Since the release of the newest set of consoles, the trend has slid towards taking previous-gen games and re-releasing them on the Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4. Bandai Namco is no exception in its latest offering Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. It is considered the “complete experience,” including all 3 DLC packs – Crown of the Sunken King, Crown of the Old Iron King, and Crown of the Ivory King.

This was my first experience with a “Souls” game, which has become almost a genre unto itself. A slow burn that has turned into a white-hot fire, FromSoftware’s series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls II, Bloodborne) has garnered quite the fanbase with its extreme difficulty and almost no handholding. Normally, this kind of game would completely turned me off, but with all the hype surrounding the recent release of Bloodborne, I decided to jump in with Dark Souls II and see what the hubbub was.

When I mentioned above a complete lack of handholding, I wasn’t kidding. I accidentally walked past what would be considered the tutorial, skipped the frying pan, straight into the fire. The first couple hours were full of growing pains including dying on the first enemy I encountered, spending time in an area that I had no business being in and falling off a cliff. All involved losing all my souls (in-game currency) and more than a few facepalms.

What I’ve learned from my time with Dark Souls II is a full and complete understanding what makes this game so popular. It’s more than the difficulty, the built-up frustration leading to victory and “feeling old school.” It is all about the ways in which the sum of its parts melds together and shines. First, the control mechanics are tight. Finger-to-on-screen control feels almost perfect and pushes you to learn how to control your fighting rather than button-mashing or getting ahead of yourself (something that has bit me in the butt multiple times). How Darks Souls II controls works directly into the pacing of the game. The game is methodical and times almost rhythm-like. Combat ebbs and flows in a way that feels great and is unique to this series. You really don’t want to lose that rhythm, which works in perfectly with the enemies in the game that provide a sense of tenseness and stress that brings you to the end of your seat. The bottom line is that any enemy can get the better of you, leaving very few places where you feel safe. Combine the empty feeling of the environments, the anxiety of wondering what’s lurking around the corner, and not wanting to lose your cool and thus, your combat rhythm, you have a solid game that provides an experience that you have a hard time shaking off.

As I said above, Dark Souls II is a great “sum of its parts” game. Unfortunately, when you look at some of the pieces individually, there are a few holes. I’m playing on the PlayStation 4 and graphically, it does an acceptable job. It is obviously a last-gen game brought forward to the current platform. It isn’t evident all the time, but sometimes, the textures look…dated. There are also “online” features that I find annoying at best. There are 2 possibilities: you invite in a “friendly” person who helps you or someone invades your game to harm you. I don’t appreciate the invasions as dying in Dark Souls II has consequences and every time I’ve been invaded, the player has always been way overpowered and keeps coming back to grief me, which just isn’t fun. I didn’t like the invading concept in Watch_Dogs, and I don’t like it here.

Overall, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a solid game. When you put all the pieces of the game together, it is great, but it really is not for everyone. Notice that I never said the game is “fun,” because while I have enjoyed my time with the game, and will continue to play it, I would not say it is fun. There are a lot of other adjectives I would use: challenging, stressful, unique. That is not to take away anything from the game at all, but this is not something you throw on for 10 minutes and lounge. It is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re looking for a challenge and want to invest in a unique gaming experience, then perhaps Dark Souls II is for you.

Dark Souls 2 Scholar of the First Sin Gameplay Commentary