I was late to the Dark Souls party having spent many years avoiding it because of its perceived intense difficulty. I just couldn’t see myself enjoying something so punishing…but I was wrong. The original Dark Souls was an excellent game that rewarded players willing to fight through hardship forcing you to learn from your mistakes, take your time & work towards being the best damn Dark Souls player you could be. You can read my review for the first game on the Xbox 360 here.
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is the complete version of Dark Souls II, coming with all 3 DLC packs included as well as a whole raft of changes to make it a new experience for those who played it on its initial release.
I suppose the first question I need to answer is just how tough Dark Souls II actually is. Here’s the thing, it’s a difficult question to answer because for a brand new player to the series it might seem like the most punishing game ever as you die at minor enemies & watch as your max health points drop with no obvious way to increase them (that was a shock even for me).
Whereas seasoned Dark Souls players will be instantly familiar with the mechanics, controls & play within their limitations from the moment it loads up.
That’s not to say it isn’t still a challenge for regular players, it is & I would put my total death count in the hundreds easily. It’s not just enemies after all that can kill you; the environment is as dangerous as anything with a weapon. My very first Dark Souls II death saw me jump too late over a gap & fall to my doom. There were many sections & bosses that saw me having to spend hours levelling up & improving my abilities before attempting them again (No-Man’s Wharf in particular caused me big problems).
I can’t stress this enough, just like the first game…don’t let this put you off. Dark Souls II is about punishing you for making mistakes & being stupid. Keep dying at a boss? Don’t keep slamming yourself at the brick wall, revisit an area & level yourself up some more. You’ll be amazed at how the game progresses as you do, Dark Souls II wants you to be the best…it just isn’t going to make it easy for you.
The Dark Souls II story takes place in the fallen kingdom of Drangleic, a place destroyed by a war with the Giants. Your character travels to Drangleic to try & break the undead curse that plagues him/her. After meeting the Emerald Herald you are tasked with obtaining four Great Souls spread throughout the kingdom inside four very powerful beings. This is the path to breaking your undead curse but it’s not as clear as it might first seem.
I much preferred the story here in Dark Souls II; I found it easier to understand with straightforward directions & eventually a clear enemy. While it doesn’t have the same sense of epic-ness that the original had it does have a few twists & turns along the way that I really enjoyed.
Graphically Dark Souls II is hit & miss but this is hardly the games fault. This is a re-release on the Xbox One with a touch-up so is not actually a next-gen game. Backgrounds can look amazing with great use of colours & lighting. Several times I just stopped to admire the view. Most bosses also look pretty amazing with the Old Iron King in particular being a sight, sadly there is little time to stop & admire them as they will destroy you quickly.
The detail in characters is impressive but it lacks some of the finer points particularly in dungeons where everything had a kind of grey, grainy look.
The kingdom of Drangleic is an adventurous, unique & deadly place to explore. Locations are varied with no two places being the same & filled with all manner of deadly traps & beasties. The variety in enemies is one of Dark Souls II’s strongest points forcing you to adapt the way you play area by area.
Character building, weapon & armour selections are areas that you’ll constantly have to change to make the next area you approach that much easier. Built your character like a tank? Slow & heavy but able to defend well & deal at great damage? Well the next area has a lot of water, magic users & deep hidden drops. Time to rethink your strategy.
Building a balanced character is no easy task & you’ll inevitably be forced to concentrate on one aspect over the other. Dark Souls II sees you collecting souls from enemies & bosses defeated, these are then spent at the Emerald Herald to level up your attributes of which there are many. Do you focus on strength & improvements or spend some time buffing up your magic resistance? The more you level up the higher the cost of souls & the less return you get from minor enemies.
The game has a huge amount of variety of weapons & armour which again force you think about how you play the game. Many of these require you to be strong enough or proficient in magic to actually wield. Put too much heavy stuff on your character & their ability to run, dodge & jump will be severely hindered. It involves a serious amount of thinking but comes with huge rewards as you begin to shape a character that is all of your own making.
Spend carefully though as like the previous game you die, you lose all the souls you’ve collected with one chance to recover them. Die again before recovering them & they are all lost forever.
There are few comfort areas in Dark Souls II but every player can breathe a sigh of relief & relax momentarily at the bonfires. These areas are few & far between & serve as a recuperation point. Relax, refill your health flasks & gain all your health back but…resting at a bonfire will also see all the enemies in the area respawn so think carefully about what you need to do each time you rest.
The most minor of enemies can kill you in a few hits but they are nothing compared to boss battles. Dark Souls II has many bosses & each have unique way of attacking & defending that will frustrate & excite in equal amounts. Preparation is key, planning before you step through the fog-gate as often there are things around that can make the boss battle a bit easier in particular summoned NPCs (Non-Playable Characters).
Throughout the game are many NPC characters that offer a range of services from selling stuff, offering gifts & entry into respective covenants. Some though can be summoned as long as you’re in human form to assist during some sections of the game & boss battles. Often offering nothing more than a distraction for the bosses they can be invaluable in the fight.
The multi-player side of the game can see you summon other players to help too. The longer the game has been out, the less use this side of things is. Finding online summon symbols are few & far between. You’re more likely to be invaded by enemy players wanting to add to your total death count. This lot seem to pop up at the most inconvenient time & can be the most frustrating part of the game.
It took me over 40 hours to play through Dark Souls II & as soon as the end credits rolled I hit New Game+ to try & tie up many of my remaining tasks. NG+ sees your level & accumulated souls count carry over as well as most of your items. All locations are reset though with new & tougher enemies with higher soul drops. Much more difficult but much more rewarding…
Veterans & newbies alike will equally enjoy Dark Souls II. Don’t let the perceived difficulty put you off, this is one of the most rewarding & fun games you may ever play.
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin