”I am finally home’.

How long did I yearn to utter these words? When was the last time I gave my body and soul to the eternal punishment that is the Dark Souls universe? Countless hours spent on it, nights and days merged into one, things like sleep, food, personal hygiene and relationships, the most basic and important needs of humanity became a thing of the past the moment I booted up the game. Even after multiple playthroughs and an amazing DLC, I still hungered for more. Now all my prayers are answered in the form of Dark Souls 2, and I am home where I belong, ready to die again and again and again and again.

What is Dark souls 2? In simple terms it is a 3rd person action adventure game set in a fantasy medieval time in the land of Dranglaec where swords and sorcery are the main weapons, and villains are anything from zombies all the way to dragons and other unfathomable monstrosities. Most denizens, including you, are dead and need souls to basically stay alive and regain humanity. Failing to do so will eventually force you to fade away into a mindless soul starved monster.

The epic intro explains to you that you are cursed and that it is your fate to travel to a special kingdom where the cursed are drawn to with a single purpose of breaking the curse and regaining their humanity. Sadly you receive nothing but discouragement from a bunch of old witches that only advise you yo give up and accept your fate.

Dark souls 2 is a sequel to the blockbuster hit Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls which  in turn was based on an even more cult classic franchise called King’s Field. While some games differ in concept, they all share the same level of high difficulty and cryptic storylines, and speaking of story, while the series is rich in lore and ideas, half the fun lies in the cryptic nature of how the story unfolds to the player through the viewpoint of other inhabitants in this world who share the same fate and aspire for the same goal.

But who can you trust, and who is actually good or evil? This is not Dragon Age or Mass Effect; this is a game that loves to toy with you and let you figure thing out as you progress. While this method works well, most of the times it leaves the player baffled and often wondering where to go next. Some areas are kept as a secret and sometimes the switch or lever is well hidden, with info about their whereabouts given after repeat questioning of some non player characters. This may seem a bit unfair, but at least the forums are active and helpful in case the player gets stuck.

Combat is the meat of the game; the action is visceral to an astonishing degree, with blows and impacts feeling incredibly real. Weapons are precise and blocking is spot on. Shields can be used to block or riposte and weapons can be single or dual wielded for extra damage at the cost of defense. Backstabing is available and has a huge fun factor, while other moves includes the famous roll that can save you more than once from certain death. It should be noted that everything you do costs stamina, reach the end of the line and you will no longer have the energy to do much of anything, including blocking and running. This adds a whole new dimension to the skirmishes and discourages constant blocking.

Now a word to the wise: Dark Souls 2 feels a lot like a hybrid between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. While the look and feel is spot on a continuation of the latter, some aspects from Demon’s Souls are resurrected in this sequel with some added new twists. This time we have a hub area and a maiden that can bless you, just as in Demon’s Souls, and therefore feels a bit safer and more humane knowing you have a safe area that acts as a refuge with shops and merchants and also an entity that you can interact with. The experience feels less lonely with an aspect of a town that you can use as a home base.

Other changes include less respawning enemies that can stop players from grinding early in the game. This system is counter-balanced by a special item that re-introduces the disappeared enemies, but in a much more powerful form. A new penalty is also introduced, the dwindling life bar that diminishes bit by bit each time you die. Not only is the effect visible on your stats, but also physically on your character that turns more and more hollow with each death.

The use of lighting and shadows is very heavy in this game, especially with the new added torch that you can light at any bonefire (safe spot for replenishing health and fastravel), but doing so will sacrifice your shield so it is still a give and take dual edged sword. Fast travel on the other hand is a wonderful addition that you gain as you start the game and is a relief. Stats can be increased with the consumption of souls via the maiden to better equip you with weapons that can also be reinforced, enchanted and even blessed; this game is a true role playing game so don’t expect anything less from it. If you reach a point where you think you made a mistake with your build, you can easily consume a special item that resets your stats without having to restart the game.

I have played enough of this game to assure you that it is every bit as punishing as the previous ones, but death is not cheap and each death is a lesson learned. This is a game that you advance inch by inch in and each inch will cost you a price in blood. Dark Souls 2 also has the slowest start in the Souls game so far, with the first hour offering no enemies and acting as fascinating introduction to the world and it’s lore. This is a real shocker after the horrors of Demon’s Souls’ first 5 minutes and the prologue level of Dark Souls, but fear not, what awaits you will more than make up for it. The first time you see the first real boss, every muscle in your body will be screaming for you to take flight and run; the bosses are still an amazing feat to conquer and provide a real David versus Goliath feel to the skirmish.

The multiplayer part is still as robust as ever, but this time with higher penalties for invaders and more rewards for people who help each other out. Messages can still be left at each player’s discretion and they are still as cryptic and fun as they always were. The multiplayer is a dual bladed sword: While help is always appreciated and the occasional invasion can be fun and yielding untold riches, it does get annoying especially if you are concentrating in a specific matter. I for instance found myself starting the game most of the time in offline mode just so I can play the game without interruption. The game can’t be paused no matter the game mode you choose, and your only refuge is the safety of the bonfire.

Not everything is perfect in Dark Souls 2 and I don’t want to sound like a fanboy (which I am). The game does have a few shortcomings, the first of which being the penalty for dying that drops your max health as low as %50 upon dying multiple times and can only be remedied by a special ring that boosts it to %75,or by using an item that is so rare that it makes the struggle even harder. The second obvious flaw is that the game is released on both previous gen consoles with the superior PC version launching end of April with the promise of HD textures and smooth as silk 60fps. This brings about a very important question of why this game did not get a PS4/XBox One release. As is, it runs at a max of 30 fps with an occasional drop in framerate in a few but far between areas, with some textures being murky as the engine starts to show it’s age. Don’t get me wrong, the game is beautiful and a sight to behold, the framerate is adequate and the game has no serious bugs, but in the age of games like Killzone, RYSE and the recent Titanfall, one’s eyes get accustomed to new gen graphics. A minor flaw but still a flaw nevertheless, and I promise that I will tackle the PC release for a graphical comparison in the near future.

Recently, a debate broke out online regarding a downgrade in visual and geometrical quality of the game’s environment with people taking notice that previous demo builds of Dark Souls 2 had superior geometrical architecture and much more detailed shadow quality. While this is very concerning, the end result is not ugly by any means and it can all be traced back to the limited hardware of the previous gen consoles. The soon to be released PC version will show the truth if the game has indeed dual versions, one being a console built game and the other, a far superior PC version with geometry in it being eye poppingly gorgeous.

At the end of the day, Dark souls 2 is an achievement in quality and presentation, and is a feat of modern gaming with an oldschool difficulty twist that offers something truly remarkable and refreshing even with the franchise reaching a trilogy. The difficulty is still there, with an option to turn the difficulty even higher if the player so chooses and a great new ‘game +’ mode after you beat the game. This release will not convert those who got turned away from the previous releases, but for those who enjoyed them, Dark Souls 2 will offer one hell of a ride and will beat you senseless within an inch of your life forcing you to rise to your feet each time and yell: ”MORE”!

 

Dark Souls 2 is available for the PS3, Xbox 360, PC