By: Jeff Cater
FromSoftware and Bandai-Namco recently released the sequel to their infamous Dark Souls, and wouldn’t you know it; things have gotten harder. Dark Souls 2 scoffs at its predecessor for being too friendly and forgiving. This time you have a meeting with the King to attend; do try to not be late.
The game’s controls are designed to cater to cautious play as button spamming can get you in a lot of trouble. The left stick maneuvers your chosen undead through the kingdom of Drangleic, and the right stick, of course, is bound to your bearing. The directional pad switches through equipped items and spells, and Square will use the selected item. Circle performs a back-step and, when combined with a directional input, executes an evasive roll. Interacting with the environment is done with X, and squaring off with enemies is done largely with the R1 and R2 buttons that perform a light or strong attack.
You’ll be hitting things all the damn time, but also making use of the parry and blocking systems with L1 and L2. Locking onto an opponent with R3 is invaluable, but it can lead to some frustrating moments like “WHY THE F**K ARE YOU SWINGING THAT WAY!??” and “Oh yeah, just roll off the fu**ing ledge. That’s what I needed.” The jump mechanic is also somewhat of a sick joke, as now instead of double tapping Circle you have to hold it down to initiate the run then click L3 to perform the jump.
Drangleic is a beautiful, bizarre and haunting world. Remnants of a once-great kingdom lie everywhere, creating a rich visual history of the environment. Everyone looks tired and almost dazed, flighty in their moments of undeath. Clothing, branches and banners flutter in the breeze and create a nice, realistic weight to the world. The textures on display are detailed, grimy, glorious and shiny at all the right times, and they bring even more depth to the world and its inhabitants.
Every character is animated well, and the battle animations are not only top notch, but they’re absolutely key in understanding and dominating the combat system. There are a few moments of frame rate stutter or even simple drops, but nothing nearly as bad as Dark Souls‘ Blighttown (you win that round, Dark Souls!).
Meanwhile, the sound is horrifyingly perfect. The air is always very still and almost empty, which produces a unique sense of loneliness and distills despair between bonfires. In the distance you may sometimes hear things that you don’t want to, because you know you’ll have to fight whatever it is. That’s when you hear wet footsteps getting faster and closer and a faint gasp before an axe shrieks across the wall and into your back. Fun, right?
Drangleic is filled with horrors, treasure and secrets. Dark Souls 2 casts you as an undead with the task of meeting the King of Drangleic. All you have to do is slay several hundred of the souls trapped in the cursed realm.
So, after creating a character and completing a brief… uh, tutorial… you’ll find yourself in one of the only safe places in the game, Majula (which isn’t really completely safe). This time the method of leveling up involves talking to an inhabitant of Majula, the Emerald Herald.
Fast traveling through bonfires also helps out a lot, but after a few runs through an area while you’re grinding for souls you’ll notice that the place is a bit emptier. Enemies simply stop spawning in an area after a while, forcing you to suck it up and move on, find the key, or fight the boss.
It’s like Dark Souls 2 is always nudging you forward, but not necessarily in the most obvious ways because that’s literally all of the hand holding you get here. So not only do you have to worry about losing souls and depleting a grinding zone, you still have to worry about invaders coming to wreck your night.
There are more ways to fight this off this time around, but I won’t spoil anything. Co-op is fun and often necessary to ease boss fights and certain zones, but everything can still be beaten solo.
Thankfully, it’s all fun. Fighting is fun, finding that hidden room is fun, losing 30,967 souls twice in a row is… fun! The sense of accomplishment has a great way of wiping all resentment towards the game away, because if you beat a boss or clear an area, you KNOW you busted your ass doing it!
The NPCs also evolve throughout the game. The merchants will become arrogant or overly prideful in their newly found source of income (you), and you can get some great dialogue from these people displaying that they’re just losing their damned minds.
Dark Souls 2 is unmatched in rewarding gameplay. It can frustrate and confuse, but as it does that it will also hypnotize you with a thirst for souls matched only by the forlorn creatures of Drangleic. It’s a sad, brutal experience; one that everyone should partake in, but one that only the elite will survive.