In 2011, the Xbox 360 saw the release of a unique game. Death and monstrous bosses roamed rampant throughout the game as the player attempted to progress through the winding dungeons to come out victorious. That game was Dark Souls
. Almost two and a half years later, the game gets given a sequel in the form of Dark Souls II
. Is it as much of a hit as the original, though? With a number of tweaks and changes made to the system, it's a game where both newcomers and veterans will have a fantastic journey.
When you think of Dark Souls
, you think of death. Just like the first, you will be dying a fair bit in Dark Souls II
. The game is designed so that death is a tool to teach you rather than punish you. Whenever you die, you will realise how you died and thus become more knowledgeable in the way you tackle a boss or area. It never feels truly unfair. Occasionally, you may feel like a sudden ambush of giant spiders killing you in mere seconds doesn't really work in your favour, but that teaches you to then come prepared to that specific area. Rather than simply dying a lot, every death matters in Dark Souls II
. Losing to a boss at the end of a long area and then having to brave the beasts that guard the area all over again is quite the challenge. It feels like you die an awful lot, but it's because you remember each death that happens.
The world of Dark Souls II
is big. The game will begin in a tutorial area of sorts called "Things Betwixt" (weird name, I know) where you'll firstly create your character, and then venture out, getting taught the combat system through various stones that are placed in the area. After you make it to the end, you will arrive in Majula which acts as the game hub. Here, you will find a number of different people who will help you in various ways. These people won't all be here at first, though. You will need to meet them throughout the world before they make their way to Majula. You will find a blacksmith, merchants and a number of other NPC's who will aid you on your quest. The most important of which is the Emerald Herald. She stands by the bonfire and is the sole person you use to level up at. Unlike the first Dark Souls
, you can only level up when talking to her so expect to be seeing Majula quite a lot. Estus Flasks also make a return, but work slightly differently. The Emerald Herald will also upgrade those for you too. When exploring Majula, three initial pathways will lead out into the world of Drangleic. In true Dark Souls fashion, you aren't told which one to take. That's for you to decide. From here on out, the world is your oyster and its secrets are yours to discover.Dark Souls II
hosts a multitude of locations, both big and small. From forests of undead hordes to dark, dank dungeons infested with giant rats, there's enough variety here to keep players interested. To fit with the overall theme of the game, many of these locations will be presented in a dark, lonely and uninviting way. Every now and then, you will catch a glimpse of the sun which shines in the distance in an attempt to spur you on and keep you moving in your journey. With these new locations, also comes more secrets. Exploration is constantly encouraged in Dark Souls II
, regardless of what lies around the corner. Will you drop down that menacing hole? Will you go up that creaky staircase to see what lies above? Will you jump across that perilous platform to the chest just out of reach? You will find yourself contemplating these decisions many times and whether it's worth risking your very life essence to reach the glowing item. The majority of the time, you will be making that risk because it's simply too hard to resist. Part of the fun of Dark Souls II
is putting your brave face on and exploring every nook and cranny that you can find. There's a unique joy in coming back to an area you think you've fully explored, and then finding an out-of-the-way door and opening it to a whole new location. As the game explains almost nothing, finding your own way is the key to success and it makes the feeling all the more sweeter when you stumble across somewhere new without even meaning to.
Speaking of feelings of the sweet kind, vanquishing enemies in Dark Souls II
is a joyous occasion. The Souls games have always presented us with the notion of once you defeat a boss, an immense feeling of triumph will come over you. In this particular instalment, the boss count is big. We're talking 30. Maybe more. You will probably know when a boss is about to be encountered when you approach a gate engulfed in fog. There's always that feeling of anticipation when facing a boss and it's one of both excitement and terror at the same time. It could be said that out of the three Souls games, Dark Souls II
is the most accessible to newcomers. It does a good job of easing you in to the boss fights while still remaining true to its roots. While the bosses are numerous in number, some of them aren't mind-numbingly hard as you might think. I've defeated a few bosses on my first attempt and didn't have too much trouble in fighting them, but don't let that dishearten you. This is still Dark Souls through and through and patience is required to make it through to the other side. If you go in, sword raised high, ready to slash your way through, then you're going to pay for it. In one particular segment, I stupidly walked right off the path into the murky water straight after a boss battle. I had to run all the way back to reclaim my souls through a ton of monsters and I couldn't face doing that again so I made a run for it. Bad idea. Progress may be slow, but the reward at the end is even better if you persist. Expect lots of boss fights and lots of fun.
To keep you on your toes in those boss battles, there is an interesting mechanic in place. You are given the choice of a starting class at the beginning to decide your initial stats and equipment. After that, you are given free reign to level up in whatever you want, and wield whatever you like (if you have the stats to do so, of course). You must always chose widely when leveling, though, because souls are precious. They are used for everything. Buying equipment, upgrading weapons, leveling up. You name it. This is why death is all the more lethal. As an extra punishment for death, unlike the first Dark Souls
, whenever you die, a small chunk of your maximum health will be taken away from you. The more you die, the more health that is taken, and eventually you will end up with half of your original HP unless you do something about it. A specific item called a "Human Effigy" is required to reverse the effects of this, but you have to find these items yourself, so use them carefully if you have any. Otherwise you may end up in quite the predicament if you're up against a boss with only a sliver of health.
The combat itself fits in well with the game. You are in full control of your character's blocking, evading, attacking and precise movement. The combat in all Souls games has always had that "clunky" feel, but it has always worked. No matter what enemy you face, there is always a challenge presented to you. To come out unscathed, you will need to time your blocks and attacks at exactly the right time so that the foe will be killed. It's always best to enter a new room with your shield raised, just in case a sword comes crashing down on you out of nowhere. It's an intuitive combat system that is simple enough to pick up, but hard to master if you're the "all guns blazing" type.
The multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls II
is unique. Throughout the world, you will find orange scribbles on the ground. When you examine them, a message will appear notifying you of potential dangers that lie ahead, or helpful hints for the area you are currently in. These messages are written by other players and they act as a way for the community to help each other along. The game doesn't give you much help itself, so it's down to us to figure things out and guide others. It's a fantastic source of help, and I felt that the system was crafted better in this instalment. If you find your own specific danger or item that's cleverly hidden away, then it's extremely easy to create your own message for other players. You will also be able to rate the messages you read if you found it useful, and if you are on the receiving end of that rated message, you will be notified and be given a portion of your health back if you're running low. This makes the system extremely helpful as we're all in this together. Co-op and invasions also make a return and work in a similar fashion to that of the first game. Put down your summon sign and help another player eradicate a boss if you wish, or use certain items to invade another player's world and reap the rewards of their death. The fact that invasions can happen at ANY time, whether human or not, means that you always have to be prepared for the worst.
Achievement wise, the game encourages you to explore everywhere you can. There's a good number of story related achievements, but reaching that point is a challenge in itself. Again, covenants are back in full force and there's an achievement to find each of them. Some are well hidden and so you will need to go through the darkest of tunnels and deepest of holes to reach them. Other achievements involve finding all spells, or inheriting armour of a specific person, so again, searching every nook and cranny is key. Like the first, it's not going to be a quick completion. If you persevere, the achievement comes in the form of killing a boss and making past inconceivable odds. This is one of the few games where achievements don't matter all that much. They will come in time, but the reward is in the game itself.
There is so much more that I could say about Dark Souls II
. There are secrets aplenty, bosses galore and of course, death creeps around every corner. This is just a taste of what the game has to offer, and it is just as enjoyable as its predecessor. Certain people have said the graphics aren't top notch, which may be true, but that's not what this game is about. The locations still look great, and many of the bosses look as menacing as ever. I found my journey (which is still ongoing) to be remarkably glitch free. One area had frame rate drops when fighting an enemy, but apart from that, not much else was found. Enemies may attack through walls when lashing out at you and such, but there's nothing game-breaking here. If you loved the first Dark Souls
and still haven't got this yet, then what are you waiting for!? For those who either didn't enjoy the first game that much or are yet to try out a Souls game, it will be tough to get used to this and may prove more of a challenge. As I was prepared for the way in which the game worked, I felt like the challenge wasn't as great as when I first stepped into Lordran, but nonetheless, Drangleic is an astounding world and it's one that more gamers should take a look into. Just be sure to keep that shield close.