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Dark Souls II: An addictive puzzle wrapped in a nightmarish action game

Hayden Dingman | March 12, 2014
There's an unspoken rule of reviewing games: You finish the game before you review it. It doesn't matter how good, how bad, or how buggy the game is--you do your damnedest to see the credits.

Inside the arena were three giants — two with swords, one with an enormous cleaver. And, inevitably, the cleaver guy would kill me. So I'd run all the way back to him, desperately try to pick up my souls off the ground before he killed me again, and then get killed again. And killed again. And killed again.

Each time it took me a solid thirty seconds to run back and engage in battle again. Each time I got a bit more frustrated. Dark Souls II loves when you're frustrated. Frustration leads to impatience. Impatience leads to make mistakes. Mistakes lead to more murder.

Even when I beat Cleaver Man, one of his sword buddies would smack me down. But I started to learn. Despite my instinct to play safe and stay back from the giant, I found it was smarter to get in close — he couldn't maneuver as well, and I could get out of the way faster. And so I started winning more often.

This. This is what Dark Souls is really about.

Dark Souls II looks like an action game, but it is not. It is a puzzle game. It is about outsmarting opponents — about learning and exploiting patterns, about gaining something from failures, about solving disparate problems with a limited and underpowered skill set.

There's still nothing else like it. Despite From Software's claims of making the game "more accessible," Dark Souls II is simply an extension of Dark Souls — nothing more, nothing less. Some of the items seem better explained than previous games, and the menus a bit clearer, but that's about it in the "accessibility" department.

The playable classes have been revamped. Gone is the newcomer-friendly pyromancer class from Dark Souls. I played as a Warrior, because I like the sword-and-shield dynamic, but there seems to be a class fit for any range of magic-and-melee you choose to employ.

Characters can now equip three weapons on each hand, allowing you a bit more flexibility to hot-swap in the middle of battle. The camera also seems improved from the last game. Locking on to an enemy no longer left me staring at a wall in the midst of a tense fight, which is appreciated.

Covenants — pacts that regularly draw you in to participate in the game's unique "invasion"-style multiplayer, where players drop into each other's worlds to help or murder each other — also look to play a bigger role in Dark Souls II. Even the first area you enter gives you the option to join a covenant, warning that it will set you on an "arduous path."

You can fast travel right from the beginning of the game this time around, a handy addition since you no longer level up at bonfires. Instead you'll have to travel back to the town of Majula and speak to the Emerald Herald to boost those stats.


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