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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: Dark Souls II - Familiar Pain

By: Anthony Accinelli

Being a fan of both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, the announcement of Dark Souls II filled me with an odd sensation. I was both excited and tired. I was happy to see that Dark Souls had done well enough to allow for another entry in the franchise. An excruciatingly difficult game, born from a niche market doing this well is always nice to see.

Yet despite my elation I couldn't shake this tired feeling. I hadn't yet played the game and I felt defeated. Without knowing the slightest about Dark Souls II I knew it was going to up an uphill adventure, both ways, with sleepless nights and numerous deaths. To put it simply, there was a lingering feeling that Dark Souls II was going to be too much of the same thing.

Unfortunately that feeling was correct.

I'm not saying that Dark Souls II is a bad game. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's a great game, built with a serious attention to detail and a sense of accomplishment unlike any game out there. If you haven't played any of the games in the series, be warned: Dark Souls II is ridiculously hard. Like, stupid, insanely difficult, to the point that you might end up hating not only the game, but yourself in the process.

The beauty of this system is that with each enemy you kill, and each boss you slay, there comes an intense feeling of accomplishment. Considering nearly every enemy, from the grunts to the bosses can kill you if you let your guard down, moving from scene to scene is nothing short of celebration-worthy. It's reminiscent of the games of yesteryear, where the only way to conquer the game is to play and die. A lot. Over and over until the damn thing is memorized.

This mechanic also works beautifully when you find new gear. Every weapon and piece of armor you find is that much more valuable. Considering weapons and armor have wear, and will absolutely break along your adventure (can be fixed at a campfire however), you'll cherish every swing and calculate every move. No wasted movements in Dark Souls II or you won't be alive long enough to make the next bonfire.

Side note: bonfires are the game's "save points" of sorts. In Dark Souls II, a bonfire is used to heal, repair, and teleport (among other things). They are the best thing in the world and your best friend. The only complaint I have is that you can't level up at them any longer. You have to teleport to Majula and level there. It's an odd mechanic that doesn't add anything to the game. It's simply a nuisance. 

There are eight classes to choose from, each of them very different from one another. If you fancy yourself more of a tank, the Knight of the Warrior will be your main. Like to dodge quickly and keep your enemies on their toes? Roll with the Bandit or Explorer. If you really want a challenge, go naked with the Deprived class.

Pro tip: try each character out. Don't get comfortable with one until you've played a couple of hours of each. Also, being able to move is important in Dark Souls II. I don't care how strong you are. If you can't get out of the way, you're going to die.

With all that said I still haven't played the game as much as I thought I would have. With just over thirty hours logged, I am stilling searching for that certain improvement that makes me want to play Dark Souls II over the original Dark Souls. It's not the graphics, which are hardly improved. The gameplay feels identical, with somewhat clunky movement and slow transitions between attacks. The story hasn't really pulled me in, at least not as much as both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls did.

I've yet to find it, honestly, and I'm not sure I ever will. I don't plan on revisiting its world. It just feels like too much of the same. Nothing in the above review is any different than my thoughts on the previous titles. Is that a bad thing? Not to everyone. I'm not saying I was hoping for drastic changes. I was simply wishing for a more polished product.

And honestly - I don't think Dark Souls II is the product I was hoping for. It's still a somewhat clunky mess, hoping to unleash the greatness within. With poor graphics, a weak story, mechanics of older titles, and an uninteresting world, I recommend sticking with Demon's Souls or Dark Souls.

All scores are out of 100 and are meant to be taken very seriously.
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