Dark Souls 2 is the kind of game strategy guides were made for.
Let’s get a few thing out of the way before I delve into the game a bit more. Dark Souls 2 is not the best looking girl at the ball. Even playing it on the PC (it does look great compared to its console counterparts) on the highest settings, the game isn’t going to win any awards in the looks department. Also, if you are looking for a game that’s glitch free, again you are barking up the wrong tree. Dark Souls 2 is full of environmental glitches (most are harmless and humorous in nature) that make dead enemies fly all over the place as well as getting stuck twitching endlessly in the worlds environment. On top of that, you will also clearly notice that when speech is happening, something as basic as simple mouth movement just doesn't happen (I like to imagine everyone is a telepath in DS2).
What about story? Surely, the story will redeem Dark Souls 2... well, not really, as the story is really nothing more than a few lines of dialogue early in the game. You’re dead and traveling throughout a strange land of limbo to meet the king to cure your curse. That’s as much as you really get in way of exposition, and to be frank, as much as you really need. Okay, okay, but surely the gameplay must soar above all others thus negating everything you have just written, right? Oh, God… It doesn't, does it?
That would be a resounding yes and... err, no (it's an acquired taste). Combat is a bit clunky with a less than stellar targeting system, and if you accidentally find yourself surrounded by more than a single enemy thanks in part to the camera, prepare to meet a swift end. Playing Dark Souls 2 on PC using a Xbox 360 works well enough, but the standard button mappings are a mess. As I haven’t played any of the series on a console I don’t know how it compares, but everything just feels like it’s mapped to the wrong button.
And yet, after three paragraphs of complaints you might be asking yourself why in the world I gave Dark Souls 2 such a high score? Well, the reason is quite simple, Dark Souls 2 is a bloody fantastic game. It’s been years, probably not since the days of cartridge based games, that I’ve come across a title so unrelentingly difficult and yet so much fun that you can’t stop playing.
Dark Souls 2 almost feels like a nod to the early days of both Nintendo and Sega, when games were hard and gamers were seasoned veterans, slogging through challenge after challenge. Just you and your controller versus the game, locked in mortal battle. Dark Souls 2 captures that feeling, while finding every way possible to kill you. There is a strong possibility that you'll never finish the game, yet look back on your time fondly. It’s been a long time since a game has made me feel the complete range of emotions; anger, frustration, fear, joy, happiness and on and on.
You are playing a game of trial and error here, perhaps only making it a few feet farther than each previous attempt. This sounds like a big turn off, and it might be for the more casual set, but when you meet death it almost always feels like it was your own fault. You will find yourself cursing yourself at your own sheer stupidity than at the game. There was many a time that I nearly broke my controller in half, yet I never felt like quitting or shutting of the game.
Dark Souls 2 claims to be an open world third-person adventure, but I would peg it as more a puzzle game. You see, the world is in fact laid out in a wide open setting allowing you to go down any path you choose ala Grand Theft Auto. What’s different here than in other games is that there is a good possibility that the path you just took, or door you just opened will lead to enemies way outside your current level. Dark Souls 2 never adjusts the level around the player, if you wander into the territory of high level monsters you will die and lose all your progress up to that point. Although, like many an MMO, if you can make it back to where you died you can collect everything you had upon death, mitigated the sting of defeat just a little.
You can build a custom character at the start of your adventure, although it’s not something that you should focus that much on (features are limited), as by leveling up later you can adjust any of your abilities. On top of that you can always return to the first cabin of the game and respec with the nice creepy ladies inside. That is of course if you don’t kill them like some animal (oops) in a fit of rage. You can essentially end your game without knowing it, as you have the ability to kill most any NPC in the world. Kill the nice lady that won't shut up in the hub world and you can kiss leveling up goodbye. This is classic hard, and not getting any indication that the game is impossible to complete because you killed someone makes it feel like an old Sierra adventure game in a way.
Another thing that I absolutely enjoyed was Dark Souls 2’s integration of multiplayer. I am the last person you will find enjoying or praising multiplayer, especially with console games as the PC perfected them years ago, but Dark Souls 2 nails it. You can have up to two players join you through the game up until a boss fight. This is done by leaving a sign/sigil marker, most usually by the entrance to a boss battle. This sort of drop in drop out kind of mulitplayer feels naturally integrated into the game, as opposed to a tacked on secondary feature. This works with dark spirits as well, allowing for PvP duels with real players throughout the game world.
Like many old games, respawning enemies can be the bane of many a player. Dark Souls 2 does have many enemies that respawn, but not indefinitely. What this means is that after certain enemies are beaten a set number of times, they will be removed entirely from the area. This makes frustratingly difficult parts a bit easier as the baddies you’ve killed hundreds of times will disappear making the path leading to your past death less of a challenge.
Magic also plays a big part in dark Souls 2, if you want it to. You can go about everything as a hack-and-slasher (yes, please) or as a magic user. Choosing magic can actually be a large boon while playing, as many enemies and bosses are weak to certain types of magic making battles easier when you learn said weaknesses.
With all this said, you are going to be losing hours upon hours to Dark Souls 2. Even with a strategy guide in hand, you can expect some 40 plus hours and going in blind, 100 plus is a reasonable expectation. Yes, this is a game for the hardcore, for the players that want a brutal challenge that still feels fair.
Dark Souls 2 for the PC is a great game, one that puts the console versions to shame. Seriously, if you play it on PC on full settings then go and play it on the consoles, you are going to be disappointed. It’s by no means a perfect game, and I feel like many reviewers are throwing around ridiculously high scores of 90 and up simply to appease their reader base, but the core gameplay in Dark Souls 2 is just so good that it does manage to brush aside much of the games shortcoming.
StyleSingle Player/MultiplayerDeveloperFrom SoftwarePublisherNamco Bandai Games