Let’s just cut to the chase – our review won’t be ready until later this week, even though the rest of the internet is pumping out their opinions like it's going out of style. There are two reasons for this turn of events – firstly, I have only been able to sample about 30 hours of the game so far due to other commitments, and because there is still clearly plenty of the world to discover (or to be killed by) I didn’t feel comfortable publishing a review.
The second reason is probably more justifiable though – as of yesterday, the servers were still not online for the PS3 version. That means no phantoms, no helpful (or misleading) messages, and no murderous invaders, which I consider is half of the Dark Souls experience. To not have seen these mechanics in action before reviewing would have been unprofessional, so that’s why we have not published a review alongside our fellow peers. However, that doesn’t mean we will not have any coverage for you, and that doesn’t mean I can’t give you some early impressions of the final game.
Later today, we will be publishing two videos – first of which is an episode of Dealspwn Playthrough that details some of the key changes in the game from the first Dark Souls, and the other video is the first episode of a new series called Carl Versus Dark Souls II, which follows my journey as I play through the game for the first time, completely unaided. More info on that later, though.
So, what are my first impressions of Dark Souls II? Here’s a few snippets of information I am comfortable sharing with you at this point in my current playthrough.
The important thing to note here is that despite the inclusion of a “newbie canyon” which eases new players into the basic combat mechanics of the game, generally speaking if you hated Dark Souls you’ll despise Dark Souls II. For every concession to make the game more approachable (slicker controls, more item slots etc.) the game is ready to punish you in new and brutal ways (like diminished health upon death, constant threat of being invaded, etc.) I could always be wrong though, and I would love to hear if someone who couldn’t get on with the Dark Souls finds its sequel more approachable, but I honestly can’t see it changing opinions in what has always been marmite-like discussion.
For veterans / survivors of the first game, this isn’t just Dark Souls with new maps and enemies – there are several changes to the gameplay mechanics that without forewarning will throw you off guard, and in some ways provides a sense of discovery all over again. It’s like a friend you haven’t seen for ten years – you know it’s definitely them, but they’re not quite the same person you knew from before. Time has changed them and if you need to get used to their new quirks. In Dark Souls II’s case, that’s the introduction of Majula – a settlement that acts like a hub (similar to Demon’s Souls) where the player will return to on a regular basis to level up and repair equipment, amongst other things.
While the main story remains as ambiguous as ever, it certainly feels like there are a bigger cast of characters to encounter this time around, but the most interesting part is how not everyone you come across will interact with you. Some might not want to chat until you know magic, or will not interact until you complete a certain task. To me, this suggests that once I begin a second playthrough there will be plenty of scope for new experiences, increasing the replayability factor beyond tougher enemies.
Not that you need an excuse to make the enemies tougher, but you can do from the get-go, be it by using a certain item in the bonfires or by interacting with a specific shrine to activate a higher difficulty. The thing is though, the foes are still as dangerous and devastating in the “standard” difficulty, and you will die. Many, many times. I’ve already torn my hair out on numerous occasions, walked away from the console for an hour or two and even bravely run away from encounters that would have smited me rotten, but the sense of discovery when you stumble upon a new area or find a new weapon, and the sense of achievement in defeating a foe that has been troubling you for hours is still there and just as glorious as ever.
Anyway, that’s me done for now. Expect a full review later in the near future, and stay tuned for plenty of video coverage for your amusement. Schadenfreude and all that.