Life, well actually un-life, is tough in Dark Souls 2. It starts with nothing and pretty much stays the course or heads downwards. There is no up. It’s been one full day of toil in this brutal adventure from developer From Software and all I’ve gained is one thing: nothing.
Technically, that’s not true. I’ve gained a few things, like a diseased color, for instance. My crusader is greener than Kermit, deader than dirt. Its shriveled skin looks uglier than the abominations roaming the open expanses of this realm at this point. That’s me up there.
It’s a sign that what I could once call my own has vanished. This remainder is but a shell. Naturally, this makes me a much lesser champion in the field.
That’s also the main issue in this first endeavor: Keeping one’s humanity is impossible. That “Prepare to die” slogan thing isn’t used for no reason.
So, with that in mind, why even toil towards the fleeting aspect of humanity at all? Sure, it’s a boost in combat, but it’s toying with players, as that slight advantage makes defeat seem so much bigger once it’s gone.
I’ve also yet to discover the who what and where of Dark Souls 2, since there is no explanation. Even the help text is esoteric, which is definitely pushing it. As such, I don’t really know what my goal is, except to die, again and again.
With that comes endless repetition. Not just that, but also map recognition. I know the areas I’m in like the back of my hand.
On area one, there’s a soldier across the bend, then a shielded one waiting atop the stairs and three in the dome, with one having a kill-all mace. There used to be an extra mace, but that’s not there anymore. I’m not complaining.
It’s come so far, I’ve also found a way to not even fight the first one. Luring that brute to the narrow pass, then rolling out of the way lets the attack animation send it to the abyss.
It’s said that Dark Souls 2 is a game of learning. That’s certainly partially true. Every trial I’ve passed is now one I know. It doesn’t help me on the road ahead, but it beats the passage already trodden into my skull.
How commendable is that really towards the game? Shouldn’t things bring you insight for later on instead?
There is some of that as well, but the majority of collected tricks are for events already passed. Indeed, that’s how they were passed in the first place. It seems counterproductive.
That one area stops with a berserk axe-wielder chopping my entire health bar in one blow. It’s not exactly possible to go there anymore. It’s time for a change.
Dark Souls 2 is open-ended, to a degree. Its environments are huge and stretch far into the distance, kind of like a foreboding sign of the chores ahead. “Chores” is the proper term here. There is not one vermin-infested den that looks like it will be entertaining to visit.
From atop a branching castle wall, the ruins below murmur something barely audible. Sometimes it’s a monster, sometimes it’s the chilling wind stabbing past. Mostly though, it’s a monster.
Again I wonder, however: Who is really the monster? I look much worse for wear with my sickening green shade and these things are just minding their own until I enter. Maybe I’m the aggressor of Dark Souls 2. If so, I’m a poor threat.
In the other area, there’s a resting soul. Once more, it stays passive until I disturb it from its slumber. Each time I do, I pay the ultimate price. I’ve done that on every road I’ve walked now.
Since going green, I’ve reached the biggest barrier of my first journey into this realm. Dying causes something called “hollowing” and needs a special, rare item to recover. If that’s not the case, each additional death strikes away a little more health from the possible total amount.
Therefore, at the end of day one, my health bar is a nub. This is the point where continuing seems futile. Each death brings me closer to more dying.
More so than just the “normal” brutal challenge in the game, this stripping is my downfall. Every enemy pretty much instantly kills me upon any contact. That’s absolute madness, like an increasingly more rigid bullet hell.
Many will think different and even raise one cop-out after the other of the supposed state of this adventure or my alleged inability, but Dark Souls 2 is not a good game. That one particular kink in the system just doesn’t allow it to be, as it makes progress nigh impossible without masochistic resilience.
Things boil down to muscle memory plus luck, nothing more. Sometimes the spear misses; sometimes it stabs you in that exact position. A roll of the dice is about as skillfully implemented.
This reeks of that “badge of honor” thing snobs are quick to congratulate themselves on in games, ever since Battletoads came out and the first snotty brat said they’d beat it in one go. Ok, even so, that would be the exception to the rule; it doesn’t excuse its flaws.
Before things get too heated, it bears mentioning that it certainly isn’t a bad game either. Toiling hasn’t left that bad of a first impression.
Here are some things to get excited about in Dark Souls 2: It’s gigantic in scope and invites heroes in with its many wiling ways of gorgeous sceneries. It cleverly sets up these elaborate designs that urge adventurers to think before acting.
Then, it kills all. There are many ways to die, whether it’s in a corridor with a crushing trap, a colossus with a giant sword or just a mob of adept spearmen.
Daav has been playing games since Atari was a thing and still likes games that look old, but also new stuff. There's no allegiance to platforms or genres; anything big and small can make a good game. This gives him a ton of perspectives to write about.