After having a great and difficult time eventually playing through Dark Souls, I decided to pick up the sequel. I made sure to wait until I finished the original before installing Dark Souls II as I knew I’d want to play it right away. This means I basically moved directly from Dark Souls to Dark Souls II and therefore this video is more of a comparison of the two games rather than a straight review.
After installing the game and creating a character I was slightly disappointed, at first. To my eye the game didn’t quite look as good as the original. I had been playing Dark Souls with the graphic-enhancing DSFix, so that likely contributed to this feeling. I also struggled with the first proper enemy you come across, a huge ogre tucked away at the top of a hidden path near the start of the game. Many horrible deaths later I realised you weren’t meant to be able to kill him right away. Frustrated, I closed the game and went back to playing New Game+ in Dark Souls.
After awhile I came back to Dark Souls II and decided to give it another proper try. Some 20 hours later, I think I’ve got a good grasp on the game and how it compares to the original. I’ll be looking at the changes to existing game mechanics as well as the new features introduced in Dark Souls II. After that I’ll give my thoughts on the game; what works and what doesn’t?
There are a number of significant changes to gameplay mechanics in Dark Souls II. The one I noticed right away is how you’re punished for dying. In Dark Souls, dying meant you’d lose your humanity and become hollow. Dark Souls II adds another wrinkle by reducing your overall health incrementally for every death, up to 50% of your total health. Perversely this hurts the most at the beginning of the game, as your health is low to begin with. Later on you’ll eventually find a ring that limits this health loss to 75% when hollowed.
This mechanic made the initial stages more frustrating but I soon got used to it. Much like the first game I mostly play through Dark Souls II hollowed, as Human Effigies (this game’s answer to Humanity) are tough to come across and I like to avoid being invaded by enemy players when possible. The ring you find helps immensely and it’s become pretty much essential for my playthrough.
Another thing I noticed near the beginning was the change to item durability. Your weapons break much faster than in Dark Souls. However, this is offset by your equipment getting automatically repaired when you rest at a bonfire. Practically, this means you need to find a balance between visiting a bonfire to repair your weapons and dealing with the enemies that respawn when you do. This change adds a new level of strategy to the game as I’ve had a few situations where I needed to swap weapons to avoid my sword breaking. You can still repair at a Blacksmith but this is only needed to mend completely broken weapons.
The next big change relates to levelling your stats with souls. Rather than using bonfires to level up, you speak to an NPC in the main hub town. In the early stages of Dark Souls this would’ve been problematic as you don’t unlock the warping ability for some time, but Dark Souls II balances this with the ability to instantly travel to any activated bonfire. This is a welcome addition and the fact you lose the sense of the world as a connected whole is offset by the convenience the change brings.
Another major difference to the original only becomes apparent after you’ve spent a significant amount of time in the same area. Individual enemies all have a respawn limit. Basically, if you kill the same knight over and over eventually he’ll stop spawning. The respawn limit seems to be around 12-15 times. This limits your ability to grind an area for souls but also makes repeated boss runs much easier. Rather than fighting through the same group of enemies over and over you can run straight to the boss over and over.
There are also a few minor differences I’ve noticed. In some areas you’ll occasionally be invaded by enemy players even when hollowed. This happened repeatedly in Belfry Luna, which is apparently a PVP hotspot, but it was supremely frustrating having to fight off other players when I was trying to kill the Gargoyle bosses.
Illusory walls are treated differently in Dark Souls II as well. Rather than hitting the wall with your weapon you need to press the interact button. This can lead to trolling by players adding “Illusory Wall” messages directly in front of a normal wall, blocking your attempt to find the secret door.
Along with the changes to existing mechanics, there are a number of new mechanics introduced in Dark Souls II. Later in the game you’re given the ability to reset your skill points, essentially allowing you to respec your character. Rather than creating an entirely new playthrough you can re-allocate your souls and basically create a new character with the same items. I can definitely see the appeal in this and I’ll probably tweak my stats at a later date.
Finally, there’s a new torch mechanic in Dark Souls II. This isn’t very well communicated, but you can light torches from any bonfire; the option is hidden behind a Toggle message. You can light sconces spread around the world and use the torches strategically in some areas. The torches are on a timer and you can add more time by gathering additional torches. So far I haven’t used them too much but they were essential for one specific area and you might want to save them up for when you reach it. You’ll know it when you see it.
As a whole I think the new changes work really well. They add much needed quality of life gameplay improvements while still maintaining a high difficulty curve. Building a character also seems more flexible, as you can now independently adjust your equipment load through the Vitality stat. These changes took me some time to get used to but I’m happy with the result.
I’m enjoying the varied area types as well, with the Shaded Woods and Lost Bastille particular standouts. The enemy designs are also really well done; I was properly creeped out by the Rotten, even though the fight took me dozens of tries to beat. After my initial reservations regarding the graphics, I’ve since tried the new version of DSFix and as a result the game looks amazing.
Dark Souls II feels like an evolution of the first game, with welcome changes and tweaks helping to bring a better player experience. There are still some weaknesses that can be improved on, like better in-game explanations for core gameplay features but overall I’m happy with the sequel.
I’m having a blast playing through Dark Souls II and I look forward to many difficult hours ahead.Colin Le Sueur