It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when you ‘get’ Dark Souls but, when once that happens, it sinks its claws deep. Just as we're finally starting to get tired of playing the original, something I’ve done over and over, From Software are back with another instalment in their sadistic action RPG series. Dark Souls 2 aims higher and thinks bigger than either of its predecessors but will it forget the fan base in favor of bringing in new players, or will it continue to eschew accessibility for the love of the challenge? Let’s take a look.
If you aren’t familiar with the formula, Dark Souls 2 is an action-heavy RPG that focuses on third-person combat. Depending upon the starting character class you choose, and the progression path you take, your combat strategy can vary greatly from character to character. Whether you choose a one or two handed sword, a polearm, or one of the many forms of magic available in the game, there’s something for everyone.
Of course, you can’t talk about combat without mentioning the difficulty of Dark Souls 2. If you know anyone who played Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls you’ve probably heard them talk about how hard the game is, and how often they die. Dark Souls 2 is no different in this and, in fact, it may be even more difficult than ever before. The beauty of the Souls series is that the difficulty doesn’t come from the fact that the game is unfairly balanced in the enemies favor. Instead, it punishes players for not being cautious. If you drop your guard, you’re going to get hit, if you don’t watch where you’re walking, you’re going to fall off of a ledge.
As it is with all good sequels, a number of refinements have been made to the overall mechanics in Dark Souls 2 though not all of them are to the player’s advantage. Combat is more fluid and contextual, with animations that make more sense, but old tricks like quickly drinking a potion while queueing up a weapon change aren’t going to work in the same way. Healing is now balanced between the refillable Estus Flask and consumable items, both of which now take a few seconds to actually heal you rather than shooting your health bar back to full.
Visually Dark Souls 2 is a noticeable upgrade from Dark Souls, with more detailed backgrounds, enemies, and character models. The world is beautiful, while still capturing the same bleak undertones you’re used to, and the blockiness of the first game has been traded in for smoother environments that also react well with the engine. The Blighttown area from Dark Souls was infamous for its framerate drops, but From Software have been able to squeeze much better performance out of the last-gen consoles this time around to the point where I only experienced one measurable dip that lasted a just second or two.
Speaking of environments, players are in for a much more varied experience than previous Souls games as Dark Souls 2 switches up the motif much more often. I feel like this is at least partially because the game world is absolutely massive. The Souls games are hard to compare to one another, but I think it’s safe to say that Dark Souls 2 is considerably bigger than Dark Souls and that is nothing but good news for fans.
Dark Souls 2 features the same unique style of co-op and multiplayer that the series is known for, but with an important upgrade. From Software have returned to a server based approach, from the peer-to-peer system used in Dark Souls. This system promises, and delivers, on a more stable experience and easier connections to other player’s worlds but now hinges on the service being up. This is a give and take that will ultimately work out in the player’s favor, but the system has already experienced one substantial, and one brief, outage since launch.
Co-op works by having players who wish to help out another player place a ‘summon sign’ on the ground. This sign will appear in other player’s worlds who can then use it to summon up to two other players to their game. On the other side of the coin, players can also ‘invade’ another player’s game in an adversarial manner for fun and profit. While I still wish there was a way to simply invite your friends into a private game, this interesting design is part of what makes the series stand out.
Bigger and better is what everyone looks for in a video game sequel and Dark Souls 2 delivers on both accounts. Players get a better looking and more refined game, along with a massive world to explore. From Software know their audience and don’t compromise anything while delivering just what the fans want. Fill up your Estus Flask, strap your shield on tight, and get ready to fight for your life.