Dark souls, dark souls, dark souls... where do I even begin? I love this franchise, hell I love it more than Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun and that's saying something!
Whether I'm exploring the dangerous beauty of Anor Londo and dying, or spending meticulous hours grinding for loot and dying, or uncovering the amazing and crazy in-depth lore and surprisingly dying, Dark Souls is my Jams! And I'm here to tell you after some hands on time with Dark Souls II, I'm ready to die all over again... a lot!
First things first, for all of you who have been scared of dipping your toe into my favourite masochistic pasttime, here's a heads up, Dark Souls II is probably the most accessible out of all of the Souls games so far.
Upon creating my ultimately doomed Knight Jim (a name that strikes fear into all those who cross her) I was hit with straight up, non-cryptic narrative that involved no Sherlock Holmesing on my part to decipher, explaining the Hollow Curse, why I'm here and the lore of the land.
Then, hold on to your butts here guys, the game actually gives you a tutorial! Like how to actually do stuff! (Which was good, because they changed how you do that sassy little jump I'm so fond of, amongst other important things!) But veteran Souls players need not worry, if you're well versed in Dark Souls you'll be backstabbing like a fully-fledged Sunbro in seconds!
Now that we've got the hand holding segment out of the way, I can assure you this, Dark Souls II will make you cry and question everything you thought you were good at. The guys at From Software clearly thought Dark Souls 1 was not punishing enough and have decided to up the pain factor with a few minor yet soul destroying tweaks!
The first major one: The health milling system from Demon's Souls is back! For those of you not familiar with this cruel, cruel mechanic, it means every time you die (which is a regular occurrence) your maximum health decreases incrementally on each death, until you're left with 50% of what you had and a bucket full of tears where your confidence used to be.
The second major one: you start with one Estus flask! Count it, ONE! And it barely heals you at all! This combined with the fear of losing sweet, sweet HP on death leads to a much more methodical (dare I say it, cowardly) approach to every fight, really instilling your place in the Dark Souls II universe and the importance of healing items above all else!
Visually, Dark Souls II did not fail to impress. Each of the three areas I, somewhat, bravely gallivanted through were varied, beautiful and begging to be explored. I started off in a dense, lush , forest, made my way through crumbling regal ruins (kinda reminded me of Anor Londo) and ended up underground, in a shanty town with a frickin' pirate ship! Each area had a character all unto itself, with rarely a dull sight to behold. Oh, and that feeling of needing to explore I mention before? Yeah, that's a must. I actually played for a good hour without an Estus flask because I didn't talk to someone!
The good news is, you can warp between all bonfires (checkpoints if you will) straight off the bat with no Lord Vessel required! This makes popping back to earlier locations you ran through, out of fear of being separated from you torso, much less of a chore, really instilling that need for exploration!
But Jonny, what of the enemies? Well, let me tell you, those chumps rustle your jimmies every chance they get and look awesome doing it!
The placement of them in the environment seems much less random, like they actually live there, leading to some truly brutal ambushes and heart pumping encounters! The bosses I saw were grand and petrifying and getting to them required the patience of a saint!
Even hollows (this game's lowest of the low) are to be treated with the caution of a megaton blast, able to parry your blows and put you down with the greatest of ease and with it shatter your reality like the announcement of Space Jam 2... wait, what?!
All in all, Dark Souls II looks like it's going to be a true sequel in every sense of the word! It's going to brutal, cruel and demeaning but at the same time beautiful, deep and rewarding. The game hits next week for Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows - until then, keep praising the sun brothers and sisters!
Forged haphazardly from discount parts and blinded by the old world ideals of Sega fanboy-ism. Jonny Robot is half man, half machine and runs on the unstable fuel source of lukewarm coffee. He also owns an Atari Jaguar but can't justify why.... a burden he bears to this day.
Jimmy the Geek