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And the old consoles are still kicking
on March 11, 2014
It isn't often that I get the chance to review a game so close to release, let alone before release. I stumbled across a retailer that accidentally sold me a copy several days ago. I can't say I minded too much.
Dark Souls 2, for those who haven't heard of it, is the latest release by From Software the brilliant masterminds behind Demon's Souls, Dark Souls and the lesser known King's Field Series. The Souls series has become well known for being challenging, brutal and quite possibly the most unique set of games of this console generation. If you haven't played the other games yet, don't worry. There isn't much of a story needed to jump right in here.
The first thing you notice in Dark Souls 2 is a daunting selection of characters to start with and a myriad of stats to worry about. Don't worry too much here. These are just your starting basics in the game and there is nothing that will hold back a character if you chose to go another route later on. A warrior could cast spells and a cleric could live happily as an armored tank given the proper spending of stats. Think more about what kind of weapons or spells you are interested in and build around that. Experimentation is the fun part here. In a few days I have already gone through as many characters and builds. I found that the swordsman seems to start off with better weapons than most of the classes, but that is rather subjective.
Combat is smoother than the previous games. I could be wrong, but it seems like the tap dodge actually functions now at getting your character to jump back out of range. It is also possible to turn around and run away while locked on a target. Very useful to create some distance as needed. Special attention has been given to two weapon fighting in this release. While I didn't get into it beyond a few fights, it was nice to be able to string combinations of strong and weak attacks with both hands. Sadly, this means that the ability to parry has taken a hit for most builds, especially in two weapon fighting. Enemies are also a bit brighter about not turning their back to you. This combined with what seems to be a smaller hit box makes backstabs very tough to pull off.
Death and failure is a pretty constant companion in this game. From has decided to go back to Demon's Souls on how it gets treated. Death will cost you your "Body" form (more on that later) and become hollow. In this form you will look rather ugly and suffer a loss in total life. You will be stuck in this state until you use an item to restore you body. Each subsequent death in hollow form will continue to remove more of your maximum life until you end up at about 1/2 your total. Can't say I have ever seen a game that makes things harder as you continue to fail. This sounds tough, but it didn't hit me too hard in my explorations so far.
Unlike most RPG's which have separate concepts of experience and money, DS2 groups both together in the form of souls. You spend souls to buy items, to repair broken equipment, upgrade equipment and to strengthen the stats of your character. This means that you will end up making tough decisions on what you buy as you work hard to build your pile of souls.
Stats got a bit of rework in this game in comparison to the others. Armor now has requirements to wear, so no more piling up the armor and tanking through the game. Yout resistance no longer increases with each level, you now have to put points into specific stats to raise it. No more dumping all your points into spellcasting and ignoring the other stats. This again sounds tough, but it seems that enemies have been scaled to take this into account. I haven't bumped resistance much and I still haven't come across many if anything that can wipe you out in one shot.
Gameplay aside, this is a nice looking game as well. I may have been spoiled with the PC release of Dark Souls which had large numbers of mods and enhancements to graphics, but this game looks at least slightly better than Dark Souls 1. Lighting plays a larger role in this game and it shows nicely. When you carry torches, light shines and shadows move in a very realistic manner. Clothing was the largest improvement that I noticed. It hangs realistically and seems to blow with the environment.
More importantly, this game runs very smooth. I haven't bothered doing an install yet, but I still get tolerable load times (the few that you need) and I don't get the chugging frame rates which plagued the previous games. Sadly (for me at least) the rag-doll physics of fallen enemies is gone. No longer will that dead soldier stick to you and flop around like a deflated balloon when you run by.
I haven't tried out the multiplayer yet. It is still a bit early for the community and my 360 isn't setup in a spot where I actually have internet. If I try it out I'll come back and give this review an update.
I still plan to get the PC version when it comes out, but I still don't regret this impulse purchase. I plan to get many hours of enjoyment out of this.