Dark Souls 2 is the third in the Souls series, following Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. It’s a combat/exploration game with RPG elements. The series is known for its extreme difficulty and high death rate. In some circles, the game is highly anticipated.
After playing the game for about 70 hours my main impression is this is a game I want to love more than the game itself deserves. It’s tough, yes. It’s unforgiving. It’s merciless. Those may sound like bad traits and to some this game will just be too difficult to be accessible. To others, this is the reason they’re playing it.
I enjoyed the game for several reasons, but ultimately feel the game just has too many shortcomings and is too cumbersome for its own good. With some tweaks, this could be a truly fantastic game, but as released, it’s a bit of a mess.
- Dark Souls 2 has fantastic scenery and locations. Some of my favorites were Heide’s Tower of Flame, The Gutter and Earthen Peak. Earthen Peak, for instance, recalls the grandeur of Hayao Miyazaki’s windmills, but with hundreds of years of decay affecting them. Absolutely beautiful.
- Open world to explore. Get stuck in the Forest of Fallen Giants? Head to No-Man’s Wharf for a while. There are so many paths available from the start it’s a bit mind boggling.
- The soul system. You gain and find souls throughout the game. Instead of having XP points to level up and money to pay for weapons and spells, you get souls – for everything. This forces you to choose between upgrading yourself or your weapons too often.
- The soul system (part 2). So you need souls for literally everything in the game. And you can lose them so insanely easily. When you die, you keep your inventory, but lose your souls. If you can reach the location where you died, you can collect the “bloodstain” and reabsorb them. If, however, you fail to make it back, they’re toast. You’re screwed. I estimate I lost 150,000-200,000 souls in the course of 70 hours. That’s dozens of levels or hundreds of shop items. They’re just gone.
- The soul system (part 3). So when you die, you lose souls. So you have to run back to town to cash them in, in order to keep from losing them. Running back to town resets all the enemies you’ve killed. So you’ll often get to a point where you have to decide between continuing on and risking losing thousands of souls or heading home, cashing in and restarting the level you’re on. Of course, restarting the level means you’ll gain more souls by the time you get deep into a level and you’ll have to make this decision again. It’s a no win situation and it’s a truly pointless waste of time.
- Repetition. While there is much to love about DS2 with level and character design, combat is extremely basic (I didn’t try any sorcery elements as I played through as a knight, so perhaps there’s that). Hack, slash, dodge, repeat, forever. It never changes or improves. Bosses tend to follow one of two attack patterns. They may still be insanely hard, but it’s same old after you’re on boss 10.
One point I’m ambivalent about – the way the game starts. Perhaps having played one of the previous Souls entries prepare you a bit more, but starting off with DS2 and being dropped in the game with no information whatsoever, just figuring everything out is daunting. You basically appear in a field, are told you’re “undead” and to go out and change that. That’s it. The settings are complex and with no idea where to start, where to go or what you’re doing, just getting started is a major undertaking. Some may find this enjoyable, some may not. I disliked it at first, but as I figured out one answer and then another, it grew on me. It might not grow on others as well.
Ultimately, Dark Souls 2 falls short of being a great game. For the right person, it could be a very good game. For the masses, it’s just too much. It’s a good niche game for those who like punishment, lots and lots of punishment. There’s a shrine in the city of Majula that keeps and updated list of the number of deaths worldwide by players of the game. Last time I checked it was pushing 50 million. Punishing indeed.