Dark Souls II
"Welcome to Dark Souls" is the name of the first Trophy/Achievement most players will get when playing Dark Souls II. That is a gift to players the first time they die.
Player death is something that happens a lot in the Souls series and Dark Souls II is the most refined game in the series offering players new ways to carve up some Hollows in between dying in new and horrible ways.
This time through, From Software has managed to sneak in a very sparse tutorial in the form of a slight detour through some of the series' trademark misty portals. It's a small kindness to those picking up the franchise for the first time and it offers just enough to allow players to fight to the next bonfire.
Bonfires are more than just a source of respite and a save point for players. Now it acts as a handy fast travel point as well making life a little easier. This is just another example of how From Software ar trying to make Dark Souls II a bit more welcoming to players of all skill levels. They've also cunningly hidden a dozen Lifegems around the early parts of the game offering a bit of a leg up.
Dark Souls II is still brutally and unrelentingly tough though and there have been some tweaks to keep experienced players challenged and moving forward.
Monsters and enemies now have a limited amount of respawns for instance. This means that while those having a tough time of it can get a bit of respite while experienced players can no longer use the unlimited respawning enemies to level up their character to ease the pain inflicted by the next boss.
They've also tweaked the online components carefully as well. Players can no longer remain Hollowed to avoid other players invading their game. Hollowed players also get less that full health that reduces as they die so getting Human Effigies and making careful use of them to stay fully human is all the more important in order to be able to stand up to potential invaders.
Gameplay is still formed around the basics established in Demon's Souls back in 2009. Using the triggers as attack buttons is unconventional but it creates a unique control scheme that offers players a bit more control in combat. Mastering the control scheme is tough but it offers a unique experience in battling the hordes of Hollows and massive bosses that inhabit Dranleic.
Another crucial feature that has been refined in Dark Souls II is the exploration. There's no signposts in Drangleic, just trails cut into the side of cliffs, woods filled with Hollow Soldiers and labytrinthine ruins that offer a myriad of different paths through them as well as some rather deadly dead ends. Each region of the game is rendered with a haunting sorrow of the glory of a once great and beautiful kingdom destroyed and fighting your way through it all is one heck of a journey.
I've lost count of how many times I've died since I started playing Dark Souls II. But for some reason I can't stop trying. There is still a magic that surrounds the game that means that, no matter how tough it gets, I want to keep playing.
Dark Souls II is relentlessly difficult and downright cruel in places but at even in the darkest of places against the biggest and baddest bosses there is always a faint shred of hope, that one straw to clutch that you'll swing your sword first and chip off that last bit of health of an enemy that is ready to grind your body into the dust.
That's what makes it worthwhile. That moment where you and you next mighty adversary stand with just one sliver of health each and you beat him to the punch. The relief of killing the game's toughest foes and watching them fall to the ground.
It's Dark Souls II's relentless challenge that builds such a sense of achievement that you just don't find any more in video games outside of a precious handful of titles.
It's this challenge which makes Dark Souls II such a an amazing and compelling experience and a title that anyone who calls themself a serious gamer must have in their collection alongside Dark Souls and Demon's Souls.
Dark Souls II is out on PS3 and Xbox 360 now in North America and it hits Europe and the UK on Friday, March 14th. The PC version is due out on April 25th at retail and through Steam.
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