Publisher: From Software, Namco Bandai Games
Developer: From Software
Platform Reviewed: PC
Release date: 25/04/2014
Let’s be honest, the PC version of Dark Souls was unforgivable and truly one the worst ports in recent memory. At the time, From Software had very little experience with regards to PC development and it was painfully obvious. Have they managed to redeem themselves or is this just another title hastily thrown together to appease the masses?
As an undead traveller, cursed to wander the earth in search for a cure, you find yourself drawn to the land of Drangleic. An unforgiving and brutal region, populated by some of the most dangerous and frightening monstrosities ever created. From your very first steps into this realm you realise that this journey will be a harrowing one.
Arriving via the portal of souls, you are greeted by a lonely house, bathed in the warm light of an open fire, smoke bellowing from the chimney. Crossing the perilous rope bridge which sways in the wind, daring not to look at the apparent bottomless pit which would greet the careless, you push on into sanctuary. It is here that you meet the Fire Keepers, haggard old women, draped in bright red robes. After a brief and vague history of the curse which burdens you, it is time to adopt a fighting style, customize your appearance and christen oneself with a fitting title.
Leaving the refuge behind, you venture onto narrow cliffs, fog doors to the left and right. Cautiously approaching the mist, you hesitate, pondering what horrors may be waiting on the other side, you push through the haze. A large stone tablet stands crooked and weathered in front you, after examining it you learn that these are signposts, designed to aid you in mastering the controls.
With the tutorials section completed, you push through a crack in the insurmountable rock face, a bright light in the distance promises relief from the dank dark cave, your step hastens as the light draws closer. Emerging out of the darkness onto the edge of a cliff, the site which greets you is breath taking. Waves crash along the shore, sunlight glistens from the surface of the water, the crisp air dries your skin. Venturing down the path towards the welcoming site of safety, a bonfire sits surrounded by a circle of stones, you notice a handful of buildings, long since abandoned and worn by time. The peacefulness of your surroundings is somewhat haunting. You have arrived in Majula.
Taking the time to explore your new surroundings you meet an Emerald Herald, a mysterious lady who tasks you with collecting souls, particularly the Four Grand Souls, in order to free yourself from the curse. You will visit her quite often as she is the only way to improve your statistics and thus fighting prowess. Nearby is Lenigrast, a blacksmith, who can repair and buff your weapons, a vital part if you hope to progress. Explore even further and you will meet Maughlin, an armour merchant and Sweet Shalquior, a cat which will help you abandon covenants and also sells rings and usable items. Climbing the steps leading up to the obelisk which penetrates the skyline you will also meet Crestfallen Saulden, who will offer advice with regards to progression.
Majula is the central area of Dark Souls, it is an area you will frequently return to for upgrades and items. It is also the place where some of the NPC’s you meet on your travels return to. It is from here that most areas can be discovered and with that is where the beauty and frustration with the game lies. You are given very little explanation or guidance with regards to how to progress. It is left for you to discover this by yourself. No other form of medium is capable of such wonderfully wicked storytelling. Death waits around every corner, hesitate and meet your demise, approach any situation with reckless abandon and the punishment is severe. At times the frustration will be overwhelming but persevere and no other title can match the sense of achievement.
Graphically this is far superior to its predecessor. The attention to detail is honestly stunning. Open areas feel desolate and barren, dungeons and caved areas have a true sense of unnerving claustrophobia. Character design is exceptional, some of the fabled bosses are genuinely haunting and will disturb your mind for some time to come. The Rotten in particular deserves a special mention. The amount of time and careful consideration which has clearly been lavished upon the equipment is staggering, armour, swords, shields etc. all have a story with regards to their origins and the intricate designs are awe inspiring. One truly gets the feeling that you are only a very small part of very large, gritty, bleak, forsaken world.
To further enhance the atmosphere the audio used within the game is almost faultless. The sound of a heavy armour, the swoosh of a heavy weapon, the sharp clang of metal against metal, the crackling of fire, the torrents of water crashing against rocks, the cries of pain which accompany death. All have been handled with such expertise that the world which has been created is almost tangible. Worthy of a special mention are the character voices, truly this is some of the finest voice acting you will ever experience.
If you have visited the world of Dark Souls before you will notice some changes to the franchise which have clearly been designed to make this title more accessible. Killing the same spawning enemy too many times and they will no longer return, whilst this limits the amount of soul farming it can help navigating an area that may, at first, prove too difficult. There are items which you can use to resurrect the slain foes but, for some, this may cheapen the experience. Rings can now be repaired, which implies that with careful use of your inventory the loss of souls can be nullified. That being said, there also some major improvements. From the very beginning you are able to fast travel from any bonfire, which makes travelling a less arduous experience. The inventory has been simplified and refined, it is now a much more intuitive. The Estus Falsk, an item used for healing, has been supplemented with ‘Lifegems’. Finite items that, whilst slow to regenerate health, which can be used quickly and can often make the difference between life and death.
The lack of guidance and the open world nature of the game will no doubt confuse and irritate some but, with a little patience and a great deal of perseverance Dark Souls 2 is one of the most rewarding and satisfying games that you will ever experience. The pain and frustration of dying over and over again is greatly outweighed by the true sensation of victory as you finally smite that boss who killed you for the last time. Very few games can evoke such feelings of despair and delight.