Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dark Souls II  


I'd planned to post a new blog every night for the last week or so, and then the same thing happened to me every time: I'd sit down to play Dark Souls II before starting any writing, and then it'd be 2AM before I knew it...

If you're reading this blog, then there's a pretty good chance that you're already playing the game yourself, but if you don't have a copy and you're the sort of person who's inclined towards this experience, I can certainly say that it's well worth your time and attention. Well, after the 15-ish hours I've seen so far, anyway.

As context, a quick summary of my history with the series:

King's Field: The Ancient City
First, I played all of the King's Field games released in the states. The first two showed much promise but were quite rough, but the third, The Ancient City (my review here) really brought it all together and set the stage for what was to come.   

Demon's Souls
I then got a review copy of Demon's Souls prior to release, and played through that two and a half times before it hit retail. It was a fantastic, genuinely revolutionary experience, and it went on to become one of my favorite titles of all time. My full review is here

Dark Souls: Some Bullshit is Ahead
Then Dark Souls came out, and although many people say it's the better game, I have to disagree. Although it certainly has good points and the first half of the game is strong, I was quite disappointed with it overall. You can read my in-depth thoughts on that game here, but basically, it felt like the developers ran out of time and/or money before it was done, and I had some issues with its design in general. This was also a pre-release experience, and there were no FAQs or Wikis at the time.

After feeling so down on Dark, I wasn't sure if the series would be able to recapture the magic for me. But as of right now, I'm quite happy to say that Dark Souls II has hit a delicious sweet spot, and I've been enjoying it quite a bit more than its immediate predecessor.

Although the basic gist of Dark II is the same, it feels quite a bit different thanks to some significant tweaks and changes in the design. 

For example, the world here makes much more sense to me. I was never able to buy into the idea that so many different factions and powerful beings would be crammed one on top of the other as they were in Dark Souls, and although the developers pulled off some neat tricks with the way the shortcuts worked, the world was something that I couldn't fully buy into.

I also felt like there were several points in Dark where the developers were actively trolling the player, such as the archers on the buttress supports in Anor Londo, or how some areas were nearly impossible to find without outside assistance. It just didn't feel as though the correct level of challenge and respect for the player were there. That trolling feeling has not been present (so far) in Dark II, and I appreciate that.

Otherwise, I'm finding that I really enjoy the new world design. Although everything is still essentially in one big massive land, the way that the areas relate to each other feels more "realistic"  and believable, and it feels like nothing so much as a hybrid of Demon's and Dark in that there are shortcuts and interconnectedness, but there's also enough linearity to keep the player from feeling hopelessly lost, even though there are points where confusion can set in.

I'm finding other changes to the formula to be positive, as well -- for instance, the player gets the ability to fast-travel between any bonfire right off the bat, which helps a ton and makes the game feel like less of a slog getting from one place to another.

I'm also a fan of the way the game removes enemies from the environment after they've been killed certain number of times. It prevents infinite farming for those who would abuse it and gives the player a bit of tension from knowing that the amount of souls are limited, but also gets rid of annoyances for players who are simply going to an area multiple times. For example, I found myself stuck at the boss of No-Man's Wharf for a while until I figured out a good strategy, and having to kill the same pirate zombies over and over was just an annoyance. Right about the time I was getting totally sick of it, the game removed them from the level and I was able to quickly run to my objective --  a big relief.

As far as the multi goes, I haven't spent any time with other players at all. I'm on the 360, and if you start a party chat then it prevents the game from going online, which also means that it prevents anyone from invading. I plan to dip into that after I've had a proper go at the main adventure, but the thought of being interrupted at any time when I'm in the middle of trying to make some progress is the opposite of appealing.

In general, I'm quite impressed with Dark Souls II and I like it a lot more than the original Dark. Of course, there's still a long road ahead of me and there's plenty of time for the game to go astray, but all of the design decisions seem headed in the right direction, and the "feel" of the game is right where I would want it.

Worst goddamned thing in any Souls game, ever. 
As long as that stupid Frampt from Dark doesn't make an appearance, I'm guessing this is going to end up getting a big, big thumbs up.


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