Pages

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dark Souls 2 Sucks: So Much Disappoint














I don't like to consider myself a "hardcore" Souls fan, even though I've played each game in the series (in order, multiple times each, starting with Demon's Souls) and consider them among the most satisfying, entertaining games I've ever played. Demon's Souls was a real gem of a game, and its cult status made it easy to love and praise, but when Dark Souls came along and everybody started jumping on the bandwagon, I found my interest and appreciation waning a little. The community's obnoxious fandom ruined certain aspects of that game for me, but the whole thing just felt a little underwhelming compared to Demon's Souls.

Since Dark Souls proved to be such an immensely profitable venture for publisher Bandai Namco, it was inevitable that they would seek to produce a cash-grabbing respect-worthy sequel, and thus, nearly three years later, we have Dark Souls II. If the first Dark Souls felt "a little underwhelming" to an avid Demon's Souls player, then Dark Souls II can only be described as an outright disappointment. Don't get me wrong -- there's a lot to like about Dark Souls II, and it's worth noting that a "bad" Souls game is still a much better gaming experience than the average video game -- but there's an awful lot to dislike as well.

With Dark Souls II, my hope was to play a game that blended the cohesive world style of Dark Souls with the tight mechanical precision and bleak atmosphere of Demon's Souls, in a more refined package that cleaned up and improved upon some of those games' notable shortcomings. In a way, Dark Souls II feels like a faithful blend of those two game styles, but it's a lukewarm, half-hearted mixture that never achieves the brilliance of either of its predecessors while also feeling significantly sloppier in the process.

My intention with this article is to review Dark Souls II in direct comparison to its predecessors, but this isn't going to be a thorough "Demon's Souls vs Dark Souls vs Dark Souls 2" type of article because I've already done that with my Demon's Souls vs Dark Souls article. It would be redundant for me to make an entirely new article of that sort to include Dark Souls II in the comparison, so instead I'll direct you to read that article for some background on my thoughts going into this review, which will focus mainly on Dark Souls II using examples from the previous games to compare and contrast Dark Souls II's relative strengths and weaknesses within the series.

Before we get into the full review, I'd like to point out that I've tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, seeing as the game is still very new. That said, I need to use examples from the game to illustrate my points, so minor things are still liable to be spoiled if you've been trying to stay completely in the dark. I tried not to include any major spoilers for the plot or important discoveries that the player is supposed to make on their own, so I feel like this review is safe to read without the game being completely ruined for you, but even still, do so at your own risk.


Story / Atmosphere

I'm not sure if I'm in the minority or majority of players here, but I don't pay that much attention to the lore or story when I play these games. For me, the Souls games are all about the gameplay, the meta-game experience of being presented with an open class system and an open world to conquer, and making good decisions about how to approach various situations. That said, I do like a good story, and I think a game's premise and story progression can be crucial factors in elevating a "good" game with good gameplay to a "great" game with good gameplay.

Having said that, I don't go out of my way reading every little item description for everything I come across, trying to hunt down the game's backstory or the significance of current events. I'm not afraid of doing a little bit of reading in my video games -- I played Planescape: Torment, one of the wordiest games in the history of ever, and absolutely loved it -- but it really disrupts the flow of gameplay in a Souls game to stop what you're doing, open the inventory screen, and read a couple of sentences for every single item you pick up. The story is not the focal point of these games, and even if you were to read every little thing in the game, it's intentionally designed to be as vague and obtuse as possible.

I'm not going to theorize about all of the game's hidden meanings because, quite frankly, I don't care. It doesn't interest me. What matters to me is the overt "story" that's told about the player's journey from beginning to end -- why the player is doing the things he (or she) is doing.

The intro cinematic for Dark Souls II

Dark Souls II is the first game to give your character a slightly more concrete backstory. Apparently you were a nice family man before becoming branded with the mark of the undead, somehow, and so you set out to Drangleic to cure yourself of the brand, falling into a swirling vortex while Cyndi Lauper sings "Time After Time." This intro doesn't do a whole lot for me except solidify the idea established in the first Dark Souls that the entire point of the story is that you're a dead guy who doesn't want to be dead anymore. It's nice that there's no longer any pretense about destiny or being "the chosen undead," but it subtly told me from the very beginning that I was to expect nothing original from the story.

The player then meets some old firekeepers, who serve almost no other function in the game than to bring up the character creation window, before moving on to Medulla Majula, the game's central hub. There you meet the Maiden in Black the Emerald Herald, who seems to serve no other function in the game than to bring up the level-up screen and to upgrade your available number of healing flasks. She tells you to collect the four souls of the Old Ones and visit the king at the castle, but he's not there so the queen sends you to talk to a dragon, and then he sends you into some giant's memories, and then you fight the final boss and watch the ending cutscene, which seems to come from out of nowhere.

Throughout the whole thing, there's no explanation for what your ultimate goal is supposed to be or why you're doing the things you're doing. As you later find out, the four souls of the "unutterable Old Ones" are necessary to open a door to reach the king's castle, which feels like a completely arbitrary, meaningless video game trope. Why are there four old ones and not three or five? What makes the four so different from the other bosses? Why are these souls needed to unlock a door? Why should I be interested in talking to the king? Why didn't you even bother telling me the purpose of collecting these four souls before setting me out on this quest?

Saulden, the Crestfallen Warrior, talking about the four Old Ones.

Demon's Souls had a pretty clear cut goal, which served as a good motivation guiding your actions moving forward: slay the archdemons to break the seal guarding the Old One beneath the Nexus, and defeat it to put a stop to the spreading fog. Not the most complicated plot there is, but the level layout gave you a good sense of progression as you worked towards the conclusion. Dark Souls was a little more obscure in its storytelling, but it gave you a concise goal from the beginning: ring the two bells of awakening, which you later find out wakens Peter Frampton Kingseeker Frampt, who sets you on the course of filling the Lordvessel with the souls of the old lords in order to enter the Kiln of the First Flame and rekindle the flame.

The difference, here, is that the previous games informed you of your ultimate purpose and gave you some reason for why you're doing the things you're doing, as flimsy and arbitrary as those reasons may have been. In Dark Souls II, you just wander around aimlessly, looking for the next unexplored area, with no sense of direction or purpose. That aspect is pretty satisfying from a pure gameplay standpoint, because you have to explore and deduce where you're supposed to go and what you're supposed to be doing, but it's pretty terrible from a storytelling standpoint. When I reached the ending cutscene, I had no idea why my character did what he did, and I had no idea that that's what I was striving to do this whole game.

The story itself doesn't feel very original to me, and in fact seems to parallel both Demon's Souls' and Dark Souls' plots. The story of King Vendrick in Dark Souls II feels rather similar to King Allant in Demon's Souls, except told in a Dark Souls type of structure: complete some arbitrary goal to reach the castle, meet a female royalty, then complete another goal to inherit the former King's legacy and usher in a new era. There aren't a whole lot of unique twists on either of these plots except for the flashbacks where you enter the memories of the fallen giants, but these are so short and feature so little actual storytelling within them that they're not enough to make up for the general shortcomings in the plot.

The view inward of the continent, as seen from Majula.

Atmospherically, Dark Souls II feels a bit closer in style to Demon's Souls than the first Dark Souls, which I appreciate. Everything was decrepit, dark, and depressing in Demon's Souls -- exactly the mood it was trying to capture with its theme. Dark Souls, on the other hand, felt like it was going for a more generic fantasy theme with locations like the Crystal Cave, Darkroot Garden, The Duke's Archives, Anor Londo, and the Demon Ruins. Although Dark Souls II features some of the same basic types of environments, they tend to feel darker and more sinister than the majestic awe-inspiring vistas of Dark Souls.

Majula, for instance, is a seaside town with a brilliant golden sunrise lighting up the sky, but that visual theme is juxtaposed with the murky brown, crumbling buildings and the dead grass and trees. Speaking to the Crestfallen Warrior paints a far bleaker, grimmer picture than speaking to the Crestfallen Warrior in the first Dark Souls. Other NPCs seem to speak with a kind of sullen despair you'd expect from Demon's Souls, but I find it absolutely mind-boggling that you have to summon NPCs to boss fights in order to pursue their side stories, because that completely contradicts the way I want to play the game.

I'd been intentionally not summoning NPCs to boss fights because I wanted to experience the challenge and satisfaction that comes from defeating a boss on my own, as it was established in Demon's Souls, to give me that feeling of being alone and helpless in a desolate world, and since many boss fights become trivially easy when you have a second person to distract the boss. It kind of pisses me off that I have to play the game in a way that runs totally counter to the way I feel it should be played, just to see all of the story. I had no idea how much of the game's content I was actually missing until I'd finished my first playthrough and started looking things up online. It's not a big compliment in the game's favor if it requires a guide for the player to actually see the story.


Level Design / Exploration

The level design in Dark Souls II feels like it's taking direction from both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. On the one hand, we have a persistent landscape that requires you to explore and physically reach new locations before you can warp there; on the other hand, you're free to warp anywhere you've discovered, from any bonfire, right from the start of the game. Selecting which area to warp to from the bonfire fast-travel menu feels a lot like selecting subworlds from the archstones in Demon's Souls (the window is even laid out with a hierarchy of "worlds" and "subworlds"), but at the same time it feels like Dark Souls because of its open world structure with zero loading screens.

The pinnacle of level design in Dark Souls II has to be the Lost Bastille, an area that feels reminiscent of the complex level design in Demon's Souls. The Lost Bastille is a pretty large area that features a whopping five bonfires with multiple interlinking paths, two possible ways to enter the level, a variety of enemies to fight (including demon dogs, royal soldiers, exploding mummies, and patrolling wardens), three useful NPCs, and connections to three different bosses. It was the only area in the game that gave me any sense of dread as I wandered around, deciding which ways to go and wondering when I'd find the next bonfire as my estus flasks slowly depleted and my weapon condition slowly deteriorated.

A hand-drawn map of Heide's Tower, courtesy of the Dark Souls II wikidot.

The vast majority of other areas, though, are really disappointing, consisting entirely of linear paths with only one or two enemy types to battle. Heide's Tower, for instance, is literally a single path to the boss fight with six armored giants along the way, and one single deviation in the path that leads to another boss fight. The Iron Keep is a linear series of rooms with very minor deviations that quickly converge along the main path again. Areas like Sinner's Rise and Aldia's Keep are literally straight hallways to the boss chamber with small rooms on the side. These areas are so simple and straightforward, with so little to actually do within them, that there's no satisfaction to be had from completing them.

The thing that really kills the levels, though, besides their short length and simplicity, is that there are bonfires around practically every corner. There's a bonfire at the start of Huntsman's Copse; you walk along a path with no enemies, go through a dark room containing a few enemies, then along another path with two enemies, and you're at another bonfire. You go through two or three room-sized fields with a couple of enemies, cross a bridge, and you're at a third bonfire. Granted, this third bonfire requires a key to access, but that key is located in the cave literally right next to it.

In the Shaded Woods, you find a bonfire immediately after you gain access to the place, which is only a short walk from the bonfire in Majula. From that initial bonfire, you walk along a short, completely linear path fighting about 10-12 basic enemies, and then you're at another bonfire. You then go through a small, enclosed field fighting basically nothing (you run through it ignoring the enemies because you can't really see them), and you're at another bonfire. They're f**king everywhere, and it kills any sort of tension the player might feel of being between bonfires, low on health and supplies, and carrying a lot of souls. Except for the Lost Bastille, I never felt like I was very far from a bonfire, and I could usually count on there being a bonfire immediately up ahead if I ever needed one.

A bonfire in the Forest of the Fallen Giants.

Couple this overabundance of bonfires with the instant warping system available to you from the very beginning of the game, and you never have any reason to see certain parts of the environment more than once. The thing that made Dark Souls' world work so well was the feeling of immersion you got from being so physically involved with it, learning its layout in intimate detail as the game forced you to trudge around on-foot from place to place until you finally unlocked the fast travel of the Lordvessel midway through. In Dark Souls II, you spend the entire game warping past everything, which would seem to defeat the purpose of having the persistent landscape in the first place.

Entire sections of the game are an unmemorable, transient blur to me, either because I only saw them once and then perpetually warped past them, or because they were so short and simple that they never left any impressions to begin with.

It also makes you wonder why they bothered with the persistent landscape approach if they weren't going to bother connecting areas in an interesting or even realistic way. Unlike in Dark Souls, where each area seemed to unlock multiple shortcuts to other areas as you advanced through the game, the majority of places in Dark Souls II just branch out in multiple directions and eventually terminate in a dead end. The transitions between areas don't always make a lot of sense, and there are a few glaring transitions that completely defy logic, such as when you ride an elevator from a windmill on top of a mountain up to a castle built on a sea of lava, or when you ride an elevator hundreds of feet down from a castle ruin already at sea level, to a wharf that's somehow also at sea level.

It's really disappointing how many areas are connected by long elevator shafts. These are about the least creative, least interesting ways to connect two different areas, and so it comes off feeling incredibly lazy. When you look at the files for the level construction, you even notice that areas are placed literally one on top of the other, such that they actually overlap with one another. There's no care for the overall world structure; it doesn't feel convincing at all, so it's difficult to feel any sense of place or immersion within this world. In the game's defense, the overlapping layout isn't blatantly noticeable when you're playing the game, but seeing the map viewer after the fact shed new light on part of the reason why I wasn't feeling as enthralled by Drangleic as I was by Boletaria or Lordran.

A 3D map-viewer showing the placement of areas in Dark Souls II.

Meanwhile, a lot of thematic areas seem to repeat themselves throughout Dark Souls II. When I stepped into Heide's Tower -- one of the only two areas available at the start of the game -- I was instantly reminded of the architecture and scenic vistas of Anor Londo. I felt a little bummed that such a unique, memorable location from the first Dark Souls was now getting a half-assed rehash in the sequel, but then I stepped into areas like Drangleic Castle, Aldia's Keep, and even the Dragon Shrine, and found that same towering, majestic architecture. When it's not majestic castles, Dark Souls II likes to throw repeated instances of ruined forest temples at you in the form of The Forest of the Fallen Giants, the Shrine of Winter, the Shaded Woods, and, to a lesser extent, Huntsman's Copse, Harvest Valley, and the Earthen Peak.

Part of what made Dark Souls such an enjoyable game, even though I didn't like it quite as much as Demon's Souls, was that it introduced a variety of new thematic areas to explore. Areas like Anor Londo, the Duke's Archives, the Crystal Cave, the Darkroot Garden, the Painted World, and Ash Lake felt totally different from places we'd already seen in Demon's Souls, and each area felt totally distinct from the next. In Dark Souls II, a lot of areas feel kind of samey, with the few unique areas somehow managing to be the most annoying areas in the game.

The Shrine of Amana is probably the high point of the game in terms of aesthetic design. It's an underground cavern with fluorescent blue vegetation reflecting off the surface of the knee/waist-high water that floods the area. It's beautiful to behold. In a similar fashion as Ash Lake, the Shrine of Amana even features a melancholy singing accompaniment as you explore, which just goes to showcase the power that music can have in making an area more emotionally salient, unique, and memorable. It's also one of very few areas in the game that makes practical use of the new torch mechanism FromSoft added to the gameplay. And yet this area is otherwise ruined by its obnoxious level design and enemy placement.

The dark, murky water is designed to obscure hidden monsters that pop out at you once you get close, as well as the ledges that drop-off into underwater pits of death. You're meant to carry a torch so that you can see under the water more clearly, but this of course comes at the expense of carrying a shield, an off-hand weapon, or two-handing your primary weapon. It's a good idea in theory, since you have to weigh the pros and cons of exchanging better visibility for better offense/defense, but the torch goes out the second you roll, and since you're in waist-high water reducing your mobility to a slow walk and you have no shield with which to defend yourself, you have to roll to avoid taking damage. They sort of force you to use their fancy new gameplay mechanism, and then punish you for using it, while inevitably making it worthless, anyway. It's just an all-around terrible design.

Using a torch in the Shrine of Amana, about to be hit by a homing soul arrow.

The Iron Keep, though, has to be the worst-designed area in the game. Every trollish thing that could be done, they put in Iron Keep. Traps? Check. Lava floors? Check. Fire-breathing statues? Check. Great bow archers placed everywhere in inaccessible spots? Check. Mimics? Check. Hidden knights designed to aggro you through walls? Check. Pieces of terrain that inexplicably explode in your face when hit? Check. Fighting a fatty on a tiny, narrow bridge? Check. Small two-foot ledges creating one-way points-of-no-return? Check. Eye-straining fluorescent lava? Check.

In the Iron Keep I was killed by: exploding terrain, with no warning that it would (or even could) explode; a flame jet that burned me alive after my character got physically bumped to the side due to a collision error; a platform dropping out from underneath me into lava with no indication that the platform would (or even could) give way; an invisible wall that pushed me back while I was trying to drop down onto a ledge suspended over lava; another collision error that suddenly bumped me three feet to the left and into a pool of lava when my attack caused me take one step forward into the same space as occupied by an enemy on a narrow platform; as well as probably many more that I didn't bother to write down.

These were all completely unexpected, fluke, accidental deaths that were absolutely not my fault, and it was so rage-inducing that I had to leave the area and come back later. I died so many times in that area that the game turned into Pity Souls and stopped spawning the enemies. The only way the Iron Keep could possibly be any worse is if the archers were shooting poison/toxic/cursed arrows, but that's OK because FromSoft more than made up for that, considering the fact that virtually everywhere else in the game has enemies and environmental hazards that induce status effects, including the Shaded Woods, Harvest Valley, Earthen Peak, the Black Gulch, Saint's Grave, The Gutter, The Doors of Pharros, and Brightstone Cove.

Bosses, meanwhile, are encountered almost as frequently as bonfires. The short, simple levels rarely ever feel like full, complete levels, which makes the bosses seem to come and go without much rhyme or reason. Certain bosses feel random and out of place, and the level design does a pretty poor job of building up to the boss battles. In Demon's Souls, you knew you were going to be facing a boss at the end of every level; every level built up towards that climactic encounter. The bosses felt kind of like the colossi in Shadow of the Colossus in terms of the anticipation, the puzzle of how to beat them, and the significance that each one played. In Dark Souls II, you just kind of stumble into boss fights haphazardly. In each case, I didn't even realize I was fighting one of the four Old Ones until after I'd beaten it and the words popped up on the screen saying "Great Soul Embraced" or "Primal Bonfire Lit," which just goes to show how poorly the bosses are implemented in this world.


Combat / Difficulty

The combat system and controls remain virtually identical to the systems in place in the previous two games, except for minor tweaks meant seemingly for the sole purpose of tripping up veteran players by making them relearn the nuanced mechanisms all over again. Most weapons feature a slightly different moveset, in most cases for the worse, it felt. All weapons now can be used to "guard break" a shielding target by tapping forward+light attack, which dislodges their shield and leaves them in recoil for you to follow up with a critical attack, sort of like a backstab or riposte. There are a few new weapon types, including lances and twinblades, among others, and weapons can now be dual-wielded much more effectively.

Of all the combat changes, dual-wielding is probably the biggest and most notable addition. In the previous games, using a weapon in your off-hand only allowed you to use one, additional, clunky attack that took no consideration of that weapon's unique moveset. Now, in Dark Souls II, using a weapon in your off-hand allows you to perform that weapon's entire range of moves, using the left-hand triggers for light and heavy attacks. In addition, if your stats are 50% higher than the weapons' base requirements, you can "powerstance" the two weapons together, which opens up entirely new moves that utilize both weapons together.

About to fight a Mastodon while powerstancing two ultra greatswords.

The combat in Dark Souls II feels as mechanically satisfying as it did in either of the previous two games, which should come as no surprise because the system was already long in place -- from a development standpoint, if you just don't mess with it too much, then you can't possibly screw it up. And yet, despite FromSoft's numerous refinements to the system (some of them very welcome, like dual-wielding, improved poise functionality, and the guard-breaking shield counter), combat in Dark Souls II somehow manages to feel quite a bit sloppier in execution.

For starters, hit detection feels incredibly "janky" in this game. There were numerous times when I felt sure I was at a safe distance or had perfectly timed a roll dodge, only to find myself dead when killed by an attack that physically never made contact with me, or when an attack somehow managed to bypass my shield in a fluke programming accident. I can't count the number of times I found myself yelling "What?! How did that hit me?!" as I watched the "You Died" screen for the nth time.

The controls also managed to get me killed on a semi-regular basis when intended prompts and button-strokes produced no effect or, in some cases, the completely wrong effect. There were numerous times when I was attempting to perform a jump attack or a guard break on an enemy (forward+heavy attack / forward+light attack), only to find myself doing a regular light/heavy attack, leaving myself totally exposed and depleted of stamina. At other times I was back-pedaling from an enemy while low on health, pressing the "use item" button, only to find a second or two later that I hadn't actually used my estus flask, having now lost precious few seconds to heal safely, as well as other times when I intended to roll dodge but apparently held the button down for a millisecond too long and instead did absolutely nothing, standing there like an imbecile while a giant sword plunged through my face.

When Dark Souls made the conceited effort to enhance its difficulty, it did so primarily by restricting the player more. The biggest changes came in the form of new limitations to healing items and the number of times a spell could be cast, because some of the challenge in Demon's Souls was admittedly negated when you had an essentially limitless supply of healing items and spell casts at your disposal. Dark Souls II continues this tradition of nerfing the player's toolset and abilities -- and takes it to an all-new extreme.

Fighting the Pursuer, one of the first bosses in the game.

In Dark Souls, you started with five estus flasks and could upgrade that to a maximum of 20, five at a time; In Dark Souls II, you start with one and can upgrade it to a maximum of 12, one at a time. In Dark Souls, estus flasks healed you instantly once consumed; in Dark Souls II, estus flasks are slower to drink and regenerate health over the course of a few seconds. To compensate for this significant reduction in healing, FromSoft added "life gems," which you can buy from merchants or collect from enemies to restore your health at much slower rate. Life gems are best used in the calm downtime between battles to top yourself back up to full health, but can also be valuable in the middle of tense boss fight, because they don't take as much time for the initial activation as the estus flask.

The changes to healing have the effect of giving you more options in how you want to heal yourself, which can only be a good thing, because you have more resources to manage and have to weigh the consequences of using an estus flask versus a life gem. The other effect is that healing during a boss fight is significantly harder, because you rarely have enough time to sit there chugging an estus flask, and the life gems might not heal you enough to survive another hit. This change is acceptable because it adds an extra layer of strategy to the game and doesn't feel too hindering.

Other changes include a semi-permanent reduction of maximum health every time you die, until it maxes out at -50% -- this is another change I approve of, because it feels more like Demon's Souls where there are actually consequences for dying and being in your undead form, whereas there were basically no penalties in the first Dark Souls. Weapons now have significantly lower durability, so you have to actively mind their condition during levels rather than topping them up once every few hours as an after-thought. You can be invaded while hollow; resources are harder to get; stamina for sprinting is nerfed; backstabs are nerfed; enemy AI is improved and much more aggressive; rolling and blocking are nerfed; the list goes on.

In my Demon's Souls vs Dark Souls article, I complained that Dark Souls upped the difficulty primarily by restricting the player more, rather than by creating genuinely challenging new content. Restricting the player's abilities is certainly fine if those abilities are deemed to be broken and over-powered, but at a certain point you cross the line of "fair and balanced nerfs" and end up in a territory where the player restrictions feel like arbitrarily and artificially inflated difficulty. It's almost as if you beat a tough encounter, and then the game says "Well done, now do it one-handed." It's a little aggravating to feel your abilities getting progressively worse in each game while the actual challenge you face escalates to a level of unrealistic absurdity.

Killing a near-invisible white phantom in the Shaded Woods.

Enemy tracking, for instance, has gotten to a point where it's just not fair any more. Say you're fighting a huge, heavily-encumbered enemy; it pulls its weapon back over its head preparing to do a vertical, overhand attack on you; as you strafe around its side, the enemy rotates in place -- not even moving its feet -- perfectly keeping up with you, and when you roll around to its side at the last second, it instantly spins 90 additional degrees, crushing you in place unless your dodge was timed perfectly so the attack hits you during the roll's split-second of "invincibility frames." Then the enemy has an almost instant recovery time, leaving you barely any opportunity to attack it before it goes into a counter-attack measure designed to prevent players from engaging its flank.

Arguably the most challenging bosses in the previous games were the ones that featured multiple enemies -- the Maneaters in Demon's Souls, plus the Capra Demon, Ornstein and Smough, and the Four Kings from Dark Souls -- and so FromSoft has increased the difficulty of bosses in Dark Souls II by including an unprecedented number of multi-enemy bosses, to the point where it feels like every other boss you face has a horde of minions at its disposal or divides itself into multiple powerful entities that all attack you simultaneously. For the most part, the only reason these bosses are a challenge is because of the additional threats you have to face -- remove the other enemies and they'd become pathetically easy. It says a lot about the game's lack of sophistication, considering the only way to make the bosses harder was apparently to turn them into a bullet hell nightmare, having to dodge countless barrages of enemy attacks from every direction.

Other bosses, like the Darklurker and Ancient Dragon, are the epitome of cheap, disgusting boss design, where random luck seems like the biggest determinant of success or defeat. The Darklurker is another case of a multi-enemy boss: at 50% health, it splits itself into two identical forms that remain for the rest of the fight. Each Darklurker has a number of different AOE projectile attacks it can unleash on the player -- some of them are really hard to dodge, and if the two Darklurkers randomly decide to use a certain combination or pattern of attacks in off-set (or even simultaneous) intervals, it can spell game over for you, whereas if you're lucky and they don't trigger that particular combination, the fight can be managed quite easily.

Finally beating Darklurker after dying no less than 27 times. 

With the Ancient Dragon, his primary attack is to fly up into the air and rain instant death upon the player in the form of a wide AOE blast that fills up most of the arena. It's literally a one-shot kill -- it doesn't matter how much health or fire resistance you have, you will die if it hits you. This is a boss where there's literally no room for error, and it just feels aggravatingly cheap that the only way they could make him challenging was to make his attack a near-undodgeable one-hit kill. Both of these bosses are optional, so at least these brutally unfair fights aren't forced on the player, but being optional is not a good excuse or justification for their broken difficulty balancing, and in no way makes them fun to fight or satisfying to beat.

I complained about the difficulty in Dark Souls feeling much less fair and therefore "cheaper" than the difficulty in Demon's Souls, but Dark Souls II brings it to an all new level. A lot of enemies are just no fun to fight because they have virtually no exploitable weaknesses, which makes every fight with these enemies a grueling slog-fest rather than a fun back-and-forth exchange. Things that worked in Demon's Souls and Dark Souls no longer work, and certain areas like the Iron Keep, Aldia's Keep, and the Shrine of Amana feel like they were designed specifically to be cheesed by players in order to get through them. 

After a certain point, I felt forced to invest in a bow and a massive stock of poison arrows, because it just wasn't worth the hassle to fight through certain areas as a pure melee fighter. I don't recall ever feeling forced to rely on ranged combat in the previous two games, but there are numerous areas in Dark Souls II that practically necessitate the use of a ranged combat option. That's especially disappointing to me, because I always prefer melee combat since ranged options are generally so much simpler -- you just hang back, point, and click without nearly as much regard for timing, positioning, or stamina management.

Cheesing a cyclops in Aldia's Keep through a narrow doorway.

And yet, despite all of my complaints about the cheap difficulty, several arguments could be made that difficulty of Dark Souls II is actually much easier than the previous games. For instance, there are bonfires practically everywhere, so you're never far away from a complete restore; you can warp anywhere you've discovered in the game from the very beginning, so you never have to worry about falling down a one-way hole and getting trapped, forced to work your way back up to the surface; there are many more NPC phantoms to summon for bosses, so there's almost always help available for any boss you might struggle with; the Rings of Life/Soul Protection have infinite uses and can be abused to prevent yourself from going hollow and losing your souls; and enemies even stop respawning eventually, if killed enough times, so if you die enough times in an area it will eventually become easier for you.

In practice, this made incredibly long sections of the game feel like a complete cakewalk to me. The vast majority of the game was a pathetically easy joke, wherein I never felt challenged except for a handful of areas/bosses where the difficulty spiked so high and so suddenly that all progress came to a screeching halt. Even though Demon's Souls and Dark Souls were never quite as difficult as Dark Souls II's hardest parts, the pacing and overall difficulty balancing felt much more consistently challenging all the way through. Whereas Demon's Souls and Dark Souls felt like you were carefully but quickly working your way through an obstacle course with hurdles and obstacles at every step of the way, Dark Souls II feels like a high-speed car race that has you randomly slam on the brakes when faced with a stop light.


Online Components / Multiplayer

In Demon's Souls, it was a fairly consistent guarantee that I would be invaded by another player if I played through a level in human form, and it was also a fairly consistent guarantee that I would be killed in an invasion because the invader would be a more experienced player who knew how to get the best gear and cap himself at a low level so he could invade newbs. It was brutally unfair, but that was the whole point of the game and it made me legitimately scared to play the game in human form, but wary of playing in soul form because of the reduced health cap.

In Dark Souls, I decided I would play through the entire game in "PVE" mode and then jump into the PVP after beating it once; I was never invaded and suffered practically zero consequences for playing the game in hollow form. When I reached the end-game, I then found I had no real interest in the PVP because the covenants and peer-to-peer connection system felt so restricting. Demon's Souls still has the best invasion system of any of the three games, with its completely open system that let you invade anywhere at any time, and to this day I've had the most sheer fun PVPing in Demon's Souls compared to either Dark Souls game.

Compared to the first Dark Souls, though, Dark Souls II is a tremendous improvement. The online components are much more prominent in Dark Souls II -- so prominent that they're completely unavoidable unless you completely disconnect your computer/console from the internet. Some of the major changes to the online system include the fact that you can be invaded even while hollow, and you're guaranteed to be invaded when entering certain covenant areas, even while hollowed. The covenants are much more accessible and facilitate getting into PVP much better, and in fact, you practically have to join covenants and defeat other players in order to harvest certain valuable resources, because they're so rare otherwise. These are all good things that got me much more involved in the online scene than I ever was in the first Dark Souls.

Being summoned to the Doors of Pharros as a gray phantom.

Having said that, the covenants still aren't quite as good as they really should be. Invasions are extremely rare in your first playthrough, unless you go into any of the four areas guarded by specific covenants, because the cracked red eye orbs that allow covenant members of the Brotherhood of Blood to invade worlds are relatively hard to come by, especially early on, and they're all single-use. As a result, a majority of PVP happens in covenant-designated gank-zones, covenant dueling arenas, or player-driven "fight clubs" using summon signs.

This also has the effect of making the Blue Sentinels covenant practically worthless. If you're in the Blue Sentinels, then you're supposed to be summoned to defend members of the Way of the Blue covenant when they're invaded by a red phantom, but since there are so few Brotherhood of Blood invasions due to the relative scarcity of cracked red eye orbs, you're rarely ever going to get summoned for PVP. I spent a few hours running around with the Blue Sentinels ring equipped in my first playthrough and never got summoned, whereas I was ganked relentlessly trying to get through the four covenant-defended areas of the game. I really liked the idea of being "the good guy" in PVP who helps weaker players against invasions, but it just didn't work out very well in this case.

The other notable change FromSoft made to the online multiplayer system is the inclusion of a new character metric called "soul memory." In previous games, matchmaking was based on your "soul level," a value determined by how many times you've leveled-up, and you could only invade or be invaded by players of around a similar soul level. It was possible, particularly in Demon's Souls, to build an over-powered character and cap it at a low level so that you could invade low-level newbs with it. With the new system, all of the souls a player earns and spends goes toward his "soul memory," a cumulative value that continues to grow the more he plays, meaning if you try to build an over-powered low-level character, it will end up matched with higher-level players with similar soul memories.

Getting ganked 2v1 in the Belfry Luna.

The intentions are noble, but the execution is practically game-breaking. It used to be that players opted to keep their soul levels at a certain level (around 120-125 in Demon's Souls) in order to consistently match up with other players; while it was possible to level up significantly higher than that, doing so would put you into a much smaller pool of players and you'd thus have a much less active online scene. The limits players placed on themselves for soul levels also ensured that every character would have limited stat points to spend, and thus would necessitate the use of certain character builds. A large part of the fun was custom-tailoring a character's stats for the way you wanted to play it in PVP -- pumping up your intelligence to do insane magic damage came at the cost of increasing stats like vitality or endurance that dictate your health and stamina.

There were basically two groups of people in the PVP scene of the previous games: people who wanted to cap themselves at a certain level for balanced PVP builds, and people who wanted to keep leveling. The soul memory system in Dark Souls II favors the second group while forcing the first group to fight the second group. If you're in that first group and you get matched up with people in that second group, then you'll be at a significant disadvantage because your stats will be significantly lower, in which case you may as well pump up your stats, too, or stay out of the random PVP scene altogether. In order to stick to a balanced PVP system, you basically have to coordinate with other, individual players in fight clubs -- you can't reliably expect to connect with randoms at a certain soul level and get a fair/balanced fight.

Otherwise, it then reaches a point where players all have 50+ in each of their stats and can do anything and everything, with no discernible weaknesses. A high soul memory mage could in theory wind up with enough vitality to wear the strongest heavy armor in the game, giving him insanely high physical defense against melee characters. He could then cast Great Magic Barrier to have insanely high magic defense, while wielding a giant ultra great sword. Eventually, everyone could conceivably end up running the same build because their stats become so bloated that there are no trade-offs for anything they do, therefore having the potential for the entire PVP scene to become much more stale and static the longer you stay with it.


More Abundant Recycling in Dark Souls II

One of the things that annoyed me the most about the first Dark Souls is how much content was blatantly copied from Demon's Souls. Even things that were completely original within Dark Souls got repeated ad nausam in later sections of the game, making entire sections feel like a letdown because you'd already seen and conquered that particular scenario. Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be as much blatant recycling in Dark Souls II, but there's still enough of it to piss me off.

This section contains some major spoilers, so I'd suggest not clicking the button below if you want to avoid the spoilers. Just know that there are a handful of bosses from the first Dark Souls that are directly copy and pasted into Dark Souls II, as well as various bosses that are mechanically similar to pre-existing bosses in other games. Certain bosses that are original within Dark Souls II also get repeated numerous times in later parts of the same game for no real reason. Otherwise, click below to see the expanded list.



I'm sure there are others I've forgotten or overlooked, but in general, most of the bosses in Dark Souls II feel very similar to previous bosses in the series. Some of them have one or two notable twists which make them just barely different enough for me to keep them off the list, while others felt similar to other bosses without appearing like blatant rehashes.

Dark Souls II's recycled content doesn't feel as insulting to me as the first Dark Souls' abundant recycling, though that may simply be because I've gotten used to it and resigned myself to the inevitability, but there are fewer truly unique, memorable bosses to encounter in Dark Souls II. The other thing that's worth mentioning is that, in all but two cases, when a boss gets repeated, it shows up with multiple additional copies of itself. This just goes to further demonstrate the lazy difficulty balancing already outlined in the above section, wherein FromSoft's main trick for increasing the difficulty is simply to copy/paste more enemies into the scenario.


In Conclusion

The most positive thing I can say about Dark Souls II is that it makes me appreciate the original Dark Souls more, which in turn makes me appreciate Demon's Souls even more. Dark Souls II is as mechanically satisfying as either of its predecessors, which means it's still automatically worth a purchase if you enjoyed either Demon's Souls or Dark Souls and are looking for "more of the same" -- I just wouldn't recommend buying Dark Souls II at full price.

The biggest problem with Dark Souls II, I think, is that it's trying too hard to be like both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, rather than trying to be something completely original. Even though I didn't care for Dark Souls as much as Demon's Souls, I appreciated that it was trying to do something different. With Dark Souls II, it feels like a weak rehash of both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, and never captures the excellence of either of those two games.

The treeline of Huntsman's Copse.

With this now being the third game in the series, the "wow" factor has significantly diminished. Demon's Souls remains my favorite game, in large part because it was the first one I played -- for a lot of gamers, their introduction to the series was Dark Souls, and that game remains their favorite. Whichever one you played first, it most likely felt refreshing and eye-opening compared to the other games you'd played in your lifetime; going between Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, there are enough differences that you can appreciate them as separate but equal entities, but going into Dark Souls II, it feels like a noticeably weaker reiteration of the same things we've already seen and done countless times before in the previous two games.

It's worth mentioning that some of my complaints about Dark Souls II, such as needing a guide to see all of the story's contents or the arbitrary "kill X number of big bosses to open a door" motivation, are equally applicable to Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, but with this being the third game in the series, those problems are now becoming more noticeable and less excusable.

As it stands, Dark Souls II is plagued with boring linearity, nonsensical geography, and poor difficulty balancing, all suggesting that the people at the helm didn't understand what made the Souls games so special in the first place. There are plenty of welcome, new additions to the series' mechanics, but for every one worthwhile thing they added, there's one or two things they subtly screwed up. Dark Souls II just didn't feel as satisfying to play as the previous two games in the series for me, and it proved an outright letdown at numerous times along the way.

In the grand scheme of things, Dark Souls II is not a bad game -- I'd take two or three Dark Souls II's over Skyrim any day of the week -- but it feels like a particularly weak Souls game, and certainly failed to live up to the hype it generated pre-release.

29 comments:

  1. Fun fact: the word "souls" was used 176 times in this article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fun Fact: The person above me has way too much free time.

      Delete
    2. Dude, CTRL+F... 1 second is too much free time?

      Delete
  2. Greetings, just wanna tell you that I'm really enjoying your articles. Keep up the good work. Cheers from russia.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Whew, what a read. I couldn't ever possibly agree more with you about everything you laid down in this review. My thoughts precisely on the entire game's glaring faults and shortcomings, as well as its few good aspects, it's like you've been in my head while I was playing through the game.
    I'm just out of words and since there are too many things I would like to comment on, I'm not going to add anything new to what you've already stated above by doing that.
    Instead I'll just say say that If the multiplayer issues that plagued dark souls (1) hadn't been fixed in this half assed excuse of a sequel (btw fromsoft sold out, in case you haven't heard alrdy) and my buddies also hadn't purchased it as well, I would have never bought it myself. Thus, I realized at some point I was enjoying for the first time in souls [ I haven't played demon's soul(s?) - I do not own a ps3 ] the multiplayer aspects of the game more than the singleplayer ones by leaps and bounds.
    Finally, I have to admit that in contrast to your martyrdom, I found the Iron Keep area quite alright to play through for the most part with little to no bug-related issue occurancies.
    Excuse me for my senseless rambling, I've still got a ton to comment on and express my thoughts about, but its too much and this 4-line comment form is driving me crazy.
    PS: That was the first review I've read on your website, I'll probably look over your other articles at some point in time.
    Keep up the good work, this is a truly excellent review.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Again, I must recommend yet another matthewmatosis video, as it touches on exactly the same points as yours, "Dark Souls II Critique"

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is a post in Steam with which I 100% agree:

    Darkwraiths VS Brotherhood of blood

    Never have I been invaded by a dark spirit. Not even once. Sometimes I forget I play online. In DS1 I was constantly invaded and I loved it.

    There is no incentive. Darkwraith covenant sold cracked red eye orbs for less souls + they gave you a normal red eye orb which you could use indefinitely without having no buy.

    Darkwraiths were also stacking humanity and were able to steal humanity from the hosts. Dark hand was a great mechanic which was upgraded even at 80 kills.

    The brotherhood of blood doesn't nearly have enough incentives to invade - what does one gain? Plus he pays for cracked red eye orbs dearly - why wouldn't they duel instead. And they are based in large part on... dueling (/facepalm!!!). They get (cracked) red eye orbs through it or they have to pay a large amount of souls of them in NG+ only. There is no whole red eye orb here. Yes, the new Darkwraiths now duel.

    The brotherhood as a concept is a tragic failure compared to the Darkwraiths. Othen than fun there is *nothing* to be gained by invading that isn't gained by dueling which is cheaper and more effective..
    Again, I never have been invaded. Not even bloody once. One of the biggest reasons I loved Dark Souls was because of the random invasions. Now they seem to be gone.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Forest hunters VS Rat king and Bell keepers

    I can't stress how uninsightful are the mechanics of these covenants. Especially the Rat kings.

    Another sad comparison. First of all they put 2 almost identical factions into the game. Good job!!! The bell keepers and the rat king covenants aren't that different.

    First of all, both work in specific small isolated areas which a player will never visit a second time once they are cleared. Don't be fooled if you find hosts to invade now that it's still early in the game. The forest was a much more crowded area and a HUB and since you couldn't teleport for most of the game that counted for something. I wonder if that will be the case for belfry luna and sol and for the grave of saints and pharros doors.

    As for the Rat king covenant, unlike the bell keepers, you have to be in either one of these two locations in order to draw a player to your world! Last night I just sat there doing nothing and had only 3 players summoned in a whole hour. This is seriously awful mechanics.
    To add insult to the injury, again unlike bell keepers there are no rewards in this faction, since pharros lockstones quickly become useless or are used for the sake of the covenant itself and the slumbering ring (final reward of the faction) is only used for specific ambushing tactics.


    Blue Sentinels VS Blade of the Darkmoon

    In this case, we see an actual improvement of sorts. Blue sentinels can defend other players which is awesome, they can duel which is great for their noble standards and they can also invade sinners, whereas the darkmoon could only invade sinners.

    The thing is though that they don't seem to gain ranks when invading sinners plus they don't get an actual whole blue eyed orb with infinite uses like DS1. They have to duel to get it or pay 10.000 for each piece! What the hell From Software??? Are you trying to kill multiplayer PVP by taking all the incentives away from invasions and making them harder?

    This would be a solid improvement over its DS1 similar covenant if From Software did not try to eliminate the concept of invasions (as in other factions too).

    Dragon bros vs Dragon bros

    Not much have changed here. Except for the fact that winners in the duel will get something that they can only offer to the covenant. At least in DS1 there was some incentive to summon dragon bros. You could get dragon scales to reinforce dragon weapons. Instead, now you can only give them to the dragon covenant and are totally useless for the rest of us!
    I really fail to understand why they don't award petrified dragon bones instead.

    Gravelords VS NOTHING

    Reported by many players as the covenant with the most "fun" and interesting mechanics. What does From Software do? Expell it from the game.

    This covenant added new mechanics to the game as your world was cursed and you had to find the sign of the gravelord curser in order to lift the curse. Worse ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥s even than the Darkwraiths. I always loved gravelording and being gravelorded in DS1.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Continuing in a 3rd post.

    That was the post. And it is 100% true. I haven't been invaded once neither in NG nor in NG+ because invasions offer nothing and cracked eye orbs cost a lot. It's sad really.

    Demon souls must be a great game from what you are saying. Wish I could play it. PC here....

    ReplyDelete
  8. >This intro doesn't do a whole lot for me except solidify the idea established in the first Dark Souls that the entire point of the story is that you're a dead guy who doesn't want to be dead anymore. It's nice that there's no longer any pretense about destiny or being "the chosen undead," but it subtly told me from the very beginning that I was to expect nothing original from the story.

    Ha, so I know you said you prefer not to have to read the item descriptions, but if you read the one for the darksign (DkS 1), it states that all undead will eventually go hollow. You see that as you progress throughout DkS, the various consumable souls you find become more and more impressive – in the burg, it's typically some random lost undead, but later in Anor Londo, it's the great soul of a hero, or some such; but they're all still random dead once-human guys, right?

    The popular theory is that *all* of these guys are/were the chosen undead, and they all failed... and that other players (invaders) are more of the same (if you want to read into that time-dilation bullshit the game has going on). I guess what I'm trying to say is that the "pretense" in DkS 1 is sort of the point – it's pretense because the world is already doomed and you're eventually just going to go crazy anyway, and even when you do get to the ending, both outcomes are extremely negative (you're either stuck in a room while on fire for near-eternity until some other wise guy comes along to murder you, or you murder the guy keeping the world alive because you just don't give a fuck).

    So yes, consider this a sort-of defense of DkS 1's story, as even though there wasn't much of it, calling it a *total* pretense is a bit of a stretch.

    Oh yeah, by the way, great article. It's not hard to find fault with DkS 2, but you did it in an entertaining way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's all well and good; kind of interesting, but still pretentious nonetheless.

      The thing that bothered me so much is the contrast between the way Demon's and Dark's portrayed you as the protagonist. In Demon's, you were just an ordinary warrior and the narrator expressed doubt/uncertainty that you were the one who could stop the spreading fog:

      "But Boletaria has one final hope. A lone warrior who has braved the baneful fog. Has the land found its savior, or have the demons found a new slave?"

      That made me feel like I was up against far greater odds with much more at stake, which helped in a certain way to make each success feel more rewarding.

      In Dark Souls, they tell you up front that you're the chosen undead destined to fulfill the prophecy of ringing the bells and rekindling the age of fire or whatever. Regardless of whatever theories about "the chosen undead" present themselves (or quite frankly, don't present themselves -- everything is so intentionally vague) along the way, it told me flat out that I was going to "win the game." This combined with the fact that I'd already "been there, done that" with Demon's, I simply felt no dread or tension as I progressed through Dark's.

      If the intention was to give the player the idea that they're the "chosen undead" and then slowly undermine that concept by the end of the game, then it would've made much more sense to go with what they'd originally planned for Oscar. Likewise, they cut a ton of dialogue from the Emerald Herald that would've given Dark Souls 2 some semblance of purpose in its story.

      In the end, I'm left to think rather cynically that FromSoft are just using a cheap trick to make their games seem far deeper than they really are. By being so intentionally vague, it gives the appearance that everything is steeped in hidden meaning, and apparently some people are so obsessive that they'll comb through every little meaningless, arbitrary detail in search of a greater meaning when there might not have ever been a greater meaning in the first place.

      It's almost like when people think they see an alien UFO and then become conspiracy theorists.

      Some theories make sense, sure, but you'll have to forgive me if I take everything I hear with a grain of salt.

      Delete
    2. > Regardless of whatever theories about "the chosen undead" present themselves (or quite frankly, don't present themselves -- everything is so intentionally vague) along the way, it told me flat out that I was going to "win the game."

      > Some theories make sense, sure, but you'll have to forgive me if I take everything I hear with a grain of salt.

      Sure, I don't blame you. FromSoft left it pretty vague, as you said, so whether or not there's anything deeper (to whatever extent) is up for debate. Personally, I do like the theory about everyone being the chosen undead, but taking it much farther beyond that, for me, crosses over into the realm of reading too much into incomplete information.

      Anyway, I'm not disagreeing with you at all about DkS 2 – I'm actually inclined to think that most good things about the game are accidental. You play through DkS 2, and notice... everything they've sort of botched, right? It's so atypical of FromSoft, given the amount of care and polish they've put into the most seemingly insignificant things about DeS and DkS, so that when you play DkS 2 and see how little effort they put into things that were previously *good,* you get the sense that they rushed the game and sort of just wanted to spread as much content across as large a play-time as possible. And so when finally something interesting does come along, and it doesn't happen to be good because it's just some iteration from DeS/DkS... well, was it because FromSoft was actually trying?

      It just reminds me of Gothic 3, really.

      Delete
    3. "Getting things accidentally right" seems like the key phrase here, except I would even argue that it goes further back than Dark's 2. It's like FromSoft are a bunch of inept scientists randomly mixing chemicals together in a lab; one experiment came out exceptionally well, but since they didn't document their procedure they've been unable to replicate that success in future attempts to recreate the formula.

      The comparison to Gothic 3 is similar in the sense that both developers had a successful formula on their hands and somehow managed to completely botch it, but I don't know that I would put Dark's 2 on quite the same level of Gothic 3 -- I could see myself possibly enjoying a replay of Dark's 2, but I don't think I could ever subject myself to another replay of Gothic 3.

      Delete
  9. My opinion on this game?
    TL;DR bosses suck, pvp is great, covenants meh, story almost as bad as twilight, level design is poo, multiple enemy bosses ruin this game, Darklurker and Ancient Dragon are extremely bad, at least you can repair protection ring, Name-Engraved Ring makes this game so much easier to play with friends (which almost bypasses soul memory threshold, by the way)

    ReplyDelete
  10. TL;DR - DSII is a disappointment, but your complaints about the story are stupid, here is why they are stupid.


    I want to start off by saying that I agree that DSII is a disappointment. It's a great game, it made a good number of improvements, but it feels less polished than its predecessors.

    But your complaints about the story are completely unfounded, and all of your questions are answered if you'd just paid attention. Which you admit that you don't do, because you admittedly don't care about the story. Just because you missed the explanation, does not mean it wasn't explained.


    "Why are there four old ones and not three or five? What makes the four so different from the other bosses?"

    The answer to both these questions is that *spoiler alert* the Four Old Ones are the Four Lords reincarnated. There have always been four Lord Souls, and the Old Ones inherited them. These are the same souls you gathered in the first game.

    "Why are these souls needed to unlock a door?"

    They actually aren't. The Emerald Herald tells you "You will never meet the king with a soul so frail and pallid". The door doesn't unlock because you gathered the Lord Souls. It unlocks for a soul of great enough strength, and the easiest way to get that strength is to gather four of the strongest souls. However, if you want to do it the hard way, gathering a million of the weakest will work too. It's just a pain.

    "Why should I be interested in talking to the king?"

    You arrive in Drangleic looking for a cure, but you can't remember how you were going to go about obtaining this cure. So this chick who seems to know something you don't tells you that you need to go see the king, because he knows shit. Alright, not much of a lead, but it's the only lead you've got. And, hey. He's a king who's peered into the essence of the soul. He must know how to cure you, right?

    "Why didn't you even bother telling me the purpose of collecting these four souls before setting me out on this quest"

    She did. Like, right at the beginning. Your soul is weak and fragile right now. You need a really strong one. What's the best way to get a strong soul? Collect the strongest souls in the land, and add their power to your own.


    It's the same concept of Demon's Souls, which gave you the same reason for doing what you do, when you think about it.

    "You will never meet the Old One with a soul so frail and pallid. Kill all of the Old One's strongest demons, and thus become the Old One's strongest demon, so that he will call you to him."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just because there are possible explanations for some of these things does not excuse or justify them as good designs in my opinion.

      - "the Four Old Ones are the Four Lords reincarnated."

      The correct answer is that FromSoft arbitrarily (or perhaps reasonably) decided that four was a good number of big bosses to include in the game for the sake of variety and content. One might assume if there were more than four, then each one would seem less significant, and if there were fewer, then there just wouldn't be enough content. They went with four archdemons in Demon's because four seemed like a good number; they went with four lord souls in Dark's because four seemed like a good number; and they went with four in Dark's 2 because four seemed like a good number.

      I was aware of the fact that the four old ones are supposed to be the four lord souls from Dark's 1, but only because of what I read online of people mentioning things they discovered in NG+ -- ie, that each old one drops a different soul that strongly suggests it to have been the soul of one of the lords from Dark's 1. So unless you bother actually playing NG+, any speculation on the subject is merely that -- speculation. Even knowing that "there are four old ones in Dark's 2 because there were four lords in Dark's 1," it's still because gameplay dictated in the previous game that four is a good number, not because the story necessitated four.

      - "It unlocks for a soul of great enough strength, and the easiest way to get that strength is to gather four of the strongest souls.

      So what you're saying is ... having those four souls in my possession causes the door to unlock for me. I understood the Herald's implication that it was all about "getting stronger," but that doesn't make it any less of a video game trope of having to prove one's self by completing some arbitrary number of goals. (Now that we're on the subject, why does the door require one million souls and not two or three million?) It's the exact same gameplay structure that's been used in so many video games before (collect 3 pendants to get the master sword, collect X stars to open Bowser's door, etc) that I find myself unimpressed seeing it used here without much more explanation than the usual "oh, you need to get stronger before you proceed."

      - "He's a king who's peered into the essence of the soul. He must know how to cure you, right?"

      I have no objection with being sent to talk to the king, but by your own admission, it's a vague lead, and that's not exactly an engaging motivation for the player. "Hey, go do these things and then ... maybe something interesting will happen!" In Demon's and Dark's 1, I knew what I was ultimately supposed to be doing, and pushing forward in those games was a matter of pursuing that goal. When I accomplished that goal, it felt satisfying. In Dark's 2, I push forward simply because I want to finish the game -- that's practically the only motivation the story gives to the player, and it's not very satisfying when you reach the end.

      Delete
    2. - "It's the same concept of Demon's Souls, which gave you the same reason for doing what you do, when you think about it.

      As I said in the article, "some of my complaints about Dark Souls II, such as needing a guide to see all of the story's contents or the arbitrary "kill X number of big bosses to open a door" motivation, are equally applicable to Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, but with this being the third game in the series, those problems are now becoming more noticeable and less excusable."

      Demon's Souls uses the exact same mechanism of "defeat the four archdemons to break the seal and gain access to the king" but it didn't bother me then because Demon's was essentially the first of its kind and I had no expectations for it. It's still not a major problem in Dark's 2, but it's a little disappointing and underwhelming to note that Dark's 2 is still using the same basic structure five years and two games down the road. It hasn't evolved beyond the original game's aspirations and, in fact, has seemingly regressed in that same area (among others).

      Delete
    3. Late comment here, I know. Great read! I'm not fussed about the lore stuff either, and actually feel that Fromsoft get credited by the hardcore fans for things which aren't even presented in the games. Anyhow, in reply to Alex Rosener; I'm pretty sure there are only 3 lords (lord souls) in the series' lore, plus the dark soul - just saying, if you are gonna bang on about the story etc... then you should probably pay more attention to it.

      Delete
    4. This article is old, but I'll put my two cents into the story.

      You're giving the story and the way it's presented too little credit. The story is easily pieces together through items, dialogue, and environment. The Souls series portrays its story by immersing yourself in the world.

      Your article and response to comments reeks of pretentiousness. The correct answer as to why there are four bosses is because the Lord souls have been reincarnated in a sense. That's the story no matter how arbitrary you think it is.

      The story is put across in creative ways and must not appeal to those who like to actually challenge themselves beyond mashing buttons.

      Delete
    5. - "The story is easily pieces together through items, dialogue, and environment."

      "Easily," yeah, that's why there are hundreds, if not thousands, of videos and forum posts of people debating what everything means and trying to decipher all of FromSoft's vague and cryptic clues, and why it takes an entire community of gamers weeks and months after each game's release to pin down an unofficial interpretation of everything that still leaves lots of questions unanswered.


      - "The Souls series portrays its story by immersing yourself in the world."

      Despite your confusing syntax, I see what you're trying to say, and sure, that's arguably the case for all of the basic, main story elements the game needs to convey. But when it comes to item descriptions, those are inherently un-immersive since they disrupt the flow of gameplay by making you stop what you're doing to read them (the location and order in which you find items is usually significant, so it's best do it then and there before you lose the context), and by putting a layer of interface between you and the game, and between the game and the deeper story. Learning the deeper lore implications and how everything fits in with the greater picture is not just simply "immersing yourself in the world," it takes straight up, legit research and effort beyond simply playing the game.


      - "The story is put across in creative ways and must not appeal to those who like to actually challenge themselves beyond mashing buttons."

      Because I'm just a dumb idiot who only likes mindless button mashing in video games, who's not known for playing deep, complex RPGs, strategy games, or adventure games with non-linear environmental storytelling. *rolls eyes*

      I'm certainly not against putting work into a game and having to use my brain to understand it -- in fact I routinely do that with games most people wouldn't have the patience or willpower to sit through -- but you don't play a Souls game for the story, and to me, the story and lore of these games are not interesting enough to justify putting in the effort to decipher an intentionally vague and cryptic puzzle that doesn't even give you all of the pieces until you replay it in New Game Plus mode.

      FromSoft didn't make these games because they wanted to tell a story; they wanted to make an action game with a fun and engaging combat system. If believing that the story in the Souls games plays second fiddle to the gameplay, and that the story was made to serve the function of the gameplay somehow makes me more pretentious than the people saying "the story is so deep and enlightening, you're an imbecile if you can't appreciate that" then so be it.

      Delete
  11. I don't like RPGs that feature enemy respawn limits! that is part of the reason i didn't even bother looking at the game Alon Dar... Any game that limits enemy respawns to keep the challenge high is not worthy of my respect... I don't like it when i feel my game is being micromanaged by someone else(like some cooperate !monkey in a suit) telling me where to go and when... I actually kind of liked demon souls and dark souls was okay, but dark souls 2 is a horrific abomination... And for those who are wondering, just know this that there is no such thing as a perfect game...

    ReplyDelete
  12. spot on mate with this review .... dark souls 2 is simply bad

    ReplyDelete
  13. thanks dear admin nice post Dark Souls 2 The Lost Crowns DLC Trilogy more information Here More Info ABout Download Dark Souls II: The Lost Crowns DLC

    ReplyDelete
  14. Cool review. You reminded me my friend, always want to babble and ramble about video games, but he was disappointed by this game Dark Souls II. Be sure to tell him your blog here bro.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I agree after hour and hours of investing to find somrthing to keep me playing ds2 I just can't find it i beat the game in ng+ gather everything and still had nothing that is why i went back to demons souls and dark souls 1 to spice things here and there ds2 was just an abomination to people that enjoyed its predecessors but is a good game none the less no cod can offered me the hours of play it gave me for its cost evem if half of those were frustrating deaths do to poor programing excuse my grammar and poor punctuation but im terreble at both prise the sun \[T]/

    ReplyDelete
  16. Taken from the opening cinematic: "Long ago, in a walled off land, far to the north, a great king build a great kingdom. I believe they called it Drangleic. Perhaps you're familiar. No, how could you be... But one day, you will stand before its decrepit gate, without really knowing why."

    I'd say this old hag of a firekeeper is pretty spot on here. On my first playthrough I had absolutely no freaking idea what I was doing there, who the king was or why I would even want to meet him. Nevertheless I did so with an expectation that he would solve part of the puzzle. Eventually finding vendrick in the undead crypt was (in the aspect of figuring out the plot) a huge disappointment. With only three zones to go and Vendrick, whom I thought was gonna be the last boss, walking aimlessly around in his crypt, I was left with more questions than answers. Last three zones made absolutely no sense untill I ran into the ancient dragon and aquired the ashen mist heart. The giant memories finaly told me a little bit about just exactly what happened to this once great kingdom - yet it still didn't shine any light on my purpose. Then after killing the throne defender, the throne watcher and Nashandra I claim an old ugly throne and lock myself away forever? Why!? Wasn't my purpose here to break my own curse rather than locking myself away waiting for some other undead to come and kill me?

    Now I didn't play ds1 so a small ammount of gaps in the story was to be expected I guess. Yet the entire game didn't make any sense to me on my first playthrough. Felt like just randomly ganking one grotesque creation after another.

    I don't 100% approve of the extremely vague storyline, but it does serve a purpose in my mind. Granted that the people playing this game actually cares about getting to know the story, it makes the whole NG+ much more attractive. Defeating Nashandra and getting the ending cutscene definately raises the question: "What the hell did I miss?" (for me at least), and thus NG+ all of a sudden serves another purpose than just making the game harder, it gives you a second chance to uncover the plot. Unfortunately, and here comes the downside, the plot seems to be deeply tied to DS1, so unless you start watching ds1 and ds2 lore videos on youtube / play the first game, there will be a lot of details that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. One example being the souls of the ineffable. These souls seems to be represented in ds1 as well so if you havent played that game you have 0% chance of knowing why they suddently drop from the old ones on NG+. Another thing that requires some knowledge of ds1 is Nashandra since her soul and her weapons suggests that she is simply the smallest fragment of the old one of the abyss. But what is the abyss? And who is the old one of the abyss? Well if you played ds1 you're sure to know, if not, tough luck. Personally I had to look it up on google to actually understand Nashandras presence in ds2. I dont mind that the game is tied to ds1, it is a sequal after all, but the fact that understanding the END GAME boss' presence in ds2 requires that you've played ds1 is a little lame in my oppinion. As far as I know there is nothing in ds2, exept for Nashandra's soul and boss weapons, that even makes mention of manus or of the abyss thus making it impossible to really understand the plot without investing some ammount of time in either:

    a) Watching lore videos

    or

    b) Playing ds1

    ReplyDelete
  17. Casting speed -_- ?. It should be called casting slow

    ReplyDelete