DARK SOULS II
Dark Souls 2 is forgettable. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls weren’t. On paper Dark Souls 2 improves on many problems in the first two games. But at the same time, it fails to capture the most important aspects that made everyone love the other games.
Everyone gets hung up on the difficulty of the Souls games. As if that’s the only thing that makes them good. They’re more than that. There’s plenty of bone hard games out there, but none have the same devoted fanbase as the Souls games. There’s more going on here than the marketing or even the fans would want you to think. And that’s where Dark Souls 2 goes wrong. On the surface, this is the same as the other two. But when you dig deep you notice there’s nothing there. Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls were rich. This isn’t.
Here’s a comprehensive list of what the sequel gets right. The multiplayer is reliable. In Dark Souls 1 it’s a borderline unusable mess. You can now run the game at any resolution, and the performance is good. That’s the end of the list.
It’s clear that the developers of Dark Souls 2 aimed too high. They tried to outdo the original game, with a team that was unqualified to even dream of doing so. They made a new engine with an improved lighting engine. In trailers, it almost looked like a next-gen game! Unfortunately, it was so slow they scrapped it before release. What you’re left with is a game that looks worse than its predecessors. There’s almost no contrast, the lighting is mostly flat, the art direction confusing. Words you wouldn’t use to describe the other Souls games.
More importantly, though there’s no cohesion to the world. The transitions between environments are nonsensical. There are far too many locations, and they’re all too small. There’s no way anyone could live in this world. In the other Souls games, the worlds were plausible. You saw the remnants of great civilizations, and you could believe in them. There’s maybe a couple exceptions to the rule in Dark Souls 2, but they’re in the minority. Almost every environment you pass through you reach the end and think “oh, that’s it? Ok..”.
The DLC packs do their best to redeem the game. They’re an admirable effort, easily outdoing anything the main game did. There’s hope yet for this team. But after finishing the DLCs and returning to the normal areas one last time I’m not wistful or nostalgic for anything that happened during my journey. I look at the world and all I see is meaningless maps. This isn’t a world with history, where I connected with characters and went on a journey that I’ll remember. It’s just a game. A Souls game should be more than that.
I’m split. Dark Souls 2 isn’t “bad” by any regular metric. But the more I play it the more disappointed I am in it. At some point I’ll replay Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. I never want to play Dark Souls 2 again.