The Ninjabot

Worth Dying For – Dark Souls 2 Review

Posted on June 28, 2014 at 6:52 pm by Victor Chaves

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Dark Souls 2 is the third “Souls” game made by From Software, preceded by Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls respectively. Before discussing Dark Souls 2, it’s important to understand what came before. The Souls series is typified as a difficult Western-style action RPG, where the player must collect souls in order to gain power by downing enemies and bosses. Unlike most action-RPG’s, the “Souls” series punishes players for not being prepared, forcing the player to lay out extensive plans of attack. Where bombastically charging through a room of skeletons may work for other games, the Souls games will punish you severely.

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The golden standard in this series is Dark Souls, the second Souls game. Dark Souls is essentially perfect; it had an original story with amazing locations, making great changes to the gameplay from Demon’s Souls. The environment and enemies were frightening, yet at the same time pulled me into the universe effortlessly. Dark Souls was such a perfect game that I bought it twice, for PC and Playstation 3. With all that in mind, I was expecting a great deal from Dark Souls 2.

The Game Is Dark and Full Of Terrors

Is Dark Souls 2 as difficult as Dark Souls? I believe it is. The gameplay remains largely unchanged between the two titles except for better weapon variety in Dark Souls 2, and overwhelming situations happen just as often as before. The game loves to throw the player into a gauntlet of traps, trickery, and enemy ambushes; there’s even a level dedicated to poisoning you via small statues that line the walls, ready to kill you faster than it takes to load it. There are bosses that don’t fit the screen and do weird things like force the player to lose equipment when eaten then spat out. Each fight is a memorable experience that surprises and terrorizes, and honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The user-interface is vastly improved with a helpful tool that explains what to prioritize in the smorgasbord of character stats, such as strength, defense, poise, agility, elemental defense, etc. This is where I can genuinely say Dark Souls 2 wins as a sequel because it doesn’t obfuscate important player-related information. Items, on the other hand, have their own hints on how they work, but otherwise the menus and equipment screens are all easy to understand. Compare this to how previous titles explained character statistics, where Demon’s Souls required the player to reference a manual in order to read what each symbol meant, figuring out exactly how the stats factor in to the game. Even with the manual, concepts like “tendency” and “poise” were very difficult to understand. However, Dark Souls 2 is definitely not what Dark Souls was.

Great Game, But the Levels Aren’t

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The overworld in Dark Souls 2 contains a hub area called Majula that all the levels connect to. Each area connects to Majula while also branching off in paths to other new areas. Furthermore, each save point (called “bonfires”) acts as a node you can fast-travel to. By making way from bonfire to bonfire, the player can further their reach without having to trudge through each area again, easily returning to Majula to level up and handle gear. This all sounds great, especially to anyone new to the Souls games, but because of how well-made the original Dark Souls world was, I can’t help but feel unfilled by the fast-travel feature in Dark Souls 2.

The world in the original Dark Souls can be likened to a roadmap, where every path you take can lead you to another area. Eventually, you can discover shortcuts and paths around the world. Since initially there wasn’t any fast-travel it was added in later, but was still rather light), the player had to become very familiar with each area in order to move around efficiently. This made for more memorable levels because the world was so fleshed out. It’s been years since I’ve played Dark Souls, but I can explain how to get to each level in the fastest way possible. I beat Dark Souls 2 a couple of days ago, and I only remember a few paths. Why bother when I can just fast-travel to where I want to go?

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Which leads into another thing that makes Dark Souls 2 weaker than the first, in my opinion: the levels aren’t memorable. Where Dark Souls used sprawling arenas, wide vistas, and verticality in level design like confetti in a parade, Dark Souls 2 keeps those hidden away until the final few areas of the game. Before those final areas, the player is kept in dark levels that rarely give way to open areas to explore. To understand my concern, consider in Dark Souls the level Blighttown, which started on top of a massive wooden structure that worked down into a swamp visible at the beginning. The player essentially had at least a square mile in all directions to take in the view. Another example, Anor Londo, had structures as far as the eye could see, with areas both inside halls and on the castle grounds that were incredibly massive. Demon Ruins showed a giant tree trunk and the underside of a castle with pools of lava stretching miles and miles apart. Even when inside, Dark Souls made sure the environment was truly awe-inspiring and larger-than-life.

Now we look at Dark Souls 2, which had levels that were claustrophobic and dark. Rarely did the game feel like showing off visually, as the majority of the levels are just castles, dungeons, and caves. It was only near the end that the game decided to be more interesting on a visual level, where maybe two places had wide views that could suck the player in. Sure, Dark Souls had its small hallways and castles as well, but the game took great measure to balance that with larger areas. Furthermore, the expanses in Dark Souls was put to great use by having other levels in view as well. I mentioned Blighttown, which allows you to see the The Great Hollow, Quelag’s Domain, and even a bit of the Undead Burg up above. This visual setup that Dark Souls often takes shows the players where they are in relation to everything else in the game’s world; it makes the environment much more tangible to the player. Dark Souls 2 almost never left me with that sensation, and it’s worse off for it.

Some Clever Level Interactions

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Dark Souls 2 does slightly one-up its older brother by having levels that are cleverly interactive. By performing a specific action in a level, the player can affect the boss fights. In the Earthen Peak, if the player destroys a windmill by lighting it on fire, the upcoming boss battle that once occurred in a poison pool will then be drained, and much more manageable. The Iron Keep has a level to pull that makes navigating the fiery halls much less flammable, as well as Heide’s Tower of Flame having levers to raise platforms to make the boss fight easier. It’s a real breath of fresh air that makes wandering around maze-like levels worth exploring every inch. Dark Souls had Sen’s Fortress, which allowed the player to interact with the level, but that’s it.

An interesting thing about the Souls series is that the story is minimally communicated, allowing the player to piece together and interpret the story for themselves. This way of storytelling is interesting as it allows you to decide how much story you actually want. Players that expect cut-scenes and dialogue to auto-play will find themselves thoroughly confused by the end of Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2, which is to be expected as the game refuses to give the player story unless you specifically search for it, by doing things like returning to characters to hear what they have to say after big events, or reading item descriptions to carefully piece together clues. Even though Dark Souls 2 had interesting characters, the story itself seemed fairly uninteresting compared to the first Dark Souls game, which was somewhat easier to follow. Dark Souls 2 was essentially devoid of any progress in the story, and by the end, I felt like I had just ran through hundreds of rooms cutting down monsters just to be at a credits sequence. Very little satisfaction found here.

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Final Thoughts

Dark Souls 2 is a great game, just not to the level of the original Dark Souls. They’re both tough, and their individual takes on gameplay are fantastic on their own—I even enjoyed using the torch feature! However, what Dark Souls 2 lacks is the charm that its predecessor possessed. The levels are nowhere near as interesting, a connected world is gone in favor of fast-travel, and the story does nothing to encourage curiosity. At the same time, I did genuinely enjoy my time with Dark Souls 2; it’s still a great Souls experience, just not as good as the last one was.

Presentation: 7

Gameplay: 9

Replay: 8

LEGACY SCORE: 8.0

Geek Legacy’s review scores are on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest possible score.

Follow Victor on Twitter @fake_brasilian to see him gush about Shovel Knight.

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