Every task you begin in life has some level of challenge, dedication, and investment needed to complete. Regardless of what you do you are working towards some level of accomplishment. Occasionally, it feels as though the rewards were not worth the investment, that countless hours of input warranted little output. Unfortunately, that is a common accusation of video games. So what sets the baseline for accomplishments in video games? From a standpoint of rewarding players, ‘Dark Souls’ may do it better than any series.
In my consideration of ‘Dark Souls 2’, being a ‘Dark Souls’ enthusiast, I was hoping for much of the same. Brutal difficulty, challenging but memorable boss fights, and mystery were my main loves of the original ‘Dark Souls’. So, of course, I came into ‘Dark Souls 2’ with incredible expectations. I believe it was Mandate Radio: Ep. 22 when Joe introduced me to the concept that it might not be good, which blew my mind. Instead of thinking it might be bad, I came into ‘Dark Souls 2’ believing that it would be similar but slightly less amazing due to my playing the first game so thoroughly. To my surprise, From Software managed to improve on one of my favorite games of all-time.
The most noticeable improvement to the gameplay came from the pacing. ‘Dark Souls 1’ had some inherently poor pacing choices, with difficulty jumping significantly from Bonfire to Bonfire. I specifically remember hitting Blighttown and wondering if the rest of the game would punish me so much. On top of that, getting out of Blighttown was next to impossible without guidance. But the controversial addition of immediate fast travel to ‘Dark Souls 2’ serves two crucial purposes in game balance: pacing and fun factor.[youtube http://youtu.be/pV8mbFxZHO4]
The pacing of ‘Dark Souls 2’ is really where the brilliance occurs. There is a magnificent sense of moving forward. Even though certain areas are tough, it is always easy to leave and begin somewhere else brand new. If an area gave me pause, I simply left and tried somewhere new. Last night Frank and I talked immediately after I finished the game and he asked me “What area felt most difficult?” I could honestly say that no area stuck out in my mind because I was always progressing and always getting better. Yes, at times, I was frustrated, but it was only because I had failed. It was never due to ‘Dark Souls 2’ suddenly becoming significantly more difficult.
In working with that theme, bosses are abundant. You can pick up ‘Dark Souls’ and within 20 minutes be at a boss fight and 20 minutes after that defeat the boss in glorious triumph. Each boss is also its own interesting challenge. Each one requires different amounts of finesse and force with different patterns to learn and failures and successes to overcome. I cannot stress enough how good the boss fights are. They are equal to, if not better than, the first game’s wide array of boss battles. There are three or four boss fights in particular that are so memorable it astounds me. Much like the first ‘Dark Souls’ has “Ornstein & Smough”, “Gravelord Nito”, and “Sceath the Scaleless”, so too does ‘Dark Souls 2′ have “The Rotten”, “The Looking Glass Knight”, and “The Ruin Sentinels” as well as many more great boss battles. It’s simply astounding.
To help with those fights, I took full advantage of online play. I often summoned some faceless player to come help me defeat the most difficult monsters. Online play seems to work with more regularity than in the prior game. I was being invaded, summoned, and able to summon on a regular basis. I never really felt alone. Except in The Gutter. You’re always alone in The Gutter.
My playthrough saw me as a Cleric, which is woefully bad in the early game, who casts healing miracles and throws lightning bolts at dudes’ faces. I felt more balance between classes in this playthrough. I saw massive knights, hex faith/intelligence builds, pure dexterity fighters, pyromancers, and dual-wielding barbarians. Every class seems to have strengths and weaknesses, with an overly strong focus on one style of fighting being punished only moderately. Frank told me he never even touches the roll button, whereas I used it extensively. But each class has ways to enjoy the game and none are limited in the depth and discovery of ‘Dark Souls 2’.
In fact, the amount of discovery to be done in ‘Dark Souls 2’ is so staggering that I know I missed massive portions of the game. I skipped four boss fights and never found the Sunlight Covenant. I never even had the chance to “Praise the Sun”. But the mystery and the intrigue is a integral part of why ‘Dark Souls 2’ is such a fascinating game. There are so many secrets and so many things to find out, that one playthrough just isn’t nearly enough. I doubt I’ll delve into NG+, but I will definitely play through a second time. I almost feel like I owe ‘Dark Souls 2’ that luxury.
There’s so much game in ‘Dark Souls 2’. I never truly explored PVP, missed entire questlines, and even question whether my ending was the only ending. I just don’t know and there’s so much more to explore. In my first playthrough I never even opened that mansion in Majula. I don’t even know how. I can only dream of what I’ve missed, while at the same time gaining so much.
Long Story Short…
Games like ‘Dark Souls 2’ don’t come along often. It is one of the definitive RPGs of the last decade, standing amongst the ranks of ‘Oblivion’, ‘Fallout 3’, and ‘Mass Effect’ as an achievement that could spawn its own genre. I don’t know what’s next for the series or for video games in general, but this will be a game that I talk about years from now. It stands on its own as an incredible achievement and earns my highest regard. My love affair with ‘Dark Souls’ could not be ended, it only continued to grow stronger. My love, my precious, my Dark Soul.