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Dark Souls II

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: FromSoftware
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Action/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Praise the Sun. Dark Souls II is here, and to nobody's surprise, it's an incredible game. There's a new world to explore, new abominations to slay, and countless new deaths to experience. While it's not the incredible step forward that its predecessors were, it's brimming with noticeable refinements that strengthen the overall experience. That being said, this game is absolutely not for everyone. It is just as demanding and just as punishing as both Dark Souls and Demon's Souls, and is not recommended to individuals who frequently rage quit. If you're a gamer who possesses a teachable mind and patience in spades, Dark Souls II is the game for you.

The Souls series has always prided itself on its unforgiving nature, but that theme extends far past the gameplay and suffuses the world it takes place in. Drangleic is a blighted land that is absolutely smothered in death and misery. The life that is allowed to flourish is very much the unwelcome kind. It's a wonderfully oppressive aesthetic that works wonderfully with the rest of the game's pervading brutality. There's a lot of darkness to drown in, but there are glimpses of hope here and there. Indeed, once you break through the final stretch of the impossibly bleak opening area and reach the glorious sunrise of Majula, you may be caught off guard -- especially if you've played earlier games in the series. To top it all off, there's no Blighttown-esque framerate problems.

The bleak, almost nihilistic attitude of the Souls series permeates throughout, including its remarkable sound design. The soundtrack reflects the pain, loss, and despair of Drangleic, and when you stumble upon one of the many bosses in this world, the music fills in exactly how terrified you should be. Sound effects are also fantastic; each meeting of steel and flesh sounds disgusting and satisfying, and that final "shink" that signifies the death of your enemy elicits a Pavlovian response every time.


Oh, Souls series. You are such a cruel mistress. You tease us with your gorgeous world and breathtaking adventures, yet you casually swat us off our mortal coils at the slightest sign of complacency. The light at the end of the tunnel is achingly beautiful and blindingly bright, but the tunnel is oh, so long...

Like its predecessors, Dark Souls II doesn't really have much of a story to tell, at least, not in the sense that most other games do. This game gives you a world to explore and lets it tell the story instead. All you need to know is that you're cursed, and you've come to the realm of Drangleic, where the undead seek to lift their curses.

So you create your character and begin your journey through this forsaken land, slaying monsters, finding loot, and growing more powerful. But this isn't the kind of role playing game that ever lets you rest on your laurels and confidently mow down everything in your way. No: every encounter in Dark Souls II is full of dread. Every inch of progress is hard-fought, and you can never take a single thing for granted.


In your first half hour of Dark Souls II, you might not die at all. You'll be trudging merrily along, eviscerating monsters and absorbing their souls without a care in the world. And then you'll reach Heide's Tower of Flame, where a series of gargantuan stone golems dare you to come closer. You do, step by careful step. Almost lazily, the golem takes one swing at you. The arc is immense, and there's nowhere to go. You take the hit and go flying off the side of the nearby cliff. Achievement Unlocked: Welcome to Dark Souls appears at the bottom of the screen.

That is the moment the hook is set, and it's also the moment that you know you're in for a lot of pain. But the knowledge that you can and inevitably will make it through is what keeps you going. And when you finally do make it, well...I'll let you discover that for yourself, but the sense of triumph is almost unmatched.

Dark Souls II goes a bit overboard in one key area, and it hearkens back to one of my least favorite parts of Demon's Souls. Every time you die, you lose a chunk of your maximum health. As if every setback wasn't enough to begin with. What a bunch of jerks.

One critical area where the difficulty has actually been dulled a bit is in its fast travel system; now you can travel between any bonfires that you have already lit. This is a huge deal. That being said, be sure to carry a few Homeward Bones on you at all times. You'll thank me later.

Game Mechanics:

There was nothing to fix. Dark Souls II plays almost identically to the other games in the series. That same sense of weight and deliberation is wonderfully intact, and just a few minutes with the controls immediately imparts the fact that literally every move you make has consequences. Each swing of your sword, each stride of your sprint, each second taking a pull from your talismanic Estus Flask can be the difference between life and death.

Also returning is the inventive online system that allows you to interact with the playing public. As you roam Drangleic, you see the shades of actual players running about. And as they die, they leave bloodstains behind. These bloodstains are essentially death DVRs that replay the final seconds of someone's life. They've always been helpful, especially in areas containing bizarre hazards. Like a boulder rolling down the stairs. Or a dragon strafing the parapets...

Other elements such as Invasions and Covenants make their return, along with all the heart-stopping fear and intriguing mysteries that come with them. The second you see the notification that a hostile player has entered your realm, the dread sets in and your eyes automatically attune to the color red, in preparation for the inevitable confrontation. And Covenants, again, are a fascinating way for you to develop your character as you see fit. Just be sure to follow the tenets and requirements of the ones you pledge to...

So in the end, Dark Souls II continues the wonderful trend of games that give their players credit. It's relentlessly difficult, which will alienate some but tantalize the rest. It requires a certain mindset and a certain dedication. And perserverance. Oh, God, so much perserverance. Dark Souls II can be conquered, and it should be. By as many people as possible.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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