Namco: Dark Souls 2 – Available for XBox360, PS3, P.C. – US$65
Namco’s Dark Souls earned its crust by being a dark, complex, difficult game. Well, ‘difficult’ is actually the wrong word. Dark Souls is a relentless, challenging macrocosm of a game that will well and truly test the internal fortitude of its player. It’s a mean, unforgiving game, sort of vicious, but fair. Wave after wave of difficulties attack you relentlessly. There are the usual horrible beasties, landslides, falling boulders, booby trapped cupboards and doorways which lead to Eiger-like sheer drops, poison gases and carefully disguised caves. All of it combined to keep you edgy, amped and ready with your shield always raised to ward off surprise blows. Fear not! You’ll get used to it. At any rate, this sequel to the 2011 original did not get religion and open up or mellow down for the masses. Dark Souls 2 is Dark Souls after two years of consuming a raw diet with breaks for raw meat. What we have here is a game world classic!
In a dark, foreboding fantasy world of barely lit darkness you play as an alien entity. Whoever rules this world instantaneously resents your presence and sends a multitude of dark forces to slaughter you – Ray Harryhausen-ish skeletal charioteers, murderous scruff pirates, mummies that do the Australian crawl, twelve-foot-high tree-men and more – and turn you into burgers. You stagger from mini-odyssey to odyssey searching for refuge wherever a flame burns. I refuse to be a spoiler here, but suffice to say, the search for this ethereal fire is relentless. The thing you can count on, like the abstract notion of a monotheistic God, is a pagan world parsed, literally and metaphorically, by torches. This is a very convincing awful world, to be sure.
For those who have played the original, there are a few fundamental structural changes. You are now able to teleport between discovered bonfires from the beginning of the game. The teleportation function allows you to extend your reach into the world on multiple fronts, skittering between them if you choose, if and when you get stuck or reach an impasse. A wonderful abstract time killer!
You still ‘die’ a lot, although there are fewer waves of enemies trying to murder you. Fear not, at the start of the game you are given a dose of ‘Estus’, a health-tonic in a flask. One quest is intent upon you recovering lost Estus fragments throughout the world. Each upgrade to your flask increases your health. In the same manner, other game sections allow you to equip the four status-affecting rings on your character. Each upgrade makes you a mightier warrior.
Dark Souls 2 has many more characters than its original. After creating a refuge in Majula, you take command and build a survivors commune. Meanwhile, life goes on and your progress is dictated by your improvements in skills and aptitude, but also how observant you are to notice and log the nooks and pathways that reveal themselves as the game slowly opens up to you. All the time, you need to make careful choices, make friends, lose friends, play politics, etc. while, all the while, you are still aware of being foreign and other in the eyes of your relentless enemy.
Yes, this is one huge, complex world-within-a-world game. Clearly set up perfectly for anyone who is obsessive/compulsive, it’s also just as clearly not for teenagers who might allow it to become the main factotum in their existence. Ha! For me it’s perfect, because I love obscure rules and daft story lines that demand your time yet allow you to define your own character according to your own special eccentricities, pick and customize your weapons and armor. A very satisfying fun game indeed!