Review of Dark Souls II

Yes, I’ve been away for a while.  There was good reason!  My friend and I recently acquired Dark Souls II at its midnight release and we’e been playing ever since.  And since both of us are raving about the game, I figure it’s time for me to share my thoughts on it.

By recently, I mean a month ago.  And I’ve only just beaten the game one.  My friend beat it three times since, so let that be an indication of either my skills or the time I was able to put in to the game.  This is for two reasons:  The game is massive, much bigger than the worlds of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls I (possibly combined,) and I haven’t gotten through all of the content.  The other reason is that I’m addicted to jolly cooperation (being summoned to the worlds of other players to help them defeat bosses throughout the game.)

Gameplay wise, Dark Souls II is significantly improved over its predecessor.  Much of the hassle has been taken out of multiplayer functions.  With there being only one server (for first playthroughs, at least – NG+ players have their own) and no need to buy a locate and buy a separate item to leave messages for others, it’s much easier to interact with other players.  The one drawback to this came shortly after its release, when it was near impossible to grab a summoning sign due to every player seeing them and snatching them up before you do.  Covenants are easier to find, resulting in more multiplayer interactions.

But while it’s easier to find these interactions, the challenge comes if you choose to do anything with your friends.  The matchmaking system, which was designed to prevent pvp abuse of newer players by hackers, has been so complicated (perhaps needlessly so) that it’s difficult to stay within range of your friends’ characters.  My friend and I spent the better part of 2 hours trying to arrange co-op, making sure our soul levels were close enough to make it possible, but we had no luck.  There’s a new parameter called soul memory, which measures how many souls you’ve accumulated/spent/lost in the game, which locked us out of being able to cooperate with each other.  There is an item in game that helps with widening the matchmaking window, but it wasn’t helpful for us.  The exact matchmaking parameters haven’t been confirmed by the developer, so at the moment there is no real way for us to tell where we went wrong.

Your own options for fighting your way through the world are expanded.  In Dark Souls I, you had an open world but were subtly guided along the “proper” path that served the story.  In this game, there are multiple areas that one can explore, including levels that are completely optional to completing the game.  Combined with the multiplayer aspects of summoning for co-op and invading for pvp, one can easily move on to something else if they’re bored with or stuck on a level.

Story wise, I felt that this installment was lacking.  I hoped for some answers as to the true nature of the undead curse, given the implications that your actions in the first game would end it.  Thousands of years into the future, we’re still surrounded by hollowed-out soldiers.  Clearly something that was supposed to happen, didn’t.  But would it be explained?  Unfortunately by the end of the game there are no clear cut answers for what is really going on in the world, and no end in sight to the undead curse.  However, humanity as a whole seems to survive despite this, with multiple civilizations rising and falling in the time between the two installments, people are having children and scraping out lives for themselves.  There’s still that sense of dread that surrounds each character, knowing that they are marked with the curse and will one day lose their mind and sense of self.  This is the true death in the souls universe:  not an eternal rest, but the unmaking of your self until you are less than human.  There is no cure, only delaying of the inevitable.

There were aspects of the story that I enjoyed.  Two great themes of the game were the passage of time and the shift of humanity’s influence away from gods in favor of themselves.  The first gave plenty of nods to the first Dark Souls game that anyone who has played before would recognize.  Even though the timeline has progressed so much that almost nobody in the game knows of the events of the first installment, there are throwbacks that Souls veterans can appreciate more.

The second theme is one that I especially enjoy, being non-religious myself.  While the first installment focused on the power of the Gods (or lack thereof), by the second game characters seem less interested in showing favor to entities who may or may not help them and are more interested in helping themselves or each other.  The Way of White covenant, full of pious priests who focused on miracles and faith, have been replaced with the Way of Blue, who turn to a different human-run covenant for protection from invaders.  The Blue Guardians, an order of knights who protect said Way of Blue covenanters and focus on justice and defending apostles, are an evolution from the Darkmoon Blades of old who focused more on punishing sinners for the gods.  And the one apparently pious character you meet in the game is really a con artist.  I could go on about this theme.

One last thing I didn’t like about the game:  There is only one ending.  Dark Souls 1 and Demon’s Souls before it, you were given a choice between two endings.  Now you only have one, repeatedly stated to be your inescapable fate.  Perhaps this mirrors the inevitable fate of every person to go hollow in the end, but it still would have been nice to have a second option.

Overall, this was an immensely enjoyable game and I highly recommend it.  I’m thinking/hoping that the lack of closure in this installment is evidence of a third Dark Souls in the future.  If so, I do hope that FROM can give us the satisfaction of some answers when that is released.

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