Review: Dark Souls II – Hello Old Friend, Death Meets Us Again

When I was asked to review Dark Souls II, I’m going to be honest with you: I had no idea what I was in for or if I would be able to handle a 100-hour game. It’s a heavy and daunting task to take on. Was I ready to give up so many hours of my life? Would it be even worth it?

I remember the first game; I remember the tug-a-war it played with my heart. The thin line it walked between love and hate. The pure frustration and slight glimmer of hope the game gave. In all honesty, I was afraid; afraid whether the sequel would be a shell of the original. Afraid From Software became too big-headed and figured they could pass us garbage, knowing we would still buy it…just because. However, with much hesitation I put my fears somewhat aside and inserted the disk into my Xbox 360. For the next 100 hours I was blown away.

Imagine running into an old friend you haven’t seen for several years. You smile, greet each other and catch up; after a while it’s like you two have never left each other’s side. This is exactly what you can expect from Dark Souls II; everything you love, hated, and completely frustrated you about the original just upgraded, remixed and more enjoyable. It’s like slipping into an old pair of jeans and realizing they still fit after an all-night binge of sinful cronuts.

The story revolves around a cursed undead character trying to find a cure for his curse. It’s emotional.

While the sequel is not directly linked to its predecessor story-wise, they are set in the same world. The story takes place in the land of Drangleic, full of souls to help the undead maintain their humanity while fighting its curse. While the plot itself is thin, you’ll meet various characters who’ve also been compelled to Drangleic for the same reason: to collect souls to stave off the curse, which slowly erases the curse’s memories.

Upon arriving in Drangleic by a portal of souls, the Undead meets the Fire Keepers, who give vague information about the curse the player is suffering. The player then arrives in Majula, and meets a priestess who urges the player to collect souls to save themselves, including the Four Grand Souls.

Dark Souls II starts off like a television/movie masterpiece, much like Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings trilogy with crystal clear graphics, sweeping cut scenes, darkened landscape, mysterious fog and classic voice-overs. The graphics are far superior then the original, much like upgrading from your grandfather’s television to a flatscreen TV no one can afford. The cut scenes are quick; gone are the days of waiting for the game to load in-between dialogue.

The environments are overwhelming, both because they are vast and well detailed. Poorly lit corners are created with careful purpose; each step you take is into the unknown. The music ranges from haunting to downright scary, which only adds to the suspense. Picture walking through an unlit path and hearing random chants and piercing screams. You never know what you will get.

Much like the original, you build your character from scratch right from the beginning of the game who is then dropped into the middle of the unknown in the form of a mysterious darken forest with various enemies scattered throughout. Much like life you will be confused and scared. It took me several tries to figure just what the hell was going on.

Unlike other games, Dark Souls II is raw; expect no gear from the beginning so avoiding or simply punching your way through enemies is your best bet. Luckily the lack of gear situation doesn’t last for too long but I still suggest avoiding enemies as much as possible until you gain your bearings. It really makes no sense to engage in anything at this point.

As you begin to customize your character more, you’ll discover that classes fall between light and all-out-war styles of gameplay, which focuses on strength and performance skills. Fans of magic will be happy to know the magic classes are back. Unfortunately some scales have been decreased making them less powerful and more frustrating, so use each spell carefully. You’re not Harry Potter.

Unlike other titles, there are no useless classes. However, those not familiar with the game will benefit from melee classes. Speaking of classes, one the greatest changes is the ability to reclass via an item, so if for some reason you’re no longer pleased with your starting class, you can change switch things around and make the needed adjustments.

Character classes dictate your starting stats, but as you gain souls from defeating enemies, you’ll be able to level up a variety of stats regardless of class. This open form of customization hasn’t changed, so you can still make each character unique.

There’s still an emphasis on found gear and purchased gear, which will affect movement and damage. Different weapon types will produce different attack results, so it’s a good idea to carry a variety of weapons for different enemy encounters. You’ll thank me later.

One of the most admirable things about this game is that it does not hold your hand — it never has and it never will. Instead, it’s brutal, leading you into the land of the unknown, taking pleasure as you wander around hopelessly lost and halfway clueless. I both loved and hated this game equally. I threw shoes and other various items at the screen. I cursed, I yelled and was almost brought to tears. I died. Numbers aren’t even created yet to explain how many times I died. After I while I became numb to the pain and deaths.

In fact you’ll soon discover that death is really a learning tool. Each death provides a learning experience regardless of how ridiculously or carelessly you died. When I ran off the edge of a cliff or stumbled off the side of a bridge, the punishment and mere thought of death was so great that I became more aware and cautious. Avoiding death more and more is a sort of satisfying achievement that’s hard to explain. It’s like watching a miracle being delivered at your doorstep.

As your journey continues you’ll discover the inevitable…you suck. This is the norm and something that you should embrace. This is one of the few games where you’re able to notice how much your gaming has improved since your beginning steps. It doesn’t happen over a few hours — more like the first ten hours — but if you don’t give up you’ll notice small things at first, like less dependency on leveling and gear.

While your actions can be repetitious at times, you’ll notice how much easier those actions become. While you’ll still dying (you’ll never escape dying), if you pay attention to your actions you’ll last longer during boss battles. You really have to focus to what you’re doing instead of just going through the motions.

Dark Souls II at its heart is an adventure game and it does not disappoint. One of the things I encourage the most is exploration. Even if you never finish the game, take time out to explore. The interconnecting world is what helps make the game.

Drangelic is massive with a wide range of different locations. One moment you’ll struggle alongside a crumbling seaside kingdom, the next moment you’ll spend trekking through thick marshes, stumbling and falling, praying it’ll end. While all you can do is sit in awe at this incredible world and the ability to fast travel in a second.

One complaint I did have was that the settings made the game feel slightly disjointed; more like a large collection a mini worlds instead of one massive world. Overall this is a minor distraction, which in no shape or form takes away from how incredible this game is.

Through your exploration you’ll discover various secrets and beastly encountered throughout the game that will not only make you a better player but will put a smile of your face. You’ll learn new fighting techniques and how to approach situations more cautiously. The amount of time you can spend just collecting various items is overwhelming.While I suggest doing this, remember it can be daunting and it’s easy to become addicted and much like an addiction there really never is “just this last time.”

Another frustrating part about the game is that it never lets up. There’s no such thing as “taking a breather” or a safe location for you to run to. However, there are beautifully lit bonfires which act as your checkpoint, allowing you to replenish your health, level up, repair damaged equipment and contemplate why you enjoy punishing yourself with this game. As you spend your time relaxing and soaking in the heat from the fire, beware, for resting at a bonfire not only ensures that you’ll spawn but resting also respawns all your enemies in the area.

Choosing whether or not to rest should be viewed on a case-by-case basis. Deciding when and where to rest becomes a major part of your strategy. You can go through the same areas again and again, collecting souls and learning enemy attack patterns to make yourself stronger, or you can push onward towards the next bonfire, risking the unknown. The choice is yours to screw up.

One thing that was basically left untouched is combat, which is very similar to the first game. Just like the game itself, fighting will take patience. You must pay attention to any information that’s given about the enemy and never let your guard down. While you can use magic, fighting provides a sort of satisfaction that magic can never live up to. Every battle is unique and can be as complex as a puzzle. The enemies are relentless and dying will be the only breather you’ll receive; these bosses are tough. Mummifies knights to giant turtles dressed in armor to massive trolls testing your nerve and agility.

Now that I’ve gotten all the fun single-player stuff out of the way, let’s move onto the online action. First off expect to feel like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, for you will see dead people everywhere, all around. There’s actually something special about seeing other ghosts huddled around the bonfires, it’s almost a sense of community knowing that we’re all suffering together in a sea of hopelessness. In fact you can play the role of being a friendly soul by assisting other players with their difficult battles.

Dark Souls II (2)

However, just like life and everything else in this game there is a downfall. Multiplayer offers the wondrous gift of other players invading not only your space but your world. If you happen to be strolling along in human form they have the annoying ability to kill you. While this doesn’t occur all the time, it does occur.

If going on an online murder spree is not your thing, joining an in-game covenant (which has expanded) or relying on limited items is your best bet. For those who like to live a bit dangerously or more complicated, there is an indictment system where you can partake in a game of tattle-tale by reporting someone who assassinates you. Once this is done, their name enters into a massive public book entitled Book of the Guilty, where everyone is now aware of the murderous player and can be on the lookout. In all honesty the best part about online play is the ability to troll other players. Screw helping them with a tough battle. Let them suffer.

Overall Dark Souls II is one of the best games I have ever played. I have never before laughed at my own stupidity, cried out with frustration and jumped because of random beastly creatures hidden in the dark of the night. I have to give everyone who spent years creating this game a massive round of applause. It’s so hard to find a game that makes you use your intelligence, forces you to challenge yourself, never lets up and rewards you without babying you.

It’s jammed packed with incredible enemies and massive landscapes for you to discover. With over 60 hours of gameplay plus more for exploration and multiplayer, not for a single second was I bored nor did I become distracted. I have never had more fun with being in utter agony. I simply wouldn’t be doing this game justice if I didn’t recommend it to every person I know.

Join the Discussion

  • ahahahaha


  • Tony Polanco

    Awesome review, Dana! 😀

    • dana

      thank you!

  • Jorge Jimenez

    I can’t to wait to get my ass handed to me.

  • James Darkly


  • V For Vincennes

    My copy of Dark Souls 2 has been sitting unopened for nearly a week while I try to make some long overdue progress in the first game.

    I have a fear that when I do get around to opening it, my face will melt off Raiders of the Lost Ark style.

    • Rasheed Jackson

      You are STILL playing the first game?

      • V For Vincennes

        A couple years ago I got stuck on the Bell Gargoyles, hated how incredibly obtuse the game is, and swore I’d never touch it again.

        Last month I saw it for five bucks to download on the 360 and figured I’d give it one more go for that price. Finally found the patience I needed and a good thorough Wiki to reference when I need help.

  • mohsen of iran

    This a game good … you Native Country Are?

    • Tony Polanco


      “This is a good game. What is your native country?”

  • mohsen of iran

    This is a game good

  • mohsen of iran

    Where are you from؟

  • PrinceHeir

    Nice review 🙂

    • dana

      thank you

  • Raul Gubert

    great review….

    also I would like to spread some thoughts of mine about RPGs

    Hello, my name is Raul.


    Morrowind, Skyrim, Gothic II, Dark Souls 2, Fallout 3, Daggerfall, Baldur’s Gate 2, Vampire the Masquerade:Bloodlines, Planescape Torment, Deus Ex and many more…(please tell me your favorite one and I will add it to the list).

    All of them are fantastic games, some of them masterpieces.

    What makes these games great games?

    I believe that the great games and in particular masterpieces have the power to go inside our mind changing us forever, not just as individuals, but us all.

    My thoughts are just ideas freely written (I’m sorry if they are repeated, it’s because I need to explain them again and better or with different nuances). Some thoughts are also poorly written, but try to grasp the core of the idea and develop it from here.

    1) A beautiful and original story can go inside us much more then great graphic or gameplay mechanics.

    2) The sound and music can give life to the game and enhance the experience to higher levels, put a lot of thoughts an efforts in this part;

    there are still a lot of developers that don’t understand the importance of sound.

    3) A face that speaks but does not show emotions it does not work, is better in this case don’t show the animated face at all.

    4) If the acting voice is inconsistent, is far more better just use the written dialog.

    5) A less detailed world in terms of graphic allows to make it much more bigger.

    6) More realism does not mean more immersion, I actually think that is less interesting.

    7) A game is not a book, so I think that the dialogs and written words should be kept at a minimum.

    8) A realistic sky is beautiful, but not interesting. Is far more better to give some character to the sky with original clouds shapes.

    9) Bidimensional sprites sometime can have more character then 3d models, why not for example, animate a face with a sprite animation on a 3D model or use full characters sprites even in modern games?

    10) A world with a interesting architecture is far more memorable.

    11) Sometimes low quality sample sounds can have more charm then high quality samples.

    12) I suggest to developers to simplify the world so to be able and dedicated resources to make it more interesting.

    13) I suggest to developers to use an old engine for concentrating on gameplay, story and characters.

    14) A memorable character will never be forgotten.

    15) Even the most sophisticated AI will repeat itself, so use simple scripted technology to create unexpected situation and behavior.

    16) Surprise the player is one of the most important thing in a Game.

    17) Scripting is time consuming but worthy as just the fantasy of a person can create beautiful unrepeatable things, events, stories, characters; this is why simplify the world can be a smart thing to do. Developers now have huge resources that can dedicate over this task instead of realistic graphics or realistic physics.

    18) I think multiple choices are a non-sense, or at least not powerful. The feeling of fake options dispels the sense of immersion; the feeling is that someone wants to tell me where I’m going.

    19) Steer away from realism, it drains a lot of energy and does not serve the purpose to immerse the player in something magical.

    20) The world is always in the mind of the player not inside the monitor, leave the space to his imagination, in this way it is more powerful.

    21) Mods are fantastic and one of the biggest reality of gaming, congratulation to all the modders that put their love in this new reality;

    all modders can use freely my music, just contact me if you like it and want to use it.

    22) Instead of using expensive full orchestra music, hire few different unknown composers/players that can produce a lot of different music, or even more simple use very old music out of copyright and then transform it by changing the pitch, instruments, speed, scale or isolating just few parts and repeat them; few notes from Bach repeated over and over can be surprisingly wonderful.

    23) The faces of NPCs are very important, give them a lot of charisma, make them memorable.

    24) It is not necessary put the voice to all the dialogs, just few memorable voiced sentence are enough to give the presence to a character.

    25) Usually developers make something happen in every location, I think is a mistake; I prefer to have plenty of places where nothing happen and then when I found a place with some kind of event, it will be far more enjoyable.

    26) Use a voice or writing that sometimes describes and add details to the scene, a character a place, a situation: this is a powerful tool for immersion; for example we cannot have smells or odors in a games, so the developers can add this perceptions with a txt or voice descriptions.

    27) Stanley Kubrick used the enviroment, the architecture of a building, the layout of a room, objects as a way to communicate; it is really a powerful way to express emotions, thought, feelings with shapes, colours and objects.

    28) The presence of an NPC is much more important then his/her animation, there is no need of lip-sink or fancy movements because just the appearance can give strong feelings.

    29) What an NPC says is very important, he/she has to say something that will be remembered, so use little txt or voice, but it has to be always memorable.

    30) A realistic sky is beautiful, but not interesting. Is far more better to give some character to the sky with original clouds shapes.

    31) Pointing the direction to find someone or something with an arrow or highlighting it in the map is a non-sense and shatters the feeling of free exploration; the players are not babies and if the developers are using these tricks to help the player in finding the way, is an utterly failure and they do not understand the concept of free world.

    32) Real time maps are not good, the pleasure to use a virtual paper map is much greater.

    33) A beautiful and engaging combat mechanic gives a strong satisfaction, but is a short taste, what remains in the player’s mind is the feeling of the place, the story, the NPC characters.

    34) Everything and everyone the player will see during the game, has to be special, everything and everyone has to remain in the memory of the player, otherwise there is no point.

    35) The game will succeed if the player will be not able to understand what comes next, not even a bit; it has to be a journey of surprises.

    36) A masterpiece needs inside multiple layers of meanings.

    37) Draw mountains with a structure that suggests meanings, emotions.

    38) When the player approaches an enemy or NPC, it has to be a fresh encounter every time; AI will never (for the moment) be able to recreate the imagination of a real person. AI even if sophisticated, will recreate the same patterns that will bore the player; at the opposite, scripting the behavior will always create something new and fresh; scripting is an old but simple technology and it is also time consuming but the resources of the developers could be diverted in this direction, instead of complicated graphics or AI; an old engine like for example the ones used in Morrowind or Daggerfall are very simple and fast to use by nowadays standard, all the resources could be diverted to create unique behaviors;

    I imagine the developers of Skyrim, using the engine of Daggerfall to create a more deep gameplay…10 people could create the whole graphic world and the other 90 dedicated their effort scripting unique behaviors; in Skyrim the combat is very funny and effective but after a while it is repetitive, the monsters behave always with same patterns….I imagine a programmer dedicating 1 day of work just to create a monster and his behavior, now imagine 90 programmers doing the same the same for 1 whole year….they will create a world full of original and unique NPCs.

    39) What is important is the feeling of something is happening and it has to happen just in our mind, this is the secret of a masterpiece.

    40) Stories in games are rather basic but there is no reason why they couldn’t reach deeper levels; the same is for the characters, the NPCs; I exhort the modders to concentrate their attention on a single NPC trying to give it exceptional deepness, to show what can be achieved in a game; a very deep NPC could bring life to the whole game.

    41) Voice-acted technology does not work, even if the acting voices are well done (which is very rare) there is always the feeling that are detached from the NPCs;

    I prefer much more just the writings and simple unique sounds to give presence and to the NPCs; for example, an hostile NPC could have aggressive sounds, while a friendly NPC could have some relaxing sounds; I would like to suggest to give at least one unique sound for every NPC that suggest its personality; voice-acted technology is about realism but reality is an false friend of games.

    42) Most of the NPCs usually communicate informations that the player usually does not want to hear, is better silence then boring informations; keep them at a minimum and convey emotions instead of informations.

    43) Older RPGs have usually more mystery and have a more immersive quality, because they were relying less on realism and more on the feeling of the story, on the deepness of the characters; don’t let the technology drives and wins over the art of imaginations which is much more powerful.

    44) A world with simple graphics like using sprites or very basic 3D models with maybe just few important texture can be much more complex in therms of characters, story and gameplay; I suggest to modders to use an older engine to create a more immersive world; what about Bethesda using an old engine to create a new game, I’m sure it will be a very unique experience and will challenge the team.

    45) I think a game should let you create the story and characters in your mind, it has to push you to imagine.

    46) I think that receiving and completing missions or quests from an NPC is a rigid way to be immersed in a game and it feels like the open world game suddenly become like a narrow experience.

    47) Simple and non realistic graphics have a charm that for me is more powerful, for example, Gothic 2 has a great atmosphere that other more recent games have not.

    48) Sometime the best games in terms of complexity, graphics, sounds, budget, are actually not working to create a sense of immersion and other games, more simple, less complicated, with a lower technology succeed instead to create a believable and immersive world.

    49) A masterpiece is a game that constantly surprises the player with new locations, new NPCs, enemies, behaviors, stories and; I think that the more the game is simple, the more it can be deep and engaging.

    50) Instead of working on creating a very detailed world, is better having a varied world; for example for the sound, instead of having hundreds of sounds inside a village, I think is more effective having just few sounds typical for each different place; I much more prefer having sounds that characterize uniquely different places instead of having the same hundreds of sounds in every village, for example.

    51) If you need to use voice-acted technology, instead of using hundreds of actors, just hire a really talented single one that does all the readings;

    a powerful warm voice is much more engaging and emotional effective.

    52) An sprite enemy NPC with a great sound has a bigger presence then a super sophisticated 3D model with a week sound.



  • Gracjan Marlikowski

    End of discussion. is the best place to order Dark Souls 2.