Dark Souls II Makes Things Easier Before Crushing Your Joy
Playing Dark Souls is like falling in love with someone who is infinitely superior to you in every way. You see that person and marvel at their magnificence but every single time you muster up any sort of courage to go up and speak to them, you crumble under the weight of your nerves and fail miserably, leaving you a wreck of a person with no hope for the world. Of course, this metaphor dies a terrible death the moment you realise you can go onto the internet and find guides which, ironically, help you to avoid dying a terrible death. If only love came with guides.
And now Dark Souls is back for a sequel! (Okay technically a threequel.)
Name: Dark Souls II
Genre: Action Masochist RPG
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Developers: From Software
Publishers: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: 14 March 2014
Price: R680 (PS3, Xbox 360)
I’ll come right out and admit here and now that I never finished Dark Souls. It was more a case of having other games to play at the time (usually reviews) and never really sitting down and giving it a go, but there you go. You are now at liberty to walk away from this preview, however I would urge you to stay because after all, you know as well as I do that it’s better this way.
Well if I may coin a quick quip right now: How do you know when someone’s played Dark Souls to completion? Answer: You don’t need to, trust me, they will tell you over and over so that you never forget.
A fan of Dark Souls would start this preview with, “Hey there’s more death and dismay to be found!” And then maybe go on for a while about that one time they fought a gigantic wolf and had nearly killed it but then fucked up and lost a billion souls or something. Meanwhile, I’m here to talk about facts and maybe build up a history of the series so that we’re all well aware of what we’re going into with Dark Souls II. Apart from, of course, a lot of pain and suffering. That much you already expect.
Let’s start off with my experience of Dark Souls, which I’m going to lay out for everyone in the form of a quick survivor’s diary like so.
- 15 minutes in: “Well this isn’t so bad. I have a sword, the control system is weird but I’ll figure it out, ooh look a weak looking skeleton warrior this ought to be easy.” *killed by skeleton warrior*
- 30 minutes in: “Okay! I made it out of that prison area, now what–OH MY FUCK WHAT IS THAT GIGANTIC BEAST it looks like the Pit Lord from Warcraft but I’m a Peon by comparison, this is going to hurt isn’t it. *braces* Oh, I don’t fight it just yet, okay.”
- 60 minutes in: “Those skeleton warriors weren’t so bad, although these text scrawls are doing nothing to help me. Okay time to fight that asylum guardian creature.”
- 61 minutes in: “Seriously why are the controls this way I just don’t get it.”
- 120 minutes in, after a few deaths: “Easy peasy, geez I don’t know why I worried so much. Okay where to now? *goes down a path and dies; goes up a path and dies; goes down a different path and dies again*
- 180 minutes in: “Fuck this game, I could be playing Mass Effect 2 on Insanity.” *quits out*
And that was pretty much my experience in the three times I tried to get into Dark Souls. It just is that brutal and really requires time investment from you as the player.
Unfortunately what this meant for a lot of Dark Souls purchasers was that they, like me, were dissuaded from immediately continuing onwards — in my case I had other games I had to get to, but it could also just be people having, you know, lives and stuff — and with Dark Souls II, From Software are hoping to rectify that. Immediately I hear the collective groans of the hardcore; why must they make this game more accessible, it being difficult is the point, and so on and so forth. Why you guys are so exclusionary I don’t know, but rest assured that it’s still going to be as difficult as ever. In fact, as I’ll explain, it’s going to be worse.
This time around there’s going to be a slightly more gradual rise in difficulty as opposed to the previous two games, Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, which basically gave you a short prologue that would set the tone and then thrust you right into the world and let you go about your merry way, without much in the way of a story or navigational objective marker to point you in the right direction.
This isn’t to say that the game will be easier but rather it won’t immediately put off everyone who tries it, who simply do not have a hundred hours to throw at the game immediately. Meanwhile on the other end of things, once the game starts out proper, it’s going to have some interesting changes in dynamics and gameplay.
For one, making a return once more are dedicated servers, moving away from the peer-to-peer servers of Dark Souls. The aim here is to have the ability for more players to enter a particular game world, which then allows the developer to add in some really sadistic changes the likes of allowing hollowed players to get killed; that’s right, even in death you aren’t safe any more. There are also going to be incentives to both kill other players or kill players who consistently invade the worlds of other players, so with Dark Souls II it’s clear that the developer is trying to move closer to the MMO feel of the first game.
There’s also going to be a much less sparse game world, which is one of the things the series has been lauded for anyway. Unlike in other games where you get massive skyboxes that only exist to look pretty, in these games if you see a tower or mountain off in the distance then chances are at some point you’ll be heading in that direction and exploring that place. Few games have done it this well and in Dark Souls II there’s going to be even more of a world to explore.
Which means your suffering is effectively prolonged.
Going with the bigger game world is a considerable graphics update. The first game wasn’t what you’d call pretty but it had its beauty in being dark, dismal and dystopian. The world of Dark Souls II will continue this while also trying to look as good as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 will allow. There hasn’t been word on whether the PC version will look better but given the horrendous port of Dark Souls on PC, you can at least rest in the assurance that modders will fix the game for you after a few weeks.
Unfortunately if you’re on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One and have abandoned your older consoles then you’re going to be missing out on Dark Souls II unless your PC is up to it. At least for now, From Software seem adamant that the game isn’t going to the newer consoles. Not that they actually need sales, I mean, Dark Souls sold a few million and was considered a financial success because From Software managed their expectations well. The only slightly disheartening part of their campaign to market Dark Souls II was when they said they were targeting some of the Call of Duty crowd with the sequel, which is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Still, the developer does seem to understand the concept of realistic expectations and they did bring the game to PC after enough support gathered, so in time there might just be a ‘Prepare to Die’ edition on PS4 and Xbox One. Hold thumbs. But not too tight or you’ll damage your controller’s analogues, amirite.
Further ways in which From Software are aiming to increase the difficulty of the game involve reducing the player’s ability to heal; because really, that’s what you want when you’ve got a world that is more dense and populated with things trying to kill you — reduced healing efficiency. Not only will actual health regeneration rates be reduced but the ability and count of Estus Flasks will also be dropped, further handicapping players. How was this game made more accessible again?
With regards to the story, it’s the usual case of a lack thereof, but player creation and the ability to join covenants will still be available to the player, and will also tie into the server changes which encourage exploring the worlds of other players.
Suspected Selling Points
- The heavy difficulty will definitely appeal to the hardcore gamer.
- A new graphics engine could make for a very pretty game.
- From Software seem to know what they’re doing with this series…
- … although that line about appealing to a broader audience; just no, From Software.
- The dedicated servers could have issues or lead to frustratingly hostile game environments online.
- It’s still a game that is extremely difficult to get into without copious amounts of research.
Dark Souls II is one of those that will appeal to a very specific audience for a very specific audience. But as far as niche games go, it also represents one of those better examples of a hybrid experience that can be picked up by others. If you’re curious about the Dark Souls series but could never really get into the previous titles then now might be the ideal chance to jump in. It’s a lot more difficult this time around, as if that’s even possible, but it also has an actual difficulty curve, in a strange contrast.
From Software are really hoping to bring it with Dark Souls II and in a few weeks we’ll know for sure whether or not it has solidly been brought — just do pack an extra pair of undies. And maybe a pillow to cry into.