Dark Souls 2 review

  • Overcoming difficulty provides a fantastic sense of achievement
  • Fascinating world that feels like a character all its own
  • New gameplay elements make the Dark Souls experience more convenient, but not easier
  • Some bosses lack scale and eccentric design

During my 54 hours with Dark Souls 2, I died 226 times. I know this courtesy of a worldwide death counter. But every time I took an axe to the face, or got murdered by somersaulting zombies, or mistakenly cartwheeled off a cliff, I learned something of value: that patience, as always, yields the greatest rewards. That bipedal hippos are really fucking deadly. That circle-strafing is not a one-size-fits-all tactic. But most importantly, that death is a great teacher.

As a newly branded undead in the kingdom of Drangleic, your goal is simple: gather as many souls as possible in the hopes of breaking your curse. In practice, this means exploring every bit of the vast world and fighting its many enemies and bosses. This process is a battle of inches, as enemy encounters are frequent and difficult, and the setting itself is no less threatening. Learning the attack patterns of foes, the locations of cleverly hidden traps, whether or not that gaping hole in the ground leads to treasure or will simply kill you should you step in it--all of this is accomplished through trial and error.

This difficult-by-necessity methodology, which rewards players for patience and internalizing lessons learned from past mistakes, is the crux of Dark Souls 2. It's a game that has no interest in hand-holding, instead opting to push you into the wild with little more than a butter knife and tasking you with figuring things out for yourself. Your heart will pound once you've stockpiled thousands of precious souls, a crucial form of currency, knowing that if you can just get a little bit further, you might find a temporary zone of safety. Or maybe you'll die and lose everything you've worked so hard to get--but next time, you'll know better. The adrenaline rush and sense of elation and empowerment you get from overcoming a particularly difficult enemy or obstacle is something no other series has replicated to this degree.

Dark Souls 2's world is an extremely dangerous place, one that forces you to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Because the environment plays an incredibly active role, it feels eerily real, like a character all its own. It pushes back in an attempt to halt your progress time and time again with thin pathways and other tricky obstacles. Some Dark Souls vets might feel put off by the fact that Drangleic is more of a central hub with many intricate, branching dead-end paths than it is a sprawling interconnected world, but each of these pathways offer tons of environmental variety, challenge, and self-contained secrets.

Online play

Dark Souls 2, like its predecessors, has unique online functionality. While you're playing through the game, you'll see the ghosts of other players who have fallen victim to Drangleic's many perils. You can summon them for help, and even invade their worlds to straight up murder them for a variety of rewards. Alas--the servers weren't active during my first playthrough, but I've already begun a second to dig into the online play post-launch.

Some are immensely perilous (to the same degree as the infamous Blighttown), but none feel frustratingly cheap. The layout of each feels meticulous and logical; I often cursed traps and enemies, but never blamed level design for my deaths. Even Drangleic's dark underground areas are enjoyable to explore thanks to the inclusion of torches, a surprisingly great addition that provides a mobile source of light. Using these produces a great deal of tension; yes, equipping one in your off-hand means you can be sure of your footing, but--as it turns out--it's rather difficult to block incoming attacks with a stick.

You'll get a great sense of discovery as you piece together the layout of each new zone, and having the ability to warp between the checkpoint-like bonfires right from the start is a godsend. You'll still fear overcommitting to exploration and losing your hard-earned souls, but you don't have to slog through 30 minutes of territory you've already memorized just to press on should you die.

There's a much bigger emphasis on environmental interaction, too, which again adds to Drangleic's appeal. Sometimes you can kick down tree trunks to form bridges, or manipulate elements of the world that have a surprising effect on certain boss fights. For instance: I'm struggling with a boss whose arena is practically pitch black. Because I can hardly see her, she kills me in about five seconds flat. So I backtrack and explore the area just outside her den, and stumble upon some obscured oil gutters, which I proceed to catch on fire with a torch. BAM--now I can see that jerk plain as day. Every one of these interactions feels like finding an answer to your prayers, and they make Drangleic feel less like a decorative tapestry and more like a physical place.

One of the Souls' series most defining features is its intimidating boss encounters, of which Dark Souls 2 has many. Going toe-to-toe with these powerful foes provides a familiar rush of adrenaline, and beating them often results in an overwhelming sense of achievement. There are some on par with Dark Souls' more iconic foes, such as Ornstein & Smough, or Sif, the Great Grey Wolf (soon we'll be mentioning The Last Giant and The Rotten in the same breath), but a handful are just tall-ish dudes in bulky armor. These more underwhelming encounters are mechanically challenging, but lack scale or eccentricity.

Most fights--including encounters with basic enemies--do a great job of forcing you out of old habits. Is your default strategy in Dark Souls to run up to enemies and strafe around them in circles to sidestep attacks? That works for the first few hours of Dark Souls 2, but you'll quickly realize that enemies and bosses have more variation in their movesets. Large, sweeping attacks are frequent, meaning you have to adapt and branch out into the game's other systems: parrying, roll dodging, etc. Not only does this further increase your skill, but you'll gain a deeper appreciation of all the mechanics at play once you're forced to explore them.

Dark Souls 2 also features some great quality of life changes that make the experience far more approachable. Should you figure out 50 hours into the game that you did a poor job of building your character, you can use a special item to respec instead of having to start the game over from scratch. These are limited in number to prevent players from abusing the system, but their inclusion means you can experiment with new builds without wasting days of your life on grinding. Other changes, such as a streamlined messaging system that makes communicating with other players a much quicker process, are just as welcome. None of these additions make Dark Souls 2 an easier game, but they do make it a far more convenient one.

That's really what Dark Souls 2 is about--it takes everything that made the original so great, but expands on them in its own unique ways. Sure, not every single boss fight will impress, and you might be resistant to the world's hub-like structure, but these are minor notes in an otherwise phenomenal journey. Dark Souls 2 is an incredible game, one that demands alert play and rewards perseverance. You will die many times in many ways, but push on and you'll find this to be an excellent sequel that not only captures the essence of the original, but is a memorable experience in its own right.

More Info

Release date: Apr 25 2014 - PC
Mar 11 2014 - Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Namco Bandai
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Violence, Mild Language

A fantastic sequel that lives up to its namesake, Dark Souls 2 is an action RPG that's challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.

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  • adsonlist - April 1, 2014 4:24 a.m.

    Watch the demo here
  • MichaelLogarta - March 25, 2014 1:03 a.m.

    Just wish to share my Dark Souls II review for Philippines news site, GMA News Online:
  • kijib-kijin - March 11, 2014 1:26 p.m.

  • shawksta - March 11, 2014 9:48 a.m.

  • horrorfinatic - March 11, 2014 9:45 a.m.

    Fanboy squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
  • TanookiMan - March 11, 2014 6:54 a.m.

    I just started the first Dark Souls last week and loving every minute of it. The first hour or so was much harder than I expected...until I discovered I'm an idiot who hadn't been using the targeting system. Looking forward to beating it and moving on to this one!
  • Shigeruken - March 11, 2014 6:42 a.m.

    Looks like I'll have to check the comments of every new review to see if it was a preexisting article, and correct any of the stupid things I may have said...
  • Rhymenocerous - March 11, 2014 2:16 a.m.

    So here it is then, my final game of the generation before jumping onto the good ship PS4. Great review.
  • Parismio - March 16, 2014 3:41 p.m.

    There's also Persona 5! It's not dead yet!
  • universaltofu - March 11, 2014 12:56 a.m.

    Just got home from the midnight launch, got the black armor edition, and while waiting for the launch I got to play a bit of it since my friend had an advanced copy, messed around with the dual swordsman a bit, ready to die!
  • BladedFalcon - March 10, 2014 10:55 p.m.

    I had already pre-ordered the game on PSN so I knew I was gonna get it no matter what, but it's super reassuring to see that despite my initial concern with the change of directors, the game seems to be a good sequel in all the right ways. This is specially refreshing considering the bitter gulp to swallow that was LoS2's incredibly poor reception. Also, is it bad that the first thing that came into my mind when I read Ryan's number of deaths in the game was "Hmm, bet I can finish the game with less deaths than that"? XD It'll be interesting to see if I can pull it off, or if I'm just full of shit :P
  • GOD - March 11, 2014 12:30 a.m.

    I figure that for the sake of his review he probably suffered a number of deaths higher than normal. The servers weren't online so he could get any help, but he also couldn't get invaded. I'm sure we'll have similar reactions when someone invades us and they're rolling at us with ridiculous speed and wielding that over sized club from the review video.
  • GR_RyanTaljonick - March 11, 2014 12:45 a.m.

    That club rules. Loved using that thing.
  • BladedFalcon - March 11, 2014 1:23 a.m.

    Um.. I plan to play the game offline all the time anyway, just like I played the other two souls games. So in that sense, I'm actually playing it the same way Ryan did :P Maybe once I finish the game at least once I might screw around with the online a little bit, but not before. And meh, that club didn't look any more impressive or useful than Havel's dragon tooth. (Never been a fan of slow, unwieldy weapons, no matter how powerful.)
  • Rhymenocerous - March 11, 2014 2:20 a.m.

    My character could never even use those things, since my stats were too low. That battle axe was my best friend from about 12 hours into Dark Souls, and I kept it right through to the end. 2-handed attacks ftw.
  • GenderBender_9000 - March 10, 2014 10:51 p.m.

  • Swedish_Chef - March 10, 2014 10:12 p.m.

    420 Praise it.
  • R_U_Guys_From_British - March 10, 2014 9:43 p.m.

    Praise the sun! I can't wait for this friday!

Showing 1-20 of 42 comments

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