Sometimes in life, you come across a game that infuriates you, yet for some reason, against your better judgement, you can’t stop playing. Sometimes it’s for the achievement (Ninja Gaiden 2), sometimes its for the small moments of glory (League of Legends), and sometimes because you want to see what all the fuss is about.
Dark Souls 2 fits nicely into that last category, I installed Dark Souls (1) ages ago, but it’s clunky control system, dark boring castle interiors and bullshit boss encounters got the better of me, and so I abandoned the game after maybe an hour or so of playing.
Dark Souls 2 came around a few weeks ago, and once again, against my better judgement, I thought I would install it and see what the big deal is, after all, any series that reaches its 3rd installment must be doing something right.
My initial impressions of the game were awful, after stumbling out of the tutorial area, I had managed to find my way to my first dungeon, for anyone who has played the game, the first area I found was Heide’s tower of flame, an area filled with 15ft giants who are able to kill you in 2 hits – and a major step up from the humanoid bandit enemies I was supposed to be fighting in another area. The frustration was overwhelming, these were enemies that were not unkillable, but so unfairly hard that it was somewhat akin to trying to complete the street fighter ‘punch the car’ bonus stage, only the car is allowed to move around and punch you back.
Eventually, after an hour or so of trying out different classes (to see if it was my class choice that had made the game so ungodly unfair) I finally found the forest of giants, the first area of the game that the player should visit, and from there the game became more manageable. As it turns out, Dark Souls 2 is significantly more of an RPG than I had been informed of, a land where skill is not the major factor, but gear and player levels, once I had figured this out, the deaths started becoming less frequent, and the souls started racking up.
A few long play sessions later, and I understand the appeal of Dark Souls, it’s the tension and progression. The tension comes from the fact that just about any enemy in the game can kill you given enough time, even 25 hours in, if I were to get swarmed by enemies in the first area, there is a possibility of death. Dark Souls is not a game where you level up and then zone out and farm enemies, this is a game where you pay attention or find yourself staring at the game over screen, this tension gives the game it’s life, the long spacing between checkpoints serving both as an achievement, and to give emphasis to the player’s life – it’s only when death means having to replay 10 minutes of content, that you start to truly care for your character’s wellbeing.
The progression appeal is a little simpler to understand, but still ties into the tension aspect, every bonfire checkpoint is an achievement, every killing blow on a boss is a sigh of relief. These moments of glory amongst the slow well thought out enemy dueling has given the game it’s life, and it’s almost surprising if you consider that these moments are almost exactly the same ones used in the 8 and 16bit era – kill enemies, progress through area, fight boss.
Other than these key elements, Dark Souls 2 is able to do a lot of things right in terms of game mechanics, some of the things I liked:
– Path / exploration freedom, the fact you can technically skip entire areas if you want, as well as the option to choose which path you want to tackle next
– You can kill all the NPC’s (I haven’t, but i could…)
– Lots of weapon choices, even if most of them suck and can barely be swung.
– The ability to spec your character out however you want
– Clever vendor / NPC unlock system which is tied in to the story
– Good variety of areas and bosses
The game is not without it’s downsides of course, for every good moment, there are undoubtedly 3 times you swore at the screen. Here is a list of things which pissed me off:
– Some enemies have gigantic mismatched hitboxes (meaning you get hit even when standing behind them)
– Hitstun as a mechanic is the most obnoxious and irritating thing ever created
– prominence of one hit kill attacks
– way too many instant kill pitfall traps
– the button for jump is L3, who thought that was a good idea?
– Some areas feel designed to make you angry (iron keep)
– Some enemies kill you before you have a chance to do anything
Note however that many of these things are mechanics which I just disagree with, but are probably essential to dark souls as a whole. I personally hate the stamina system, and think hitstun is worse than hitler, but these two aspects are arguably what seperates the game from others in the genre. (I still don’t have to like it though.)
Of special note in the game, DS2 has practically no guidance, almost never in the game will they spell out what you are supposed to be doing. This has its perks and weaknesses, for example, it feels great to progress through to different areas and play through the game without being told to do so. On the flip side, it took me 30 hours to work out how certain mechanics of the game actually work, and there are other segments which require an unfair amount of information that you would probably never figure out on your own..
Graphics and audio on PC are pretty good, while not the most pretty game in the world, Dark Souls 2 has some good lighting effects and does depth of field effects pretty well, my only complaint is many of the areas can look a little barren with just a big texture applied over the lot.
Audio is minimalistic but fairly high quality, useful as you may find yourself hearing enemies through doors or walls, as an interesting side note, your character will still produce a ‘shanking’ noise when you punch an enemy to death, knife hand technique or something idk.
Controls on keyboard are kind of sketchy, admittedly I just plugged in a 360 controller for an ‘authentic’ experience (though at 60 frames per second eheheh). On that note, the PC port of DS2 is good, with a wealth of video options that can be changed, and support for 1080p as default (no idea about higher), it runs at a pretty constant 60fps on my aging gaming PC. It is also surprisingly stable, with 0 crashes or glitches happening over my entire playthrough, something or a rarity.
Dark Souls 2 is a 16bit era Action RPG game, brought forward to the modern age, complete with a brutal difficulty and lack of any guidance. While Dark souls 2 won’t be for everybody, underneath the clunky animation and archaic japanese game design lies a game which is fun to explore and unravel.
Approximate Game Length : 30 Hours to finish game, unlocks new game+
Actual Worth / Online Price: £23 / £23 = 1
Should you play it : Yes, but be prepared for fury. I have literally never been more angry at a game in my entire life.
Sidenote: 116 deaths in my playthrough.
Ps. Don’t pull the switch. Just don’t.