Dark Souls II was released in North America on March 11, 2014. It was developed by From Software and co-published by and Bandai Namco Games and From Software as a joint venture. This is the third game in a series that started with Demon’s Souls which was developed by From Software and SCE Japan Studio. Said series has been noted to contain some of the hardest modern Action RPG Gameplay by fans and critics alike.
Dark Souls II takes place in the same world as Dark Souls but has no apparent direct links to each other. The game begins with an intro cinematic weaving a tale of how the protagonist fits into the events that are about to take place. The protagonist is a hollow traveler who is attempting to find a cure for the curse that has been bestowed unto him. He finds himself in the land of Drangleic where he embarks on his journey to break the curse. Along the way players slowly realize that they are apart of something greater than their original journey. This is found out through talking to characters, dialogue from the Emerald Herald (a person who has been helping the protagonist from the beginning) and an eventual end game cutscene. This way of storytelling makes the game more immersive while making sure it is not oppressive. By doing this a player can go through the game, ignoring the story if they so choose. On the other hand a player can go around and talk to all npc’s and open up all dialogue options to get a better understanding of the storyline and to become fully immersed in the world of Dark Souls II.
Gameplay is where this game (and the game series as a whole) really begins to shine. The way each level works is generally the same for all areas. Each area typically begins with a bonfire to rest up at and give the player the opportunity to travel back and level up or upgrade their weapons. Now, the word typically was used for good reason. There are some areas that the bonfire is not presented until about halfway to the boss, and sometimes, the bonfires hide behind fake walls (illusionary walls). From hearing this some might think of bonfires as checkpoints, but this is only partially true. A player can teleport from bonfire to bonfire effectively making them a sort of checkpoint. However, once you rest at a bonfire, all enemies respawn with the exception of bosses and a few select enemies. After resting at a bonfire there is a multitude of enemies and traps leading up to the boss. This boss is either the final boss, the first boss in a lineup of two in the area, or is an optional one that when defeated makes the run to the final boss much easier.
Each boss is unique (I’ll delve into this more further down in the Review) and and special in not only artistic design, but in how to go about defeating it. For most players it will take at the very least a couple of tries to beat each boss due to their different weaknesses and attack patterns along with completely different environments (of which can be changed by the players for certain bosses to help out with the fight). There is also a sort of penalty for dying in Dark Souls II that was not present in Dark Souls. That is, that if a player dies, they lose a small amount of a their maximum health, and that penalty stacks (50% gone is the max unless a player has “sinned” more than 99 times in which case the low is 95% of maximum health gone). A players full health can be restored by using a human effigy however.
The one, major, blaring problem about Dark Souls II, is its controls. If it is being played on a console, or on a PC with a player using a controller, then it is fine. Once a keyboard and mouse come into the equation, everything starts to fall apart. The default keyboard and mouse layout is not user friendly. A right hand quick attack is right clicking once, but a right handed strong attack is a double right click and because of this spamming a quick attack is not possible. Another side effect of this is that since the game is waiting to see if a second click is going to happen there is a noticeable delay from when you hit the button to when the character actually attacks. This along with other weird bindings, such as select (something that is used a lot) is entered. Even after rebinding it to make things more manageable, melee is near impossible and it still feels nowhere as responsive as compared to using a controller. Again, however, if a player does use a controller, then the control scheme is comfortable and the game is perfectly responsive.
As this is an RPG, the protagonist is what you make of it. A player can dress him/her as they like and name him/her as they like to give the protagonist their own personality. NPC’s, however, have personalities all their own, and quite good ones to boot. Each and every character in Dark Souls II is interesting and unique. This is the same for the enemies even though most do not talk. They each have their own look to them, and attack set with them making every new enemy a challenge. This goes double for bosses, as they are most of the time, works of art. As enemies traverse through the boss fog, they are met with a cutscene where the boss in all it’s glory makes a grand entrance. Every boss has a different moveset that a player must observe and learn if they hope to leave victorious. They are typically each piece of pure imagination usually resembling the worst monster that one can think up.
The graphics in Dark Souls II are leaps and bounds better than the graphics in the original Dark Souls. Even though the graphics are so much better than the first, do not go in expecting photo realism. Dark Souls II is more of a pseudo realism game as it is not trying to look realistic as it is just trying to make each area have a different mood or feel about it. The audio of this game is purely fantastic. Not only is it high quality, but the voice acting is really well done. The soundtrack is different for each area or level the player is in and boss fights have their own unique music for them. The choice of music for each area really enhances the player’s immersion in the Dark Souls world.
As far as multiplayer goes in Dark Souls II there are two distinct categories, Co-op, and PVP.
Co-op has become far better as compared to the first Dark Souls. What happens is a player lays down a summon sign, using either a regular or small white soapstone, and then another player (who is reversed hollow by using a human effigy to become human) touches their summon sign and summons them. They can then partake in some jolly cooperation! In game there is also a ring that players can purchase that allows for the summoning of specific people so that friends can co-op together easier. However, if another player is summoned, or if another two players are summoned, the bosses health scales accordingly as to keep the game a challenge. There are also covenants that can be joined in games that increase the reward of helping another player, such as the heirs of sun covenant. The more a player helps others, the higher a rank, which eventually leads to rewards.
A player may be going along, killing enemies, and out of nowhere some text will pop up on their screen saying that a dark, grey, or blue arbiter spirit has invaded. This means that someone else has invaded that players world with the sole intention of killing the host. This can make things even more difficult at times. There are many other ways that someone can go about PvPing however, along with a multitude of covenants that give out rewards for PvPing. This all sounds good in theory, but applied can be a bit of a mess. Once a player is fighting another player all sorts of things can and will go wrong that were not intentional on either side. After roughly 150 hours of experience, the one thing that stands out amongst the issues in PvP, connectivity issues, tremendous amounts of connectivity issues.
In Dark Souls II, connectivity issues make PvPing incredibly difficult, due to the fact that where the player is might not be where the hitbox is, and being hit across the room can be extremely irritating. This is a problem a lot of games have, but when it comes to a game that if a player dies, a small portion of their maximum health is chipped away, souls are lost, and enemies respawn, irritation only amplifies. There is also a sort of balance issue that most of the community agrees on. That is that spells and hexes usually win PvP matches. One hex in particular, Climax, is fast moving, and hard hitting. It usually instantly kills opponents, but at the cost of all of the souls a player has on them. If used correctly, a player can win almost every PvP match in one hit. But, if a match goes right, and both opponents fight fair, there is no lag, and very overpowered spells and hexes are not used, PvP can be extremely fun and satisfying.
Dark Souls II is a game that can be replayed over and over again. After someone beats their first play-through, they can start a new game plus. It takes their character and puts them back at the beginning of the game, but allows them to keep all of their weapons and armor. From that point on, there is an increase in enemies, in enemy HP, in the damage they do, and an increase in black phantoms (invaders that are just NPCs designed to invade once a player has reached a certain area). By doing a new game plus, there are also weapons and items available that were not available on the first play-through. A player can do this many, many times, but there is a point where the game stops being harder, and that is around new game plus seven. There are also bonfire aesthetics that players pick up throughout the game. This allows for only certain areas of the players choosing to go into new game plus, allowing players to retry their favorite bosses on a harder difficulty.
Dark Souls II was built off of the Havok engine and runs beautifully on PC. There were no frame rate issues and glitches experienced by RealGamerNewz during our many, many testing sessions of this product and general hiccups in performance were at a minimum. Even then, they were not glitches in the engine or core functionality of the game, but rather abnormalities in the way bosses acted under certain situations. Dark Souls II does not stress gaming rigs or push the limits so for an average Gaming PC it will run at maximum settings perfectly fine.
Dark Souls II is a rare game that punishes players but at the same time is one of the better games out there thanks to the purity of its Gameplay. From Software has added new elements and gameplay mechanics that make the game leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. The only complaint is that some of these changes negatively effected a few aspects of the game, but nothing that stops it from shining as one of the best releases in recent times. DS II runs great and (as long as a controller is used) is really fun. The challenge and reward system that the series uses is one that has brought this series the success it has and the PC Version of this entry exemplifies that.
Overall Score: 9.5 / 10
RGN Rating: Platinum Game
Developer: From Software
Publishers: Bandai Namco Games + From Software
Also Available On: PS3 | 360
Played On: High End Gaming PC
Review Copy Info: A digital copy of this game was purchased by RealGamerNewz for the purpose of this Review.