3rd Opinion on Dark Souls II
Been a while since I found I can contribute some review due to the fact that my opinion seems to contrast with the main review and the second opinion on this site. Without much further ado:
Review - Dark Souls II
HIGH - Being genuinely terrified walking through parts of the shaded woods.
LOW - Iron Keep. All of it.
WTF? - How can the same studio that created Boletaria Palace think Things Betwixt makes a good tutorial?
When an ongoing game series changes producer, this is usually no reason to worry. Often a new team can put its own spin on an otherwise stale formula, or can explore an entirely new direction. As an example, I personally enjoyed Metal Gear Revengeance more than Metal Gear Solid 4 and I found the reboot of Devil May Cry was a bold new step in the right direction, even though I seem to be in the minority regarding the latter. Hence I was looking forward to Dark Souls 2 by From Software, after Hidetaka Miyazaki handed over the reins to a new pair of producers.
Brad Gallaway wrote in his second opinion on Dark Souls 2 how it reminded him of the breakthrough hit Demon’s Souls and how the world design and mechanics are a throwback to this seminal work of the action RPG genre. In the first few hours I had a similar feeling. Unlike in the previous games’ land of the ancient lords Lordran, which at times felt like a sandwich made from layers of monsters, the second game features a land which is more spread out by the name of Drangleic. This gives Dark Souls 2 a sense of scale not seen in the first game, but it still feels smaller than Demon’s Souls with its central hub, called the Nexus, from which it was possible to travel to 5 distinct areas with their own style, backstory and personality.
Previous Souls’ games are probably mostly known for the challenge they pose to unsuspecting victims, I mean players. Hence sometimes people overlook that the world design is a big part of what draws new players into these games. The kingdoms of Boletaria and Lordran have in common that they look and feel like real places - magical powers notwithstanding - where people probably once have lived before the magical curse de jour caused all sorts of calamity and drove people insane. Drangleic doesn’t feel like a real place. The fast travel system that enables to warp between checkpoints from the very start only makes matters worse. While it was always an option to return to the beginning of the level before, Dark Souls 2 has a number of ledges and holes to jump down from where the only escape is to warp via the following checkpoint. That results in Drangleic resembling a video game level, rather than a once living world. Worst offender is the Iron Keep a bit later in the game, which makes no sense in terms of geography, architecture or boss design. It is the archetypical lava level that every action RPG seems to need, including nonsensical traps and a final encounter that seems to have jumped straight out from the Diablo series. This is such a drastic departure from Demon’s Souls that I find myself puzzled how so many comparisons are drawn between these two games.
The combat is another area that saw major changes. At first it seems the typical Souls’ series affair with deliberate and methodical real time combat. Built around blocking, dodging and attacking with a variety of weapons and shields, most of them with their individual attack patterns, this new entry alters the way shields and dodge rolls work by making them more dependent on character attributes. While attributes had their effect on combat before, even a level 1 character could block and dodge very efficiently and reliably in Demon’s Souls. Now a low level character has a significant disadvantage and parrying and backstabbing for extra damage is more difficult as well. The timing of parries is now such that it’s almost impossible to parry based on reflexes alone, since there is an odd delay between button press and the start of the parry animation. Combine this with much faster attacks of many enemy types and successfully parrying requires a form of clairvoyance not attainable by average humans.
Not all is bad though, duelling with other players and co-operative play works better than in previous games. The new, designated player versus player zones offer a lot of variety from straight 1 on 1 duels in special arenas to asymmetric play with devious traps working in one player’s favour. Weapons and magic attacks seem to be more balanced than in previous games as well, resulting in fun and varied duels where every opponent seems to use different gear and strategies.
Sadly this all can’t make up for the odd downgrade in terms of quality of the world design. I also didn’t mention the story, since there isn’t any. While the Souls’ games are not exactly known for their excessive dialogue, there was always a tangible narrative drawing players through the world of Boletaria and Lordran. In the intro to Dark Souls 2 the narrator mentions that one day you will stand at the gate to Drangleic castle, not really knowing why. She got that part correct, since even after completing the game the second time I don’t know what the plot revolves around or why I am killing all those monsters, other than for levelling up in order to kill even bigger monsters. This lack of direction is something that permeates the entire game. In between there are moments of brilliance that almost make up for all of the downsides and some moments of true beauty. But to rephrase the statement of the games intro: one day you will stand in front of Drangleic castle, not really knowing why you don’t play Demon’s Souls instead.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail and reviewed on the Playstation 3. Approximately 90 hours of play were devoted to single-player and online modes, and the game was completed twice.
Currently playing: Snake? SNAKE? SNAAAAKE?!?
Last edited by Li-Ion; 05-02-2014 at 10:32 AM.