Dark Souls 2: "Appealing To a Broader Audience"
I've been playing video games ever since I was born. My mother and I used them as a way to bond, as well as an exercise for my eyesight. These were the circumstances that led me to get involved with games to begin with, and turned them into my hobby. As years passed however, after the PS2 Golden Age to be precise, I've started playing games less and less.
I love video games though, let that be absolutely clear. So, what has changed? Very simple. The franchises I liked either died out or got rebooted to appeal to a broader audience, while new franchises repeated the same mechanics we've seen for the past ten years that I've already gotten tired of. Because of this, I start looking more into Indie titles rather than Triple A ones, with the occasional gem being released that I absolutely love.
The moment I heard they were appealing to a broader audience I knew they were not appealing to me.
Demon Souls was that gem when it came out for the PS3.
I can easily say that it is my favourite game of all time. When Dark Souls got announced I was absolutely ecstatic and even though it had a couple of issues, and they made the game a lot easier with all the shortcuts and frequent checkpoints, it was still an enjoyable game (on console at least).
Dark Souls 2 is the black sheep. I was not hyped for Dark Souls 2. The moment I heard they were appealing to a broader audience I knew they were not appealing to me. Still it was a Souls game, and I figured it couldn't be very bad. But, although the game is good, everything about it that appealed to me is either gone, or unsalvageable.
There are very few games that come out every year that I actually like. My game of the year in 2013 was Papers, Please. The only thing that I can hope for is that From Software decides to release another Souls title as good as the first one was.
Storytelling is not the strong point of any Souls game with much being left unsaid and for the player to discover.
The story of Dark Souls 2, and the way it's handled, is somewhat similar to its predecessor. You are undead, you are going hollow, and you're seeking a way out of your predicament. You don't start locked up in an Asylum this time, and instead are traveling to Drangleic, which is the setting of the second game.
Like before, learning more about the world is entirely optional and is done through speculation and item descriptions. What the game does tell you though is that you are seeking for the old king and need to seek for "powerful souls" to do it. This is the game's way of saying that just like in the first game, there are four major bosses you need to defeat to unlock the final area.
It is not necessary to do that though, as I've experienced. The game has a new Mechanic called "Soul Memory," which records every soul you've gotten on a character (even if you've lost them by dying). Once you reach one million on your first playthrough you can access the endgame without going through the major dungeons and defeating these big bosses. I felt that this was a nice touch, that you don't necessarily need the four primordial souls to open up the way to the king, as you simply collect so many you've gotten the equivalent in power.
There are several NPCs to find in Drangleic, many of them with side quests and their own story if you're interested in involving yourself with them. Doing so will also reward the player with certain items and equipment belonging to the NPC, as well as certain bonuses. The same can be done by simply killing them and buying their equipment off a certain merchant, however, so if you want their items, doing their plotlines are optional. The bonus items, however, are not dropped on death or sold. It is recommended to play through the entire game properly before starting to kill NPCs or a player might miss out.
Some improvements were made upon the combat of the previous title and the game no longer suffers from connectivity issues. However, the new Soul Memory mechanic can easily make the lives of newbies and veterans difficult by getting in the way of the game's multiplayer component.
One of the things I feel made the Souls series so popular was its unyielding difficulty. It was why players were drawn to it to begin it when Demon Souls came out. It was the first thing I heard about it and was what drew me to buying the game. Dark Souls 2 is still definitely a difficult game, and your average gamer will likely have a hard time beating it. Demon Souls vets however will not, and will easily breeze through it, then curse the multiplayer component.
If you've never played a Souls game before, Dark Souls 2 is an Action RPG that could be considered a roguelike. It feels like an action game whilst not being one, and is why it's so difficult for beginners to adapt when they first play it. It is not a game for people who get easily frustrated.
You level up by collecting souls from enemies, but souls are also the game's currency for item purchasing. If you die, you also lose all your souls and a bit of your maximum health, and are given one chance to get back to where you died and reclaim your lost power. If you fail, it's gone forever. At any time you can also get invaded by other players, though. People who force their way into your world to kill you for fun and profit.
There have been some improvements to the game's core mechanics. Dual wielding is the biggest change. A player can now dual wield weapons in something called the "Power Stance" if they have 50% above the required stats for wielding both equipped weapons. Doing so will allow one to attack faster with both weapons and gives the players the choice between using a shield, or dual welding. It should be noted you can dual wield Ultra Great swords with ridiculous efficiency.
Durability is also a big thing now. Weapons degrade a lot faster and can break during one level. You can repair them at the bonfire when you rest if you haven't completely broken them, otherwise you need to talk to a blacksmith. It is recommended you have at least a spare of the items you're using to complete a level, or to use a weapon with high durability and have repair dust on the side.
The theme of the game is swarms of mobs with broken attack patterns and a very small opportunity gap for when they're staggered by a block, if they can get staggered. Grab your Zweihanders folks.
Dodging and Parrying are now harder to do with smaller time frames, and the player is no longer invulnerable while backstabbing or riposting, although they still have quite some damage reduction during the animation. Backstabs aren't instantaneous either, with the attack that starts up the backstab sequence being avoidable. Fishing for backstabs is now a lot harder.
There have also been a lot of changes in enemy design which make the game frustratingly difficult. If you successfully bounce an enemy's weapon off your shield they are staggered for such a small time frame that it's close to impossible to land a hit before they do a follow-up or pull up their shields, which makes dodging altogether a more viable option. Enemies sometimes hit you when you are directly behind them, and their line of attack, making backstabs a risky manuever. Enemies come in mobs (mobs that you usually can't kite one by one into a fight) and often spam attacks with long reaching weapons which will frustrate anyone not using a Zweihander.
Enemies with shields somehow are capable of blocking your attacks while shield bashing, when their shield is not in front of them for a block during the attack animation, which baits players into a false attack of opportunity. Add to this that when you start the game you have one estus (two if you know where the estus shard is) for healing and you have an incredibly difficult early game that resorts to artificial difficulty rather than an actual challenge.
It gets worse though. If you go through an entire area over and over, killing the enemies too many times, eventually they will stop spawning. This makes the game easier because you can just keep farming enemies until they stop spawning before continuing further, but it also frustrates veterans who are looking for particular item drops from certain enemies for either their cosmetic appeal or because they need it for either PVE or PVP. These enemies will only ever respawn in New Game +, or if a player uses a Bonfire Ascetic to turn the area into New Game + difficulty. This is a bad mechanic.
Soul Memory is possibly the worst thing to ever come to a Souls title.
All these issues though are bearable, and through trial and error or by summoning a friend to even the odds, players can get through all of these issues. But then we have the multiplayer component, specifically how summoning and invading work.
Soul Memory is possibly the worst thing to ever come to a Souls title. Every soul you get will tally up to your character's Soul Memory. If you lose your souls, they remain on your character's soul memory but are unusable. This is how matchmaking works. It is still rather confusing to most people, but it's a split between being around the same level range as someone and being within the same Soul Memory "tier".
Now, what does this mean exactly? When you're done with the Single Player, the multiplayer is where you go to for your fun. It is, arguably, the funnest thing in the game. Soul Memory is what ruins it. Whenever you kill someone, you get souls, so your soul memory goes up. If you're a low-level character who's focusing on PVPing and either hoarding his souls because you don't want to level, or using them to upgrade your existing gear, you'll eventually be matched with people much higher level than you because your Soul Memory is so large, rather than people the same level as you. The same can happen to newbies who die too often and lose their souls.
Now, many people may ask why this is a problem considering how you'll be facing people of the same skill level. The answer is stats. Certain builds and playstyles cannot be used in PVP at higher levels. It is why when you get to high level PVP, you see people wearing Havel's armor (very heavy armor) and using high level magic weapon buffs on already incredibly powerful weapons to one shot people. Some like this PVP, others like me prefer to dual wield poison daggers and ruin people's day at Belfry Luna. If I want to do this, I will have to remake my character eventually to be able to do it again, which is very hard considering the items required to access the full ability of one of your blacksmiths is in an endgame area that you shouldn't do at level 50.
Anyone new to the series can be invaded by someone higher level than they are (and more well equipped) because they died too often and lost their souls.
Invading itself has become a hassle and becomes only possible in New Game + if you join the Red Phantom covenant. You now need to farm Red Eye Orbs to invade before you can buy them indefinitely in New Game +, and like stated before, enemies stop spawning after they're killed enough times. Even in New Game +, you'll still have to farm souls to be able to buy your orbs to invade which ruins invading as a Red Phantom, making the Rat and bell tower covenant overflowing with players who just want to PVP while the Blue and Red covenants (Darkwraiths and Darkmoon equivalents of Dark Souls 1) remain almost empty.
Invaders can no longer use any form of healing item and require miracles to heal, which ruins your day if you're invading and you get faced with a gank squad. What is a gank squad? When someone summons their phantom friend and just camps an area for invaders and farms souls off them by killing them with help.
The multiplayer in Dark Souls 2 was ruined because From Software didn't want low-level characters who went through the entire game at a low-level, and got good gear because of it, to invade people of the same level who didn't do this. Did it fix the problem? Yes. But it also created many others which don't just affect fans of the series. Anyone new to the series can be invaded by someone higher level than they are (and more well equipped) because they died too often and lost their souls.
The game does not look as good as the demo we were presented with, but is still pretty impressive.
Possibly the best thing about Dark Souls 2 is the variation between levels. Poisonous mines, castles sunken in lava, flooded ruins, and a re-skinned Undead Burg. Levels vary enough to not feel repetitive and although some enemies get used in several levels throughout the game or are directly taken from Dark Souls 1, they are easily overlooked in the big picture.
There are plenty of new armor and weapons in the game which look very good and give the game a different feel from its predecessors, as well as a couple of iconic weapons and armor from the previous games for the fans. Sadly I could not find Ornstein's armor to couple with his spear.
Hollowing now looks incredibly good, too. As the player dies and becomes more hollow they rot more and more, changing the PCs appearance until they lose any resemblance to what they originally were. I loved playing as a walking corpse, enough that I would not use any human effigies during my single player run the first time around. These little aesthetic changes are great and it's easy to see how Dark Souls 2 benefited from a Triple A budget.
Final Thoughts and Summary
TL;DR? This is the place for you.
Let me be very clear when I say that I have enjoyed Dark Souls 2 and played many, many hours of it already since its PC release. However, From's attempt at balancing something that can't be balanced, how someone plays the game, will have adverse effects on veterans and newbies alike. I cannot stress how much I hate the Soul Memory mechanic and how even if it stops twinks from being a thing, it will not stop hackers from existing since they can also exploit this mechanic by changing its value with a simple Cheat Engine table.
The single player felt poorly thought out at times. More often than not I saw myself going through levels because I wanted certain items from that level for PVP, rather than because I wanted to complete the game. In fact, I find myself making more characters for different PVP builds than I use to complete the game with. I have one character in New Game + with 9 hours spent into him and several characters with the proper PVP setup for the Belfry covenant. My main PVP character is on its first playthrough with 16 hours put into him. It is easy to see where my time has been spent. Unfortunately he will have to be deleted soon as his Soul Memory is getting close to over a million from PVP alone.
It is because of this and some other issues that hopefully will be patched in the future that I give it a 7/10. It is a good game, but not a great game like its predecessors were. Even with the connectivity issues, I would prefer playing Dark Souls to Dark Souls 2 when it comes to the multiplayer experience. Unfortunately GFWL will be shut down soon, and we have no news about Dark Souls getting any dedicated servers. I might just be forced to deal with it.
Tips and Tricks
- You can get a second Estus Flask at the start of the game by hitting a rock on the well next to the mansion at Majula.
- The first area you should do after you reach Majula is the Forest of Giants, not Heide's Tower of Flame.
- At the Forest of Giants, after the second bonfire, once you reach the big outside area there is a platform you can jump to directly by the doorway you used to get in. If you explore the areas accessible from there you can meet a Carthografer who will give you a key to the Majula Mansion once you exhaust his dialogue. There is another Estus Flask Shard there.
- Once you kill the first boss, you can access a door above the second bonfire of Forest of Giants where you can get yet another Estus Flask increasing your total Estus number to 4.
- Dexterity and Faith scale Bleeding Bonus, so going Faith/Dex is a viable option if you're building a character.
- If you're hollow you don't have to use a Human Effigy to regain your humanity. Placing down a soul sign to be summoned to another world will give you your humanity back once you beat the area's boss as well as souls.
- You can get the big White Soapstone for the best soul sign placements from Pate at the Forest of Giants. Exhaust his dialogue, go through the area he's by, then exhaust his dialogue again to obtain it.
- There is a Heide Knight sitting down by a tree close to the start of the Forest of Giants. He drops a Heide Sword if killed which is a very good starting weapon.
- If you cannot kill the Heide Knight there is a place you can drop to if you backtrack from the second bonfire which leads to a tunnel with a Salamander at the end. If you run through the tunnel and open the door to the left you can get a Fire Longsword which is just as effective as the Heide Knight's sword.
- If your weapon is running out of durability make sure you either use repair powder or rest at a bonfire. Don't 100% an area and go for the boss immediately as your weapon will break.
- Do not go to Belfry Luna. I will personally invade you and ruin your day. Get out of my Bell Tower.