Is Dark Souls II Dark Souls Enough?

If Dark Souls was a spike-covered controller that impaled your hand before you were even allowed to start playing, then Dark Souls II is in the room. It’s a demonic ghost that moves the chair from behind you as you go to sit down, revealing a mine shaft below teeming with ravenous horrors. There’s self-awareness to Dark Souls II, a malevolence that is tighter and more burled than its predecessor. Predatory. It feels familiar yet strangely different, like seeing a friend who has lost a lot of weight.

It takes a good while to come to terms with how different Dark Souls II feels to control. I tried dual-wielding for the first four hours but never got to a sweet spot. I felt too exposed and it’s far more effective to double-hand my strongest weapon anyway. It’s more than that, though – everything has been changed around. The jump command is different (mapped to the left thumbstick), dual wielding changes what the triggers do and I don’t remember the early Dark Souls experience feeling this . . . clumsy.

This is deliberate, a design decision made to put hardcore players off guard – to make you relearn how to master a Dark Souls game. And I can gel with that a little. However, the feel of playing Dark Souls was always a large part of the experience for me. I loved how it was similar to learning a new language. Having defeated Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, I’m competent in that language, I can ask how to get to the train station and order a coffee. In Dark Souls II, they’ve gone and changed all the adverbs! Actions can still be communicated, but with less control and finesse than before.

To feel cheated is the point. To yearn for that sense of delicate mastery once more. Now, you’re no longer the top dog - it’s back to being the new kid all over again. And really, once you get used to pressing the thumbstick to jump and get a handle on thinking of weapon attacks using your left side, it’s not all that different. A little persistence is all that’s needed, and we all know that Dark Souls fans are brimming with that particular trait.

Dark Souls II uses a completely new engine, reportedly designed with PC, PS4 and Xbox One in mind, although no official statement has been forthcoming on new-gen versions. This bleeds through to the game in noticeable ways. There’s a weird rubberiness to some barrels and chests, for example. Hack them with your sword and they wobble slightly, imbuing Drangleic with an askew surrealness. Animations are less set this time. Creatures will hang back their swings just to watch you start rolling away, then catch you before you can raise a shield.

There are more subtle touches: the way that summoning and invading is now much more a part of the game and encouraged in both forms; the increased intelligence of enemies, who are far less prone to dropping off ledges and will aggressively follow you to surprising places; the removal of ragdoll physics and the overhaul of healing to incorporate life gems; level design that is both more tightly controlled and more grandly sprawling than Dark Souls; and of course the disappearance of enemies if you die a whole heap, which is both jarring and helpful, a decision over which the jury will hang for a good while to come. With fast travel between all bonfires possible up front, gameplay adjuncts tend to occupy pockets of the universe rather than necessarily double back around to accommodate a return journey to familiar ground.

I want to share one experience that highlights the meagre gain of systematic knowledge in Dark Souls II. After five hours of play, I finally stumbled upon a fog door that led to my first boss encounter. I won’t spoil this fight except to say that I died at least twenty times, a fact I’m now aghast at as I enter my thirtieth hour of play. Technically, I killed this boss twice. The first time, my sword reached up and hit its leg, ending its life just as it stomped down and ended mine. In Dark Souls, this would have signalled the end of that boss’s time in Lordran and you would awaken at your most recent bonfire with the boss’s soul and any loot appearing from thin air. In Dark Souls II, such expectations can’t be taken for granted. I returned to the boss area only to find him very hale and in need of a second beating. I succeeded and claimed my prize, but the small lesson learned will stick with me, jostling alongside so many other gleaned snippets and half-answered curios.

Is Dark Souls II Darks Souls enough? The answer to that is a careful yes. The more I play, the more it feels like Dark Souls and the more connected the two titles become. Drangleic is far more accommodating to your presence than Lordran will ever be. It feels tailored and shaped for play, expectant and cheeky like a knowing wink from a mysterious old crone. Everything is similar yet everything is different. There is still so much to discover and death is an easy toll to pay. That is the true essence of Dark Souls.


    You can re-map the jump button... just putting that out there.

      Yeah, there were way too many mentions of the different jump button. Just change it and move on.

    The controls feel slightly odd, but then so did the controls for Dark Souls 1 when you first started playing it, as they did for almost any FromSoft game for that matter.

      I hated the Dark Souls controls after clocking Demon's Souls. So I never endrd up playing it that much. So I may return to Dark Souls 1 IF I beat Dark Souls 2.

        If you're able to handle the controls in Dark Souls 2, then going back to Dark Souls 1 afterwards should be no issue.

    I finally beat the Ruin Sentinels after summoning two others for help. I finally caved in after 30+ deaths. The battle of was easy with their easy. I didn't feel that sense of accomplishment that I normally feel when I beat a boss. Normally my palms start to sweat, which doesn't happen in other games, I hold my breathe when the boss is close to death, then breathe a large sigh of releif as a shiver goes up my spine when I deal the final blow.

    That didn't happen when I had help. Suffice to say I may not summon an ally again.

      I reckon I died more times than that at the Sentinels. I had the same problem. A really bad build for those bosses. I'm glad I stuck it out. Took me AAAAAAAAGES, so I totally understand the temptation to use summons.

        You've probably said this before but what build are you using?

        I was a duel-wielder wearing merchant armour. I purchased the elite knight armour and used a pre-order shield just for the fight though.

        Yeah those sentinels are SUPER hard. I died about 50 times to them before cursing myself, heading the to Cathedral of Blue to take on a different boss, then come back and kill the sentinels the second try without summons. Feels good man, REAL good.

        I went a caster for a change in ds2 and boy did I find the sentinels hard, eventually got past them and cleared the the entire area including bell tower gargoyles and the sinner only to realise I missed a switch in the starting area that led to the tower of flame from majula... So yeah I could have done a far more level appropriate area first , leveled up and obtained far better spells/weapons before dying 30 odd times to the sentinels... While I love the exploration side, it is so very easy to miss entire areas or sections in ds2

      You summoned help? Dead to me, man.

        Tell me about it. As soon as I did it I feel terrible. I don't mind helping people with bosses though.

        On a similar note, has anyone had trouble using the cracked blue eye item?

          Yeah. You can only use them as a member of the Blue Sentinels, and only to invade people with sin (pretty much only Brotherhood of Blood covenant). The problem is that almost no one has any sin because red cracked eye orbs are so damn rare :P

            Ah that must be why. I mean I've been human and a member of the Blue Sentinels. But when I go to use the item the actual 'use' option is shaded grey. Possibly wait until people start farming orbs. Well which is kind of impossible seeing as enemies stop appearing after awhile....

          I am pretty sure you need to be in the blue sentinels covenant and in human form to use these.
          Nevermind Shane beat me to it

          Last edited 27/03/14 1:58 pm

    Dual wielding is a fantastic addition. You should probably hold off until you have a good amount of stamina though, and the right weapons are a must. Once you have it all together though, a lot of things will go down with one or two hits with both weapons. The drawback is, you need to know how to dodge.

    On the topic of the new engine, one thing I'm finding amusing is how it deals with bodies that have been off screen for a time. If you go back to an area with bodies, you can sometimes catch them being dropped onto the ground and then physics takes over. Sometimes this leads to interesting situations such as heads being stuck in walls, or coming back to a set of stairs to find enemy corpses sliding past you.

      This. Nothing more scarier then turning a corner and finding a dog's torso sticking out of a wall. I may have crapped myself a bit seeing that haha.

    Confession time - I enjoyed Demon's Souls more than Dark Souls. Dark Souls 2 feels closer to Demon's Souls than the first Dark Souls - like they've blended everything they've learned from the design of those two into one.
    I clocked both Demon's and Dark on the first run with the turtle technique - big shield and spear, poke away. As with the rest of the disorienting changes in the new game, trying this technique felt completely different, and I've changed my play style to something else that feels better.

    I like it. I want to be home playing it now instead of working.

      I agree with you. But I haven't explored Dark Souls 1 as much. The control's in Demon's Souls just seemed...heavier. It's hard to describe. I felt like their was more weight behind a swing, when you got it it seemed like it really hurt. When I first played Dark Souls I was amazed by how much I could move around freely.

      Totally agree, Dark Souls II has Demons Souls level design written all over it!

    I loved this game. Easier than part one and some nice refinements.

    I'm really enjoying Dark Souls 2, but at the same time, I... I really kinda wanna play the game from the cinematic trailers, that game looks pretty awesome, too.

    Also, what the hell is with only giving you access to the trailer/box-art/cover armour toward the end of the damn game, and having it be kinda shitty stats? Someone needs a nut-punch for that one.

    Last edited 27/03/14 7:23 pm

    I've found myself aligning with most of the points in this article. As a long time fan of the souls series, Demon's Souls is probably still my #1. Dark Douls 2 is quickly gaining momentum tho. I was very unsure at first, but now that I'm in NG+, I am really REALLY getting into it. As in true Souls fashion, Dark Souls 2 doesn't really start until NG+. Bonfire aesthetics are pretty genius. Lots of black phantoms in NG+.
    Gonna be in Dranglic for awhile.

    I have mixed feelings about dark souls 2. On one hand i like the dual wielding mechanics, how there is more transparency with the more esoteric stats, and that it seems like there are a lot more viable builds than before.

    On the other hand, as the article mentions the game lacks a lot of the precision of dark souls 1 and doesn't replace it with anything meaningful. They really nerfed the dodging mechanics into the ground. Take a look at the Artorias the Abysswalker boss from DkS1 vs the Lost Sinner boss from DkS2 . These are both similar bosses: they are both humanoid, wield great swords, wear light armour and are reliant on highly mobile styles with lots of dodging and jump attacks. If you compare these two bosses (look them up on youtube if you haven't played them and are interested) you'll see that Artorias is a "high energy" boss: he keeps throwing out new attacks, combos and powerups, and uses his jump attacks to threaten the player at whatever range they feel comfortable at . He has attacks at different speeds, that disrupt the pace of the fight, so that the player can't get used to him attacking with all quick attacks or all slow attacks. His power up move completely changes the fight because it means that health ranges that were once safe are now fatal, and attacks you could previously block will now stagger you.

    Now look at the lost sinner. he has 2-3 combos and 2 jump attacks. he attacks at the same slow pace for the entire fight. He doesn't feel like an overwhelming opponent like Artorias does. he feels like if you just take him slow you have almost now chance of losing. He is a slower, less precise version of a previous battle. and there is a reason for this. DkS2 couldn't have you fight Artorias, with the floaty imprecise controls and nerfed dodges, he would rip you to shreds. This is why the game has no truly memorable boss battles, sure there are some fun ones but nothing that could compare to Ornstien & Smough, Manus, or the Four Kings. Those bosses put you under pressure, they felt like you never had a chance to catch your breath.

    Another thing missing is the sense of anticipation. When I first beat the Lost Sinner and the game told me "Great Soul embraced" my first thoughts were "Huh? okay, I guess" . I was honestly surprised that i'd just beaten one of the big bosses. In DkS1 the search for the lord souls is the end game but there was still an appropriate sense of anticipation for each of the bosses. You hear about them at the start of the game as these beings akin to gods, and before you fight each of them there is rising action that prepares for the fight. For Seath, you confront him, lose, get imprisoned, escape, learn his weakness, and then get ambushed by him. For the four kings, you reveal whats under the water in new londo and then get sent on a quest to a far away woods to search for a ring that will allow you to enter the abyss. Finally you enter the tower that they're sealed in and you go down and down the spiral steps until reach the bottom and have to step into the utter blackness to confront the boss. I could go on, but for each of the lord souls there is appropriate build up.

    The search for the 4 great souls is 80% of the game in DkS2 but there still isn't that build up. The game makes it really unclear when you're starting on the path to one of them, and where the end of the path will be. There is no foreshadowing what the important bosses will be. As a result you kind of meander about warping from bonfire to bonfire trying to work out where to go until you stumble into one.

    Finally, the game lacks the connectivity and purpose of the first game. Lets start with the purpose, compare the areas of Blight Town from DkS1 to The Gutter from DkS2. Both are similar rickshaw areas built at the bottom of the world out of the sight of regular people. Now without looking at the lore of each area, what stories do the areas tell, and how were they built? Playing through Blight Town you encounter Pink Humanoid monsters, and ogre like beings at the top levels, and chaos bug monsters at the bottom. It feels like the area was built by the pink monsters, who couldn't live above ground because the humans probably saw them as freakish monsters. So they built a city in support struts of the human cities, constructing it with what the humans threw away. I think they fled the lower levels when the Chaos Bug Monsters arrived from the nearby Demon Ruins.

    In comparison i have no idea who built the gutter. It's populated by zombies and big doglike monsters. Seeing as they are the only things with oppose able thumbs nearby I guess the zombies did it before they became zombies? Even still I have no idea how they got there, the gutter is at the bottom of a 300 meter drop which has no ladders. And supposing that they somehow managed to survive the drop, why would they go down there? I guess they could have been persecuted or something so they got driven down there. But that doesn't make sense seeing as they have hundreds of highly advanced guardian statues that defend them, which were made by the Gyrms in the doors of Pharros, which are above ground. Why (and how?) would Gyrms trade with people who were so discriminated against? And if not, why would people throw away so many highly advanced and valuable statues into the gutter? Maybe if you read the lore this all makes perfect sense. But in DkS1 it made sense just by playing through the game, and the lore just added texture and nuance.

    In DkS1 the entire world was connected in ways that made sense. Hell the entire bottom half of the game world is actually shaped like a giant kiln designed to feed the first flame, but I digress. Take the Earthen Peak from DkS2 , it's a giant grain processing tower that is clearly standing on it's own, not connected to anything. we can see a mountain in the back ground but it clearly not connected to the tower. And yet, after finishing the tower we take a elevator straight up to the Iron Keep, a sort volcanic castle area that seems like it's based around forging. Where the hell is the iron keep located in space? is it floating in the sky? if so how come we couldn't see the the elevator shaft protruding from the top of the Earthen Keep? And why would a forging facility's only entrance be to the top of a grain production facility? What kind of sense does that make?

    This may sound like nit picking, and to an extent, it is. But the world of Dark Souls 2 just doesn't make any goddamn sense, and this was something the first game nailed so well.

      Totally agree.
      DS2 is like Dark Souls, but it is not Dark Souls.

      Couldn't have said it better myself! I am now on NG+++ in Dark Souls II and while the game itself is entertaining enough, the first Dark Souls was surely the better game.
      DS II feels to me like they tried to take recognisable elements from the first game, but that they did a rush job on it.
      The different areas seem so small and the way that they are all interconnected is done really poorly, when compared to DS I.
      And despite the fact that they added more boss fights, none of them are really memorable.
      It feels like Dark Souls light to me.

    DS 2 is like demon souls and DS had a baby. I like the game, but think the map is too large and too many bosses. I agree the ruin sentinels as one of the most difficult bosses. DS 2 has a different feel to it than DS, and I don't mean the controls. This game doesn't feel like a community game to me at all. It has all the feel if a single player game with some co-op opportunities if you get stuck. I'm undecided if I like the game. Right now, I think DS was a superior experience.

    The only change I really don't like living with is what happened to the counter mechanic. It used to be something people learned and mastered after say half way through, But I wager people rarely ever counter in Dark Souls 2.

    After beating dark souls 2 twice, i went back to dark souls 1, and i have a physical inability to play it now. i dont even know why. I didnt get to darkroot garden until 2 hours after starting, which is ridiculous considering i once did it in 20 minutes.

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