I’ve actually been very restrained in that title. I wanted to be a lot harsher. Dark Souls II deserves that. More importantly, around a year ago I joined The Loot Gaming. It was a big moment for me. I had absolutely no writing experience and the boss here took a chance. I’m very grateful for that. I’m sure he’s very pleased with how the situation turned out though, I’m amazing. What isn’t amazing? Dark Souls II. What does that have to do with this time last year though? Well, my first article was a very positive article detailing the history of the “soulslike” genre. So this article will retread some of that ground. But in a much more negative manner.
First things first: the game world. Dark Souls 2 was developed for the PS3/Xbox 360/PC then a different version, Scholar of the First Sin was launched on PS4/Xbox One/PC. Both versions, of course, had the same world. That world was awful. It was full of bland locations that weren’t interesting at all to look at. Most gave off an aura of incompletion, backgrounds especially were absolutely bare. Most areas didn’t even make sense in proportion to the world. The original Dark Souls created a wonderful world that was incredibly connected. Sure some of it was ugly and bland but the fact that it was all perfectly connected and had such incredible lore made up for that. The world always felt consistent. In DS2, however, you go from a poisoned farm to a lava-soaked castle… Via a very long upwards elevator… That goes into the sky.
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Other moments that should be cool include the huge castle in the mountains, surrounded by nothing. The one place that does stand out is the Dragon Shrine and the surrounding area. The DLC also contains Eleum Loyce which is absolutely stunning. Take those two out and DS2 doesn’t have a single area worth mentioning.
Next up is the enemies. The terrible enemies. Yet again in DS1, whatever you’re fighting, you know what it is. You know why it’s there. Even the weird looking enemies are at least interesting to fight, such as the Mushroom men. DS2 has some of the most terrible enemies and boss fights in any video game ever. The Covetous demon, anyone? Seriously, what even is it? Prowling Magus? Why does this exist? Ruin Sentinels? Bland. More Gargoyles? Third time unlucky. The Giants? Basic. The game offers nothing that even remotely compares to the Black Knights of Gwyn, or the Silver Knights, or nothing on the extraordinary level that Ornstein and Smough brought. Even the Mirror Knight, a boss that looks absolutely captivating is really just a bit rubbish when it comes down to it. Demon of Song, anyone? Yet again Eleum Loyce comes to the rescue with its final fight. The core game does have a few decent bosses, The Lost Sinner deserves a mention. The Executioner’s Chariot is okay. The Pursuer can be cool. I’ve run out of good ones already. I still have plenty more terrible ones though, Dragonriders? Pointless fake Ornstein? Flexile Sentry? There are so many terrible attempts in this game, too many to list really.
Finally, there’s the story and the lore. The war between the giants and humans. That’s been done plenty of times before. It’s hardly Eternal Dragons vs Gods ala Dark Souls. There’s no commentary on the futility of life or even on the balance between light and dark ala Dark Souls 3. Instead, you just get nonsense. A time travel plot that’s more on the nose than it ever had to be. Dark Souls built a world and filled it to the brim with tiny details which built a wonderful story that you were just the latest piece in. Instead of this, Dark Souls 2 shoved a story in your face. It told you almost beat by beat what was happening. It was obvious who the characters were and what their motivations were. Despite that, these characters were utterly devoid of personality. There was no reason to care about them, other than hopefully getting an item from them at some point in their quest. The scale is so small that the stakes never feel vital. You feel more like a cog in a small part of a bigger story rather than the defining factor in an entire era. In Dark Souls 1 you usher in a new age. In Dark Souls 3 you pretty much remake the entire world. In Dark Souls 2 you save one kingdom from an evil that was a tiny shard of a DLC boss in Dark Souls 1. An important and epic boss of course, but Nashandra has none of the gravitas that Manus possesses. Manus doesn’t even have dialogue and yet he is 430808243048 times more interesting than Nashandra.
Finally, there’s the most important part. The gameplay. Dark Souls is a series famed for its challenge. In the original title, there was Ornstein and Smough, an epic battle against two foes that was well balanced. In the DLC there was Artorias, an incredible challenge against a brutally tough enemy who was as aggressive as he was quick. How did Dark Souls 2 match this challenge? Well by just throwing as many enemies at you as possible. Two on one? TRY A THREE ON ONE. THAT MAKES IT HARDER DOESN’T IT? No. It just makes it frustrating. Skill became luck. Then there are the weird floaty controls. Everything felt a little too much on the action side, it was faster rather than deliberate. It totally lacked the intensity. Dark Souls 3 successfully revamped the controls by giving you tougher, more aggressive individual enemies. Half of the boss fights in 2 are more or less identical. Lost Sinner, Last Giant, Smelter Demon, Ruin Sentinels, Throne Watcher/Defender, Dragonrider, Vendrick, Pursuer and The Rotten are all way too similar. Strafe to the side, attack a couple of times, move away before the area attack and repeat. The unpredictability that came with a boss having a huge, varied moveset is what made some of the fights so special.
When it comes down to it Dark Souls 2 is just a boring game. It’s really bland and just totally lacks the ‘soul’ of the series, that includes Bloodborne. There’s no intensity, there’s no scale, there’s no intrigue, there’s no feeling. It’s an absolute mess of a game which totally fails to come together as a package. There are some decent moments and even one or two genuinely epic moments. They’re rare. Some are even undeserved, such as Eleum Loyce. It’s DLC.