Dark Souls II: The Kotaku Review

Dark Souls II: The Kotaku Review
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Dark Souls II begins by telling you that you’re flat-out screwed.

The game opens with a smiling, blind, gap-toothed crone, telling you that you’re cursed. If you stay where you are, your memories will fade and you will become a hollow — an empty undead beast that feeds off the souls of the living. Like many cursed before you must journey to a far off land, where an incredibly tiny chance at salvation lies. “Your wings will burn, time after time,” she says, mockingly “for that is your fate.”

The old crone is not just talking to your character — she’s talking to you, the player. She’s addressing the strange masochist (like me) who allows themselves to get repeatedly kicked in the crotch by these games, yet continues to play them. She’s saying, “You came back, and you’ll come back again. It’s inevitable, because that is who you are.”

If you’re one of those weird Dark Souls diehards, and you’re wondering if it is any less challenging than the previous entries, let the cruel laughter of these old crones ease your fears:

If you’ve never played Dark Souls or its spiritual predecessor Demon’s Souls, let me fill you in: They’re brutal action role-playing games that do not explain a damn thing to you. Imagine Zelda fused with 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons, with a mean streak six mile wide. You’re not going to have your hand held. You will get stuck. You will get angry, frustrated, amused and want take a sledgehammer to your controller. But once you understand the psychotic dream logic of these games and recognise that at their core they are ultimately fair, you will feel a genuine sense of accomplishment. In gaming, that sensation is all too fleeting.

Dark Souls II continues the psychotic tradition of its forebears, this time in the kingdom of Drangleic. Like the games before, much of the plot is not told to you outright, but rather alluded to by a series of cryptic NPCs. The characters that help you in on journey are cursed as well — slowly losing their memories and humanity. It’s a world of the dead and dying, at the bleak twilight of a once great nation.

While much of the the tone and feel of the game has stayed true to Dark Souls, many of the core mechanics have been tweaked for the better. Many of these tweaks — like the focus on a hub area with a spooky maiden and the ability to warp between bonfires from the beginning of the game, are direct callbacks to the structure of the original Demon’s Souls.

One particularly interesting change is that individual enemies stop spawning after you kill them dozens of times. This keeps the pace of the game going by both throttling particularly difficult trouble spots and preventing players from lingering on a specific area. Players can then undo this using a very specific item at bonfires, allowing them to replay particularly tough boss fights and zones at a ramped up difficulty.

One possible criticism you could levy against Dark Souls II is that at times it is a overly obtuse and illogical. Frequently I found myself frustrated and unsure where exactly I was supposed to go. Vital parts of the game are hidden in esoteric locations. Switches can be easily missed and paths to vital parts of the game remain hidden. One particularly infuriating example: If you do not talk to a specific NPC a certain number of times, they will not unlock a path leading to a giant chunk the game. This kind of stuff might push away first-time players.

On the other hand, that very lack of context forced me to talk with other people that were playing Dark Souls II in tandem with me. It was a modern version of the playground conversations I had as a child, those days of swapping tricks and helping each other muscle through a particularly rough game. Much of that sense of communication might be lost once the game is out and walkthroughs become ubiquitous.

After it was announced, many people including me wondered and hoped that Dark Souls II would still be Dark Souls. On a some level, it is. The ‘soul’ of Dark Souls, that cruel yet fair sense of respect, is still there in all its unadulterated glory. But on another level, Dark Souls II is something much more — a game that carefully considers its lineage at every turn, makes significant and complex departures from the formula when it needs to and expands its scope.

Reviewing this game took weeks off my life, leaving me sleep-deprived, stressed and sick. Meals were skipped and at most I slept 3 hours a night. But I beat it. I won. And that sense of accomplishment, that ability to look back and see a game as an actual journey, is the heart of what Dark Souls II is. I’ll be damned if it was any other way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a nap.

Full disclosure: this review was done on review code, before any servers were live. Multiplayer and PvP were not available. I will update this review when the servers are live and I have put a significant amount of time into retail version of the game.

To contact the author of this post, write to ch[email protected] or find him on Twitter at @papapishu.


      • *spoiler alert* your main character dies every time you misjudge a gap, mistime a block, fail to dodge super awesome attack of youwilldieifthishitsyou

        • Yay someone got!

          I wonder what would be the worst bogus Hollywood ending you can use to end the series. Something like the 6th Sense, gasp he was dead the entire time! Or something like the main character waking up on the couch and realizing that it was just all a bad dream.

  • bring on april 25…

    playing DS atm on PC, played it on ps3 back in the day with all the dsfix’s its pretty damn playable. I would almost say I enjoying it 🙂

    I have had wonderful moments of losing 2-3 levels of souls but I have also had epic moments of defeating mobs and just cheering hard! (well actually I think I come down with Tourettes for a little bit and just swear at the defeated boss in relief 🙂

    • You should be enjoying it the PC version with DSfix is the best version as long as you use a controller.

    • Well I’m gonna get it and play it. While I’m having fun you’re gonna be all like, “Nuuu I wanna play.” and I’ll be like, “Ha ha ha I am enjoying myself”.

  • Kotaku heard you like gifs, so they put gifs in your gifs aiming for a recursive gif loop of apocalyptic effect.

  • OK, I give up, just plugged my xbox controller in to my PC.

    Dark Souls, the first, I WILL OWN THIS!*

    *After being owned ridiculously first, so I’m told.

    • Your first time playing!!!? I’m ridiculously jealous. I would love to experience it first time again!

      • Aye, never had internet when it first came out (desktop didn’t have wireless, had just moved out of parent’s, etc).

        And now… WHAT IS THIS!? I AM A GAMER! I CAN FIGHT THINGS! The challenge makes me rage, but concentrate. But the moves! Proper parry and riposte!? Not so impressed since my first Mount&Blade run through.

  • On the other hand, that very lack of context forced me to talk with other people that were playing Dark Souls II in tandem with me.

    See this is why I didn’t like the first game. I didn’t know anyone else who was actually playing through it at the same time as me when I finally did pick it up and the only advice I got from people who had played the games was that I should check a guide if I got stuck or even to just follow a walkthrough. Progression was slow on my own and I ended up getting bored of it.

  • I’d assume not having the online component would be the #1 cause to the problems of not knowing what to do, or where to go, etc.

    In Dark Souls all the messages from other players helping each other out (or leading you to a horrific death) really adds to the world, and helps a tonne.

  • My criticism is that the controls are as horrendous as with the first Dark Souls PC version. Shift+ Left Click? What? Not to mention the game, though higher res at least this time around, still looks cruddy for the PC crowd.

    Oh, and my recognized-as-xbox controller didn’t work for it, even with x360ce, so.. Total waste of time even trying to play it; I can’t believe devs can screw up controls that badly still. It’s sad.

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