GAMES - Review
11:18 - 30th May 2014, by Matthew Edwards

Dark Souls II

When Dark Souls surfaced out of nowhere back in 2011, it was like a two finger salute to an industry that'd become fixated with training wheels and handholding. Here was an overtly Japanese game with a punishing disposition that managed to sell over two and a half million copies, and there are many out there who'd hail it as the best game of the previous generation. So when From Software announced that it'd be following it up with a direct sequel, fans were understandably worried. Thankfully, Dark Souls II doesn't welcome you back with open arms. It slaps you in the face with a knowing wink.

The game begins with a lengthy cut-scene that sees the main character leaping into some nefarious portal, and then after they wake up on the other side, you're presented with a familiar character creation screen. From here, you can tailor your character's starting load-out and tinker around with their physical features, but considering that most players will smother their creation in armour - with the new Vengral and Smelter Demon sets being particular highlights - time spent here will largely go to waste. It's best just to grab a broadsword or a handful of starting spells and see what the land of Drangelic has to offer.

One thing that characterised the first two Souls games was the individuality of each area and the ethereal nature of the dark story. Dark Souls II rekindles this sense of detached mystery without feeling too derivative. There's one area that will bring back memories of the Undead Berg and a boss fight that doubles the complexity of the Bell Gargoyles, but for every borrowed idea, there's an area with laughing pottery that inflicts a curse, and a Medusa-like boss where you're forced to fight in a pool of poisonous liquid. Needless to say, From Software certainly hasn't gone soft.

Considering how accomplished the combat system was already, it's no surprise that Dark Souls II doesn't rock the boat too violently. Dual-wielding weapons is now more of an option, spells now require stamina to cast, and backstabs are now more situational, but aside from that, rolling is still more preferable to blocking, healing items (including the new lifegems) still demand careful timing and enhancing your equipment still takes precedence over levelling-up. That's the gospel as written by the original Dark Souls and this sequel preaches a similar guide to survival.

The only criticism you can level at Dark Souls II is a lack of ambition. From the beginning of the first quest, where you have to travel to opposite ends of the land in search of four great souls, it's clear that this sequel adheres to a similar structure. But when that amounts to one of the rawest, satisfying and most memorable games of the last decade, it's less more of the same and more a similar style of mesmerising brilliance. Simply put, if you hated Dark Souls, nothing here will change your mind, but if you loved it, prepare to fall hard all over again.

There's a common misconception that fans love the Souls series for the challenge factor alone. That's certainly a part of the appeal, but just like its predecessors, Dark Souls II paints a dark fantasy that's unlike anything else in gaming. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One may have more polygon pushing power, but in terms of personality, this game beats their combined library hands down.
SCORE: 4.5/5
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