(Analog Addiction’s full Dark Souls II review)
The Dark Souls franchise has always stood at the pinnacle of current hardcore gaming experiences. After hearing a mixture of players showcasing their fondness for the series – alongside many who were unable to enjoy the punishing characteristics developer From Software has created – I was weary to begin my journey through Drangleic.
Dark Souls II isn’t an experience designed to be loved by all; it is designed for a particular player seeking a particular experience. This franchise is certainly not for everyone, but those willing to endure the punishing hardship are going to experience a sense of accomplishment few games can rival. Dark Souls II is best enjoyed when you learn to play Dark Souls the way it was designed; taking each step with a great sense of trepidation, you never quite know if your next step will issue the ‘You Died’ statement that will be seen hundreds of times at your demise.
It didn’t take long to realise how the Dark Souls series has become highly renowned throughout the gaming industry. Each victory against an enemy gifts the player with souls. These items can be used to upgrade weapons, buy items, and most importantly – level up your character. Each time I increased my level I felt a significant sense of progress and accomplishment, which was showcased when I revisited previous areas throughout the experience. Enemies I once struggled to defeat now fell to the side under the strength of my character. This sense of evolution and improvement in my abilities became an addiction; I wanted to keep improving and continue to create an unstoppable force.
In order to create such a character, risks must be taken. When your character dies in Dark Souls II, your souls are left where your death was dealt. If you are defeated once more before reaching your discarded souls, they will be lost forever. This risk/reward system creates an overwhelming tension – should I continue slaughtering foes in hopes of finding a new bonfire, or do I decide to call it a day and return to the hub world of Majula to level up my character? If you decide to choose the latter option, these enemies that were once defeated reappear, which may cause more harm, despite leveling your character. It is an excruciating decision, providing some tough choices with some harsh consequences if your risk doesn’t pay off.
Each death I experienced throughout Dark Souls II felt like a lesson in itself. It allowed me to suffer from traps, pinpoint flaws in the enemies attack pattern, and encounter the enemy force, which ultimately led to success. Dark Souls II isn’t afraid to destroy you at a moment of weakness, with each mistake you make deciding whether you live or die. Though it may sound harsh, these experiences allowed myself to improve my abilities. Resorting to frustration will ultimately see your destruction, whereas players who decide to learn from these errors will rise to the challenge.
Dark Souls II lacks a straight forward narrative; though there are brief moments when characters explain the history of Drangleic, the average player won’t experience an endearing tale. This lack of narrative allowed me to focus on the most important aspect of Dark Souls II, which is the combat. Combat will be the main focus throughout the countless hours spent exploring Drangleic. While it may seem the combat is fairly straight forward to the untrained eye, there is a great amount of depth here that will keep players testing out new attack methods for months to come.
Defeating enemies in Dark Souls II requires an impressive amount of focus, as exposing yourself in order to get one extra attack against your opponent can be your downfall. There is a slow pace to combat that will see players that button mash brutally punished, while learning to defend and attack when the opportune moment strikes can be a brilliant art to master. Players also have an impressive amount of options, from wielding magic, enormous double swords, lethal crossbows, and more. These options allow players to test the water and find out the best method to victory for their play style. Finding that perfect weapon to match your gameplay style is a journey itself, one that sees you reaping many rewards if the perfect combination is achieved. Your choice of weapon and abilities will be tested throughout the countless enemies you slay, yet the real test will come when facing off against the plethora of memorable boss encounters.
Facing these visually intimidating bosses throughout Dark Souls II became the greatest test of skill. These impressively designed creatures are truly spectacular, each providing a unique visual display and impressive challenge to overcome. Each boss encounter feels different from the last, from facing off against an enormous giant, a series of gargoyles, or even a fire-breathing beast whom inhabits molten lava. The breadth of variety From Software has been able to accomplish is impressive, with each encounter providing a sense of grandeur, pushing your skills to the ultimate test, and providing an unbelievable achievement when they fall. These moments became some of my favourite experiences in Dark Souls II, providing moments that I won’t soon forget.
Dark Souls II also features some of the most unique multiplayer experience that greatly succeed and provided some excellent moments. Players can choose to invade other players’ worlds, where they have the ability the wreak havoc and kill that player if they choose. However, the true shining moments are when players summon other players to their world, in order to team up against enemies and boss encounters.
These moments not only help players overcome some tough challenges, but they also provide a tremendous and unique dynamic. Even though – for the most part – I never spoke to these individuals, I found myself having a strong bond between each character I encountered. The bond players experience when they successfully bound together to defy the odds or destroy a horrible beast is one that has provided me with many news friendships. These experiences are also improved by the ability to gesture to those you are helping, and create an impressive display when three players have destroyed an overwhelming creature and decide to ‘Praise The Sun’ in unison. Though some sever issues did make joining other players a challenge, when it works, it is some of the most powerful multiplayer gaming I have ever encountered.
Dark Souls II is a unique beast, though it is certainly not for everyone, those who have the spirit and determination to reach the end credits will be introduced to an experience like no other.