"You WILL die"
If you want to know what kind of game Dark Souls II is, one of the first achievements you can get – called “This Is Dark Souls” – is given to you when you die for the first time. And unless you’re a prodigy of some kind, you will die; over, and over, and over, and over again. And you’ll love every minute of it, because it will make the moments when you do succeed – those rare times when you do everything perfectly – all the sweeter.
Dark Souls II takes place in the same setting as the first game, several centuries after the Chosen Undead did battle with the hollowed husk of Gwyn. Unfortunately, things don’t seem to have changed all that much – the fires of the world appear to be guttering, and the Curse of Undeath looks very much like it’s about to become a plague. Naturally, you’re one of the poor, unfortunate souls branded with the Darksign. Rather than resign yourself to your fate and go hollow, however, you decide to search for a cure.
That search eventually takes you to the great northern kingdom of Drangleic, an ancient land of wonderment whose king was said to have gazed deeper into the soul than any mortal before him. Something tells me that wasn’t the brightest idea he’s ever had, as the crumbling kingdom currently labors under an unexplained curse far more terrible than the Darksign. Guess who gets to try and end it?
Drangleic is to Lordran as The Shire is to Middle Earth. Compared to its predecessor, the world of Dark Souls II is absolutely massive – almost overwhelmingly so, affording the player a staggering degree of freedom to go where they wish (they’ll have to deal with the consequences if they get in over their head, of course). This exploration is made a bit easier by the fact that players can now warp to any bonfire they’ve lit, meaning the fires serve as something of a “Waypoint” system.
Don’t worry – that doesn’t really tone down the difficulty all that much.
Warps aren’t the only thing that’s been changed from Dark Souls. Humanity as an item is gone. Instead, recovering from your Hollowed state is done using a human effigy, an item which can also be burned in a bonfire to protect your world from invasion. Oh, that’s another thing – unless you’re playing offline, you can be invaded at any time. Being human this time around actually reduces the chance of getting invaded.
On the topic of PvP, there's also a completely revamped covenant system, which puts a far greater focus on community than the previous game. I've only scratched the surface of it so far, but it definitely seems promising.
Now, I loved Dark Souls, but I’ll be the first to admit it had its problems. The AI was dumb as bricks, and multiplayer was a crap-shoot often as not plagued with terrible lag. Even when you weren’t lagging, your battles turned into little more than a contest to see who could backstab who first. Not only that, the framerates – particularly in areas such as Blighttown – were some of the worst I’ve seen.
Dark Souls II takes all those problems and throws them out the window. Combat in the game feels familiar but much-improved over the first, while dedicated multiplayer servers ensure that both PvP and Co-Op go off smoothly and without a hitch. I rarely saw a “summoning failed” notification while I played, and even then, it was usually because someone else had beaten me to the punch. Backstabs and critical, meanwhile, are far more difficult to land – and all the more rewarding for it. Enemies are much more intelligent, as well.
As for the frame-rates, they’re more or less stable, though I did notice my game hiccup every now and then (particularly during character creation). Still, it’s a notable improvement over Dark Souls.
The title’s also a masterpiece in terms of environmental storytelling. While most RPGs seem content to bludgeon their players over the head with the plot, Dark Souls II simply leaves plot-relevant elements laying about where a keen-eyed played might notice them…and start making connections. The occasional cut-scene only further sweetens the deal.
So, what kind of game is Dark Souls II? It’s the sort of game that will gleefully kill you over and over, handing down a devastating punishment for even the smallest mistake. It’s the sort of game that offers a genuine challenge, and a world where even a single missed click can lead to your demise. In short, it’s exactly the sort of game we’ve all been waiting for.
Now, I must be off – I’ve a lot more dying to do.
GameDynamo's Score for Dark Souls II (X360)
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A gamer at heart, Nick started writing when he was a child. He holds a BA in English, works as a freelancer, and loves every minute of it. One day, he hopes to net himself a career in game design - but that's something for the future.
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