Only two words are needed in order to summarize my time spent with Dark Souls 2: “YOU DIED”. Unfortunately, I started my journey through Drangleic without any experience with previous titles (shame on me). Needless to say, I really wasn’t prepared for the torture that awaited me. All I knew was that From Software RPGs are supposed to be very difficult and will punish your every mistake. Sounded fun at the time, but looking back perhaps I should have heeded the warnings before jumping into Dark Souls 2.
I won’t lie to you, the game is just as hard as they say, and I’ve made my experience even harder by playing the whole thing with mouse and keyboard. First off, I would advise you to consider a controller if you plan on playing Dark Souls 2. Although I’ve mentioned not having experience with previous titles, I did try the PC version of the original Dark Souls when it was first ported, a decision I immediately regretted.
Being an old school PC gamer and a generally stubborn person, I insist on playing games with keyboard and mouse whenever possible. This proved to be a next to impossible task given how bad the original game’s port was. Fortunately, Dark Souls 2 offers an infinitely better PC version, although it has its moments as well. My main complaint is directed towards the “not exactly smooth” camera movement and turn rate while using the mouse. Cranking up the sensitivity only made things worse, so I decided to leave it on default and just play like that. In any case, after a few hours of gameplay I got used to the camera and it didn’t bother me anymore.
Camera issues aside, let’s talk a bit about what’s really important here, dying. Why is dying important? Because I try not to die very often in video games, – especially in RPGs – but Dark Souls 2 managed to kill me countless times. Being my favorite genre, I often brag about my vast experience with role playing games. Over the years I have learned some very useful tricks that help me stay alive even during the most difficult challenges. This wasn’t the case here however, all my so-called experience proved useless just moments after I first stepped into the unforgiving world of Drangleic.
You start off as a hooded dude who’s supposed to be undead and has a constant hunger for souls, as I learned from the intro cinematic, sounded pretty cool. The starting area isn’t much to look at but you’ll begin to notice that the game has some pretty good graphics, although nothing to write home about. The real strength of Dark Souls 2’s visuals comes in the form of its gloomy art style, which I particularly like. Some of the character models and designs are also very good, but we’ll talk about that a bit later.
Moving on, after a few ramblings and generic warnings given to me by a creepy old crone in a hut, I finally get to create my character. Although the customization doesn’t offer a whole lot of options, there are quite a few classes to choose from. Apparently some are better than others if you’re playing for the first time, as I was about to find out. Picking a Sorcerer seemed like a good idea at the time, but after a couple of hours of constant death and a dozen unsuccessful attempts to kill the tutorial ogres, I just decided to start again and pick something more tanky, the Knight.
Things went much smoother with this class and I managed to clear the tutorial in no time, including the ogres. Soon enough, I found myself in a city that looked like it has seen some better days, this is where the real adventure stared. Although Majula seemed almost deserted, the scenery looked very beautiful and From Software’s detailed work on the textures was becoming apparent. While exploring the place and talking to NPCs I suddenly realized that I don’t have a quest log, actually I didn’t have any quests at all in the traditional sense.
The main objective in Dark Souls 2 is defeating bosses and collecting their souls. There is of course a story as well, but rather that paying to much attention to it I decided that roaming around and killing stuff would be more fun.The game doesn’t hold your hand and tell you what you should do or where to go,instead it lets you figure it out for yourself. Advancing from one major area to the next can be done as soon as you’ve gained access and for the most part, the game’s open world allows you to go pretty much wherever you want.
A very important aspect you’ll notice while playing Dark Souls 2 is the fact that every time you die – and die you shall – all the monsters respawn. Furthermore, your maximum health starts to go down and you lose all you hard-earned souls as well. That’s not all, your undead form also begins to show more and more with each death, and your humanity is gone until you find the rare item that let’s you reclaim it. These are some of the things that make the game so difficult, you can’t just kill a few monsters and return later to finish the others. Once you start, you need to keep pushing and kill everything along the way until you get to the next bonfire.
The bonfires serve as checkpoints, you can use them to heal up and also for teleporting between different locations, among other things. However, be warned that once you rest next to one everything save for bosses respawns . Luckily, there is plenty of monster variety to keep things interesting, with every new area containing more difficult enemies than the last. Sure, you have those boring undead coming at you every time you gain access to a new location, but for the most part the new enemies you’ll encounter have very different designs and combat techniques. The AI’s capabilities also seem to scale accordingly as you progress, if you thought the lumbering zombies from the beginning were a challenge, wait until you get to the endgame!
Then there are the bosses of course, which are the bread and butter of Dark Souls 2. Even though the game was punishing my every mistake, and I died more times than I care to remember, the boss fights are one of the things that kept me going. Many games make boss encounters seem like scripted events that you can easily overcome once you’ve figured out the gimmick. Dark Souls 2 also does this to some degree, but the game’s punishing nature adds one more layer of difficulty to these encounters.
Once you’ve made the brave decision of challenging a boss there is no going back. Highlander’s “There can be only one” popped into my mind every time I was facing one of the colossal enemies. There is a lot of variety here as well, from pursuing knights to ancient dragons, and everything in between. Overall, I found most of the fights to be very challenging and enjoyable, even though the encounters ended with “YOU DIED” on more than one occasion. However, when the “VICTORY ACHIEVED” message is displayed instead, you somehow feel that all the pain and suffering were worthwhile, and you are anxious to see what the game throws at you next.
Drangleic is riddled with secrets just waiting to be uncovered, and rewards just waiting to be claimed. But the question is: CAN you claim them? Dark Souls 2 has a lot to offer, but it doesn’t just give it you, it teases and tortures you until you can take it for yourself, just like real life. For the most part I think From Sofware did a great job with this title, but of course there is always room for improvement. Since this is a PC version review, I will state again that while this is a vastly superior port than Dark Souls offered, it still does a pretty poor job at supporting keyboard and mouse, and also comes with less than ideal camera and movement controls. I have encountered quite a number of bugs as well, most of them were related to the pathfinding. Fortunately, the game only seems to make the enemies glitch and my character was fine throughout the entire game.
Since we’re talking about Dark Souls 2’s weaknesses, I really need to also mention the soundtrack, which is generally forgettable. It provided a bit more tension during combat at times, and goes well with the whole dark theme but I was just not feeling it. It seemed like I could turn off the sound completely and it wouldn’t make much difference, but that’s just me. The game also features a multiplayer component that’s more annoying than anything else and you can’t turn it off, except if you disconnect yourself from the internet.On the other hand, Dark Souls 2 has a lot of strengths as well and is very beautiful in a depressing way, kinda like poetry.
One of the things I ultimately enjoyed the most was the very same thing that made me want to throw my computer out the window when I first started playing. I’m talking about the combat system. It takes a while to get used to, but it does a great job at making you feel like a total badass once you’ve mastered it. The superb armor designs also help quite a bit with this particular aspect. A lot of work has been put into some of the weapons as well, and you’ll notice this once you start swinging one of the giant swords which feels like it has a lot of weight behind it. Combat is not necessarily fluid and every swing can be your last, but this only adds to the realism. After all, you’re not meant to be an unbeatable hero, you’re just some undead with an insatiable hunger for souls.
“Like a moth drawn to a flame, your wings will burn in anguish.
Time after time. For that is your fate. The fate of the cursed.”
All in all, I have to say Dark Souls 2 was a very enjoyable experience and offered plenty of hours of entertainment (or torture, depending on who you ask). I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone looking for a truly challenging RPG which will surely trouble you for a long, long time. Because after playing Dark Souls 2 you will also come to this very unsettling realization: some fates really are worse than death.