The biggest difficulty in talking about sequels is not letting the conversation devolve into utter minutia. It might make a lot of sense to compare and contrast it with its predecessor, but it doesn’t really make for an interesting discussion about the game. But when a series (well it is a series now) that lives and dies by the impact that the smallest things have on the entirety of the game, how do you describe Dark Souls 2 without talking about those “minor” things.
Well, I suppose we can always just ignore them. Having finished the game, what has stuck with me isn’t the significant list of changes the game has made to the core gameplay, but rather how lean and trimmed down Dark Souls 2 feels. It is a game that has almost no fat on it. Every area has purpose and is built to a point with very little filler and almost no clutter. At times it seems to be tailored so precisely that it almost feels like you are playing a boss rush mode game.
It always feels like you are either just past a boss you fought or almost in front of the next one you are supposed to fight.
Bonfires are fast and frequent (the game’s only nod towards making things a little easier) and it always feels like you are either just past a boss you fought or almost in front of the next one you are supposed to fight. Boss fights in the Souls series are always fun and this one is no exception, but the downside to fighting so many bosses at such a pace is that they start to blur together. And even if some of them were outstanding, it would be hard to remember in the blitzkrieg.
Having said that, there is still plenty of room to explore and the game rewards you consistently for doing so. The core combat mechanics are still nothing short of amazing. The linear progression route of the first game has also changed to make way for a more open-ended story progression. It’s an excellent decision as you can always go off on a different tangent if you feel like you are getting nowhere on your current path. There are some questionable level design decisions occasionally, but for most part, the game is as smartly designed as its predecessors.
There is a significant delay between pressing the menu button and the menu loading up, and since the game doesn’t really pause, the delay can get you killed.
Unfortunately, like its predecessors, it also suffers from some technical issues, most frustrating of which is the menu lag. There is a significant delay between pressing the menu button and the menu loading up, and since the game doesn’t really pause, the delay can also get you killed. Also coming off the PC version of Dark Souls, the loading times feel significantly longer. It also doesn’t help that you have to warp to the central hub to level up your character – an action that adds two unnecessary loading screens with no discernible benefit.
It’s also a bit of a letdown in terms of texture and in-game resolution. Everything looks a bit washed out and blurry. I imagine most of these problems would be fixed by the PC version, so if you have waited this long, I would advise waiting a little longer. What is undeniably strong in visual terms though is From’s art direction. They have a team of artists that is second to none in the industry and it makes for some phenomenally good enemy and location design.
Dark Souls 2, for all its flaws and strengths, is still very much a Dark Souls sequel.
Also, on the positive side, the frame rate seems pretty consistent. There is nothing as terrible as Blighttown and it’s largely smooth sailing. From what I have seen, the Xbox 360 version does appear to suffer from screen tearing, but I didn’t notice anything that bad on the PS3 version. Also improved is the net code, but having said that, there are still some minor connection issues and some lag here and there. It’s not perfect, but still a massive improvement over Dark Souls.
This is going to sound like a pointless statement, but I feel it deserves to be made, especially in today’s climate of niche series changing significantly to try to increase their user base – Dark Souls 2, for all its flaws and strengths, is still very much a Dark Souls sequel. For better or for worse, it’s still dense and obtuse and largely unforgiving. And it’s still an intensely exhilarating and rewarding experience. It’s still Dark Souls at heart.