Critics Corner: Dark Souls II
“Unflinchingly ambitious”, “Not for everybody” — this is how the hardcore RPG has been described. Here are 6 reviews from across the globeBy Theon Leong 14 Mar, 2014
If there ever was a game that could be mirror how running a startup is like, Dark Souls would have my unquestioned vote. It’s uncompromisingly hard. It fires your imagination by letting you interpret your own story. After completing it, you feel compelled to share the experience with others and convince them to try it out.
Dark Souls II, the brainchild of From Software and licensed by Namco Bandai, is a direct sequel to Dark Souls and a spiritual successor to the Demon Souls series. It would be very difficult to criticise this game because of the solidarity of major game reviewers who have all been “praising the sun” about it. Still, let’s take a look at what they have to say.
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Unlike in the first Dark Souls, there are heavier penalties for exploring the world without your humanity intact. Namely, your health could slowly be decreased all the way to 50 per cent of its original amount unless you buff your character up slightly with certain items. IGN, commented on this; the HP loss “can be counteracted by using a Human Effigy, but those items are few and far between in the early half of the campaign”.
Polygon has described the series in its review as “unflinchingly ambitious in a way that few games are”. They mean that in the sense of the world being massive, with far more bosses, and players not being able to see close to everything despite spending dozens of hours playing.
Game Informer summarises that the combat and dungeon-crawling mechanics are “familiar, but have some significant changes” like dual-wielding, weapon durability and leveling up. Game Reactor says, “It’s impressive how many improvements From Software has made. If you’re a fan of the Dark Souls universe, do not hesitate to play Dark Souls II. Despite a more accessible gaming experience, the game has lost none of its relentless difficulty, and the many improvements make it a great experience for veterans and newcomers. But it may not be for everybody.”
For returning fans, they might feel that the game has become too compromising, like with enemy re-spawn prevention and the ability to use life gems in addition to Estus flasks to heal your character. However, my personal take is that Dark Souls is ambitious because it redefines what gaming should be about. Instead of seeking to please the player, Dark Souls challenges players to conquer it and feel elated when they finally do. Since this core concept does not change in Dark Souls 2, its changes are meant to evoke a small-yet-noticeable evolution to the series while remaining true to its hardcore roots.
The rave reviews about the game are ironic in a way. The cult hit Demon Souls had created this exclusive community, which expanded so much through word of mouth that Dark Souls II is now such a highly acclaimed and widely known title around the world. Thus, it no longer becomes exclusive and the push for greater accessibility might make long-time fans feel slightly alienated, yet happy for the developer’s success at the same time.
Check out the following six reviews and see if Dark Souls II is worth the struggle.
“The world seemed to build up organically as I explored, and there’s so much of it. The sheer amount of content From Software has created is as impressive as it is terrifying — from massive castles where you can visit every room to a windmill that produces poison to a pitch-black underground lair full of rats. And 60-plus hours into the game, I was still discovering new areas, enemy types and insidious gimmicks that I need to adapt to if I hope to survive.”
“Dark Souls II is a smart, massive, and incredibly rewarding sequel. It’s crammed with deep systems, tense encounters, and enough clever multiplayer and New Game Plus elements to make me want to restart the second I saw the end credits. Not all of the tweaks and additions worked out for the best, but with such great enemies and levels to fight and explore, Dark Souls II made 60 hours of pain and agony so much fun they flew by in a heartbeat.”
“Its characters and narrative are strong, but not as strong as the brilliance of what came before. Drangleic is a joy to explore, but Lordran still sits superior in terms of design and atmosphere. In my early hours with the game, feelings like those had me thinking Dark Souls II would end up a disappointment on multiple levels. Now, so many hours, deaths, levels, and slain bosses later, I’ve been able to shed much of the personal bias I initially held against it. While it isn’t everything that I’d like it to be—and I continue to question some of the design decisions From made—a not-quite-what-I-wanted Dark Souls II still sits on a level prominently above most other games.”
“Dark Souls II respects you enough to assume you can figure things out, despite having perhaps lost some of these sensibilities by playing other titles that walk you through on tether from start to finish. As a result, the rewards and achievements are that much more satisfying. It’s only March, but Dark Souls II stands tall as a potential game of the year.”
“The greatest trick the game pulls is making you realise that any defeat – any hit, death – is entirely your own fault. You’re impatient, or not watching enemy attack patterns. You’re as slow as you’d imagine you would be with armour and heavy weapons, and a stamina gauge only lets you pull off a small number of moves, defensive and offensive, before you need to let it recharge.
We die, and die often. Shrinking health bar making for a uphill struggle to survive. And this is just the very first area. Just surviving the first encounter with undead soldiers feels an achievement in its own right. Get to the second checkpoint, and you feel like you’ve conquered Everest.”
“Dark Souls II is loaded with secrets and surprises, and even though I have finished the game once, there are so many elements I am still uncovering. I may not have yet unveiled all there is to know about this beastly game, even after 80 hours of play, but I do know this: I will be adventuring through Drangleic for many months to come, sure to be haunted nightly by the disturbing gazes of the faceless titans that tenderise my flesh with their two-ton hammers.”