FEATURE: "Dark Souls II" Review

Praise the Sun! Nate is joined by other Crunchyroll "Dark Souls" fans for this review... and they all die horribly at the end

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.

 

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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

 

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Joseph Luster, News Dude

 

What can I say, I'm completely obsessed with Dark Souls II. I didn't get into Demon's Souls until after I played Dark Souls, and I came in way late on that one, as well. Thankfully everyone else in the world gets just as crazed over these games as I do, so people are still playing. Despite how fun the first Dark Souls was for me, I really enjoyed going into this experience completely dark, knowing nothing. While the first intimidated me and made me fall back on guides as a crutch—I never seriously expected to get far when I started—it's so much more fun to learn along with everyone else and make discoveries of my own. You can't take that from me! Not even from my rotting corpse, which has fallen to the ground of Drangleic enough times to form a continent of its own.
 
I recently read a quote about Dark Souls praising some of its atmosphere, and I think it really hit the nail on the head by saying the world seems to be indifferent to you being in it. That's awesome. I love the feeling of everyone having their own story; their own desperate quest. Maybe not everyone will finish the game, and maybe that's okay. Maybe someone starts 48 different new characters of various classes and only gets an hour or so into the game each time. That was their story. If they left a note, that was their contribution. Everyone matters in Dark Souls II, and no one matters in Dark Souls II.
 
Some downsides? Most of the bosses are cool, but some are rehashes. The online is both genius and stubbornly restrictive, which simply makes it "charming" in the world of Dark Souls II. Even with the occasional cruddy looking area and obscene load times, I can't help but feel at home every time I turn it on. It's a decrepit, deplorable home, sure, but it's mine. Also, if you get a chance, join the Rat King Covenant and revel in the fact that Dark Souls II essentially has an in-game version of Tecmo's Deception. And it's something you have to stumble upon; no one tells you. No one holds your hand and leads you through the muck and mire, because that's how it should be.

 

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Baker McDonald, Vegetable Support Manager

 

My first experience with a From Software title was Demon's Souls (beat the hell out of the game). Had a good run at the original Dark Souls, but never actually beat it! I managed to miss out on the King's Field games completely.
 
Impressions of this one? It's another dose of dark with a lot of dying! And I love it. I'm a sucker for macabre and this game really deals it out. I'm actually only a few areas into the game... I get weird goals and then stick to them, like how I completely wiped out all inhabitants of Heidi's Tower of Flame... which is a nice touch! You can actually completely kill mobs in this game! Also, this last weekend I made it to the Sun Bro covenant and joined up. I then proceeded to do co-op on a boss 30 times in a row just so I could get Sun Spear (Faith 55 Ranged Miracle). 
 
But yeah! Tons of positives! NPCs are all really cool, tons of weapons and armor so you can customize and dress up as pretty as you like. Controls have been fine tuned so battle feels much better. You have the ability to mold your character in a ton of different ways so that leads to a different style of play. A STR/DEX build is going to play infinitely different than a FTH or INT. I've never actually played a Faith build before, so playing a Cleric this time has been super rewarding.  Miracles for days!!!
 
All said... really enjoy this game! The minor things that bug me are pretty minor, and the level design may not be as up to snuff as the first installment, but that really doesn't bother me at all.
 
+ Combat has been refined and feels SO much better
+ Enemies will not respawn once you defeat them 10 (?) times.
+/- Level design has been fun.  It's interesting learning the way things interconnect. It's not as intricate as Dark Souls, but it's still good.  Though at one point you do take an elevator from the top of a tower up.... to a new area... with lava.  (Not sure how that works!!)
- Right stick (which shifts targets) is VERY reactive so I often find myself accidentally toggling between different mobs.  BOO!
- Mandatory PvP in several areas if you're in online mode.

 

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Derek Wang, Mad Scientist Extraordinaire

 
I'm at veteran from the Demon's Souls days, and a long time lover of Dark Souls (a proud owner of the Platinum Trophy). When I heard Dark Souls 2 was coming, naturally I placed my preorder. Well, it's about time.
 
Without spoiling anything for the reader... Dark Souls II follows the original some unknown amount of time in the future. For those returning from Lordran, its bleak, dreary atmosphere is back in full force, making the spectacular vistas like Majula all the more warm. Just like Dark Souls, combat is heavy and gripping, and those familiar with the flow of the Souls series will probably notice a lot of similarities. You'll encounter many of the same challenges as the earlier games, but you'll also be beset with some new, unexpected things that will stretch your ability to think on your feet. And then there are the bosses. Loyal to the other Souls games, boss fights will grip you in a whirlwind of adrenaline, pain and suffering, and an ultimate triumph that feels oh so good.
 
Dark Souls II flows like its predecessor, but it is (in my opinion), a markedly different game. Many weapons look the same but behave differently. Many spells look the same but behave differently. This might put off some but the newer, tighter mechanics have really grown on me these past 30 hours. Covenants have been reworked as well, with some very creative additions that are outrageous fun, and very lucrative. Overall, the mechanics and gameplay show signs of great polish and thought. Oh, and fast travel! The extended (but optional) tutorial is also a nice added touch that new players will appreciate greatly.
 
My few criticisms are really just nitpicking, borderline pettiness. Some textures in the game look rather ugly on the PS3, and the menus take a long time to load. The fast travel is a great convenience, but the world is consequently much more flat and less labyrinthine. The story is less interesting. Some enemies have strange clipping issues. Oh, and no more ragdoll physics--these don't detract much from the total experience, however.
 
Overall, Dark Souls II is a game that removes many of the barriers to entry that the first Dark Souls had, without losing any of the thrill, the struggle, and the triumph. Whether you are a returning veteran or a new player, this is worth your time.
 
 
Praise the Sun!
 
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Randolf Tjandra, Darkwraith and Regular Third-Floor Visitor

 

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

 

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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?!

 

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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?

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