Thursday, 1 May 2014

Dark Souls 2

Though Demon's Souls came first in 2009, the release of Dark Souls two years later saw the mass re-emergence of the masochist gamer. For far too long have we had it easy, but with Dark Souls came a seemingly new era of gamers enjoying a title that despite being excruciatingly hard at times, had us coming back for more. While the eventual huge success of Dark Souls may have been a surprise to many, another two years on sees the release of its direct sequel, Dark Souls 2. However, with fears that the game might be dumbed down for a broader audience, is Dark Souls 2 as good as it should be?

Developed by From Software and out on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC now, Dark Souls 2 is more of the same, but with a few excellent tweaks along the way. Set in the dark, grim and almost Gothic world of Drangleic, much like its predecessor you play an undead character looking to rid themselves of a curse. The only way to stave off the curse is to collect souls, which are taken from creatures and other undead upon killing them. The story here tries to craft more of an emotional story like in Demon's Souls compared to what Dark Souls aimed to achieve. Though straightforward, the story is not only interesting to watch unfold, but exceptionally well put together and does a superb job at world building. 

Dark Souls 2 crafts a world that feels real and authentic, even if some of that world building is left to the imagination of the player. There are some absolutely incredible environments, mixed with a great sense of geography and location providing areas that are linked up, providing you with an open world to explore. From the huge, open areas atop a cliff that give the player a view across the vast roaring ocean, to merely buying weapons from a blacksmith in Drangleic, the attention to detail here is wonderful. However, though the world here is beautifully designed, the true meat of the game comes in the form of the combat and dungeon crawling, where the Souls series gets its reputation.

The combat in Dark Souls 2 hasn't been dumbed down, but early on the game does kind of go easy on you. But hardcore and casual gamers should welcome this alike, as the learning curve here is far better than what we got in Dark Souls. Sure, the game tries the kick your ass a bit later into the story, but starting out not so much. Combat remains pretty much on par with Dark Souls, and focuses very heavily on blocking and parrying, as opposed to just lashing out. This really is the key to survival, as most deaths you'll suffer in Dark Souls 2, and there will be many, will be from just running headlong into a battles.

Watching your foes movements methodically and learning to adjust to their style is paramount, as fighting styles can vary hugely between, say, a skeleton with a sword and a huge conjoined twin-like enemy armed with four weapons. From swords, axes, bows, clubs, maces, crossbows and many more, Dark Souls 2 covers just about every type of fighting style you could hope for, and each one handles exceptionally well. Though there are many weapons on offer here, you'll often find yourself focusing a particular type throughout the game, if not one weapon exclusively. The level of weapons, armour and magic keeps your Dark Souls 2 experience feeling fresh and unique.  

Much like Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, though a fully functional one-player experience, features an excellent multi-player mode. This can happen in two ways; either you can summon a friend to help you out in your game, or an unknown player can invade your game. The latter, already alongside the unrelenting and bleak atmosphere of the game, will keep any player biting their nails. At one point I ventured into an area that was well beyond my characters current skill level at the time. While very slowly creeping through this area and already scared shitless of what creatures were no doubt nearby, I hear WOOOOUUUUUMMMMMSSSHHH! This is the sound that happens when your game is being invaded. So I'm there alone, with low life, crappy weapons, tiptoeing my way through a deadly dungeon and I see this guy coming towards me, a guy so geared up that it looks like he just devastated the final boss in one hit. Needless to say I died.

But this is where the genius of Dark Souls 2 comes into play. Despite the game absolutely punishing you, you'll want more! Why? Because it's about what's around the next corner, what's in that unopened treasure chest and, if you're good enough, beating the next boss. It's about tasting victory and wanting more even in the face of certain death. It's as good as Dark Souls, if even better. Play it.

Dark Souls 2 laughs death in the face and gets a 5/5.


Denis Murphy

Dark Souls 2 at CeX

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