Dark Souls II, Game Review

Published by: Namco Bandai
Genre: RPG Adventure
Release Date: March 11
MSRP: $59.99
Rating: Teen
Available On: Xbox 360, PS3

Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to From Software’s Demon’s Souls, launched in 2012 without much hype. But the game’s deep lore, punishing combat, and intriguing world inspired players to talk the game up incessantly to friends and family. A game that released with moderate success in Japan eventually received a western port, then a PC release, and quickly grew into a sleeper hit phenomenon. Dark Souls is now hailed as one of the best games of the generation, despite the fact that its initial release secured only a blip on the radar of most major gaming publications.

Dark Souls II, of course, is a much bigger deal. From Software has to be aware of the pressures that surround the game now that the Souls series has moved from underground fan-favorite to mainstream darling. And with so many people chomping at the bit for more death, more punishment, and more challenge, anticipation is higher than it has ever been for the little studio in Japan. Can they make a true Dark Souls sequel that appeals to mainstream gamers without dumbing it down?
A few minutes with Dark Souls II will quickly put those concerns to rest. From Software hasn’t pulled any punches here. Some things have been streamlined; the tutorial level is a little friendlier, inventory management is much easier, and you can now warp to bonfires as you discover them (in Dark Souls this ability didn’t unlock until about 60% through the game), but by no means has the game been made easy. Dark Souls II is just as punishing as Dark Souls, if not more so. Exploring beyond the tutorial area results in Dark Souls II immediately baring its fangs – this world, like Lordran before it, is exceptionally dangerous and full of cunning, colorful foes.

The great draw of Dark Souls isn’t that it’s painfully difficult. The draw comes from the situations that difficulty creates. In Dark Souls, you are repeatedly presented with something that seems impossible; only by learning from your mistakes and achieving mastery over the game can you ever proceed. Dark Souls II carries this tradition on in full force. Combat is more fierce and dynamic. Enemies are much, much smarter and attack in groups. Dying carries stiff penalties, and other players can freely invade your game at almost any time. Dark Souls II is not for the faint of heart.

The lore continues to be a mystery. One of the most beloved features of Dark Souls is the way the game’s story isn’t delivered to the player, but buried in item descriptions, character dialogue, and environmental cues. If you want to know the story in Dark Souls, you have to work to discover it. Dark Souls II is a little more straightforward on key plot points, but discovering the full world will require hours upon hours of investigation and cross-referencing. This game does not provide convenient cut scenes that explain the action every ten minutes like other adventure titles.

All in all, Dark Souls II feels a lot like Dark Souls. It’s challenging, rewarding, and mysterious. There’s no dumbing down of content and the steep difficulty curve of preceding titles is retained. If you love Dark Souls, you’ll love Dark Souls II. If Dark Souls defeated you, well, now seems like a good time to try it again.