Namco Bandai’s Dark Souls became something of a sleeper hit after its 2011 release, praised for its hardcore difficulty and dark fantasy setting. Even to this day, it remains one of the most challenging yet oddly rewarding games on the market, a love letter to the punishing games of the 16-bit era.
Dark Souls II, then, has a tough reputation to live up to. The buzz has grown following the previous game, potentially bringing more interested players to the sequel, and we can’t imagine there wasn’t temptation to make the game more accessible for them.
In some ways it is – starting up and getting a feel for the controls certainly feels a touch more intuitive than before. Character creation has been modified, with a selection of basic classes to start with and finer details determined by your play style. Monotonous backtracking has also been reduced thanks to a persistent ability to warp between bonfires, the few safe points found in the gothic world.
In absolutely no way does any of this mean Dark Souls II is any easier though. If anything, the enemies are tougher, smarter and more powerful than ever. Before, dodging around and backstabbing a foe was a fairly safe way of taking them down but no more – the turtle knight we tried that on decided to roll back and crush us instead. More than ever, you’ll need to observe enemy movements, look for weak points, and strike. You’re given a few new tricks to experiment with too though. You’ll now be able to carry up to three weapons and dual wield them, leading to new tactics in battle, or brace a shield with two hands for extra defence against powerful blows. Even so, you will die, often and painfully. The sense of gradual progression, of chipping away and fighting back against the very things that killed you, will keep you coming back for more though. Battles in Dark Souls II are every bit as thrilling as fans had hoped for.
A new game engine has been developed for the title, which delivers some fantastic visuals for the tail end of the console generation. Light and shadow effects are suitably eerie, while the environment textures make the world feel even more immersive. Bigger areas and more elaborate monster designs are also promised. The game launches worldwide in March 2014 on Xbox 360 and PS3 – we can’t wait to start dying all over again.