After an announced re-release and expansion for Dark Souls 2, our gaming correspondent takes another look at the sequel to the groundbreaking RPG. For the review of Dark Souls, click here.
Dark Souls was an event. True, much of the groundwork for its greatness was set by Demon’s Souls a few years earlier, but Dark Souls was refined to deadly precision. Quite simply, it felt like a hybrid of old and new, blending Metroid-style exploration with cutting-edge combat mechanics to create an experience that filled the void caused by years of increasingly safe and hand-holding games. With relatively few resources, FromSoftware created a world of merciless challenge and surprisingly deep lore, which is so far removed from what the AAA industry pumps out that Dark Souls makes other games seem unworthy by comparison.
Then along comes Dark Souls II, riding a tidal wave of hype from the previous game’s success. When it comes to hype, though, experience has taught us you should anchor yourself to the ground rather than get carried away by it.
This is pretty much your standard sequel: more levels, more monsters, more gear. If all you ever wanted from Dark Souls II was more Dark Souls, then you’ll get your money’s worth. But this approach has resulted in a huge game that blurs together and doesn’t do enough to stand out from its predecessor. Half the bosses are essentially a big dude with a big stick, many of the environments wallow in gaming cliche, and enemy variety is decidedly underwhelming. The whole experience gives the impression of quantity over quality, which is doubly strange given that Dark Souls was already a sizeable adventure.
On the other hand, effort was clearly made to tweak the gameplay in subtle ways and some of the changes work, like the addition of proper dual-wielding. At the same time, though, hit-detection feels spottier than before and the elegant potion system has been messed up by the inclusion of finite healing items. The game lacks the original’s cohesion, bolting on changes that feel half-baked and presenting endless generic levels that rarely stand out as particularly good or bad. Even the story retreads old ground so much it’s hard not to call it lazy, no matter how much they try to justify the repetition.
Make no mistake: Dark Souls II is still very much a FromSoftware game and thus well above the typical big-budget release. But should we settle for “good enough”? It would’ve been easier to forgive the more questionable design choices if the game had tried to push the boat out and become its own beast. Instead, it clings to the past and so rarely takes a risk that the changes feel out of place. A newcomer with no prior knowledge of the series might not notice half the issues, but unless the new version of Dark Souls II is considerably improved, they’d still probably be better off starting with the first game.
Dark Souls II is out now for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360