I got the chance to visit Namco Bandai recently to get our hands on Dark Souls II. And after playing the first three hours, I can safely say that it’s just as punishing and rewarding as it’s predecessor, and I rather loved it.
The first thing that stood out is the fact the game now has cutscenes! The Souls series is known for having the player constantly in control of their character whenever talking to people. But the first people you come across in Dark Souls 2 talk to the player via a cutscene. It’s a weird new addition to the series, and if there are too many of them it could become something take takes players out of the experience. Cutscenes aren’t the only controversial thing that’s been added to the game, but more on that later.
The real question on everyone’s asking is “Is the game difficult?” and we can safely say yes. The game is still just as hard as both Dark Souls and Demon Souls. The game is even harder in some aspects; it punishes the player for dying by reducing their amount of health every time they die all the way down to 50%. This added difficulty makes dying more meaningful and makes being human even more important.
However, the game does to appeal to new fans in a way that many fans may not like by having a tutorial. Don’t worry! The tutorial is short and is completely skippable for those who don’t want to spend time on it. But an issue is that the tutorial holds lots of decent weapons and healing items, and since you only start with one Estus flask, healing items are incredibly important. This means that people who want the best chances of surviving need to go through a tutorial to a series that was designed to be replayed multiple times. Some people may like the fact the game takes its time to show its mechanics, but the majority of fans love the genre for its bravery in letting the player figure everything out on their own.
But the tutorial is a good time for many players to discover a new feature in the game, rolling no longer makes you invincible. In the last two games rolling made the player briefly invincible to most attacks while mid-roll, but now when the player is hit they will continue to roll but will take damage too. This feature was really hard to get used too, I’ve pumped more than enough hours into Dark Souls that rolling became a brief moment of safety, but now rolling is just another way of swiftly moving. Maybe this will turn out to be a great addition to the game, but it’s just sad to see that the one small forgiving mechanic in Dark Souls has been removed.
But when one thing is removed, another is added! For those who are looking for a better multiplayer experience, a certain item in the game called the “name engraved ring” has been added that lets players who choose the same god are more likely to be partnered together. This item would allow friends that are part of the same covenant the ability to find each other’s phantoms much easier than in the previous games (NOTE: it’s not clear if it’s the same covenant or if players will choose a god later on.). The prospect of having a god is also interesting; this could be used for invasions, where people could invade games under the pretense that it is a religious coup. Many imaginative things could come from this new mechanic.
Another added feature is the ability to fast travel from the start. Lighting a bonfire allows the player to travel between any other previously activated bonfires in an area. Some people may love this feature, as it decreases backtracking significantly, and since the only way to level up is back at the hub, it will be a very useful way to return to the hub to increase your level. The downside is that a lot of the adventure is lost, the fear of having to venture deep into a cave with the pretense of having to find your way back is gone. The shock of finding out that the whole world is linked together and all relates to the hub is gone, replaced with a quick travel menu that lets the player jump from area to area. I’m not sure on this, it will be good for nipping back to town to get some new armor and buying items, but many areas of the game will be ran though and hardly explored by most people, meaning that they will miss some items, but more importantly the beautiful art ascetics. This may turn out great in the full game, but right now it’s a little bit concerning.
Even though there is fast travel, the world is still very much an expansive and clearly connected place. Area’s that appear small at first become hallways that link two vast and open locations together. I was allowed to explore an area called “The Forest of Lost Giants”, and during my lovely visit I saw a variety of locations in the distance and thinking how nice they looked, only to be fighting for my life at those locations twenty minutes later. The wonderfully created world is a joy to explore, every chest or item found, every terrifying enemy defeated, and every secret passageway discovered sent a rewarding feeling down my spine that only the Souls series can achieve.
One final thing that some people may not like is now the ability to reset stats. That’s right, no more restarting the game because you pumped too many souls into dexterity and not enough on strength. Now there is a place where the player can visit and reset their character to recreate them into something more suitable to their play style. While this does take away the commitment to applying the stats to a character, it means that players don’t have to restart the game every time they want to try something new. If the player feels like being an archer or rouge for a bit, they can do so. This is another one of the choices made to appeal to newer fans, and I feel that this is one that I’m fine with seeing being implemented.
Dark Souls 2 was a blast to play, and there is so much more to talk about! But as every fan of the series knows, the fun from Dark Souls comes from discovering the unknown for yourself.