bosses may seem cool, but when their lore consists of: “They’ve waited a really long time”, they become a bit less intriguing.

Uninteresting NPCs:

Much like my issues above, the NPCs had a good deal to do with why I liked Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls so much. Maiden in Black had character. Mystique. The Emerald Herald does not. She’s a weak attempt to hit on the same chords, but ultimately fell flat. The only really interesting NPC was Lucatile, a wandering swordswoman who can be found wandering throughout Drangleic. Her writing and dialog were good, but she wasn’t even up to par with the likes of Siegmeyer or Solaire and the rest of the NPCs were even worse. They were all shallow, one dimensional characters. I never felt intrigued to figure out their story.

Lack of Consequence:

I don’t want to come off as pretentious here, but there’s a very good reason that the previous Souls games are so punishing in regards to death. Crafting a “high risk / high reward” environment makes players extremely tense. When players are tense, they are more invested in the outcome of their actions. No one cares about beating Contra with the Konami code on, because your actions were meaningless. Victory was guaranteed. The Souls series has capitalized on this phenomenon to huge success. It’s the reason the games became so mainstream. Winning felt good because losing was so easy.

Dark Souls 2 on the other hand has a tremendous number of ways to buffer these consequences. From rings that can completely nullify the penalties of death (given a paltry tax), to NPCs that can be brought back to life if you accidentally kill them, to items that let players completely reallocate their levels into different stats. All of these are features for a more casual player base (which is cool, mass market appeal is obviously something that’s good for a company), but as a result, your actions in the game are less meaningful, and the game is less interesting for it.

In short:

Dark Souls 2 was good. Definitely worth the play time I put into it. It gives players access to some of the great features unique to the series in a way that’s more friendly to the average player. Long time fans of the series will definitely see some flaws though.

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