If there’s one bad thing to be said about Dark Souls II it’s that the game isn’t that different from its predecessor. For a normal video game, rehashing the same formula in each of its sequels is considered a sin. If this were Assassins Creed, I’d happily snatch the opportunity to whip the ‘oh so creative minds at Ubisoft’ and condemn those responsible to an eternity in hell.
But the Souls franchise is not a normal set of video games. They offer an experience so unique and rewarding that straying from the formula would destroy the core essence of the series. After 90 minutes hands-on with Dark Souls II I can confidently say that it’s not just as good as the original, it’s better. Here’s four reasons why.
4It Looks Better
The art style of the Souls series has always been its strongest graphical asset, stimulating images of a dark, post-pubescent Zelda. But it also looks crap. Textures are downright ugly, the entire world seems to have contracted a grain-flickering virus, and the frame-rate is prone to slowdown like a nervous teen in his first sexual encounter, post-ejaculation.
Thankfully, From Software has placed visual improvement at the top of its Dark Souls II to-do list. Texture detail has been ramped up significantly, the grain-flickering has been replaced by a higher resolution finish and the new graphics engine allows for more subtle additions to visual effects. One section of my demo – the exterior of a dank castle reminiscent of Demon’s Souls’ Boletaria Palace – used these visual effects to immerse me in a way previous Souls games barely even touched. Enemy shadows jutted out from approaching corners, while trees and blades of grass swayed in the wind. Then a giant, lumbering ninja-turtle crashed through the wall, sending my heart and hands into a prolonged epileptic fit. It’s a damn sight more atmospheric than the original and puts it right up there with the likes of Metro: Last Light, which is no mean feat.
The biggest addition to the Dark Souls formula is the enhanced dual swordsman, combat class. Wielding two swords quite obviously prevents the player from holding a shield, forcing them to evade every single enemy attack. However it benefits brave (#idiotic) players with a flurry of quick sword swipes and will undoubtedly be the first choice for seasoned Dark Souls veterans, and all you thanatophiles out there with a death wish.
As with Demon’s and Dark Souls, extra character classes vastly extend the game’s lifespan. If you really want to experience all the game has to offer (experimenting with different magic and weapon types) then you need to play through the game at least three times. Elsewhere, life gems now accompany the ever-useful estus flasks, restoring your health slowly over a set period of time, while sorcery and pyromancy now level to a single attribute.
Wiki’s are generally used as a last resort by gamers, when the rage generated by a difficult section in-game propels their controller through a nearby plaster wall, breaking the controllers frame and thereby generating more rage. But in the Souls series, it’s the first move you make. This is not because the game is too hard, rather it’s a by-product of learning every single action you take can have dire consequences. Merely answering a merchant’s question honestly may send him to his death. Couldn’t afford that awesome spell he was selling? Now it’s gone until your next playthrough. Did you free that seemingly harmless prisoner from captivity? Well now he’s running around your only safehouse killing un-revivable NPCs.
Even massive game features like black and white world tendency are so subtly explained that they make picking the visual differences between a horse and Sarah Jessica Parker seem like child’s play. Dark Souls’ game director, Tomohiro Shibuya, wants to make these game elements more ‘accessible’. Some might think this is a dirty word, but consider this: every moment you spend online researching how to ascend through Dark Souls’ various covenants, breaks from the game’s incredible sense of immersion, which is definitely not a good thing.
Dark Souls II may be targeting a broader audience with better visuals and game lore that’s more accessible, but rest assured the series’ signature difficulty has been ramped up. Out of all the journalists that demoed DS II at E3, only one managed to topple the infamous Mirror Knight – a 10 metre glimmering silver knight with a shield capable of deflecting a meteor mid-flight. Why is the game harder?
Bosses now have more attacks, so their moves are more unpredictable. Pitch-black environments force you to sacrifice your weapon or shield, or proceed along a danger-ridden path blind. Finally, you know that piece of cover you thought was safe? Well, it’s not. Walls can be smashed down and doors effortlessly broken. Prepare to die my humble brothers. Make no mistake, you will.
Do YOU think Dark Souls II is shaping up to surpass it’s predecessors? Let us know in the comments below!