Do not make monuments to the living, for they can still disgrace the stone

Dark Souls 2

By Shepton on July 4, 2014 in Reviews

Final verdict: B+
Final playtime: 300+ hours. I have a problem.

Yeah, nigga. I’m still fuckin’ whicha. Haters say Sheppy fell off. How, nigga? My last review was Gears Judgment! …Oh.

Anyway. When someone asked if we’d be doing a Dark Souls 2 review soon, I was like… Three years soon, or five years soon? And now here we are! I guess I’m back and reviewing again! Just wait until my next review. Let’s just say 2023 is gonna be a big year for Scathing Accuracy.

So Dark Souls 2. Direct sequel to the spiritual successor direct sequel to one of my personal favorite games, Demon’s Souls. I love the shit out of Demon’s Souls. I’ve gone back and replayed it a whole bunch of times, in different ways, with different characters, challenging myself to play it creatively, et cetera. I was pumped as fuck when Dark Souls came out, and subsequently played that a lot, and enjoyed it, but was ultimately a little disappointed with the drop-off in quality in the design of the bosses, and the game overall. There were several reasons for that, but the biggest issues for me were that the physical world, enemies and bosses didn’t live up to the design quality of Demon’s Souls, whose enemies and bosses provided a more rewarding gameplay experience. To expand on what I mean by that, Demon’s Souls was designed in such a way that it taught you how to play it. Every failure was a learning experience. When you die to something in Demon’s Souls, you might be pissed at first but chances are you won’t die in the same way ever again, because you’ve learned and grown. But Dark Souls be like “You wanna cross this bridge? You can’t. Why? Two giants will shoot you with arrows that knock you off the bridge. You can’t kill them though. You have to cross the bridge first if you want to kill them. What’s that? You can’t cross the bridge because they’re shooting you? Dark Souls.”

Dark Souls didn’t do a bad job or anything, it was still a really good game and I liked it a lot, and the example above is just a commonly despised area that I picked on because it came to mind quickly. I’m not giving it shit or anything, so shut up with your flagrant Dark Souls fanboyism that I can tell is burning a hole in your internet-brain right now. It’s not my fault you didn’t have a PS3 and didn’t get to play the superior original product and as a result you feel the need to baselessly trash Demon’s Souls and act like Dark Souls is better despite never having played the former. Yeah I know your game. Fuck you.

Because this series has such a stigma attached to it regarding its difficulty level, I feel the need to make something clear right away: What I’m saying has nothing to do with difficulty. In terms of sheer difficulty, all three of the Souls games aren’t particularly hard at all. Unforgiving, yes. But hard, no. The only people who find these games challenging are the ones who try to rush through mashing attacks and not utilizing all the game’s tools, and subsequently die over and over. These are games meant to be played slowly, carefully, taking everything in. And when you play it that way, they’re all really easy. Of course the same could be said for any game, but it’s just very apparent in this series because they force you to adopt that play style in order to truly play them well. My argument for Demon’s Souls having better enemies and bosses than Dark Souls is purely based in design. The design of Dark Souls was flawed in that so many of the bosses could be made trivial by standing so close to them that their attacks missed you. And that’s just the most obvious and basic reason. It also went for low blows whenever it had the opportunity, like sections where you’re trapped in a tiny enclosed space with a boss and several other enemies, or situations like I mentioned earlier where it forces you to luck your way through an obstacle course. It wasn’t as effective at teaching the player step by step, it was just a lot of difficulty for difficulty’s sake, which leads me to another problem I have with Dark Souls: it was built based on Demon’s Souls’ reputation. That reputation being “that game where you die a lot.” But that isn’t what Demon’s Souls was about. It should have had the reputation of being “that game that teaches you not to die” but instead, the sequel ended up with the subtitle “Prepare to Die,” and poor design choices followed.

But now Dark Souls has a sequel, and it’s generally quite a bit better than Dark Souls was. The setting and lore is essentially not far gone from the previous games, it has that familiar vagueness that’s been present throughout the series where the narrative is… well, the narrative is a lack of narrative. You’re given little snippets of information by listening to the few lines of dialogue from the NPCs, or reading item descriptions. The atmosphere isn’t even remotely similar to the previous games, though. In stark contrast to the themes laid down by the previous installments in the series, the world of Dark Souls 2 is strangely welcoming and warm. There are so many friendly NPCs to talk to and hang out with now. So many safe, comforting areas full of sunlight and hope. And the NPCs never go away. They’re always there, welcoming you, never dying, never leaving to go get killed tragically. Back in my day I had a tiny little dark room called The Nexus. It was full of sad, defeated people who couldn’t bear to go outside because they would fucking die instantly if they did. And half way through the game a guy even shows up and straight murders the tiny handful of people you’ve met if you don’t check his shit! In Dark Souls 2 I get to relax and put my feet up at a vacation resort between bosses. I guess that’s a small complaint, but still. Doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t have the same feeling of dread anymore. In terms of gameplay however, Dark Souls 2 scores some points with me where Dark Souls failed to do so, mainly because the design philosophy seems to once again be “tough but fair” as opposed to “you’re fucked.”

Dark Souls 2 has two very significant, and very different, aspects to its gameplay: PvE, and PvP. Both are worth discussing as they’re very important facets of the game. In terms of PvE, I feel as though a lot of the enemies are two dimensional and easy to predict so in some sections of the game it’s gone from feeling like every enemy is a threat to feeling like it’s an MMO and they’re trash mobs that you’re farming for items. It has its share of decently hard enemies too, but there are definitely sections that are a walk in the park in comparison to the previous games in the series. The bosses are a good step up from Dark Souls though – no hiding underneath their crotch to be safe from their hitboxes anymore. There are a few that you can just circle-strafe and never get hit, but generally they’re a lot better now. Gotta stay on your toes a little. That’s good. There’s even a few creative and imaginative boss designs, too. Normally boss fights are just a standard “You have entered the boss room. It is a circular area. Obvious exits are 1) Between the boss’s legs, 2) Your face has been eaten by dogs.” Demon’s Souls had a lot of unique boss arenas (cliffside fighting a giant flying manta ray, cramped tunnel fighting a flame-throwing spider, scaryass throne room full of bizarrely stacked chairs, multi-tiered rooms, enormous temple full of lava, fighting a blind giant who searched for you through sound, etc), and Dark Souls 2 has a couple of those at least. The Executioner Chariot specifically was an interesting concept and a pretty cool fight. Most are still just a big arena though. In general, the PvE is pretty weak when you break it down. Sure the bosses are better than they were in Dark Souls, but they’re still not as good as they were in Demon’s Souls.

One thing that bothers me is that the hitboxes on attack animations have become incredibly erratic and unpredictable. Enemies can hit you when you’re clearly and distinctly not being touched by their weapons. It happens with bosses and with regular enemies, with alarming regularity. You have to just imagine everything is about 50% wider and longer than it looks, and that your character is actually a great big fat guy. That’s the only way the hitboxes and hurtboxes in this game make any sense.

So yeah, the PvE could be a lot better. But there’s also the PvP side of the game. I’m pretty certain this has the best PvP of the three Souls games so far. Demon’s had alright PvP – it was a new and interesting concept. It didn’t really have matchmaking as such, just random, terrifying encounters that made your heart leap into your throat and start pounding. But it was far from balanced. That definitely continued in Dark Souls, but Dark Souls 2 is probably the closest to balanced of the three. It’s not an easy thing to balance, though. Certain weapons, spells and character builds are just better. But that’s the case in any game that has character variety. It’s not possible to find true balance in such a game. But it has options that make everything somewhat viable, so that’s as close as we can really hope for. But the hitbox issues I mentioned previously only get worse online. It’s especially noticeable with people who use weapons with a long reach. Far too many times you’ll watch your character flail around and your health bar melt while your attacker stands ten feet away from you, hitting the air. With a lot of games I’m willing to forgive latency-based issues like that, but it’s just painfully noticeable here.

In a more general sense, this game has been made drastically more convenient than its predecessors. Hell, you can teleport from bonfire to bonfire right from the start in this one. And while that’s a nice time saver, it’s actually really sad. I forgot plenty of areas even existed simply because I only used them one time before finding a new bonfire, and thereafter just teleported to the bonfire. At least in Dark Souls you didn’t unlock that ability until later in the game, and had to spend a while hoofing it, learning the areas and taking in the sights. As a result, when I started new characters or new games, before gaining access to certain bonfires I had to stop several times and ask myself “Wait… how did I get to that place again?”

I feel like I’m comparing this game too heavily to its older siblings. Maybe that’s not fair, maybe it’s a weak way to review a game. Maybe I shouldn’t play apples and oranges like that, but it’s kind of hard not to when it’s part of such a strong and unique series that’s changed in some strange ways, and stayed the same in other strange ways. But let me try to sum it up objectively, as its own entity: It’s fun. It’s a solid, all-around package, with a decent level of difficulty that will challenge the casual crowd but perhaps be underwhelming to an experienced gamer. The PvP is as entertaining as it is frustrating and inconsistent. Generally the game is PvE focused, but has some flaws in its AI which, if you have any basic level of pattern recognition, trivializes the combat. Its bosses are hit-or-miss, some being extraordinarily easy, some being unique and creative, but none really being particularly challenging, not even the Ancient Dragon that everyone seems to think is the most difficult thing ever created. I just went up to it and hit it until it died. When it tried to attack me, I got out of the fucking way. And when I said “everyone” I meant everyone within the Dark Souls 2 community. And holy shit can I talk about the Dark Souls 2 community for a second?

The Souls series has always had an incredible community of players. A community as brilliant as it is awful. It’s full of amazing trolls, as evidenced by the countless gag messages you’ll find throughout the games. The classic “Try jumping” next to a cliff that will kill you if you jump off it, and so on. There have been countless times throughout the Souls games when clever messages have made me laugh. But then specifically you have the community over on Reddit. God damn so many of these people are IDIOTS. First of all, I see far too many forum posts complaining about how basic enemies destroy them constantly, or how it took them 50 something tries to beat a boss despite the fact that they only fight bosses with two other players assisting them. Almost every gameplay video I see has the host flanked by two co-op partners and they STILL all fail and die. Playing this game solo is not hard, especially not 50-something-attempts-to-kill-one-boss hard. This is not a brag. The game just is not hard if you just play carefully. I don’t understand how people are failing over and over again to the same boss. And it’s not just one boss, it’s any of them. All of them. People fucking suck and I don’t get it. I watched a video a while back where a guy recorded every one of his deaths in a certain area. He died to the same telegraphed and easily-avoided boss attack about 6 times, an attack that only hit me once ever and then I said “Oh, okay, so don’t get hit by that.” And I didn’t. Again, because I’m going to be accused of bragging, I’m genuinely not. I just wish I understood. I know humans make mistakes sometimes. But if a human makes the same, really obvious, really stupid mistake over and over and over… you take that human out into the woods where nature will do the dirty work for you. These are the problems that natural selection is supposed to take care of.

And the sheer amount of utter bullshit “lore” posts. Ugh. People who make idiotic “theories” on elements of the story that aren’t explicitly stated. This one fucking dumbass came up with what he called a “conspiracy theory” about how the health bar isn’t actually health, it’s representative of your character’s mental health. Oh I’m sorry I thought this was a FUCKING VIDEO GAME. Video games have HEALTH BARS. If you deplete them, your character DIES. You then are alive again because it’s a VIDEO GAME and it would be a shitty one if you had to make a whole new character every time you fell off a fucking cliff. Oh, but falling off a cliff doesn’t kill you! It just makes you go a little bit less sane! Newton would be proud, you fucking genius.

But that’s beside the point. I’m not reviewing the community, beautiful and hideous as it is. The game’s good. Go get it if you haven’t yet. Better yet, if you have a PS3, go get Demon’s Souls first, maybe skip Dark Souls, doesn’t matter either way, and then get this on PC. Because oh yeah it’s WAAAAY better on PC. The console versions are stuck at a terrible framerate, with toned-down, fuzzy-edged graphics. The PC version is fucking glorious. And I’m not speaking as some PC master race asshole here – I put 240 hours in on PS3 first and loved the hell out of the game before I picked it up on PC afterwards (yeah that should speak volumes about how much I enjoyed this game. I bought it twice) and was blown away by the difference. It’s not an issue of visual quality, but the improved framerate makes for a significantly smoother and more enjoyable experience. But ignorance is bliss, right? If you don’t have a gaming PC, the console versions are fine too.

Final playtime: At least 300 hours.

Final verdict: B+

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