Greetings, fellow sunbros! The hardcore, bone-breaking title, (in)famous for it's difficulty, is back! With more vast areas, more difficult bosses, more difficult enemies! So, are you ready to die again ? Probably not, you'll not like this game. You'll die again and again and again. Your ego will be crushed. You will fail at every point in the game; but every time you die, you learn, you get better with each painful death.
Whenever you succeed amidst these agonizing moments, you experience the most triumphant feeling in the world. When you finally kill a giant while being at verge of dying, is the most rewarding moment of all. So, prepare yourselves, cursed ones! Prepare yourselves to die, a lot.
Dark Souls II, like it's predecessor, presents a deep but concealed story, which must be put together, like pieces of a puzzle, with the help of NPC dialogues, appearances of geographical areas etc. Not intending to spoil the story (there is nothing much I can spoil anyway), I will just present you an overview of the story:
Welcome to the cursed kingdom of Drangleic. You're the cursed one, the Bearer of the Curse, the Undead; having no light of past or future. You must seek souls, bigger souls, to prevent yourself from going hollow. Undeads are never truly go hollow; with each death, they just move one step forward of going hollow. And finally you must seek the King, to break the curse.
So, yeah. That's pretty much it. You are cursed, you must seek souls, and ultimately the king, to break the curse and break free of this cursed land of Drangleic. Obviously, the game has much deeper lore and even I haven't researched much on it yet haha! (No Adele jokes please!). There are lore-plays of each and every area and discussions on the internet if you're interested and want deeper insight of the story. I'll just inform you about the starting areas. After being cursed, you find yourself in Things Betwixt, which is basically the 'tutorial area' of the game. Here, you're taught the basics of the game, you customize your character, get your stuff together to begin your journey etc. If you're a beginner, you even can (will) die in this area.
After here, you reach Majula, which is basically the 'safe-zone' of the game. There are (almost) no enemies in the area. There's a bonfire, and along with the bonfire, is your 'guide' to Drangleic, Emerald Herald, which helps you in your journey. Although, the only help she will be providing is leveling up your stats and providing you with Estus Flask and enforcing it.
Majula connects to most of the areas in the game and after here, you're on your own; where to go, is your own choice. If you choose the wrong path, nothing bad will happen, just you'll die even more horrible deaths. Good luck for the journey, feeble cursed one!
Dark Souls II does not have those 'next-gen' graphics like most of those games out there, that's certainly a setback. However, there still are stunning visuals present in the game. There are some amazingly beautiful sceneries here which are a delight to gaze upon; From Software has done really good lighting in the game.
The graphics, surely has been downgraded from the ones that were showcased in E3, and that was a huge disappointment; but that's what's the PC modding community is for! There are many ENBs and graphics enhancement mods out there if you want to make your game look more pleasing to the eye. For eg: an ENB to make the game dark enough to make the torches in the game actually usable.
Personally, I actually don't care much about the graphics. But I will at some point of time mess up with those ENBs to enhance the graphics of the game. But, for now, I'm satisfied with the current graphics of the game.
The gameplay of Dark Souls II is the shining star of the game, nonetheless remaining quite similar to previous Souls games. However, there are certain changes in the game that are very much noticeable. To begin with, you can't level up at any bonfire you like, in fact you cannot level up at bonfires at all anymore; you need to return to Majula every time you want to level up and speak to Emerald Herald in order to do so. Also, the concept of humanities (tiny dark thingies) is completely eliminated from the game, instead of that, now you have human effigies, which performs the function of humanities now, that is, restoring the humanity, once you go hollow after dying. Unlike Dark Souls 1, you need not be at a bonfire to restore your humanity; you can use an effigy to restore your humanity at any point of time in the game.
Another noticeable and important change is that your maximum health will be reduced with your each death. No, not to worry, it can (also) be restored by consuming an effigy; so you see they are an important resource, and can be pretty scarce too; so better start conserving them! Another important change is of the Estus Flask, which were 5 in number when provided for the first time in the game, and you could increase that number by kindling the bonfire by offering it humanities (Dark Souls 1, I'm talking about.), but here you're only provided with only one estus flask, by Emerald Herald only. You need to find 'Estus Shards' to increase the number of flasks you can carry, which are scattered throughout the game.
Also, now you can traverse from one bonfire to the others which you have lit, which can be really useful at times. You could do that in Dark Souls 1 also, but only after you reach a certain point in the game. Another (rather shocking, for me) change is that the enemies will completely vanish after their 15th (or so) death, it means they would not respawn, like they usually did in DS1. However, they can be respawned by burning a 'bonfire aesthetic' into the bonfire, this would only restore the enemies of that particular area, also increasing their strength.
Geographically, I may say, the game feels incorrect. For example, after defeating the boss in Harvest Valley, you take an elevator which takes you upwards; and you reach the core of the Earth (Iron Keep). Wut ? Also, areas of Dark Souls 1 were well-connected with each other, which remains absent in DkS II.
Leveling up mechanics remains the same. You level up your stats with the help of souls collected by slaying the enemies. Souls are basically the currency of the game; you can use them to level up, buy weapons, items and gear, upgrading them etc. You can also infuse your weapon with lightening, magic and many other effects (as in DS1); they might not feel much useful while playing solo but they are really helpful in PvP.
Now, let's get to next section, which is the combat. Combat is the shining star of the game. Each and every enemy has their own distinct attacking pattern, which can even change during the fights/ and this turns each fight into a sparring match, a mental game of chess against the AI, which is impressively brutal. The key to success is to learn the attacking patterns and make your strategies accordingly, same thing goes for the bosses. One thing you need to keep in mind that do not underestimate any enemy; take anyone lightly, and you'll be dead before you know it. The game can be really unfair at times; there can be 6 vs 1 battle in which you stand no chance, so you need to plan your strategy accordingly.
Let's proceed forward to my favorite part; the online play of the game! There is co-op and PvP in the game. To start a coop session, the players can leave their 'sign' on the ground using a certain online-play item called 'white-soapstone'; and the sign would appear in the world of other player, and he can access it to summon the phantom (the player who made the sign) to his world, and the jolly cooperation begins! You can summon upto two phantoms in your world, who will vanish after helping you defeat the boss of the area; you cannot move out to another area while you have a phantom summoned in your world. This feature can be extremely helpful as some bosses are terribly hard to tackle alone. There are some restrictions to summoning which I'm not going to say in detail here. Next thing is PvP, which is Player VS. Player; fighting with other players (known as invaders) which can invade your world at any point of time to have a fight with you, which makes the game even more hard and interesting! And this feature of the game can keep you hooked up for a long time!
There are many covenants specifically focusing on PvP, coop and PvE (player versus environment). In PvP based covenants, you can also have duel/sparring matches with other players (and that's completely different from invading), and that's the one thing I loved the most. PvE covenants focus on making the game (enemies, bosses) even harder, so if you think it's not hard enough for you, you can join Covenants of Champions! Coop-focused covenants (like Heirs of the Sun) simply allows you to connect to your friends easily and enjoy jolly cooperation! There are 3 ranks in each covenant which can be achieved (requirements for each vary from covenant to covenant) and you're rewarded with some item with each rank you gain.
The replay value of the game is outstanding! There is New Game + after you finish the the game, in which the enemies become even harder, posing you a greater challenge! And this goes upto New Game +8. There are 8 classes to choose from, when you begin the game; so you can create and try out different builds (like knight, mage, cleric etc.). I have logged about 80 hours into the game yet, and storyline is almost 75% finished; many of you might have finished it earlier than me but I'm squeezing all the gameplay I can get out of the game. PvP and coop actually increases the life of the game.
The user menu is much more "less-confusing" now. There are more vacant slots in your inventory which can be occupied by different items/weapons/rings etc. The inventory menu is much neater and easy-to-use!.
Here, I have to admit, From Software has done an outstanding job in optimizing the game so well! While the previous game was capped on 30 FPS with 1024x768 resolution textures, this game is very well optimized and runs like a charm on PC (and even looks better than console version!). I can easily max the game (without AA; not needed by me) with 60+ FPS. I'd give it 10/10 for that.
Ah, now the controls. Sadly, the controls are still, well, can be very tricky for mouse and keyboard users. The issue that's inherited from it's predecessor. However, you can get along fine if you get hang of it. Keyboard controls can be re-mapped according to your needs. I personally know many people who play with Keyboard and mouse only. Still, there is no shaky camera that was in DS1, but yet however, a controller is still recommended by me, for the best experience! It's not a must, as it was in DS1, but it's still required.
As you have guessed it by now, I'm Dark Souls fanboy, but I have tried my best to provide you a unbiased review.
The bottom line is that Dark Souls II is not a game that anyone can pick up and enjoy. It is an extremely difficult game (if you have not guessed it by now) and it's made for patient people who enjoy complex stat system, like to experiment with different builds and stats, and can adapt to any challenge that game might throw at you; and who are ready to die. If you can handle it, Dark Souls II is a masterpiece which must be experienced by everyone.
The game will test you in the ways you haven't been tested earlier; it can be pretty brutal, and you can literally be butt-raped (I apologize for the language) at times, being invaded by 2 other players who tend to kill you while you are already fighting with 3 other enemies, yeah it can be that hard. So Keep Calm and.. Praise the Sun!