In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog: I got exceedingly angry, died repeatedly and made Gandalf look like a pussy.
It was about three or four years since I finished the original Dark Souls. It was a torturous experience that scarred me for a long time, although that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy myself immensely at times. I started getting the ‘Dark Souls’ itch again so I thought I should play Dark Souls 2 in order to scratch it. Well, after fifty-seven or so hours, I have done it and I won’t play another one of those games for years. Dark Souls 2 isn’t as good as it’s predecessor but it was still oodles of fun when it wasn’t being cheap.
The combat hasn’t changed much since Dark Souls. There is still animation priority for both you and the monsters you fight, Right Bumper still does a light attack, Left Bumper holds up your shield/attacks with the off-hand weapon etc. FROM have taken out the really useful kick, however, and replaced it with a charge that knocks the enemy’s shield aside. I am not a fan of this change honestly. The kick was faster and was useful in a lot more situations. I didn’t ever use the charge, but I used the kick a hell of a lot back in the day. Maybe some encounters might have been easier if I did, but whatever, the combat is still fantastic regardless.
I played a Sorcerer who used spells, miracles and hexes at the cost of everything else. Admittedly, I still ended up using maces and shields (the Magic Shield spell saved my ass so many times!) when things got too hairy. Dark Souls 2 has the same levelling up system as the previous game, so I focuses solely on stats that helped with Magic, so I became a Glass Cannon. Almost literally as Magic, it turns out, dishes out so much damage that bosses and general enemies just melt under your constant barrage of spells. However, there were just enough encounters where I had to use other tactics or change-up my spells, so I wasn’t bored. Especially when it came to some bosses who had a huge amount of magic immunity, that is where I hit a massive brick wall until I over came it through sheer skill. Which is one of the best feelings a game can give you.
The quality of the level design for each area varies. There are some really awesome levels in Dark Souls 2 that are fun to explore, challenging and interesting aesthetically. Heidi’s Tower of Flame, Lost Bastille, Drangleic Castle, The Gutter, Iron Keep and Brightstone Cove checked all of those boxes. I was constantly on the edge of my seat exploring them because I had no idea what would be around the next corner and they were all filled with secret areas and various cool enemies/bosses to fight. There are some average areas which are lacking in some aspect or another, Aldia’s Keep and Dragon Aerie both look superb, but are really boring to explore and a couple of levels are just straight crap (looking at you Black Gulch and Grave of Saints) where they are just boring or unfairly difficult. Dark Souls also had that problem, but it was only one level, not five or so.
And that is just one of the problems I have with Dark Souls 2: it is so average at times. Yes, exploring the world is still fun…but the world itself doesn’t feel connected. Multiple times you reach the end of a level and there will be a very long straight tunnel or lift that takes you to the next area. And sometimes where you go next is absolutely nonsensical. Iron Keep, a level on top of a sea of lava and surrounded by volcanoes is accessed by riding up a lift. Completely illogical since you end the previous level in the middle of a bloody windmill.
The bosses share a similar fate. Some are absolutely awe inspiring but others are just uninspired. The Pursuer, a floating knight with a fat sword and shield, was a great challenge, as was the Looking Glass Knight, Demon of Song (the grossest boss I have faced since The Gaping Dragon in Dark Souls) and Velstadt. But they lack diversity and there were several bosses that I killed in one go, which was unheard of (for me). Also, there were a few too many bosses that were multiple monsters. I do not enjoy fighting against groups in these types of games and found those encounters highly annoying. Luckily, the online is excellent so I was able to summon people to help whenever I needed it.
I think a both of these problems – the uninspired levels and bosses – would have been solved if the game was shorter. There are thirty(ish) levels in Dark Souls 2 and that is just too many in my opinion. If FROM removed say…a third of the areas, you would have a much leaner game that didn’t have so many peaks and troughs. Mechanically, the game is superb apart from one thing: I got invaded by real people too many times. Dark Souls had trained me that going human meant I might be invaded, I don’t understand why they had to changed it to being able to get invaded at literally any point. It caused a lot of anguish because, it turns out, Magic is terrible against real people. I could’ve played offline, but then the incredibly useful graffiti the other players leave would not have appeared.
Dark Souls 2 is one hell of a game. I can’t stress enough how much fun I had playing it, yes that fun goes hand in hand with immense frustration, but that is just part of the experience. It just doesn’t quite live up to Dark Souls. It is bloated, filled with boring rooms (seriously, there are dozens of empty square rooms filled with the same texture) and feels unfair at points. But a slightly middle of the road Souls game is still better than the majority of Action RPGs out there.
Note: I didn’t play the DLC due to being too weak to beat the first boss of the first DLC, so I will come back to it later.
Next on Breaking Down the Backlog: The Stanley Parable