Dark Souls reminds me a lot of my time learning to tango – dropped in an environment both familiar and strange, I am, within the first five seconds of my lesson, re-learning how to do something that I thought I was already proficient at – movement, action, and surrendering to the fire of passion. I am clumsy. I don’t know why I’m doing this. Nothing feels natural. But I don’t want to give up. I do the same movements, over, and over, adjusting, tweaking, till finally it starts to feel right. There is a certain smoothness to my approach now, a certain confidence in my movements, and I feed these embers with more practice, refinement, concentration, and a fire is born. I now own my environment, I wear it, I am a predator and my prey is a hair’s breadth from me…but we step in time, and in these small moments, I am burning, but I do not lose control, because keeping the step, keeping the timing right means I will succeed. I am the fire. I am the dark. And we dance this dance of death together.
Seriously though, Dark Souls II is like remembering reverse cowgirl is a real position.
I’m going to come out right now and say that, technical and mechanical improvements aside, Dark Souls II is not as good as its predecessor, but as we alllllll know, that’s just my opinion. The difference between Demon’s and Dark Souls was profound, and while I didn’t review Dark, (check out my ancient review for Demon’s here) I feel as thought the game had stepped up so much that it would be impossible to make the review a simple comparison.
I do not feel that way about Dark Souls II.
As stupid as this sounds, DSII feels more like an RPG to me. Being able to equip three items per hand and wear more than two rings, as well as now actually being able to firmly rely on magic thanks to items that replenish your spell-castings, makes me feel as though I have far more options as the game is taking place. There is a small part of me that thinks that limitations are a necessary part of DS, but when it comes down to it, some of these limitations were a nuisance rather than an a design choice. I mean, you have all those items in your inventory at all times – what does it really matter if you choose to burden yourself with one or two extra weapons?
This really helps emphasise what I truly love about the Souls series – you can make any god damn character you like. One of my favourite guys to watch play DS was a sorcerer wearing the heaviest armour and carrying the heaviest shield in the game. He could barely move in it, but he wasn’t really getting hurt either. Recently, I got pulled into a match against some dirtbag who wanted to kill me, and kill me he did. Having equipped a greatshield and wielding all the magic under the sun (all with new and varying effects, but more on that later), he absolutely crushed me – but not before I broke some of his equipment by throwing bottles of acid at him.
There’s just more to DSII – whether it’s poison knives (by far my favourite weapon in the game) or the stupid amount of spells and abilities now available, the game feels bigger. Don’t get me wrong, my favourite DS build was a samurai, fire-wielding, heavy-armoured mofo who could do flips and I still feel as though I could make an even more outrageous character in DSII. And that’s the beauty of the Souls series – once you know how to beat it, you get to choose how you want to beat it, and DSII has more options.
You can’t say you don’t like the Souls series…well you can, but you’d be wrong. But there’s elements (that probably only I care about) that make this sequel good instead of great.
For starters, DSII is nowhere near as hard as its predecessor. Not even close. The first covenant you can join is at the very beginning of the game, and not knowing that it would make the game harder, I joined it. Every step of the way forward was agony, and I felt like I was truly back into the world of Souls. After being told that what I had done was basically self-inflicted pain, I left the covenant, and everything changed. Bosses attacks seemed to hurt less. Their attack patterns got simpler, easier to read and beat.
And that’s the least of its problems.
As much as it pains me to say, DSII is kind of forgettable. I barely remember some of the bosses I killed, and would have difficulty describing in any kind of detail what they were like. For instance, Sif, the Great Grey Wolf, is a proud warrior who fights with a giant sword. There’s a sense of honour about him, which you can see when you approach him and, despite his rage, faces off against you rather than attacking instantly like an animal. Depending on when you approach him (after playing the Prepare to Die DLC), he will start the confrontation off almost peacefully, picking up his giant sword, resigned to the fact that he will fight to the death.
DSII has a giant worm, and a giant rat at one point…and there’s a frog with like a skeleton inside it. There is a knight with a mirror on his shield, who is pretty cool. Hooray!
Here’s the thing with Dark Souls – the game was pretty much perfect. Like, actually close to perfect. The world and its stories were interwoven to a point where you couldn’t have one without the other, and everything interconnected perfectly. One of the reasons you didn’t need a bonfire every other step was because the environment fed back into itself – you got to know every inch of the landscape because it was basically one giant map you got to run around. There was a reason for everything’s placement, where the bells were located, why characters were placed in certain parts of the game – everything came together. In DSII, this simply isn’t the case – or, if it is, it’s not as immediately apparent as it is in DS.
While one of the most appealing aspects of DS is its subtle narrative, it isn’t that hard to follow – characters you talk to will end up in different places. Lines of dialogue will show interaction and progression without you ever having to witness the events that unfold. Even if you don’t care about the story, the enemies and their environments seem to fit rather well, don’t they? Thus far, I can’t figure out DSII. Places seem to exist just to exist, the land isn’t telling a story anymore – it’s just there to house the game.
Also, and I don’t know if it’s just me, but poison and toxic are overused in this game. In DS, the areas had themes – there was a part where you had to worry about toxic, a part about curse, a part about poison – in DSII, these are threats that occur all the goddamn time. I’m not sure how it even fits in most parts.
Ultimately, the problems I had with DSII are the strengths it failed to carry over, and, in fairness, if I was a more relaxed and casual gamer I don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference. But I’m not, and that’s why I earn all the big gaming monies.