The Souls series bludgeoned its way to critical acclaim back in 2009 with its Playstation 3 exclusive Demon’s Souls. A game that didn’t hold back, it threw players into a dark and dangerous world – where dying a painfully numerous amount of times was pretty much the only way forward. This reversion back to the much-loved difficulty of the games of yesteryear continued to be an integral part of From Software’s arsenal with its spiritual successors, Dark Souls and Dark Souls II.
Being a huge fan of the first two games it’s safe to say that I was as giddy as a schoolgirl at a Bieber concert when Dark Souls II was released. I just couldn’t wait to throw myself back into the dark and disturbingly punishing world synonymous with the Souls series. I guess I’m kind of a masochist like that…
Skeptical that the game would not live up to the hype created by the success of Dark Souls I was pleasantly surprised when it actually kind of did. The world may not fold upon itself as a beautifully crafted labyrinth as well as the original, the online may be less stable (a debatable topic) and the bosses may be less varied – but it still manages to improve tremendously as a whole in comparison to the first.
These are my top features that will make your stay at Drangleic a rewardingly difficult and memorable decent into complete and utter despair
Your gold ain’t worth much here, my friend. This is the world of Drangleic and we be dealing in souls!
Souls make up the in game currency, and they can be used in a variety of ways for improving your chances of surviving in a world that doesn’t just refuse to hold your hand, it tears it off with its teeth and spits it back at your face.
With great souls come… great responsibility…
… and this responsibility revolves around how you choose to distribute your hard earned treasure. From leveling up, to purchasing equipment and weapons, to crafting items and paying NPCs for their services, the soul is the universal currency that everyone will literally kill you for – and believe me when I say – they do!
Unless you’re going for the infamously improbably ‘no bonfire’ run, then you’re going to want to improve your weapons. And ‘where do we do that?’ I hear you ask, why, at the forge, of course!
With three very different blacksmiths scattered throughout the world, you’ll be given more variety of weapon modifications the further you progress in your journey.
You want that humungous fire-spewing great sword an invading phantom just used to turn you into a smoked slab of useless (and now soulless) man-meat? Well, your best bet is to find out how to craft it, venture out and gain the appropriate items, then head to the required NPC and hope to God you don’t get invaded on the way.
In addition to the already well developed crafting and scaling system, Dark Souls II built upon the foundations of the original by adding a very welcomed ‘infusion’ option. This allows you to infuse chosen weapons with a variety of effects, such as bleeding, poison, and magic, to name a few.
With the numerous customization options available through crafting, Dark Souls II players can spend hours upon hours experimenting with different builds and buffs in order to find the perfect adventurer for their play style.
PRAISE THE SUN!
The 9 covenants of Drangleic span across four varying styles of play: Co-op, PvP (Invading), PvP (Summoning) and PvE. Co-op play, such as the ‘Heirs of the Sun’ covenant, will allow you to be summoned into the world of others with the purpose of helping them defeat the area boss. However, if death and destruction is more your thing, you heartless bastard you, you can opt for a more malicious covenant, such as the ‘Brotherhood of Blood’. This will have you invading the world of other players with the aim of slaughtering the host before he reaches the area boss. Not many games can match the heart-thumping “Oh shit! Oh shit!” moment of being invaded when you’ve come so far without seeking a bonfire ‘save point’.
The Souls series also does a very interesting thing when it comes to multiplayer. It isolates you while simultaneously makes you feel like a small cog in a much bigger contraption. You won’t be able to choose exactly whom you summon or whom you invade, and in addition to this, you won’t be able to communicate over chat. What you’re left with is a voiceless, random, friend or foe, in which your only form of communication is through the use of specific physical gestures. You can wave to greet someone, for example, or shake your head in shame at a vanquished foe to portray your disapproval at their pathetic attempt of invading you.
You will constantly stumble across bloodstains scattered throughout the world. These mark the final moments of other unfortunate travelers right before their demise. By selecting a bloodstain you can choose to witness a ghostly reenactment of how they died. In an area with apparently no enemies – this can be extremely unnerving.
Players also have the ability to leave preselected messages on the ground. These will appear in random worlds of other players and are one of the only ways to offer assistance to others – short of co-op.
A particular enemy that can only be defeated with a backstab may lead to a note of “Try back” being left by a helpful anonymous ally. Alternatively, you may stumble across a “Try jumping” positioned next to a black hole – only to find that falling into it will result in death. Yeah, I never fell for that…
#3 The World
There’s beauty to be found in even the most decrepit parts of Drangleic.
If you’re looking for countless cut scenes and a tiresome flurry of dialogue options, this isn’t the game for you. Dark Souls II does have a story, it has characters with arcs, it has plot development, and it has a deep complicated lore – but it does its best to hide it from you.
Drangleic won’t offer up its juicy innards on a silver platter – You’ll have to go looking for it, you’ll have to work for it, and you’ll probably have to die for it. As you progress you’ll find snippets of information here and there, and hints and clues about the world. Something as simple as a specific weapon description can offer copious amounts of information about a long lost legendary knight, or a land once forgotten (Cough, Lordran, cough.).
Dark Souls II is like playing one giant jigsaw – You’ll get a piece here, and a piece there. At first it will just be an incomplete mash up of unconnected shapes. But once you finally manage to fill in the gaps, you’ll stand back and gape in awe at the sheer beauty of what you’ve discovered…
…Right before you’re backstabbed by ‘invading phantom SparkleDolphin284’…
…Damn it SparkleDolphin! Damn it!
Come on Ruin Sentinal, I can take ya! …. Oh, there are three of you?? …Well, shit!
The Souls series has probably been home to some of the best boss fights in gaming history. This isn’t an opinion – It’s a fact! And although Dark Souls II’s bosses might not live up to the diversity and vulgarity of it’s predecessors’ inhabitants, it still offers a great amount of memorable and challenging bouts.
All the bosses of Dark Souls II encapsulate the persona of a being that used to be less twisted and demonic. They symbolize decay and corruption, and act as reminders to you of your own descent into madness as the curse tightens its grip.
From a once beautiful Queen whose obsession with vanity transformed her into a monstrously hideous serpent creature, to a Duke whose obsession with metamorphosis ended up transforming him into a giant laser beam shooting arachnid (yeah, you read that correctly) – the game’s bosses constantly reinforce how Drangleic is a place of madness – and you’re stuck here.
In an already difficult game, the bosses serve as titanic landmarks of colossal challenge that never feel overly unfair – just damn right hard. But, once you’ve managed to topple your grotesque adversary you’ll feel so good about it you’ll be giving yourself a high five. Maybe even two!
# 1 Combat
So, I was told that it is duel-etiquette to bow first, so here we go… Oh come on man! I was bowing! God damn it that’s just… that’s just mean!
This is not a game where you can go in swinging and hope to overcome your enemies based on sheer force. With so many hits in the game being potentially deadly, you’ll have to focus more on reacting to attacks, rather than just tanking through them.
Any battle in Dark Souls II can quickly turn into a tense stand off. Low on life you stay back and raise your shield. Now, you’re faced with an option, do you go all out berserker and try and finish the enemy off before they can finish you? Or do you try and create enough space so you can take a cheeky chug of good ol’ Estus Flask recovery? (There’s no pausing in the Souls series – that’s right!) Oh, there’s always running away like a coward in the hopes that an arrow won’t strike you down as you flee – but that’s more for online PvP.
Speaking of which, the place where combat really comes into its own is during online encounters. Putting more emphasis on multiplayer, Dark Souls II offers arenas where players can face each other in single combat – to determine who is the biggest badass in all of Drangleic.
I have found nothing more satisfying during my time in Dark Souls II than poisoning an opponent during single combat, then kiting them into a flurry of useless blows as their life-force drains from them, only to celebrate by using the Channeler’s Trident ‘dance-boost’ attack (You really have to see it to understand) as they are returned to their own world, defeated.
FYI: I’m a complete bastard in PvP and I hate myself for it.
I may have whined on a lot about the difficultly of Dark Souls II. But to merely label it as ‘a challenging game’ would be to detract from the sheer beauty and uniqueness of what is, in essence, a masterpiece. There is nothing out there like a Souls game. People may offer recommendations along the lines of, “Well, if you like Dark Souls, you’ll love…” But, at the end of the day, THEY’RE WRONG!!!!....
… annnnd relax…
… If you want to experience a Souls game, you literally have to play a Souls game. Luckily for newcomers, each can be played independently, as there is very little to link the three plot-wise (there are however a lot of subtle allusions and Easter eggs).
With the recent announcement of another spiritual successor, Bloodborne, and the much-anticipated Dark Souls II DLC right around the corner, there has never been a better time to fling yourself into one of From Software’s beautifully unforgiving worlds of huge challenge and immense reward.
Just don’t blame me for any broken controllers…