Dark Souls is not a friendly game. It doesn't hold your hand, it only gives you the most basic of hints, and it will gleefully murder you if you make the slightest mistake. While the lore is rich, it's not a game for people who "play for story"--it's a game for people who want a challenge.
From Software's hardcore action-RPG returned recently, and while I was able to pound out reviews for Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster (with Baker and Victoria's help, of course) and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, I really wanted to take my time with Dark Souls II, because it's not a quick-fix game that you can finish in a couple hours... at least, not right after launch. See, the thing about Dark Souls is that it's a single-player and multiplayer game at the same time. It's your adventure, you search the ruins and face the horrors within, but you see all these other players through their ghosts--their battles, their discoveries, their deaths--and you know that really, you're not alone. So with that in mind, this review isn't just me and my experiences--I gathered together a handful of Crunchyroll's Dark Souls faithful to talk about what Dark Souls II does right, and where it falters.
Nate Ming, Customer Support and Features/Reviews Writer
Every time I hear someone talk about how "hardcore" a gamer they are, a part of me wonders how far they got in Dark Souls. A rarity in today's hand-holding game market, Dark Souls is a rich and demanding game that asks for a lot from the player, but gives back in spades, with deep gameplay mechanics and a grim atmosphere that's overflowing with stories to tell. Dark Souls II continues this trend, dumping you in the dead kingdom of Drangleic and murdering you over and over again in the most creative and unexpected ways.
Death is a tool for learning in Dark Souls--while there have been some concessions made to make the game "easier," like smoother, faster character movement and quick-use healing items, its difficulty has been beefed up in other ways. Equipment now breaks a lot faster, and healing items come with different pros and cons--do you heal a large amount of health quickly, but suffer from a movement cooldown, or use a quicker item to free up your hands that very slowly regenerates health? Also, enemies are faster, more responsive, and require faster reflexes to defeat than in the previous game, so your "faster, smoother movement" isn't really a gamebreaker.
Right now, Dark Souls II is probably the best game of 2014 for me, purely proving the old adage of gameplay over graphics. It's more game than you get in a lot of big-name AAA titles, more importantly, it doesn't treat you like an idiot. You've been gaming for 25+ years? Put that experience to the test, and get taken for a brutal, but ultimately rewarding ride.
+ Smoother controls help ease in newer players, but the game bolsters its difficulty in other areas
+ Like I said before, more game than many other games--Dark Souls II provides quality and quantity on the solo and multiplayer fronts
+ Subtle storytelling makes you look for the hints in the game's darkest and most dangerous corners
+/- Environments look more beautiful than ever, but character models are still kind of unimpressive
- Ridiculous load times
Joseph Luster, News Dude
Baker McDonald, Vegetable Support Manager
Derek Wang, Mad Scientist Extraordinaire
I remember the first mistake I made in Dark Souls was thinking the catacombs was the first area in the game. I'd heard that this game would be hard but not THIS hard. Only after an hour of dying did I notice the nice climb to the Undead Burg from Firelink Shrine! Dark Souls II comes along and I'm determined not to make the same mistake again. So I find myself in Heide's tower, land of the giant knights and get my behind handed to me in the gentlest "welcome to Dark Souls" way.
Dark Souls II took everything good about the core game of its predecessor and made them better. Combat, for example, feels a lot more calculated. Smarter AI means you have to be more intelligent about when you go for the kill. Stat benefits are spread out a little more evenly so you don't feel as guilty when you increase something you weren't sure of (I'm looking at you, Resistance!). My favorite change has been the Covenant system improvements. They took away Abandonment Sin, and put warp points close to every Covenant NPC.
Dark Souls offers something special that a lot of modern games have lost: a real sense of accomplishment. Dark Souls II is another stunning addition to such an amazing series. Yes, you'll die countless times and get frustrated out of your mind, but you get better, you learn how to avoid attacks, you find ways to exploit enemy weaknesses and it feels good. Great accomplishments cost effort; Dark Souls will always be one of the highlights of my gaming career. Needless to say, I'll be looking to do it all again for the PC release.
+ Combat feels familiar, yet new, and the bosses are harder than ever
+ Environments are still gloriously haunting
+ Covenants are way more fun (HAIL THE RAT KING)
+ Using servers instead of peer networks has massively benefitted online play
+/- More linear paths remove some barrier of entry
+/- No permanent Red Eye Orb. This means less invasions, which means less reason to be a Blue Sentinel, which means less reason to need to be in the Blue Apostles
+/- Non-respawning enemies means finite resources. You can't farm anything without ascetics
- Different zones of Drangleic feel too disconnected, too linear, and occasionally, too small
- So much loading. Menu loading, area loading takes forever, NPC dialogue loading, item icons loading, loading loading...
- As far as I can tell, less-compelling characters and lore than predecessor
Peter Fobian, Newsletter Contributor
Not quite an expansion or a sequel, Dark Souls II occupies a grey area in what has been an iterative series. It shows in some of the hotfix-like changes and new mechanics which the Dark Souls veteran will likely find unintuitive and completely invisible in the minimalistic style of From Software. For all that, Dark Souls II successfully recreates many of the elements that make it so compelling. The setting is as dark as it has ever been, and the storytelling retains the "show, don't tell" style, forcing you to explore and infer from the limited information.
Your enemies are as intelligent as ever, and have a number of new, deadly traps and ambushes ready for the unwary. Most importantly, the bosses are just as intimidating, and defeating them still provides the same sense of relief and satisfaction as its predecessors. A few unusual fumbles by From Software, but a solid release with all the agonizing deaths you could ever hope to experience.
+ As controller-smashingly difficult as ever, with many new traps and ambushes
+ Remains true to the From Software storytelling method
+ Setting as dark and rich as molasses, with much more active online interaction
- Awkward control changes, and invisible (sometimes unintuitive) mechanical adjustments
- You can only level up in one place
- No Solaire?!
So with all those opinions out of the way, with Dark Souls II having been out for some time now, what are your thoughts on the game? New players, will you be joining us on the fields of death and despair? Returning players, what are your thoughts on From Software's newest adventure?