Dark Souls II is From Software’s sequel to the critically acclaimed, highly popular and frankly addictive Dark Souls. The main character this time around is The Cursed, drawn by the affliction to the fallen kingdom of Drangleic. You are an undead and in time, if you do now gather souls, you’ll go hollow. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
- Streamlined mechanics.
- Beautiful environments.
- Fantastic Soundtrack.
- Challenging gameplay.
- Hollowing is an interesting mechanic.
- Too many disappointing bosses.
- Inferior world building.
- Recycled plot.
- Visually uninspired bosses.
- No beta classes.
After Dark Souls’ success, From Software began work on the sequel, surprising many players who expected them to create a spiritual successor in the same way they had done with Demon’s Souls. Even more worrisome for fans was that Hidetaka Miyasaki wouldn’t be returning to the director’s chair for the sequel, the role instead passing the role to two new directors. From inception, Dark Souls 2 meant to streamline some of the more archaic or cumbersome mechanics from the first game, while keeping the same challenging gameplay style.
When I first saw DS2 footage, the new classes shown hooked me. According to the developers, they were meant to be more distinct from each other and offer new and interesting play styles. Of all of those, the Templar attracted my attention the most as it was a mix of warrior and sorcerer. Sadly, this class never made the game (a shame really, as it was terribly interesting), instead leaving us with some of the familiar Dark Souls classes, of which I chose the Knight, as I’ve always considered Melee to be the most challenging form of gameplay for Dark Souls.
As with its predecessors, in Dark Souls 2 you control an undead and you must collect souls by defeating enemies—regular and bosses—and use them as currency to both acquire goods and level up your stats. At character creation, you choose a class and a starting gift, though this time around all of them are useful, though none are as powerful as the Master Key. Class variety is lesser than it was in its predecessor, with only 8 classes but the upside is they are tighter and offer distinct playing styles right from the start. As I had previously done in Dark Souls, I went for the Knight, though this time around I didn’t dabble in miracles, sorceries or even pyromancies and instead remained true to my melee/range ability.
Speaking of casters, foci are more readily available this time around, and come in a greater variety. Black Magic in Dark Souls now returns as a separate type of spell called Hexes that scales using the lowest of Intelligence or Faith. Clerics and Sorcerers can focus on their main stat and still find Hexes useful, as they’ll scale with the other spellcasting stat. Of course, as is expected, you can freely develop your character so that your Knight can cast miracles or your Cleric use heavy armor.
In terms of combat, nothing much has changed and you’ll still fight a variety of enemies with different combat styles and playing intelligently is still the way to victory. Bosses in the Souls series are usually the highlight of the experience, but in Dark Souls 2, there are sadly too many disappointing encounters, with the their tells being too obvious and extremely predictable. More often than not, you’ll find yourself clearing bosses without much challenge, as they are so predictable and slow moving it’s a surprise when they actually hit you. The biggest challenge, in general, comes from the regular enemies you’ll find across the different zones. Another gripe I have is that after the visually horrifying extravaganza that was Dark Souls, bosses in the sequel feel uninspired and too mundane. You fill not find a single one that reaches the level of weirdness of the Gaping Dragon or even Queelag.
Mechanics on the other hand have been so streamlined they feel like a complete overhaul of the system. Weapon degradation is faster now but sitting at the bonfires restores their durability, unless they are broken, in which case you need to go to the blacksmith to repair them for a negligible price. Speaking of bonfires, warping is available from the start, which is a good quality of life change but does diminish the exploration value a bit. Estus Flasks have been redesigned and you now only start with one of them. You need to acquire Estus Shards to increase the number of flasks and another item, Sublime Bone Dust, to improve the flask’s effectiveness. Improving Flasks and levelling up are all done in the same place; a Hub Town (in the same vein of Demons’ Souls) called Majula. Sublime Bone Dusts must be burned in the bonfire and levelling is done exclusively with the Emerald Herald NPC. Burning is a new option available for Bonfires. By burning certain items, you can cause changes in the world, such as improving Estus Flasks or increasing the difficulty of the immediate area.
Humanity as a stat is gone and now Human Effigies replace the old Humanity items. Restoring humanity is now more beneficial because of the Hollowing mechanic. Every time you die, you lose 10% of your maximum health to a maximum of 50% at full hollowing. You can only cure this condition by restoring humanity. Effigies can also be burned at Bonfires to avoid the game’s online component, blocking summoning and invasions. They are also a valuable and finite commodity so players have to decide what they’ll use their effigies for.
Crafting has been completely streamlined. Normal weapons and armor now require only regular titanite (small, large, slab, chunk) for upgrades. Special armors use twinkling titanite and boss weapons use Petrified Dragon Fragments, which are pretty hard to come by. Speaking of boss weapons, crafting them is now a very easy task. Instead of needing to develop a weapon to a specific upgrade level before forging the boss weapon, you only need to exchange the souls with certain merchants to acquire them. Crafting arrows is still impossible, though there is now a greater variety available from different merchants, from fire and poison to even bleeding and the massive tripod-like great-arrows usable only with the heaviest bow.
Visually this game is stunning and the scenery and locations are even more beautiful than those found in Dark Souls. The first moment you step into Majula, with the blinding sun shining on the waves is an unforgettable experience. This being Dark Souls, the sight fills you with equal parts awe and trepidation, as you don’t know what is expecting you. Graphics can be tweaked to perfection, and range from overall resolution to texture qualities for environment, the character and even enemies.
On the sound side, DS2 features a gorgeous soundtrack. As always, boss fight music is the highlight. Location music is usually more tame and subtle, leaving the powerful orchestral pieces to the big encounters. Once again, Majula comes to mind, a soothing melody with chilling chimes that manages to both be calming and at the same time transmit the loneliness and desolate nature of the town. One of the things I disliked the most about Dark Souls was its subpar voice acting and while none of the performances are Oscar worthy (with the exception of Pate), they are actually good and convincing this time around.
One of the strongest points for its predecessor was its world building, with an intricate mythology that players learned from through characters and item descriptions. While the item-lore is still available, it isn’t as predominant and most items only have their mechanic descriptions. In one of my least favourite moves by From Software, most of the game’s lore and boss lore in particular, isn’t found in the game itself but in the Collector’s Edition Guide, which is a pity considering bosses, like the final one for example, have interesting and powerful connections to previous Dark Souls events, but you never get to know them unless you’ve splurged on the Collector’s Edition. The plot itself is rather forgettable and by the end you realize it’s just a rehash of Dark Souls in a different location and with a different set of characters. In fact, the ending is extremely vague and provides no answers whatsoever.
Dark Souls 2 is a strong sequel and a fantastic addition to the Souls series, improving on its predecessor and almost every gameplay aspect. While it’s more accessible and the “tutorial” area is more forgiving (and lacks a boss), it still packs a wallop and you’ll be addicted to constantly dying to the many surprises you’ll find across Drangelic, including the bullshit Poison Statues in the Black Gulch!
The Mental Attic Score: Worth Buying! While narratively inferior, Dark Souls 2 is mechanically superior to its predecessor and a thoroughly enjoyable experience…in the usual masochistic Dark Souls way.