Dark Souls 2 Review
From Software has managed, yet again, to prove itself as the master of the hardcore action-RPG with Dark Souls 2.
The Souls series has already made waves in the industry due to its extreme difficulty, and because of this the actual technical brilliance inherent in the Souls games can sometimes take a backseat in discussion.
This is a shame, as in terms of its mechanics, its design and its graphical output Dark Souls 2 is above and beyond most other examples of the genre. Building neatly on the first Dark Souls, From Software has cultivated an action-RPG that offers players a daunting challenge and represents some truly great game design.
Dark Souls 2 – Once Upon A Time In Drangleic
Dark Souls 2 is set in the new world of Drangleic, departing the dank, grimy tombs of Lordran from the first game.
Drangleic is more open than its predecessor, and in some areas even deviates from the continual dark, oppressive locales that have come to characterise the series.
Majula is one of the first areas you arrive in and epitomises this change in art direction. A seaside environment, Majula is bathed in sunlight and acts as the only friendly hub in the game, similar to the Firelink Shrine in the first Dark Souls.
Interestingly, this is also the only area in which you can level up your character.
This is a strange mechanic to have to get used to, as its inclusion itself is a little odd. For one, there was nothing wrong with the old mechanic of being able to level up at any bonfire, and being forced to travel back to Majula every time can prove to be a pain at times.
Dark Souls doesn’t particularly have a narrative ‘flow’ to disrupt, but having to jump between locations just to level up does negatively impact your immersion on occasion.
Fortunately, returning to Majula repeatedly doesn’t require trekking across Drangleic.
As much as we enjoy a gentle stroll through an impressive game world such as this, the ability to fast travel between bonfires is welcome. In the first Dark Souls this ability was only gleaned after gaining the Lordvessel about two-thirds of the way through the game, whereas now this convenience is afforded to you from the very beginning.
Dark Souls 2 – Hub Structure And Exploration
What this does is inadvertently create more of a hub structure in Dark Souls 2, but this still barely detracts from the open and interconnected nature of the game world that From Software seems to get so right.
There are still so many opportunities for you to wander off the beaten track and explore that sometimes you won’t even bother with the fast travel – take a stroll and enjoy the view.
In terms of design Drangleic is beautiful, and the same goes for all of the character models in the game.
Everything from the most humble of Hollow soldiers through to some of the utter bastards that serve as bosses are lovingly rendered and have a unique style to them that you wouldn’t be able to find in any other franchise.
As before the horizon is in something of a painted style, so as long as your view isn’t obscured by anything it is possible to see some of Drangleic’s landmarks in the distance, neatly foreshadowing later parts of Dark Souls 2.
This has more than a bit of a Zelda feel to it and gives you a sense of the scale of this gigantic world.
Dark Souls 2 – More Boss Fights
There are more boss fights this time around, and it’s amazing how quickly you can access some of them when you load up a new game.
There are two in particular – the Dragonrider and the Dragonslayer – that are accessible as soon as you get to Majula, as a quick dash through a hostile area brings you right to their respective doors.
Some of the monstrosities that From Software has designed are pure genius, ranging from a lumbering old giant at the beginning of the game that strongly reminded us of the worst thing about The Lord Of The Rings, the Ents, to an enormous pile of blood, guts and limbs called The Rotten.
They’re all extremely well made and grotesque, and the horror imagery has well and truly been carried over from the last two Souls games.
Dark Souls 2 – Weapons From Bows To Ladles
Dealing with these bosses obviously revolves around hitting them with some sort of lethal implement. The amount of weapons available in Dark Souls 2 is impressive, and each one has different attack animations to separate them from one another.
Finding a weapon that suits your playing style is absolutely crucial – that said, it is possible to run around Drangleic cracking things round the chin with a ladle, and we’d heartily recommend it. Unless you’re too chicken…
As before, weapons scale with different stats, and this makes levelling up a process that requires some care. Most bows tend to scale with Dexterity, worth bearing in mind if you play as a ranged character.
Spellcasters need to pump all of their Souls into Intelligence, and for those that like getting up close and personal we’d recommend a Strength build. The extent to which items scale with stats is indicated in your inventory on a scale from F to S (S being the best), and so there will come a point where a decision has to be made as to where your Souls will be spent, especially at later levels.
Combat is still at the lofty standard implemented by the game’s forbears, and we’d go as far as to say that Dark Souls 2 is best in class when it comes to scrapping.
The risk versus reward structure is still very much in place, and learning attack patterns and getting to grips with your own style both contribute to a system wherein every victory is a notable achievement.
Dark Souls 2 Review
The thing that really sets Dark Souls 2 apart, however, is the general mood. We would’ve liked it to be a little more broody like its older brothers, but the addition of some genuinely peaceful sections and the lack of music make for a mysterious, almost ethereal experience.
It seems a little strange to talk about atmosphere as a tangible, noteworthy addition to a videogame, but it is just that.
Whether through design or otherwise, Dark Souls 2 makes you feel a certain way, making your entire jaunt through a hostile, unforgiving land weirdly personal. This is augmented by the aforementioned combat mechanics that both challenge and reward you.
We noticed a couple of instances in the game where certain enemies were a little cheap, however 99 per cent of the time death occurs due to your own impatience and/or stupidity.
Add to this the invasion system that returns from before and pits you against other players in PvP combat instances and you’re left with a near enough flawless action game, even in lieu of the excellent RPG mechanics that sidle up next to all the stabbing.
Combining all of these facets leaves us with a product that is just so well thought out and so expertly made that it would be impossible not to recommend.
Don’t let its reputation put you off – buy the game, take your time and earn your bragging rights when the credits roll.
Version Tested: Xbox 360