The challenging action RPG is back.
From Software make difficult games. Demon’s Souls was difficult. Dark Souls was difficult. Now, Dark Souls II is here, and it is difficult. The level of difficulty in Dark Souls II may well be the defining feature of the game, but let’s not forget that beneath this epic level of difficulty that will both challenge gamers and give them the most satisfying feeling to be found in a videogame once the they overcome the odds, there is an incredibly beautiful, well built action RPG that surpasses almost all of its competition.
The game is created with an air of mystery, and this mystery is something that will drive the players on to explore the vast world of Drangleic. From the cackling witches that the player encounters at the very beginning of the game, through an impressively large cast of NPCs that are met along the way, the journey that the player takes through Drangleic will slowly reveal information about this world and the players place in it.
Although revelations are small and easily go unnoticed, continued play builds on the players knowledge of the world. Even the different locations that the player visits will sometimes give little nuggets of information that will further add flesh to the game.
The environments are more varied this time around. Not every place that the players arrives at has a suppressing sense of gloom. Early in the game, the player will come across the small coastal town of Majula, a place which will offer respite from the constant threat of the game and so much more. Arriving there for the first time, the scene is breath taking. Majula is set on seaside cliffs, and a glorious sunset bathes the area. Of course, there is a bonfire in the town, beside which the player can rest and contemplate their adventure, but there are other options in the town, some of which will need to be unlocked by finding keys from other places. As the player progresses through the game, NPCs that they come across may well be tempted to return to the town, giving the town a community feeling that grows as the game progresses.
The mechanics too are not to be cast aside as simply being punishing. As with other aspects of the game, the combat in Dark Souls II is unforgiving, meaning that silly mistakes and a lack of skill by the player will result in death. The combat mechanic is tight and fluid, and is something that has to be learned. Caution is the key word and players who rush in without a thought will not last long. Each encounter, from the mighty boss battles to a lowly minion, is a risk. Through repeated playing, the players’ skills will improve, giving access to great rewards and an unparallelled sense of satisfaction.
But this is all something that veterans of the previous Souls games will already know. Bonfires for checkpoints, souls for currency, equipment that rapidly breaks – these are nothing that a Souls player need worry about. But what is new to Dark Souls II that may leave the seasoned player surprised?
Well, the world of Drangleic is much larger than that of the previous game. Again, there is much choice as to where to go within the world, and at what point. Exploration is all part of the appeal and clear objectives are few and far between. This time around however, there are a couple of things that may make the game a little easier for the player who chooses to use them.
Bonfires, the checkpoints at which the player may rest unmolested and heal, are more plentiful in Dark Souls II, and it is nice to generally find one just before facing a boss battle. Also of a help, the fast travel system which lets the player zip from one bonfire to the next is active from the very beginning of the game, which is very useful considering the frequency with which the player will find themselves returning to the hub-like town of Majula.
One other concession made towards the less able player is the reduction of enemies in areas that the player is struggling. Effectively, if the player dies within a certain area a number of times, the enemies within that area will stop respawning, giving the player a better chance of getting through. However, this is a bit of a double edged sword, as less enemies will result in less souls for the player to collect and use to improve themselves and their equipment.
But Souls Veterans need not panic that Dark Souls II is all about an easier game. The huge array of equipment in the game will likely keep them happy, as will the massive game world and multiple branching paths that they can explore. Couple this with many more epic boss fights than the previous game, and all is good in the world. The boss fights are truly memorable, with some becoming available very early on in the game, and are inhabited by creatures that really do defy description. They are both epic to take part in and astounding to watch.
And they are difficult, which brings us back around to the difficult nature of the game. True, Dark Souls II may be a touch easier than its predecessor, but only by the slimmest of margins. It is still a very tough game. Hell, I even managed to die in the tutorial area. But I learned a lesson from that, be careful where I walk. As long as you learn from the many, many deaths that you encounter within Dark Souls II, finishing the game should not be a problem for a capable gamer.
Let’s not forget the about the inventive multiplayer in Dark Souls II. Blood stains and ghostly apparitions showing another players death, and bloody notes designed to warn, or trick the player into harm’s way, are again just the beginning. Covenants which players can join will see them being summoned into other games, and the risk of invasion is always there. As with the previous game, the multiplayer offerings are interesting and dangerous.
Dark Souls II is a masterpiece. As an action RPG, there are very few games that can compare to the tightness of the mechanics and the beauty of the world. As a difficult game, a right of passage for the expert gamer, achievement in Dark Souls II is something that should be shouted from the rooftops. It is this perceived difficulty though, that will turn away many less confident gamers. “Give it a try,” I say “what’s the worst that could happen?”. Well… Death?