“Dark Souls II” has finally come out on Steam to the sound of PC gamers everywhere rejoicing and preemptively rage quitting. The latest in From Software’s “Souls” series, this game comes with the promise of great gameplay, a nearly incomprehensible story and so many deaths that the previous game was given a “Prepare to Die” edition. Fortunately, the game delivers on every single one of these expectations, all while running at the heartbreakingly gorgeous level that PC gamers have come to expect.
Famous for — or probably infamous for — its intense difficulty, one of the many fears that have plagued anyone excited for “Dark Souls II” is the rumor that the game’s difficulty has been toned down by From Software to increase the game’s accessibility. For what it’s worth, this is true, and this is the easiest game thus far. My own experience with this came about when my sorcerer (affectionately named Unicorn Wizard) had blown through the first dungeon and killed the boss, and had only died once. Despite what people might think, this number is shockingly low. On a side note, the game’s design around swordplay and melee combat makes it even easier when playing a class that uses primarily ranged weaponry. Easier as it is, From Software has included in the game the Covenant of Champions, which the player can join to bring the game’s difficulty back up to what experienced “Souls” series players expect.
“Dark Souls II” has a story. At least, I think it has a story — there are cutscenes, so I assume it has to be true. As in the previous game, for the players to get a comprehensive view of the plot, they have to take an active role in discovering the lore of the game world. Instead of the passive movielike plot dumps that other games might rely on, “Dark Souls II” requires players to read item summaries, talk to NPC characters and explore otherwise hidden portions of the stage. Despite its obscure story, the game is also very accessible for new audiences, as there are very few significant links to the plot of the first game.
Gameplay is what players expect from the series: an action RPG based around precision movement and a need to understand how individual enemies move and attack. Like previous games, to understand the controls, players need to read the easy-to-miss instructions in the primary tutorial level, as well as play around a bit on their own. Game invasion, an aspect where other players cross over into your game to try and help or kill you (usually kill you) is still present, but has been streamlined like much of the rest of the game, and now exists primarily in sections of the game where cross-player combat is available in arena-like zones.
One of the issues that this game has that its predecessor didn’t is that the levels don’t feel like a cohesive world. In the previous installment of the series, players would make progress in the game only to find that the world was a continuous entity, looping back around to areas that the player had been to hours earlier. In this entry, the connected world has been replaced in favor of a fast travel network of bonfires. While making travel quicker, this system by its very nature makes the game too easy, as in order to make fast travel possible the number of bonfires — places that can heal players and replenish particular healing items — throughout the levels has been increased.
Visually, “Dark Souls II” looks great on Steam. The graphics, still a significant downgrade from what early trailers had promised, are beyond adequate, and look great running at 1080p. Likewise, the frame rate that the PC release allows is great; running at 60fps, players are given a better, more controlled experience than what is currently available on consoles. Steam also gives the game strong online support, a feature upon which the game hinges, allowing for invasions, player summoning and writing messages that others can see and rate to give you health.
“Dark Souls II” is one of the best games to come out in a while. Though not quite as strong as the previous entry, this is made up for by being the most accessible, making it the best starting point for new players to the series. Additionally, while not having the best enemy designs in the series (the majority of bosses are just humanoid) there are still some interesting design choices that will leave players simultaneously yelling in frustration and wanting more. If you have a computer that can handle it, this is a game that should definitely be picked up, especially when available for $10 less than the current console price.
Rating: 4 stars