It is hard to describe exactly the type of game Dark Souls 2 is. Certainly it presents itself as a very proper action and RPG hybrid, but there is also something else at play within the game. For those new to the “Souls” games, the series began with Demon’s Souls, a punishing Playstation 3 title. The developers, Japan’s From Software, then offered players Dark Souls, a spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, offering players the same challenging gameplay as their previous title. Dark Souls 2 was released in mid-March this year, and was immensely anticipated by the series’ highly dedicated fan base. So does Dark Souls 2 stack up to its predecessor? Certainly, however it seems a little cheapening to the game as a whole to only give it a side-by-side comparison. Dark Souls 2 is an action RPG game that has a lot to offer, even for players new to the series.
Dark Souls 2 trailer
First and foremost, any new players must understand that Dark Souls 2 is by no means an easy game. The game even tells players this as they begin their journey. Without spoiling anything, the player encounters four old women near the start of the game who inform them of the plight and peril that they have in store for them. Dark Souls 2 operates on the same principles as the older games where “souls” gained from fallen enemies operate as both the experience to gain levels and also the currency to purchase items. Should a player meet an unfortunate end (this happens frequently) during his or her travels through Drangleic, the game’s setting, they leave a “bloodstain” at their spot of death that contains their souls. Players must make it to this spot and retrieve their souls without dying on the way their, lest they lose their precious stash of souls. The world is incredibly large and rich with a plethora of secrets. Each area is carefully designed to feature no truly obvious “easy way out,” oftentimes only revealing shortcuts or bonfires, the game’s method of checkpoints, only after a player has traversed and endured the area’s dangers. Likewise, bonfires are either spaced out just enough so that with each one reached the player feels as though he or she is getting to it just in the nick of time. Oftentimes for more difficult areas, bonfires are cleverly hidden in places that a less thorough player might gloss over. To top things off, after the traversing an area, there is oftentimes a difficult enemy or boss waiting for the player at the end. There are even a few surprises in the game’s central safe zone, Majula, that are totally capable of killing lower level characters wandering around with their guard down. Putting the danger aside, each area of the game is an astoundingly beautiful environment, offering landscapes that delve into the sublime, enticing wonder in players that stop to take a look around between battles.
Given the trials of progressing through the game itself, it is often easy to forget that Dark Souls 2 is a multiplayer game. Online interaction comes in a few forms, the most obvious being hint messages from other players appearing in real-time on the very ground the player walks on. These messages can offer sound advice, pointing players to bonfires or revealing enemies lying in ambush, but sometimes the more cruel players leave messages to deceive newer players into their doom. Players simply walking around can make a note of other players’ “bloodstains,” and interact with them to see a brief ghostly image of the owner’s demise. This is helpful especially when checking areas for traps. Finally there is direct player interaction, which comes in the form of invasions and summoning. Dark Souls 2 offers an improved summoning system from the previous games. Players with Xbox Live or a PSN ID can leave a “summon sign” on the ground for others to bring them to their world for “jolly cooperation.” Others who long for combat against other players can either invade another player’s game with the intent to do battle, or leave an invasion sign to invite invaders into their own world to do combat. In Dark Souls 2 ,the hostility of the world runs deep, and players must be aware of whether the online interactions will be a help, or a hindrance.
Dark Souls 2 also brings back the familiarly unspoken storyline and direction known to other games in the franchise. Players are given a very open set of directions as to where to go upon leaving the tutorial area, it is up to them to figure out where they should go. The game makes an effort to indicate what areas are and are not appropriate for the player’s level. While every single enemy in the game certainly has the capacity to destroy the player at any level, if the enemies in the area are able to take one’s character down in a single attack, it is likely that the player should save that spot for later. Trial and error is key to mastering this game. Players get most of their direction from a character known simply as “The Emerald Herald” encountered early on in the game. In order to understand Drangleic, the game’s lore, and the overall plot, players must read deeper into the game, exhaust every character’s dialogue and make their own inferences. Even the descriptions on items have little tidbits of knowledge of what the kingdom of Drangleic once was. Dark Souls 2 offers an amazing exercise in deep analysis of video games, it is a bit of a refreshing change to see a game make players dig deep for its secrets.
The game makes players struggle for just about everything, in fact. While the game’s challenging and often cruel level design may be trying on some players’ patience, each boss felled and each new area discovered leaves players wanting more and spurs their curiosity about what else the game has in store for them. Every victory is a tiny motivation booster, giving oneself the impression that progression is possible, and the obstacles can be overcome. The completion of the game is no small task, but seeing the credits roll after the game’s conclusion offers a sense of triumphs that most video games of today just do not offer anymore.
Dark Souls 2 is a challenge, players are hardened in the fires of the iron keep, and tested by the blades of Drangleic castle. Time and time again, failure may feel overwhelming, but for the dedicated player, pursuit of the quest is everything. The adversity of the world blends itself into the story, providing a delicately told story requiring patience and thought, and when it is all done, there is a feeling a true triumph that sets in as the ending plays, and the credits roll. Dark Souls 2 is a journey that will test the mettle of even the most hardcore and skilled gamers, but the feeling of completion brings about a different sense of fulfillment that only this game can offer. Dark Souls 2 is out now on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and is due out on PC on April 25, 2014.
Review by Michael Foster
Dark Souls (Official Website)