As do I.
I’m wearing a top hat on a fedora. Prepare yourselves, ladies.
If you know me personally, I’ve always been an avid follower of the Souls games. Demon’s Souls was one of my first PS3 games and, boy, was it difficult. I pumped about 30 hrs into it in 3 hr sittings before I got to the ending. Then Dark Souls came out years later, which I have collectively spent 140+ hrs over two characters since its 2011 release. Demon’s was a lot of fun, but Dark really hit me hard during that first play through and it still continues to affect me. Dark, despite having a shallow and unoriginal story on the surface, has a detailed background story and has plenty of content for players to discover. I’m still learning new things even after those 140+ hrs be it by my own discoveries, by the many Lore videos on YouTube, or by friends. I can’t get enough of Dark and I’ve already beaten it 10 times. No other game I’ve played has me wanting to repeatedly experience everything all over again.
When Dark Souls II was in development, I was hyped of course. However, something was bugging me in the back of my head as I watched the beta test videos on YT. It looked “different”. When I say that, I’m referring to the way character models move, fight, and interact with other players. The stiff upper body animations when characters moved and the frequent stun locking issues during the beta’s PVP was odd, but the visuals and weapon animations looked nice. I figured any and all issues would be improved before release, but it seems like some of those problems were not…even with the day one patch. Despite those minor problems, did it hold up well in the end as a whole in terms of gameplay and story? A little from Column A and a little from Column B.
The world of DSII is wonderfully colorful and dark (if that makes any sense at all), and the kingdom of Drangleic is a depressing and lovely environment. While it is such, it does not capture the sense of fading hope and lingering foreboding death as well as Lordran did. Lodran was all about a king trying to keep his Age of Fire burning but cannot stop it, reducing him to a husk of his former glory. Drangleic is all about a king trying to keep his own age continuing by gathering powerful souls and ending the Undead curse, but becomes a husk of his former glory and cannot stop the inevitable. This seems all too similar and not as fresh for that matter. This is my first major problem with DS II:it doesn’t introduce anything unique to the formula (Demon’s also had this king + power + inevitable fall = husk and fallen kingdom).
Demon’s formula for its archetypal story of a king wanting more power than he currently needs suited its purpose as standard RPG. Despite the legendary difficulty and unique multiplayer aspect that spawned the series’ popularity, the story was very forgettable. Dark’s story was unoriginal at best as well, but the way it was presented and the way it made you play detective to learn every secret and explore every part of Lordran (DLC included) was brilliant. It was much more expansive and fulfilling to experience than Demon’s, which ultimately led to a more superior game. It also had unforgettable characters that, when coupled with unique experiences to certain players - Lautrec and his shenanigans, Lady Rhea in the Tomb of the Giants, Knight Artorias and the Abyss, and Solaire’s quest - it produced so much enjoyable content and story elements. The amount of fan works across the net that depicts all of these characters, the universe, and the creators’ own personal encounters with these said elements from playing, constructs a new type of game that has limitless potential to grow.
Dark Souls II is lacking these qualities, however.
DS II is afraid to tread new ground when it comes to story and with new characters. None of the NPCs are memorable, unlike DS I. They are there just to be there it seems; there isn’t any life to them. There’s no lust for adventure, the thrill of a search for a blazing incandescent sun, a quest to be loved by a goddess, or any zest in general. It’s not on par with DS I’s character interactions at all. I didn’t feel any attachment to any of these characters, which left me feeling pretty hollow (Badum tssssss).
The three characters that I hoped would present any sort of fascination were King Vendrick, the Emerald Herald, and the final boss of the game. Not one of them gave me that sense of attachment either. Vendrick is trying to be like Gwyn from DS and, while the truth of Vendrick is a nice ending to the story of chasing him through the world, that’s it. There’s nothing about him that is memorable or elegant. Gwyn’s own story made me sympathize with him and I have an appreciation for him. He was a guy trying to do what he thought was right, despite royally screwing everything up by refusing to go with the flow of nature. Vendrick is just a complete mess with little to no substance to him at all.
The Herald only has one brief moment of depth when she reveals herself, but again, there’s no substance to her. She’s just there to mirror the Maiden in Black. She really has no purpose other than to level you up. The Maiden’s purpose was to seal the Old One once the Slayer of Demons defeated the great monster, whereas Herald is just there to be there. I would have preferred that she had not been there altogether, or to have her be an adversary of some kind, instead of this eternally enigmatic being where you get little backstory regarding her.
In speaking of adversaries…
The finale is a tremendous let down and does not hold a kindle to the final battles of Demon’s and Dark. In Demon’s, you finally get to euthanize the fallen king Allant and save/destroy the world. In Dark, you have a grueling duel with Gwyn where you can either keep the Age of Fire burning a little longer, or to say the hell with it and bring along the Age of Man. In DS II, you get a fight with a character that appears out of nowhere and falls incredibly short of challenging once you get the rhythm down. The boss is cool, don’t get me wrong. It seems to have a connection to the dark tales of Lordran which I really like, but the ease of completing the already hollow narrative is very creatively lazy and lessens the impact the character should have on you. The nail that seals the coffin is that there’s only one ending.
In Demon’s and Dark, there are two ending respectively. In DS II, there is only one ending with a final narration. After that, the credits just roll. There’s no choice, no struggles with morality, no philosophical conundrums, no can of hash with coffee, nothing. This is extremely disappointing for a Souls game, which always have had satisfying conclusions in one form or another. DS II’s ending is not complete at all in that sense. I expected something to happen after the credits to resolve this lack of catharsis, but you just reappear in Majula preparing to start NG+. It’s a complete letdown.
DS II is a disappointment for me in terms of story depth, NPC interactions, atmosphere, and tension, which are elements that made up DS I. The gameplay of DS II is an improvement over some flaws with its predecessor (PVP things like backstab fishing, lag-stabs and platforming obstacles), but it creates new flaws by doing these changes.
Some of the weapon movements aren’t as fluid or practical like they were in the first game, leaving your weapon of choice from the first game rather underwhelming. Magic attacks are still hideously overpowered in PvP combat, especially the infamous Dark Magic. Players seem to spam these kinds of attacks even in this game, while the stun locking (continuously hitting a player while they cannot defend themselves or react in anyway because they were stunned by the first blow), is still a problem as it was in the beta. In addition to this, the entire game appears to be easier. I only felt one sense of desperation throughout my 40+ hrs, where I have felt that way in Demon’s and Dark about 100 times. There is also an item that completely breaks the game’s difficulty ( continuously losing all of your souls and going Hollow). It’s an item that can save your souls and humanity upon death, and it can be repaired by a blacksmith after is it broken. I tested this towards the end of the game, and it certainly does make things incredibly easier. I believe it will be patched in a later update, but just to have it in the base game ruins a little of the experience.
Dark Souls II isn’t a bad game at all. It’s a very good game and I had a lot of fun playing it this past week, but it just doesn’t improve upon Dark Souls as Dark Souls improved upon Demon’s Souls. DS II is easier, shorter for me personally, and does not have any memorable bosses or characters as its predecessor. Half the fun of DS I was the memorable boss encounters and how much anguish they all gave to you as a player. DS II does have a few throwbacks to classic DS I bosses, but that’s just all they are: throwbacks. They’re awesome the first couple of moments you see them, but after a while you begin to think that this was done just to save the trouble of making something brand new.
DSII is a very good game and definitely worth the time, but don’t think it will hit a home-run,
(Captioned images made by me; game images belong to Dark Soul I and II [FromSoftware]. Support the release, dammit.)