Tuesday, May 20, 2014

MeekinOnMovies On.....Dark Souls II

Dark Souls II

Developer: From Software
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Did I beat it: No
Did I pay for it: No

So I guess I owe the world a Dark Souls II review after developer From Software was gracious enough to bestow upon me a copy of the game, (and a hopefully ironically intentioned skull shaped stress-ball.)

But after dozens of deaths and giving over forty hours of my life to Dark Souls II, our relationship has yet to solidify. While I respect everything Dark Souls II is trying to be, and is - it's fairly apparent Dark Souls II wasn't made with the kind of gamer I am, in mind.

And what kind of gamer am I? An enthusiast. I'm excited to play anything I can get my hands on, and truly beefy experiences like Dark Souls II are often right in my wheel house. I like games that challenge and entertain and try to do new things. Dark Souls II, on paper, is this. 

While I fully expected to have my ass handed to me - it has a reputation for difficulty to live up too, after all - the real peril came from my war with everything else.   

Dark Souls II takes great pride in its obtuse nature and ominous atmosphere, which makes first impressions prickly. The game does a decent enough job introducing you to the mechanics of combat and traversal, presents a wonderfully gothic world Tim Burton could only dream of, but never really gives the skinny on items or stats or the minutiae of the meta game.

Which is fine. An incredible subculture has sprung up around Dark Souls, and there's hundreds of online resources that can get you up to speed with regarding the best approach to tackling Dark Souls II. If you have a friend that played the game, or played the first game, even better. A guide on your journey makes the perilous path a smidge less fraught. 

But there's something endlessly irksome about having to consult literature before you feel comfortable in your own shoes - especially in a game. Because of the game's difficult nature, its easy to feel like you've done something wrong when you can't kill a certain character, or keep dying and needing to retrace your steps for the fifteenth time - consulting the wiki to see what other people have done makes it easier to progress, but makes you want to play less - it's like reading a history book and constantly needing to flip back to the glossary, it takes out you out the experience.

You'll acquire items, be confused what they do, use them, then realize after consulting an FAQ there's only a finite number of that item, or you need it for something important later. I spent several hours unsure how to return to human form after I kept burning human effigies in a fire instead of using them from my inventory. This realization occurred over a dozen hours into the game - the idea of restarting all over was wise, but deflating. 

Deflating not only because I'd be losing all that progress, but because when I wasn't dealing with the constant fear of screwing up my game beyond belief, or balancing my iPad on my lap while tackling a tricky level, Dark Souls II is one of the most satisfying games I've ever played. 

Seriously. Several gaming people have referred to it as "Grown Up Zelda" and I cannot agree more. It's a game that rewards patience and deliberate thought. You lock onto an enemy. Circle them, wait for the proper opening, attack, and get the heck out of dodge before they can counter attack. When an enemy swings at you, knowing the perfect time to swing back - and what way, is the key to success. Getting greedy will get you killed, running full steam ahead at a group of enemies will get you killed. Pretty much everything other than concentration, focus, and pattern recognition - will get you killed. 

While simplistic in theory, in practice combining combat with avoiding other enemies and contending with your environment (you could be in a narrow corridor or hilly field), leads to a satisfying gameplay loop that's intensely difficult but in a logical way. You'll never say "The computer cheats" when playing Dark Souls II.

If the game were exclusively combat and didn't throw dozens of stats and nebulously defined items at you - I'd be sold. Beating up a group of six bad guys, with barely a sliver of health left is incredibly satisfying. This works because Dark Souls II is deliberate. It takes time to swing a sword, it takes effort to block with your shield, and every.imput.counts. 

This is typified a bit of the way into the game when you eventually run into these behemoth, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle looking things with giant clubs of doom. The first time you encounter one you think they're impossible. This continues you finally take one down through patience and timing and finally widdle down the health of one and kill it.

It's a Rocky IV moment. You beat the unbeatable monster. The very next room you tackle has FOUR of them. Beating this section of the game took me two days.

I kept at it for awhile after that, made progress, beat the game's first boss, and upon realizing the vast amount of content I had to go versus how comfortable I felt in my own Chain mail, I lost my passion for Dark Souls II.

And versus trudging through and growing increasingly more frustrated, I put it down. There's certainly a place in my life for Dark Souls II, but it's not the kind of game I'd normally go out and buy, but excited to try out for myself.

It's a marathon in the Mojave. I simply didn't have the soul for what it demanded of me. It's a game made for the hardest of hardcore, with a ton of replay value. If you could only buy ONE game and want something you can truly sink all 32 of your teeth into, I could not pick a better candidate.  And for that I applaud From Software with my blistered hands.

If you're the kind of player who likes challenge in all its forms, fiddling with stat bonus, equipment, managing resources, and truly pouring yourself into a game that gives out as much as you put in, Dark Souls II is a near classic. 

But for players who are curious what the fuss is about, expect to be a little frustrated. While you can make your way through the game with no help at all, the omnipresent vibe that you're screwing it all up creates the not-good kind of gameplay stress - for me at least.  

If there was a Dark Souls: Kids edition, where the items were less obtuse, the stats more streamlined, and the gameplay just as brutal, I'd eat it up and not even chew, while hardcore gamers across the world foam at the mouth - taking to twitter to complain about the game losing its edge. 

For many, the impenetrable nature of Dark Souls is what makes it special - becoming an expert is an exclusive club, and I was never good at varsity sports.


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