This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dark Souls 2.
I worry I may be a little too far in to review Dark Souls II with any kind of detachment. I know I only just got on board the Dark Souls pain train, (Choo-choo, all aboard for driving straight into a brick wall!) but no-one's more critical of drinking than a former alcoholic. And yes, I did just imply that not being into Dark Souls is equivalent to a major, destructive personality flaw. I've just gotten through a big box of lovely jam doughnuts with cream on top, and now someone's come in with another big box of jam doughnuts and asked for my opinion. Good or bad, that second box isn't gonna get a fair assessment, is it? 'Cus I've still got jammy hands and type-2 diabetes. Oh well.
Dark Souls II is the third game in a series that began with Demon's Souls (which I was thinking I should go back and try again sometime, but apparently we don't count it anymore), in which you play a cursed being on a quest for some kind of enlightenment, and must best a series of castles, dungeons, and bosses by doing the equivalent of firing yourself at them from a cannon an infinite number of times.
Your quest at the outset is to find a cure for your undead status, 'cus fuck all this "being immortal" shit, a quest that takes you to the land of Drangliec, which is different to Lordran because it's got the "dran" part in the front bit this time. And after a rather over-long opening cutscene in which a bunch of old women talk at you like a pack of slightly tiddley aunts at a wedding asking why you haven't found yourself a nice boyfriend yet, you set out to acquire four Great Souls which will in some way help.
Full disclosure, I've not finished the game yet, 'cus I've only been playing for about a 30-hour stretch at time of writing, or as it's known in the Dark Souls community, a "sample". I've gotten three of four Great Souls, and so far DSII is much less about the world and much more about you, globe-trotting soul-harvesting reverse Santa Claus. Rather than Dark Souls I's potted history of the world for you to think about as you murder all the participants, the Dark Souls II intro cinematic merely depicts you, deciding that blindly jumping into a portal is exactly as topping an idea as it first seemed. And I don't care about me, I'm just some fuck with a halberd. I want to know about the world. 'Cus that's the thing that I'm stopping to look at whenever the "gorgeous view" message appears.
An unspecified amount of time has passed since the first game, which was already about the last gasp of a dying world, so that last gasp seems to be lasting long enough to inflate a fucking bouncy castle. It makes me wonder what sequel camp this is pitching its tent in: Camp "Let's boldly evolve the concept up a notch with a story that demands to be told", or Camp "Let's put out another of that thing people liked and carry our money home in a freight train". Don't get me wrong, if Dark Souls II is just "more Dark Souls", then it's still welcome, if not as revolutionary, but I can't shake the sense that ideas are getting recycled with varying degrees of blatancy. The Gutter is just Blighttown without the view, there's another boss fight with a big dog that starts limping when it's about to bite its last Boneo, and it seems like a large percentage of the boss encounters are just variations on a theme of "a dude in armour". Fuck dudes in armour, you can wallpaper your house with dudes in armour in this world, and many frequently do. I want more shit like the incomplete-open-heart-surgery dragon! Things get more imaginative later, though. This time, for example, you fight a topless lady with a scorpion for an arse! Push that motherfucking boat out!
It's supposed to be easier on the noobs this time around, but obviously, I can't gauge that, because I already know what I'm doing. Certainly, the tutorial's longer, and instead of the introductory "You ready yet? You'd better be, 'cus here's my warty-arse boss fight", there's just the old lady thing. Although I was ready to carve up some warty arse nonetheless, I'll tell you that. And instead of the game starting with only one path and then opening up when you're going after the four Lord Souls, now it's the other way around. You start off with multiple paths, and it gets linear later. So if one area is feeding you your own eyeballs, you can maybe leave it for now and look for a gentler one. And good fucking luck, you shrieking mimsy.
Fittingly, for a game that opens up earlier, you can teleport between bonfires from the outset, which meant I utterly missed a certain character who only appears in an area you've got no reason to go back to, and who is needed to open up a way to an entire fucking vital section of the game. From Software, are you getting backhanders from the GameFAQs people?
In the category of "It's different and therefore it's RUINED" complaints, you now lose maximum health each time you die, so as you bang your head on the brick wall of a hard boss, your head becomes softer and more delicate and cracks with increasing ease. You can get it back by reverting to human, but the items for doing so are finite, which adds an annoying "ticking clock" element, when before you could just bash away infinitely until the boss submits out of pity, just like in my sex life.
Still, at least you can revert to human from anywhere, not just from bonfires, but that's it, isn't it? When Dark Souls gives you chocolate buttons, it has to take away heart medication with its other hand. There are healing items you can use when your estus runs out, hooray! So you start out with only one measly estus flask, boo! Weapon degradation now resets at bonfires, hooray! So the weapons now degrade faster than biscuits in milky tea, boo! Enemies disappear if you kill them enough times, hooray! So now you can't grind them! And if you die, and fail to recover your souls, then all those senseless killings were just pissing in the wind. Oh, and remember how the jumping controls were shit? Well now they're mapped to L3. That's even worse, Dark Souls! Well good thing you can switch it back in the options, isn't it?! But if I hear any more lip, I'm gonna map them to the Kinect! Hey Dark Souls, your daughter got a B+ on her coloring assignment. "Oh, well then, you must have a SMACK AND A SMACK AND A SMACK AND A SMACK AND HOW DARE YOU HOW DARE YOU HOW DARE YOU!" Ah, that's what I love about you, Dark Souls. You don't ask for a lot, but... um... all right, you do ask for a lot.
Remember how I said Dark Souls I often looks like they designed the maps first, then figured out the gameplay second? I don't get that so much from Dark Souls II. Certain sections of it feel very, for want of a better word, "video-gamey". Like the lava castle that feels like an adaptation of Super Mario Bros., right down to the tortoise guards, and the boss is a giant goat-demon waist-deep in lava hitting you with very, very slow punch attacks. That's beneath you, Dark Souls! That shit's video game shorthand for "insert boss fight here."
Overall, though, this is like the Portal vs. Portal 2 thing. Taken as wholes, the first one is better 'cus it's tighter. And I do love a nice, tight hole. But for all one can quibble about a few extra layers of flab, Dark Souls II can still power-bomb you like a champ. I might even buy it again when the real version comes out.
- Got too greedy with his follow-up swipes: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Anyone else notice that "The Rotten" had a rather distinctly onion-shaped head? Wonder if that's supposed to mean something
- Really need to replay Symphony of the Night one of these days