I have a tendency to “just see what would happen if…” in games, especially games that let you do anything you want to do. So, with Dark Souls II, I saw a guy with a big sword and sure he was talking to me and nice and everything, but I had to just see what would happen if I attacked him. It actually went brilliantly well – I killed big sword man and merrily went on my way.
Later, I decided I didn’t like some old crones and thought I could probably take them out. Let me tell you about how fiercely some people fight with a wooden spoon… or not.
You get the point – in Dark Souls II (as with Dark Souls and Demon Souls), you can go after and try to kill just about anyone you want. This led, for me, to the Jurassic Park problem – I was so preoccupied with whether or not I could that I didn’t stop to think if I should.
My second trip to the world went far better. I adopted a live and let live mantra. Nice fellow wants to talk to me, I’ll talk to him. Nice fellow pulls a sword and I’ll take his arm off.
Dark Souls II is genius, and it is genius in a slow, plodding, methodical way. While there is a bit of an introductory area where rudimentary skills are taught, most of the time you (and I’m going to start saying “you” instead of “your character” because I think we’re all adult enough to recognize that you aren’t actually in the game even if you find yourself playing it a lot) just have to figure things out for yourself, and while the game is built in a similar fashion to the first Dark Souls, there are some interesting rule changes which aren’t always clear until you’ve stumbled upon them.
The most easy and obvious of these (and therefore the only one I’ll go into) is that while bad guys regenerate after you save a game or refresh your energy, they don’t do so ad infinitum. Eventually, when you return to their location they’ll just be gone (and I’ve never seen them come back on future visits, but I won’t say that they’ll be gone forever). It was a great way to get level up in the original, just keep taking out the same set of relatively easy baddies over and over again until you work your way up the ladder, but that is gone now.
Broadly, Dark Souls II is a role-playing game; a punishing role-playing game. The point of it is, in my estimation, to make you a better gamer, to teach you discipline and focus and to do this by exacting a punishing (but not too punishing) toll on you. Your character here begins the game with nothing and you just go off and make your way, eventually learning about your quest and the world you’re inhabiting.
More interestingly than that (the story doesn’t hugely hold my attention) is the learning of the rules – what do you have to do to level up; how much damage can a weapon take; how much damage can armor take; when do you have to get them repaired; how do you get them repaired; where can you get new armor; where can you learn to do x, y, or z; where can you go and not go. There are so many rules and so many nuances to Dark Souls II that simply learning all those elements takes hours.
That may be one of the reasons I found my second trip the world a much more satisfying one than that first, abbreviated, venture – my character may have been starting from zero, but I wasn’t. Dark Souls II is a terribly harsh game, but it is usually (not always) a fair one. It operates by rules and part of the adventure is learning what those rules are.
The world in which you’re learning these rules (and you’re going to keep finding out new things you didn’t know for hours and hours on end) is huge, and pretty empty except for bad guys. That isn’t to say that it’s swarming with skeletons trying to end your existence, but they’re certainly not uncommon and have a tendency to jump out at you just as you’re feeling comfortable.
Also present are the shadows of people from other worlds who are currently playing the game or did so semi-recently. Touch a spot of blood and you can see how they died and maybe learn something. You can also venture into the games of others and they can enter yours. All of which is to say that it’s a solitary, lonely existence in the world, but you are definitely not alone.
There are some issues with the title which would be wrong to overlook. While the graphics aren’t bad, they’re certainly not great and the color palette tends to be overly murky. This goes beyond just offering a look and feel and sometimes makes it difficult to see what you’re trying to find. Additionally, the camera angles can be problematic and consequently you very well may die more than once simply because it was too hard to judge a jump angle.
What then is Dark Souls II? It is a huge, terribly enjoyable, time sink. It is a game of exploration with some great fighting tossed in for good measure. You are going to want to go around and explore very single nook and cranny of the world here, maybe twice, and you’re going to continually find new ways to do things and new ways to get places, and easy—obvious—things you should have been doing all along but only learned of in your 30th hour. It is a title that rewards a slow, methodical, thinking approach… except for when it rewards a quick slashing approach and where much of the fun involved is in figuring out which you’re going to need when.
It is a wonderfully fun game and one in which I plan on spending plenty more time.
Dark Souls II is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Violence. This game can also be found on: PC and Xbox 360.